Learning Vino in La Grotta Bella

By RYAN NEWHOUSE

Not everyone in Missoula knows there’s a secret underground lair that holds the knowledge of fine wines. Yes, the La Grotta Bella (The Beautiful Cave) lies beneath The Old Post Pub (103 W. Spruce), and every Thursday from 5-8 PM it is filled with great wines selected by Alan Nielsen and Worden’s MarketDeli.

The La Grotta Bella lies behind an intricate iron gate, beneath The Old Post, and it is remarkably reminiscent of a Tuscan wine bar. When not in use for the Thursday Wine Tasting, it can be rented out for private functions. The space can accommodate up to 50 people for a cocktail party or 36 for a sit-down dinner, which features fine foods from a detailed menu, including dishes like “Seared Beef Tenderloin atop Truffle Mashed Potatoes with Pearl Onions, Roasted Garlic, Stilton and a Cabernet Reduction” or “Oven Roasted King Salmon Wrapped in Nori with Bok Choy.”

“We’ve been doing these Thursday wine tastings for about five years now,” says Nielson, “and anybody can come down to try the wines. We always feature four different wines, and we try to group them into a similar region or grape varietal so people can experience and appreciate the subtle differences among thevineyards.”

Tickets for the tasting are $10 and must be purchased from the bar at The Old Post. Occasionally, the event sells out, but if you can get there by 7 PM, you’ll probably be okay, according to Nielsen. For an insider tip, however, it’s best to get there early if you want to sample the breads and cheeses.

Wines featured at the Thursday Wine Tasting range in value from $10-$60, and if you like anything you’ve tried, you can purchase it at a discount that evening. If you want the “heads up” on which wines will be featured on a given Thursday, you can sign up for the Worden’s Newsletter at theirwebsite.

After you’ve attended a few of the tastings (or if you really just like wine), Worden’s Market Deli also runs the Worden’s Wine Club. With your monthly membership (available at the Premier, Reserve or Connoisseur levels), you receive two different specially-selected bottles of wine, a 15% discount on stemware, accessories and books, a free Riedel stem (at sign-up and on every one-year anniversary of membership) and a 15% discount on reorder wine purchases. There’s no commitment, and you can leave your membership at any time.

Check out this fun and informative event and let us know which wines you liked, and which ones you didn’t. In the meantime, though, what’s your favorite “go to” bottle of wine when you’re having guests over for dinner?

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Ryan Newhouse has lived in Missoula since 2002 and has tipped his glass in most of the town’s establishments. He is a full-time writer, husband and parent (in no particular order) and a part-time zymurgist. He makes a mean hard cider and pairs his cocktails with dishes from his blog, Cooked Animals: Recipes for WildGame.