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Ranking may help oust ‘dry’ image

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Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney hasn't been able to do it.

Neither has Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, the combined efforts of the Utah Travel Council, the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau or anyone else for that matter.

Nope, they just haven't been able to crack the nut of public perception that you can't get a drink of alcohol in Utah. Or that the beer is flat or the wine list short.

Maybe Harvey Steiman can do what no one else can.

Steiman, one of the world's foremost wine experts and editor-at-large for Wine Spectator, the bible for wine lovers the world over, has just named Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley one of the nation's 15 best small resorts, based in large part on its impressive wine list.

And yes, "we visited each candidate, ate in the restaurants, stayed in the rooms — and eliminated those that didn't make the grade," he wrote.

Posh work if you can find it.

Just how exclusive is the honor? Stein Eriksen Lodge, ranked 13th, was one of only two resorts nationwide not located on or near the West Coast or East Coast.

"We've been written up in Wine Spectator before, but we were not this highly recognized," said Jan Raio, sales and marketing director for the lodge. "We are quite excited about it."

Steiman wrote that Stein Eriksen Lodge "overcame the state's restrictions on alcoholic beverage sales and now sports a solid 275-label wine list and some of the best food in the Rocky Mountains at Valhalla, its top-notch restaurant."

Steiman told the Deseret News he was indeed surprised to see a Utah establishment make the grade.

The fact Stein Eriksen Lodge is one of the nation's best, he said, is a testament to the resort managers who have "taken the extra step in the last few years. They know how to be discrete about it so as not to offend those who might be offended, yet they have done a good job of getting really good wines into their cellar."

Raio believes — and Steiman agrees — the recognition by Wine Spectator helps dispel common stereotypes that Utah is a dry state.

"In a marketplace where Utah is not thought of as having too much variety, it definitely dispels those perceptions," Raio said. "Not only is Wine Spectator a well-read publication, but their readers are basically our clientele."

Steiman believes visitors should be impressed when they see the wine list and talk to Cara Schwindt, a "sommelier" who matches up wines with chef Zane Holmquist's dishes. And she teaches staff and customers everything about the wines.

"A credible sommelier can help a connoisseur or a neophyte," Schwindt said.

"She is avid about wine," Steiman said, also passing along praise to the resort managers who "understand their guests want good wine and understand that it can be done responsibly."

Utah officials are admittedly weary of all the Utah alcohol stories, including one recently in Newsweek. Many are riddled with errors, the inevitable result of state alcohol laws that are confusing even to longtime residents.

Spence Kinard, assistant director of the Utah Travel Council, seemed relieved that Wine Spectator had focused on a positive aspect of Utah culture.

"Any time a well-respected medium like Wine Spectator reports favorably on the truth, it helps dispel misunderstandings," he said. "Certainly we have our peculiarities, but we are not the only state with unusual laws."

E-mail: spang@desnews.com