"You won't find a Kendall-Jackson or a Mondavi here," says St. Petersburg store manager J.C. Milam. What you will find is an assortment of unique wines from smaller, family-owned vineyards from around the world. They're displayed upright on open shelving, with labels easily visible. The moderate-priced wines are eye-level, with lower-priced vintages on shelves below and pricier wines displayed higher up. The average bottle runs about $10.50.
The store, Milam says, aims to take the snobbery and lofty prices out of wine drinking. Customers are encouraged to find out what they like by tasting, rather than through a rating system: At least 12 bottles of wine are open daily; customers are welcome to sit in one of the shop's leather chairs and sample as many as they'd like.
Cork & Olive is the brain-child of German-born Michael Probst, who wants the company to become for wine drinkers what Starbucks is to coffee drinkers. The company, headquartered in Tampa, opened its first stores in Clearwater, Valrico and St. Petersburg last year. Three more are set to open by next month, all in the Tampa Bay area.
Cognac, that venerable, heady, after-dinner drink from France, is experiencing a resurgence as a whole new age group sips from snifters. It's not their grandfather's brandy, but rather a lighter, less powerful version to be enjoyed before dinner, as a cocktail or on the nightclub scene.
Laurent Fortin, vice president of U.S. sales for Camus Cognac, a family-owned producer that began distribution in Florida last year, says the hip-hop crowd as well as yuppies, especially women, are the latest imbibers. Seraphin, a premium XO, has caught on with more urban drinkers, while Josephine, a light, non-woody cognac and also an XO, has become popular among women.
Florida, Fortin points out, is a big cognac-drinking state.
Jeffrey Wolfe: Owner, Wolfe's Wine Shoppe (website), Coral Gables
Las Rocas de San Alejandro, $9
A "Garnacha" or "Grenache" from Spain, the 2003s just arrived, and offer a great value, with spicy plum and red berry flavors. The wine can be paired with anything from pizza to barbecue chicken.
From Salvatore at the base of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy, it's an Irpinia from 2002. A big-structured, tannic wine, pair it with cheeses, roasted meats and anything acidic, like tomato sauces.
St. Nicolas Les Clous, $15
From the Loire Valley wine-producing region of France, this blend
of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc is light in body and full in flavor, steely with a wonderful minerality. Pair it with white meats,
high-acid goat cheeses and pork.
E. Barnaut Gran Reserve, $29
A non-vintage brew with mostly the Pinot Noir grape from
the Bouzy region of France.
At the Mandarin Oriental, Downtown Miami
Signature drink: Mango Martini -- Martini with fresh mango juice and Ciroc vodka
A rooftop bar at the Hotel Victor Miami
Signature drink: Lychee Martini -- Martini cocktail with No. Ten Tanqueray and fresh cilantro garnish
Professionals too busy to plan their own social lives will be right at home at a new wine club in Fort Lauderdale called Epicuriosity (epicuriosity.com). Owner Tara O'Leary, 30, organizes small group dinners/wine tastings at local restaurants. She's also coordinating two summer wine country trips, one to Peru and another to Sonoma, Calif. Three-, six- and 12-month memberships are available starting at $199. The only requirement for membership is a love of wine, good food and good company. But O'Leary is quick to point out: This is not a dating service.