Article by Jennifer Bingham

Today’s wine cellars have come a long way from the dark, dusty catacombs and caves of France. While modern wine cellars are marvels of engineering and design, they still hold the promise of hidden treasures tucked away in a corner just like their French forebears. Area sommeliers hold the secret to unlocking these gems. Every day they taste wines (someone has to do it) to find the select bottles that will match best with the cuisine and focus of the restaurant.

“A lot of our guests are only comfortable drinking familiar wines because of advertising, ratings or popularity,” says Dave Madera, Sommelier at Rococo Steak in St. Pete. That’s why many of the wine director’s favorite wines stay hidden in the cellar. These wines can be an excellent value, very food-friendly, and can open your mind to new styles.

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At Cru Cellars in South Tampa, wine director Zach Groseclose manages the wine bar’s large by-the-glass list of over 32 wines, plus over 300 retail wine selections, which doubles as the bottle list for the restaurant. Groseclose says it’s all about hospitality. “My staff and I try to find out what experience customers are looking for and meet them halfway by engaging them about wine.”

The hidden gem on Cru’s wines by-the-glass list right now is the Godeval Godello from Valdeorras in Spain. “This isn’t the dry, arid Spain, like Ribera del Duero, Priorat, or Jumilla, that initially comes to mind when you think of the Spanish landscape,” he explains. “The Godello grape is from Galicia – the lush, green hilly region in the Atlantic Ocean influenced northwest. It over delivers in complexity at a terrific price point” ($13 a glass/$52 per bottle). Groseclose describes this vibrant white as a great alternative to unoaked chardonnay with “notes of flowers, stone fruits and citrus with a great mineral cut.” It pairs well with Cru’s Farmer’s Platters of cheese and cured meats and with Executive Chef Brad Sobo’s shrimp and chorizo dumplings.

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Rococo 019“Diversity, education and uniqueness are most important to our wine program,” says Madera, sommelier and director of operations for Caledon Concepts, owner of Rococo Steak. The wine cellar at Rococo includes an amazing collection of current and back vintages from many famous growing regions, including Champagne, Bordeaux, Spain and California, and they are striving to cultivate their rare California list even further. On their California Cult Corner wine list, Madera’s favorite to recommend is the Montagna ‘Tre Vigne’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa ($125). He notes that this is the best value out there for Prichard Hill grapes, and he describes it as “deep stewed black cherry and plum with baker’s chocolate and herbal spice along with silky tannins.”

Madera loves his interaction with guests. “The reward is when you see that same guest come back the following week and they want that same wine, or they want your opinion on a new one.” The Rococo staff loves introducing diners to new grapes other than the traditional steakhouse Cab, and Executive Chef Matthew Rainey’s amazing daily specials like fresh pasta, local fish and salads encourage guests to expand their palates.

Katie Povey, sommelier at Mise en Place in Tampa, manages a 3,000 bottle wine cellar for this iconic restaurant celebrating 30 years this summer. Mise has become known for their deep list of California pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons, as well as for Bordeaux, but Ms. Povey loves getting the staff and customers excited about more obscure wine-growing regions around the world. “Our favorite wine these days is the Feddellos Do Couto ‘Lomba do Ares’ from Ribeira Sacra in Spain ($71),” she says. From the northwestern part of Spain, this wine is made with indigenous grapes to the region– Mencia, Merenzao, Caino, and Mouraton. She describes it as “fresh and floral, with red cherry flavors and medium plus acidity.” This wine is versatile with many of Chef Marty’s dishes – try it with his rack of lamb, seared duck or grilled salmon. According to Povey, once diners experience this Spanish treasure they almost always order a second bottle because it is so delicious and food-friendly.

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At Tapping the Vine in Safety Harbor, owner and sommelier Laura Tamyo strives for quality and variety in her wine program and wants that ‘wow’ factor for her customers. “I continually seek different, unusual wines of incredible quality,” she says. Tamyo has two go-to wines in her cellar that she likes to recommend to guests willing to explore outside their comfort zone. For the very adventurous, she pulls a bottle of orange wine called Radikon “Oslavje” Bianco 2007 ($67 for 500ml bottle). Orange wine is a white wine (in this case pinot grigio, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc) that is made using an old technique of allowing a period of skin-contact with the fermenting juice, which is usually reserved for red wine making. “I love this wine because it is different,” she says. “It has body, color, tannins, and the potential for great aging…It is a white for all those who claim to only drink red.”

For those red drinkers, she and her staff love the Griñón Petite Verdot 2008 ($63) from Castilla-La Mancha in the center of Spain. A traditional Bordeaux varietal, Tamyo describes this bold and smooth wine as “a rollercoaster ride of flavor…twists and turns of dark fruit, herbs, soft spices and a bit of tannin.”

Tapping the Vine uses flights of wine to introduce guests to a variety of different wines. Tamyo says, “The most fun is seeing everyone engaged in conversation about wines, asking questions and testing different wines with different foods.”


Jennifer Portrait - Photo Credit Ray ReyesAbout Jennifer Bingham

Jennifer Bingham is the owner of Cru Cellars in South Tampa. She is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Masters and holds the Diploma certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.