Orlando for wine lovers

Rashmi Primlani shares her enthusiasm for the wine focus of Central Florida. You can find links to all the other articles in this series in Writing competition 2019 – latest.

Orlando has lived in the shadow of being the happiest place on earth – Disney earning a reputation for uncomplicated and worse, an unhealthy food destination. Thanks to a recent surge in farm-to-table restaurants, the sustainable food movement, tastings and events, O-town’s food-and-beverage scene has been revived and is more attractive than ever.

As O-town’s dining scene continues to become more dynamic, a few dedicated and highly conversant ladies and men from the wine industry are silently building a wine scene pushing Orlando towards being a world class wine destination. Whether you are an oenophile or a budding wino, resident or transitional tourist, here are Central Florida’s retail shops/bars exclusively dedicated to all things grape.

Wine bars

Disney/Universal/Restaurant Row

Wine Bar George Need a break from parental duty? Adults accompanying their children to Mickey Mouse land can savour their downtime with upscale dining and waterfront views at Disney Springs, home to Orlando’s latest and only wine bar by a Master Sommelier – George Milotes MS. Wine Bar George has earned the accolade of having the most progressive wine list in Central Florida, thanks to its practical and creative business model based on a revolving list of wines sold solely by the glass in pours of 1 oz, 3 oz, and 6 oz. Don’t forget to check out their events calendar. If you happen to be in town for their exclusive masterclass-style tastings, expect to be treated to old and rare collections of both old and new world wines.

Downtown Orlando and vicinity

Swirlery The trail blazer, Advanced Sommelier Melissa has single-handedly united the community of Orlando with her love of all things wine. She has not only played a pivotal role in my personal success in the wine industry (spearheading the first Orlando tasting group that focused on blind tasting and service for wine certifications). Her bold dream Swirlery, a neighbourhood wine bar, has become the stomping ground for industry professionals seeking higher education, be it CMS, WSET, or beer Cicerone. So if you are looking to hone your tasting skills or learn through osmosis, check out Blind Tasting Tuesdays, Movie Night with Wine & Popcorn and Thursday Somm Sessions.

The Wine Room is a treasure trove of popular grapes and hot wine regions, stocking over 156 hand-selected wines that can be sampled by the state-of-the-art Enomatic wine dispensing machines or by purchasing bottles from their library vault. This is literally a wine lovers’ candy shop. The Wine Room also serves a wide array of artisan cheeses and a tapas-style menu. And if you feel the desire to elevate your grape repertoire, ask for Mr Kevin, the most charming walking wine encyclopedia. Wine Room also hosts some of the finest wine events in O-town including themed tastings with wine makers and ambassadors in their elusive wine vault where patrons have the option of renting cellar space. 

The Parkview Proprietor Matt Coltrin’s vision of The Parkview is a home away from home. Proudly boasting a killer chef, thoughtful service, great drinks, affordable prices, and a super-chilled vibe, it’s the kind of everyday late night or lunch hangout that every part of town needs. The Parkview is the kind of place where you stroll in for a pint of beer or a flight of sparkling wine and end up staying for dinner.

Quantum Leap Winery Located in the Lake Ivanhoe district, this urban winery offers sustainably-grown wine that’s transported to Quantum to be finished, blended and packaged. Think South African Chenin Blanc, Australian Shiraz, Merlot from France. Jill Ramsier, co-owner of Quantum Leap, also hosts wine, cheese and chocolate pairings with local cheese expert Tonda Corrente and founder of Orlando Uncorked Lisa Wilk on a monthly basis, including workshops at Epcot, Disney.

North Orlando/Sanford

Ellen’s Wine Room Forged by the need to fill the gaping void left when Wine Warehouse shut its doors, Ms Hartman opened Ellen’s Wine Room in Sanford’s historic district. Quickly becoming the local stomping ground for wine aficionados, Ellen’s Wine Room is a charming wine bar to relax in and enjoy reasonably priced wines and imported beers with family and friends. PS Be sure to check out Tuesday Wine Swap or Thursday themed tasting, where $15-20 per person will fetch you a three-course home-cooked meal and some good old grape juice, aka wine. 

Luisa’s Cellar A former attorney, Luisa Mary is on the arduous mission to convert craft beer hub Sanford into wine drinkers with her newest venture. Entrepreneur Luisa Mary with her partner in life and crime Sascha calls it a ‘wine bar with a beer problem’. A German and a Puerto Rican walk into a Wine Bar… It’s not the setup for a joke, but the start of an intensely multicultural wine and tapas bar, and a tribute to Mary’s grandmother. Luisa’s Cellar swaggers a wide variety of flavours perfectly paired with a well-curated beer and wine list, a beer bottle shop, coffee bar and sublime dessert room.

Wine shops

Tim’s Wine Market With multiple locations in Central Florida – Orange Avenue, Sanford, Windemere, St Augustine and Ponte Vedra – Tim’s Wine Market is an independent wine merchant with a selection that can be easily considered best, both in terms of absolute quality and bang for the buck, be it a $8 or $80 bottle.

I may be over-simplifying when I bestow on Tim the accolade of being the most knowledgeable wine expert in Florida. Tim constantly inspires through his passionate reflections on wines and vignerons. Eager to share and spread the gospel of wine, Tim demystifies wine intricately with his monthly wine classes for people of all levels of wine knowledge and offers a wide range of membership for his hand-picked, themed wine club.

He has recently partnered with Florida’s only female Master of Wine Jean Reilly MW by hosting WSET classes at their downtown Orlando location. A wine scholar, Jean is on a quest to educate Central Florida on wine as well, with her school Slate Wine Academy. Jean’s wine school exclusively offers WSET certifications. My alma mater is open to both industry professionals and wine aficionados. If you’re looking to host an interactive and delicious corporate event or party, check out Masterful Wine Events. To read more about extraordinaire Jean, click here.

Vines & Fork by the Wine Barn My initiation into wine immersion commenced at Wine Barn’s old location on 33rd street with Thursday tastings. This ritual former owner Andres Montoya (UC Davis winemaking graduate) thankfully carried over to his bustling Winter Park location. Featuring thoughtfully-chosen, wallet-friendly wines from both the old and new worlds, the Wine Barn is a casual, no-frills place for budding wine wannabes and experienced drinkers to enjoy a bottle or two on a satiated belly. The name change reflects an expanded food menu which now includes fresh pastas in addition their famous wood-fired pizzas and wings.

Digress Tucked away in College Park is a not-so-hidden gem with indoor and outdoor garden seating that has transitioned into a dynamic wine haven for the Orlando community after former wine reps purchased it last fall. It’s a combination of wine bar and a retail store centred around sincere wines from genuine winemakers, drawing from all corners of the globe with an incredible array of grapes and prices. Sign up for their newsletter to stay up to date with current winemaker events and educational interactive wine tastings.

Do yourself a favour, do Orlando a favour, get a group of like-minded people that are thirsty for knowledge. The only way to get acquainted with your taste buds is to drink more wine! Tasting is the only way you are going to understand wine better.

Armed with an open mind and an empty glass, embrace the ever-changing magical world of wine. These local wine shops/bars offer plenty of options to gratify your palate and allow you in the process to learn something new about the sheer joy of wine.

Wall of wine in Orlando, Florida