On any given Friday afternoon, some of metro Orlando’s most interesting back-vintage wines can be found, not poured by a sommelier in a fancy dining room, but strewn unceremoniously across a back corner table at Antonio’s downstairs cafe and market in Maitland.
For the last quarter century, a small group of wine collectors and enthusiasts has been gathering there each week, bringing treasures from their cellars to share at an invitation-only tasting.
It’s not a dressy or formal affair – many of the guests come in shorts and t-shirts – but the wines they bring are anything but everyday sippers.
A 2009 Dominus showed up on the table last Friday.
Another week’s offerings included a 2000 Chateau Montelena cabernet and a 1998 Stony Hill riesling.
Other recent standouts: 2010 Bedrock “Ode to Lulu” rosé – not often you get to taste a seven year old rosé – and a 1996 Chateau Barde-Haut Saint-Emilion Grand Cru.
An Orlando Wine Tradition
The Antonio’s gathering started back in the early 1990s with a couple of people who got together for lunch on Fridays and brought wine from their collections.
The core group now numbers around five; most Fridays, there are usually six to ten at the table, but the group has been known to balloon to as many as eighteen around the holidays.
Somewhere along the way, the event morphed from lunch with wine into a blind tasting session, with participants hiding their wines in cloth and paper bags. With that evolution came a name for the weekly gathering – Brown Bag Friday, aka BBF.
Participants talk about the wines and attempt to identify their region, vintage, and component grapes. But unlike other blind tastings in town, this is not a study group. The free-wheeling discussion is about as far as you can get from the rigid blind tasting format required by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
That’s because, for the most part, BBF-ers are not wine industry folks. They are dentists and doctors, engineers and accountants, lawyers and defense contractors – people from all walks of life, brought together by a love of wine … and some pretty deep cellars.
Rules of Engagement
The servers and managers at Antonio’s are remarkably tolerant of this boisterous band of oenophiles who take over several of their tables for hours each week, bringing – instead of buying – their wine.
That’s due in no small part to Rule #5 in the BBF Rules of Engagement:
Tip (and tip well).
BBF-ers make a point to take good care of their servers and often leave leftover wines for the staff as well.
Rule #1: Each person shall bring 2 bottles, the 1st being a white wine/champagne and the 2nd a red (only one bottle is required for opening, which will be based on the discretion of the group).
and my favorite:
Rule #3: If your wine sucks, based on group vote, be prepared to open that backup bottle.
As the Rules suggest, BBF was pretty rigid in those days. I’ve heard stories of heated debates and vicious excoriations of wines deemed unworthy. Rumor has it, a few people have left the gathering in tears, never to return again.
From my experience of BBF, things have gotten significantly more relaxed since then. Everyone I’ve encountered there has been exceedingly polite, casual and jovial.
Most people still bring two wines, but not always a white and a red – several rosés have popped up in recent weeks as temperatures have risen outside. And the idea of a “backup wine” has largely gone by the wayside – most people open both their bottles, no matter the quality of the first!
The 2017 version of BBF is, very simply, a gathering of passionate, generous wine lovers eager to share the bounties of their cellars with like-minded people who will appreciate their precious bottles.
Not a bad way to welcome in the weekend!