The Inquisitor Wine Company: How two Orlando friends turned a “pipe dream” into a local importer of private label South African wines

On June 18, 2016, a small group of sommeliers from some of Orlando’s swankiest dining spots sat down for an invitation-only blind tasting. Hosts Laura Fletcher, then 29, and Christie Briscoe, then 23, were good friends and colleagues at Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, where they worked in sales and marketing. But this event was about something completely different.

They poured tastes from a few well known, high end bottles alongside samples from a largely unknown South African winemaker, Christian Kuun. His wines got good reviews, sometimes beating out the big names.

“In that moment, I was like, ok it can happen,” said Christie, whose last name is now McLeod.

“We looked at each other,” Fletcher recalls, and thought, “let’s do this.”

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Fall into Wine

Looking at the calendar – not to mention the thermometer – you’ll know it’s not really fall in Central Florida yet. But Labor Day does mark the unofficial end of summer, and what better way to celebrate than with wine? Our local wine purveyors are happy to oblige, with a selection of tastings and events next week. A few highlights:

Tuesday, Tim’s Avalon Park hosts a class and tasting focusing on Rhone wines.

Wednesday, hit the books at Tim’s Orlando with the popular “Educated Consumer” class, which helped launch my journey into wine geekery a few years ago.

Thursday, compare Old and New World wines at an educational tasting at Luisa’s Cellar.

Friday, taste an array of wines from Italy’s Marche region at Tim’s Orlando with the export manager from Garofoli Wines.

Saturday, celebrate Swirlery’s third anniversary with a grand tasting.

Find details of all these events and more at the Events Page. Cheers to a great Labor Day weekend, Orlando!

Five Great Places to Wine in Miami

Sure, Miami is clogged with traffic and teeming with impossibly thin, tanned, trendily dressed people posing for selfies at an alarming clip. But it also has an expanding array of eclectic neighborhoods, a bunch of great restaurants, and a wine scene that’s getting more nuanced and exciting.

Not that long ago, it was hard to find anything to drink here besides overpriced cocktails and “prestige” wines – plenty of Veuve Clicquot, for example, but grower Champagne? Not so much.

Veuve is still ubiquitous, but if you know where to look, you can also find lots more interesting stuff. On visits over the past two years, I’ve had orange wine and natural wine, wine from Utah and wine from Japan, a nice bottle of Chablis in a gas station, and yes, even grower Champagne.

Where do you go for the good stuff? The best plan is to ask the locals. In my experience, Miami oenophiles are usually excited to find a kindred spirit, and I get new recommendations each time I visit. I’ve now collected enough great wine spots that I’ve put together this list of favorites for my fellow wine treasure hunters.

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Wine, Wine Everywhere!

Central Florida continues its slow sip through summer, with a diverse array of wine events in the coming week. A few highlights:

  • Vintage Vino continues its “Road to Ultimate Wine Knowledge” series tomorrow (Saturday) with a class focusing on French wines.
  • Tim’s Windermere repeats its popular Wagner Family tasting on Sunday, with barbecue to soak up the high ABV.
  • DoveCote hosts a four-course dinner paired with Halter Ranch wines on Wednesday – it’s a seriously good value.
  • Also on Wednesday, sample some of Austria’s great producers at Swirlery (maybe clone yourself and go to both?!)
  • Give your wallet a break and sip on budget bubbles at a free tasting Thursday at Tim’s Lake Mary … because all that bubbles doesn’t have to be Champagne!

Get all the details on the Events Page … and while you’re there, start populating your September wine calendar. Plenty of events are already in the works for the first month of “Autumn” in Central Florida. Cheers!

Franciacorta Consortium chooses Orlando for first Florida masterclass

Franciacorta is a baby, as Italian wine regions go. It wasn’t officially recognized until the 1960s, and its DOCG status was granted just over two decades ago.

But sparkling wine from this region near Milan is starting to turn heads, and its producers are getting more savvy in their efforts to raise its profile around the world.

Franciacorta Rashmi
Rashmi Primlani, Franciacorta’s new brand ambassador

Earlier this year, the Franciacorta Consortium hired Orlando sommelier Rashmi Primlani as a brand ambassador. Last week, she hosted a small group of local journalists and wine professionals at Orlando Chef Kevin Fonzo‘s “La Tavola” in College Park for the Consortium’s first Florida masterclass.

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Wine Safari Saturday, Empanada Pairings & More Orlando Wine Events

“Wine Safari Saturday” is not an official wine event (as far as I know!), but this Saturday, you can make your own oenophile adventure out of the plethora of wine events on tap up and down the I-4 corridor.

The four happenings are spread across time and geography in such a way that it would be physically possible to hit three of the four on a north-to-south safari — provided, of course, that you have a very patient designated driver (or a hefty ride share budget) and that you’re disciplined enough to spit!

The day starts at Cress Restaurant in DeLand with a late morning class on the influence of oak in wines, led by sommelier Jenneffer Pulapaka.

Next, it’s down to Vintages in Baldwin Park for an Argentinian tasting featuring Bodega Lanzarini.

For your final and southernmost event of the day, you have a choice to make:

— attend the Paul Hobbs pairing dinner at Norman’s

or …

— return to Italian wines at Vintage Vino‘s Zonin tasting in Kissimmee.

If you decide to skip the safari – or if you really are disciplined enough to spit – there are plenty of fun events next week too.

The most unusual comes from the folks at Swirlery Wine Bar, where creative pairings are the name of the game. Most recently, they paired wines with music; this coming Wednesday they’ll offer wine with … empanadas! Uncommon Catering is stuffing the Latin delicacies with five different fillings; Swirlery somm Melissa McAvoy is pairing each one with a different wine.

For the more conventional, Bites & Bubbles is hosting a wine-paired dinner to celebrate Julia Child’s birthday on Thursday.

Friday, it’s back to the garden with another edition of K Restaurant‘s Wine Flight Friday, this time featuring wines of Argentina.

There’s no shortage of options on this Back-to-School week in Central Florida. Check the Events Page for details of these and many more. Here’s to new wine adventures!

Aromatized Wines: Where wine and cocktails meet

You may have never heard of “aromatized wines,” but if you’ve ever had a martini or a Negroni, you’ve enjoyed them. You’ve also experienced this ancient beverage category if you’ve ever ordered a craft cocktail with “Cardamaro” or “Cocchi Americano” buried in its long list of ingredients.

By definition, aromatized wines are fortified wines (think Port and Sherry) flavored with herbs, spices, bark, flowers, or just about anything else you can find in a forest.

Cardamaro and Cocchi Americano are both aromatized wines, as are the vermouth in your martini and the Campari in your Negroni. (Campari is a brand of amaro, which falls within the broader aromatized wine family.) Seriously, this stuff is like science class … but studying it is a lot more fun!

Orlando’s Master of Wine Jean K. Reilly, who runs Slate Wine & Spirits Academy, hosted a class on aromatized wines last week at Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton. The presenter, Rob McCaughey, is a jovial Brit now based in Charleston, SC, who works on the spirits side of the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust).

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