Walla Walla Wanderings: Downtown

Note: It is common practice for wineries to waive tasting fees for wine writers. Some of the tasting rooms reviewed in this post extended that courtesy.

Washington’s wine regions sprawl widely across this diverse and beautiful state, but when it comes to wineries and tasting rooms, there are a few main centers of gravity.

Walla Walla is one of the biggest.

I just returned from my first trip to this small-town-turned-major-wine-destination. I was there to attend the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference, but I spent some time checking out a few of the area’s 120 wineries too.

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Orlando Wine Blog tasting to feature wines of Missouri, a piece of America’s wine history

I’ve made little secret of the fact that I’m fascinated by wines that are outside the mainstream. Don’t get me wrong – I dearly love great Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, and even a few California cabs. But give me a grape I’ve never heard of from an unlikely location, and my eyes light up.

When the Missouri Wine & Grape Board invited me a on a press trip exploring the state’s vineyards and wineries last month, I jumped at the chance. I’ve written about Missouri wines in the past, and readers were intrigued.

This time, I was inspired not only to write about the wines, but also to bring some bottles back to Orlando and give my readers an opportunity to try them. I’m partnering with Digress Wine in College Park to host a tasting two weeks from today, on November 8 at 6:30pm, where we’ll sample and learn about these unique wines that rarely make it out of their home state. They’re not distributed in Florida, so this may be your only chance to experience them. Seating is extremely limited, so reserve your spot today!!

Want to know more about the wines we’ll be tasting? Read on!

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De Toren all over town! Plus taste and learn with two Masters

What a week we have coming up in Central Florida!

First off, winemaker Albie Koch from South Africa’s celebrated De Toren winery will be in town, offering three opportunities to taste his boutique wines:

Wednesday at Swirlery

Thursday at Vintage Vino

Friday at Wine Bar George for a twelve vintage retrospective of the flagship Bordeaux blend, De Toren Fusion V.

But that’s not all!

Tuesday offers opportunities to learn from two of Central Florida’s resident wine masters:

Master Sommelier John Blazon will lead a tasting of Spire Collection wines at Bella Tuscany in Windermere.

Master of Wine Jean K. Reilly kicks off her latest WSET Level 2 certification course at Tim’s Orlando.

On top of all that, there are two Southern Italian tastings next week, as well as a tasting of New York wines led by three prominent women in that state’s growing wine industry, via Facebook Live.

Check out the Events Page for details of these events and other options for next week and beyond.

Get out and taste the wine, Orlando!

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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England’s Camel Valley Vineyards Pulling Back from US Market

On a stone terrace in the county of Cornwall, overlooking rolling hills blanketed with vines and fields, Camel Valley Vineyards founder Bob Lindo beams with pride as he shows off award after award to visitors sipping on the tasty fruits of his labor.

This winery is one of England’s most decorated, at the forefront of the country’s surging wine business. Producers here are winning plenty of awards, particularly for their bubbly, which has come out ahead of Champagne on enough occasions to make a Frenchman blush.

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Founder Bob Lindo welcomes guests on the terrace at Camel Valley Vineyards in Cornwall.

In 2016, the UK wine industry made a collective commitment to a tenfold increase in exports over five years, and American wine lovers are starting to reap the benefits. Just under two years ago, Camel Valley wines were part of the first full shipping container of English wine ever sent to a foreign shore; they were bound for the US.

Here in Orlando, though, you still have to look hard to find British bubbly. Wine Bar George serves a brut from producer Digby Fine English; Tim’s Wine Market Orlando has Ridgeview in stock.

But Camel Valley is not available in Florida, and sadly, that’s not likely to change. Bob Lindo says he’s pulling back from the US market.

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Spotlight on South Africa, Bonny Doon is Back, Luxapalooza Tasting

If you love South African wine – or if you want to learn more about it – listen up and act fast! Over the next eleven days – including today – you’ll have the opportunity to meet and taste with five South African winemakers at two events right here in Orlando.

Tonight, South African distributor Pascal Schildt brings producers Tremayne Smith and Ginny Povall to Tim’s Orlando to pour their wines, including Black Smith, Three Foxes, Big Flower and Botanica.

A week from Monday (May 14), Swirlery hosts a South African Braai (aka barbecue) featuring Bruwer Raats from Raats Family Wines, Carl van der Merwe of DeMorgenzon, and Lars Maack from Bayten pouring their wines.

These are great opportunities to compare wines from different producers in this country that often flies under the radar and offers great values as a result, and to get invaluable insight from the people who make wine there.

Speaking of winemakers …. if, like me, you didn’t get to meet Randall Grahm of California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard when he was in town earlier this year, you’re in luck! He’s coming back to Orlando next week. He’ll be headlining a dinner at Swirlery on Wednesday, pairing his wines with five courses prepared by Orlando’s favorite chef-winemaker Jamie McFadden of Snowbirds Vintners and Cuisiniers Catering.

One more for the last minute category – tomorrow night, Vintage Vino in Kissimmee is holding a tasting it’s calling “Luxapalooza,” which is worth a mention for the clever naming alone. Napa wines from the Treasury collection are on the agenda, including bottles from BV, Sterling, and Etude.

Details for these and many more events are on the Events Page. Check it out and happy wine-ing, Orlando!

Celebrate Spring with Two Napa Winemakers and Seasonal Tastings

Spring has sprung in Central Florida (even if not officially), and next week offers several ways to celebrate with a sip or two.

First, there are two opportunities to taste wine with the people who make it.

On Tuesday, Christophe Paubert from Stags’ Leap Winery leads a tasting at The Wine Room on Park Ave. I had the opportunity to taste with Christophe at his winery last fall as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference and to hear about his non-interventionist winemaking philosophy.

Wednesday, Stonestreet winemaker Lisa Valtenbergs will host a tasting at Swirlery.

Tim’s in Lake Mary-Sanford is in a springtime mood next week, with a free tasting of wines for spring on Thursday and a Low Country Boil with wine pairings Saturday.

Check out the Events Page for all the details.

Cheers to this beautiful season!