by Judith Smelser
Orlando’s wine scene has expanded and diversified in recent years, with an explosion of locally owned wine bars dedicated to helping customers find great wine and learn more about it. Here are a few of the best Orlando Wine Bars, listed north to south. Click here to see them on a map.
Downtown Sanford is buzzing these days, with a vibrant beer and cocktail scene and a growing restaurant community. Owner Yellymary “Mary” Montalvohopes Luisa’s Cellar will help the area become a wine hub too.
Nestled in a historic building on Sanford Ave., Luisa’s has something for everyone, whether it’s wine and craft beer on the patio, coffee and live music in the cozy bar, or cocktails and dessert in the upstairs speakeasy.
Montalvo educates her customers through frequent tastings and seminars, but she keeps things approachable.
“I have a passion for obscure [grape]varietals and always feature one or two three,” she says, but “I always have my Napa cab and chard [available].”
Twenty ever-changing wines are offered by the glass, and two wine dispensing machines provide adventurous alternatives.
Winter Park: The Parkview, since July 2014
Most days, the tables and chairs outside The Parkview overflow with patrons relaxing with a glass of wine.
This welcoming spot offers a chef-driven food menu and more than 50 wines by the glass. When Matt Coltrin bought and renamed it in 2014, he set out to expand his patrons’ palates. Wine flights– a longtime staple of Eola Wine Co.’s menu – were the perfect vehicles.
“I immediately set out to develop a flight program that would entice customers to try something different, by wrapping many of them in a package that sounds safe,” Coltrin says.
He’s been known to sneak a funky natural wine into an innocent sounding California flight or a South African bukettraube into a flight of sweet wines.
“We’ve slowly but constantly been pushing the needle,” Coltrin says. “As our client base gets to know us (and we them), it’s been really gratifying to see their curiosity grow and their tastes develop.”
College Park: Digress Wine, since October 2017
This once-quiet wine shop, formerly known as Cavanaugh’s, has been a College Park fixture for two decades. In late 2017, local wine sales reps Brian Kerney and Rob Chase bought the store and breathed new life into it.
Kerney says one of their goals is to showcase the work of family winemakers. He calls them “some of the most generous, humble, fun-loving, brilliant people on the planet.”
“In a family-oriented, dynamic neighborhood like College Park,” he says, “the parallels between the two worlds are almost too good to be true.”
Digress has a remodeled interior and a spruced up leafy patio, and it’s become a casual but vibrant hub for the oenophile community, with blockbuster tastings, an adventurous bottle selection, and a small by-the-glass list. There’s no food menu, but the popular Smoke & Donuts food truck is a Friday night fixture.
SODO: Swirlery Wine Bar, since June 2015
A sommelier and a DJ open a wine bar … that’s not the start of a bad joke; it’s the beginning of a wonderful wine establishment!
Melissa McAvoy is an Advanced Sommelier – one level below the vaunted Master Somm qualification. Her partner Damian “Collaborator” Roman is a longtime local DJ. Together, they took an unassuming storefront sandwiched between a dog groomer’s and a hair salon and turned it into an intimate neighborhood wine bar.
Swirlery offers wines by the glass, along with a diverse bottle selection behind its beautiful bar, designed and built by Disney artist Tim McCloskey and co-owner Roman.
It’s also become an important gathering place for the area’s growing population of wine professionals. McAvoy’s popular Blind Tasting Tuesdays attract studious sommeliers and curious consumers alike.
“We have led the way to foster a sense of a wine community,” she says. “We are a hub for wine lovers and sommeliers to establish relationships [and]comradery.”
Avalon Park: The Wine Bar at Tim’s Wine Market Avalon Park, since March 2018
This attractive spot in downtown Avalon Park is the first wine bar in the Tim’s Wine Market chain. It’s also the first boutique wine establishment to grace the east side of town.
“It’s given our guests an alternative to standard mass-production wines,” franchise owner Mark Hoerrner says. “People often walk into our bar and say, ‘I don’t recognize many of these wines.’ They are like kids on Christmas morning.”
A simple but tasty food menu complements the 30 wines he pours by the glass. He also offers several flights, and all the retail bottles are available to drink onsite.
The space is airy and comfortable, with a long bar, several tables, and a couple of couches, plus sidewalk tables outside.
Kissimmee: Vintage Vino, since January 2009
Kissimmee’s attractive little downtown feels a world away from the city’s tourist strip. Former Wine Spectator writer John Siudut chose that area to open his wine bar … in the middle of a recession.
“Because Vintage Vino was started at a difficult period of time in the economy, our success may have given others the courage to open their own ventures,” he says.
Siudut has created a cozy space with a Tuscan theme. They offer about 25 wines by the glass and more by the bottle, plus a gourmet cheese selection.
He says his experience as a wine critic helps him understand what his customers want, while still helping them learn through tastings and individual interactions alike.
“I like to stretch my customer base,” he says. “In time, we’ve moved many wine lovers up the ladder of quality, and they now have a tremendous amount of confidence.”
The Exploration Continues
This list only scratches the surface of Orlando wine world. This more comprehensive guide offers additional places to continue your exploration of wine around our region. Cheers!
Judith Smelser is the author of Orlando Wine Blog.