Local breweries are exploding in stature. Wine continues its steady growth in both popularity and sales. Spirits makers are starting to call the area home. Bartenders are organizing to boost their profiles and skills.
It’s a great time to drink in Tampa.
Other than Prohibition and the days of rum-running, there has never been a more exciting time here where adult beverages are concerned.
My goal with this new column is to highlight the area’s latest news and trends and showcase the people who are building Tampa into a destination for educated drinkers.
And, when possible, we’ll have a little fun. Because everything tastes better when there’s a story attached.
Lassegue returns to Tampa
It was supposed to be an informal, get-to-know-you lunch.
Pierre and Monique Seillan were visiting Tampa from France in 2005 and wanted to meet and talk about their Chateau Lassègue winery in St. Emilion.
Over Salad Niçoise at The Wine Exchange in Tampa, Pierre schooled me in terroir and how he wasn’t in the business of growing grapes; he was reading the land to match it with the best vines. Great land makes great wine, he told me. The grapes are the result of that land. He preferred to work the front end instead of trying to make magic in the barrel.
The couple joined with Jess Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke, to find a St. Emilion estate where he could take advantage of the terroir. They eventually found the 60-acre Chateau Lassègue, which had close to a dozen soils with which he could play to produce the labels Lassègue and Chateau Vignot.
During a recent return visit to Tampa, Monique and I recalled that lunch. A beautiful smile ran across her face over dinner at SideBern’s when I told her how essential our conversation had been and how much I learned at the table that day.
It was remarkable to again be reminded of the versatility of the Lassègue and Vignot labels, which pair with seafood as well as beef and pork. I highly recommend the 2008 Lassègue Les Cadrans ($28) with its blend of 60 percent Merlot, 25 percent Cabernet Franc and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a lovely wine full of subtle complexity.
Winefest highlights It’s easy to be wowed by the big-dollar wines each year at Bern’s Winefest in South Tampa. Last weekend’s shindig, the 16th annual gathering, did not disappoint.
The 2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia drank like every penny of the $195 a bottle it costs. So did the 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone, which clocked in at $122.95. And if you held me down and forced me to pay $101 for the 2008 Antinori Guado Al Tasso, you would hear no complaints.
But if you’re living on a more meager salary, allow me to suggest a few lower-price alternatives that still deliver big flavors:
2009 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo. Dubbed a “Super Umbrian” after the Italian region where it is grown, the Turlo mixes sangiovese, cabernet and merlot. At $18.95, it drinks like a much more expensive wine.
2009 Post Scriptum de Chryseia from Portugal. Known more for its fortified wines (read: port), the country is on the verge of becoming the next great wine producer. This $23.95 bottle is a nice introduction for those who are unfamiliar.
2007 Tikal Patriota. Argentina may be volatile politically, but it hasn’t put a large dent into its wine production. But then again, look at Italy. Crazy politics makes for good wine. This label produces a $19.95 bottle that blends 60 percent malbec with 40 percent Bonarda, the second-most widely planted red grape in Argentina. “This is malbec at its highest level,” one expert told me. It sure drank that way.
Each of those wines, as well as the dozens of others featured at Winefest, are available at Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits.
Small sipsThe newly remodeled Bazille café on the second floor of the Nordstrom department store at International Plaza now features a full bar and an impressive wine list. Four of the 15 craft beers on the menu are Cigar City brand. The café also carries gluten-free New Planet Pale Ale and Crispin Original Cider.
The Roosevelt 2.0 in Ybor City plans to offer its own house-made beer using the original brewing equipment used by Joey Redner before he founded Cigar City Brewery.
Mouth-watering bar food Tater tots with chili and a fried egg at Stein & Vine in Brandon.
Deviled eggs flight (blue cheese & bacon, and curry crab) at Anise Global Gastro Bar in Tampa.
Daikon kimchi in a jar by Chef Nicolay Adinaguev at Cigar City Brewpub in Carrollwood.
Party of the month:Drunk Camera Guy’s “Star Wars”-themed May The Fourth Be With You party, 8 p.m. May 4 at The Bricks, 1327 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa. Event includes a Wookiee soundalike contest, costume contests (Dark Side, Rebel Scum and Princess Leia). Overall winner gets first light-saber swing at the piñata. I suggest you wear a costume. The event is free and open to the public. For info, go online to Drunk Camera Guy’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/drunkcameraguy
Drinkable words Allow me to recommend the book “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist,” by Tim Federle (Running Press, $15).
The homage to the world’s greatest stories and storytellers includes recipes for making such drinks as “Love in the Time of Kahlua,” “The Rye in the Catcher,” and “Romeo and Julep.”
It will make you laugh. It will make you thirsty.