It's difficult to capture Stefano Campanini's attention for more than a couple of minutes. Owner of downtown Miami's Wine by the Bay, he has a passion for the product and a charming Italian demeanor that have earned him many fans who wave as they walk by or stop in to say hello and grab a bottle on the way to a dinner party. They trust his opinion, fine-tuned during years of travel and study, and have come to rely on what he believes is one of the few mom-and-pop stores in the area.
The small staff of four jokingly refers to the job title as PD: professional drinker. After only a brief conversation, you realize they all know their stuff. Tasting upward of 150 wines a week, they have a grasp on every bottle in the store and can help you make the best choice.
While Wine by the Bay boasts an impressive selection ranging in price from $11.95 to $2000-plus, it also offers weekly tastings to educate the public on wines from around the world. These events include plenty of vino, good company, and some tasty bites.
Since the place opened two years ago, word about weekly tastings has spread. To make up for increased demand, they now host groups most Tuesdays through Fridays. Topics are diverse, ranging from wines from Tuscany to rosé from around the world. On this particular night, I stopped in for Malbec and other great South American wines.
You try seven to eight wines that are stacked to reflect a particular region, grape, year, or style. To keep track of them all, you're given a sheet to take notes (that grows increasingly illegible as the tasting progresses), along with an introduction about the theme of that night and how to properly taste and swirl like a pro.
Though there's no kitchen, neighbor Doma Polo Bistro provides tapas for the session. Tonight's selection -- provolone cheese, pickled eggplant, Argentine sausage, and ham -- went particularly well with our South American wines. Wine by the Bay also has a special deal with the restaurant. If you buy a bottle of wine, you can take it to Doma Polo and enjoy zero corkage fee.
After the two-hour session, you'll leave tipsy, with purple-stained teeth, and in great graces with your fellow pupils. You'll also most likely end up taking a bottle home.
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To find out more about upcoming events, visit Wine by the Bay's website. Class prices range from $25 to $250 (the latter for tastings with more expensive bottles). For his best customers, Stefano also arranges VIP events featuring exquisite food and wine pairings. Occasionally, you can also snag a Groupon for the shop.
Connect with Cassie Glenn on Twitter @cassieinmiami.