Catania’s Winery

A winery in Englewood Florida? Yes! I  have driven River Road. many times and have been intrigued with the small roadside sign for Catania’s Winery. Last week, my wife and I and some friends decided to stop by. The building is in a small strip mall in an industrial area. Not expecting much, I was pleasantly  surprised by the facility. Having spent far too much time in Napa and Sonoma tasting rooms, this was eerily familiar. Entry is through a gift shop with all sorts of wine accoutrements, as well as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and winemaking supplies. The space is small but well fitted out. After you pass the gift area, you enter what appears to be a real winemaking facility. There were several 500 gallon fermenting/storage tanks and other winemaking equipment. There were several tables with stools for guests, and the tasting begins.

John Catania is the winemaker and owner. He presents small glasses and pours an ounce or two of Sauvignon Blanc. A few customers don’t care for whites but that’s no bother. He then proceeds to a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend which he pours from one of the tanks. Both wines were pleasant and well structured.  Before he pours reds,  he offers tiny samples of olive oil followed by balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately there are no crackers or bread to cleanse the palate.

The reds that came next were Cabernet Sauvignon based with either Sangiovese or Amoroso as the blend. Both are substantial and full bodied with good mouth feel and finish. All wines are twenty-four dollars per bottle which seems pricey but that’s a personal opinion. My friend and I had never heard of Amoroso but John said it was the grape of Amarone (Italy).

John has been making wine for over forty years. Born in Italy, he made wine in Canada, then in Connecticut, and now in Florida. There are no vineyards nearby so his wines are sourced from grapes he ships in from California or Washington state. Grapes are then made into wine on the premises. In addition he sources fruit from Canada which he uses to add complexity to the wines.

John is a most interesting man, charming and informative. When we asked about the blend percentages, he declined saying it was not to divulge. Also, do not get him going on Florda regulators. That is another story.

The only downside here is the tasting fee of twelve dollars per person which he did not waive when we purchased wine. Although the tasting glasses were complimentary. Also he has only one label for red, so only the foil will dictate which blend it is. I had to call back to identify the wines.

In addition, John sells homemade sausages, winemaking equipment, teaches winemaking classes and caters events.

Catania’s Winery, LLC  524 Paul Morris Dr. Ste. B, Englewood, FL 34223  941 475 7553

Staff Wine Training is Essential

Yesterday I held a wine training session for the staff of a local steakhouse.The owner has been working with me to update his wine offerings and train his staff. This initial meeting was to assess and improve their wine knowledge and serving techniques. It quickly became evident that there was a great disparity in knowledge. The manager knew a great deal and was eager to lean more. Others were in various stages of understanding with one admitting he was a neophyte. Falling back on my educational training, I tried to make it interesting and informative to all. Their wine list has about twenty-five selections, so I focused on the most obvious choices, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for whites, and a Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds. I have found over time that most servers will only concentrate on four or five wines to suggest no matter how many selections the wine list has.

The main concern here was to show the differences in style and intensity of the wines and have them use appropriate terms to describe their characteristics. While the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was acidic, I demonstrated how that acidity nearly disappeared with cheese samples. The concept is that most wines are meant to complement food. The trick is to get the best match. Selling terms were discussed such as crisp for acidic, and full bodied for tannic. We reviewed the menu items from fish and chicken to pork and steak. Each server now had a better understanding of wine and food matches and could now make appropriate suggestions.

Table service was another concern. Wine understanding and matching suggestions need to be put into practice at the table. Basic procedures were revived such as placing the wine list on the table, presenting the wine ordered to the buyer, properly opening the bottle, and pouring for the guests. Most servers were familiar with this practice, but now had a greater uniformity of style in wine service.

It’s difficult to create a staff of superior wine servers, but the understanding that appropriate service adds significantly to their tips is a grest motivator. The goal is to have the server and the customer benefit from the interaction. By the way, the restaurant has increased its wine sales and profits since intiating the new wine list offerings and hopefully this training will carry wine sales to higher level.

The presentation can be seen in the traing section of this website.

Wine Storage

A new wine storage facility opened in Sarasota and I decided to check it out. I met with the owner, of Cellar Fifty-Five, Brett Laurvick, and had a tour. This is a fabulous facility. It is only three months old and everything is brand new. The lockers vary in size from 3’x2’dx2.5’h  to 7’x9’dx8’h. Brett said that the larger ones were the most popular. They are symmetrically arranged  and the entire area is pristine. Some unit owners create racks inside and others simply stack cases. The entire area is climate controlled at 55 degrees (hence the name) and 60% -70% humidity. Membership has two levels, Basic and Premium, and monthly costs will vary accordingly. Entry level membership is reasonable at $35 per month. Access to the lockers is 10 AM to 5 PM weekdays, and 10 AM  to 4 PM Saturday. All customers are allowed 24 hour access. Another feature is the ability to accept wine shipments directly. They can be held or placed in the locker. Also a wine inventory is available to premium members as well.

Brett was involved in sports representation and became hooked on wine when a player served him a Joseph Phelps Insignia at dinner. A native of Washington State, he then made it his mission to visit as  many wine producers as possible. After leaving the sports business,  he then decided to focus on wine storage. According to him, this is the only  wine storage facility in Sarasota County dedicated to the broad spectrum of wine collectors. Another facility in Sarasota caters to large collections and is more expensive.

In addition to wine storage, Cellar Fifty Five has an intimate lounge at the entry to the facility. Clients can use it for private tastings at a reduced rate.

With the constant heat and the vagaries of weather in Florida, this presents a nice option to  the serious wine collector.

8229 Vicela Dr. Sarasota, FL 34240     Directly off Fruitville road, it is easily accessible from Lakewood Ranch as well.


Having spent most of my life in the wine business, I thought I was immune from novice mistakes. However, the other day I thought I did not have enough chilled white wine for dinner so I decided to put a sauvignon blanc in the freezer for a quick chill. Needless to say I forgot about it. The next day I realized my mistake and now it give me the chance to describe what happens. I most cases, freezing wine will not incur any problems. The wine will reconstitute itself after thawing and the taste will most likely be unaffected. However the danger lies in the wine  expanding upon freezing causing a pushed out cork or a split bottle if the glass is week. Fortunately there was enough eulage ( space between the wine and the cap) to absorb the expansion.

The other characteristic of frozen wine is the appearance of tartrate crystals. Many times people would tell me “there’s glass in my wine”. Actually it’s tartaric acid (cream of tartar) that has precipitated out. Totally harmless. Most wines undergo a cold fermentation to pecipitate them out before bottling but freezing carries the process to another level.


Tartaric acid crystals


Sometimes it takes a while to come to an obvious conclusion. After I began writing this blog and paying more attention to the analytic evaluation of wines, instead of the hedonistic (which wine was consumed more), I began to notice the initial harshness of big reds. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah  seemed to show a  bite on the tongue. Perhaps the alcohol was dominating the fruit due to the temperature. In order to alleviate that, I placed some in the refrigerator for thirty minutes or so. Voila. Each wine had a much more attractive and smoother taste. For comparison, I had two glasses, one with room temperature wine and the other chilled. It was easy to see the difference. Most red wines show best at room temperatures which in Europe could be 68 degrees and in most of North America 70 to 72 degrees. However, here in Florida, my house averages 76 degrees.

Visiting Publix always seems like an arctic excursion. However, yesterday  I purchased a bottle of Santa Christina (lovely Tuscan wine) and opened it upon arriving home. It was the perfect temperature. Easy way to get your wine chilled.

2016 Rhone Wines

The most recent issue of The Wine Spectator featured a  review of the 2016 vintage. Rhone wines are some of the most affordable French wines and generally portray a heartiness and fullness of flavor. The Rhone Valley is in the Southeast part of France abutting the Rhone River. Numerous grapes are grown, both white and red, but Grenache and Syrah dominate.

The Wine Spectator gave the vintage a 99 rating, the best in ten years. To verify this, I decided to try a few from 2016. I found three under $15 at ABC Fine Wine. The first is a 2016 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve. Perrin is the most respected producer in the Rhone Valley and is  noted for it’s higher end wine, Chateau Beaucastel. The Famille Perrin started somewhat dry and tannic, but soon developed a roundness and structure that was very enjoyable. It had good body and pleasant finish. Great wine for the price. My wife and I enjoyed it with pork tenderloin. Great match.

Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone from M. Chapoutier. Along with Perrin, Chapoutier is one of the top producers in the Rhone Valley. This wine was very deep at onset and quite tannic and astringent. At 14% alcohol, it was a big wine. As dinner progressed, it became more enjoyable with good complexity and body. It was a bit too strong for my wife.



Les Carteresses Cotes-du-Rhone  -The previous two wines did not list their grape content but this states clearly it is  made from 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Carignan, and 10% Mouvedre.  Carignan is the most popular red blending grape in France and allows the winemaker to keep the price low. This was not produced by a dominant winery but more likely a custom bottler. Since it was imported by Grantham Distributing (ABC) this is probably their arrangement.

This was not as rich as the previous wines, but from the outset was very smooth and flavorful. Very approachable and balanced with medium body. My wife thought it light but I believe it was a good representative of Cotes-du-Rhone.

Enjoyed it with lamb burger, stuffed mushrooms, winter squash and zucchini.

Les Carteresses

Wine in a can

Wine in a can? OH my!Wine in can

In its 5,000 year history, wine has only had a few storage vessels. Clay amphoras were the first, but the wine spoiled easily and traveled poorly. Goat bladders were portable but did little for the maturation. When glass bottles came into being, wine found a perfect match. Bottles with cork stoppers allowed for aging which gave wine complexity. Cork allows very gradual exposure to air which makes wine less tannic. As winemaking became more sophisticated, complexity and balance became available at lower cost in boxed wine. Consumers could store one in the fridge and have a glass anytime. Now with the appropriate technology, wine in cans is available. Unlike beer, wine in cans has no sell by date so it’s important that the wine does not react with the metal lining.

Convenience is the key word here. Packaged like beer or soda cans, wine cans are extremely portable and perfect for the beach cooler, boat, or individual serving when opening a bottle is too much. They come in single 375 ml. (half bottle) or 4 packs of 187 ml. (full bottle).

It seems they also indicate a sea change in consumer buying patterns. According to Mark Montelbano, Wine Consultant at ABC Fine Wine Venice, the dominant wine purchases of the past were 3 liters of jug wines, whose buyers have significantly declined. They are being replaced with millenials who seek modern packaging and distinct flavors. Cans fit the bill. A good indication of current retail commitment is the shelf space and precious cooler space dedicated to the cans.

I purchased a couple of cans there and here are my tasting results.

Dark Horse Pinot Grigio 2017 ($4.99 375 ml.) Unexpectedly dry, light, thin, with acidic finish.

Better with food but a very simple wine. Would benefit from sweetness.

The Original House Wine Pinot Noir ($5.99 375 ml.) Full body, good balance, lingering aftertaste, good value. Imported from Chile, packed in Walla Walla Washington.

Also tasted at Laurel Wines and More.

Dear Mom Rose’ (Approx. $14.00 4 pk. 187 ml.) Light, slightly sweet, good color and balance, pleasant wine. Produced in Oregon with no vintage.

Dear Mom Oregon Red Blend (Approx. $14.00 4 pk. 187 ml.) Full bodied, good color and balance. No vintage.

My concern with wine in cans is the prospect of sudden inebriation since they are so similar to beer and soft drink containers. It has been documented that an individual drank two 375 ml. cans in an hour which is not a lot for beer, but corresponds to an entire bottle of wine. Since the alcohol in wine is about 12% and beer is 5%, the person became quite drunk quite quickly. To avoid this, pour wine into a glass and drink from the glass rather than the can.

I believe these wines may have a place but at this point it’s primarily convenience. With no vintage it’s hard to know how long these wines will last and when they will drink at their peak (if there is one).


Wine in a can? OH my!Wine in can