The taste is not the only complex thing about a quality wine. College courses can be taught about the distinctions between regions and wineries in France alone, not to mention the rest of the world. Aside from the actual drinking of the stuff, it's hard to be a wine lover these days.
Or is it? Snobbery aside, the easiest way to wine nirvana is practice, practice, practice. And if you're looking for inexpensive (dare I say cheap?) ways to do it, Central Florida has plenty of wine tastings where you can cultivate a taste for that hot Napa Valley Malbec without shelling out $40 for the bottle.
Let the lesson begin at Ivanhoe Village's oldest wine store: Tim's Wine Market (1223 N. Orange Ave., Orlando), where the free (and freewheeling) weekend wine tastings are always a highlight. Patrons can stop by from 4-7 p.m. Fridays for a casual sampling of featured wines from owner Tim Varan's newsletter, 1-4 p.m. Saturdays for newer inventory selections, or noon-5 p.m. Sundays for a mix of the two. Check timswine.com for other locations and details.
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Elsewhere in Ivanhoe Village, drop by Nora's Lake Ivanhoe Wine & Cigars (1407 N. Orange Ave., Orlando). Each Thursday from 5-7 p.m., Nora features a different wine of her choice. Buy one of her generously poured glasses at regular price, and get $1 off the bottle. And on Wednesdays at 6 p.m., join the locals for paddleboarding on Lake Ivanhoe; $20 gets the use of a board for one hour, plus a glass of wine or two beers. For details call 407-447-5885.
The place to go for free sips in Oviedo is Roget's Fine Wine & Beer (2200 Winter Springs Blvd. No. 104). Drop in for informal tastings from 5-8 p.m. Fridays or 1-5 p.m. Saturdays. No pretension, no teaching, just a loose lineup of four to six wines weekly. The theme might be a tour of one specific region, or picks from a single winery such as Chile's Concha y Toro or California's Darcie Kent Vineyards. For details head to rogetsoviedo.com or call 407-971-9334.
To flavor your grapes with a bit of education, head to Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards (19239 U.S. Highway 27 North, Clermont), where the free tours and tastings include a look at the production of Lakeridge's own wines, from the grape harvest at the vineyards to the bottling. The 45-minute tours are offered from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. July offers an added reason to visit with the return of Lakeridge's Summer Music Series, featuring tunes from a different live band on the outdoor stage each Saturday from 1-4 p.m. Get directions and updates at lakeridgewinery.com or call 1-800-768-9463.
Most of the big wine stores have weekly or monthly tastings, but the primary temptation for Colonialtown residents is Total Wine & More (2712 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando). Rotating vineyards can be sampled at free wine tastings during store hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Total Wine's monthly wine classes are the next step for true enthusiasts. Sign up for the latest "Vive la France!" seminar scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, featuring a sumptuous stroll through France's best winemaking regions. Reserve your spot ($25) by calling 407-894-6553 or check totalwine.com.
For a more local flavor, there's Quantum Leap Winery (1312 Wilfred Drive, Orlando). I could go on about the winery's ecological approach of blending and bottling from large batches of imported wines, but the proof is on the palate. While free tastings aren't a regular occurrence, the best time to stop by is during the free "Wine Down" parties from 7-10 p.m. the second Friday of each month, featuring live music, food trucks and a selection of house wines for sale. There are plans afoot for an extra day of decadence on July 18 from 4-9 p.m., when foot baths and massages will be available along with your vino. Call 407-730-3082 or head to quantumleapwinery.com for details.
Between the rain, humidity and heat, summer offers plenty of incentive to be a nerd in Orlando. But just because the weather is ideal for indoor video gaming doesn't mean you can't be social.
Case in point: Dave & Buster's (8986 International Drive, Orlando). Through the summer, the mammoth arcade and restaurant will be adding more cocktails to a menu that already satisfies a drinker's sweet tooth, including a Strawberry Watermelon Summerita with strawberry ice cubes ($8.99). In the arcade, gamers can enjoy the high-tech shooter Dark Escape 4D and big-screen versions of mobile gaming apps such as Temple Run, along with a slew of other new games — all exclusive to Dave & Buster's and free through the summer with purchase of a game card. Wednesdays are a solid time to visit, with half-price games throughout the day (and typically, fewer people).
Elsewhere in the tourist corridor, I finally stopped in at Player 1 Video Game Bar (8562 Palm Parkway, Orlando) in the Vista Centre plaza near Downtown Disney. If you're looking for a quieter spot with some true nerd credentials, this is the realest deal since BART in the Mills 50 district. Player 1 has a craft-beer bar stocked with 36 drafts, bartenders dressed up as video-game characters, and a vast free-play arcade stocked with every classic from Asteroids to Zaxxon. New-school gamers don't get left behind either, with current console favorites at the bar and dancing games such as Dance Central open for play on an actual dance floor. Well worth the $5 cover, and locals should definitely invest in a membership.
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