Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wine Vault Wednesdays at Dexter's of Winter Park

Last Evening (September 15), Dexter's of Winter Park kicked off Wine Vault Wednesdays, a weekly event that will be held at the restaurant from 5:00 - 10:00 pm and promises: a "cutting-edge wine list" with pricing set between that of retail shops and restaurants; a special menu; and owner Dexter Richardson serving as sommelier for the evening.  I stopped in at Dexter's for this inaugural effort and, while there, had a chance to chat with Dexter about the event.

Dexter started in the wine business in 1981 working with the Wine Warehouse on Fairbanks Avenue.  He opened the first Dexter's at a 900 sq. ft. structure next to the 7-11 on Park Avenue and served wine-by-the- glass, pasta, and soups to customers who found the locale attractive as a hang-out spot (Dexter attributes this to the personality of the staff.).  In 1988 he moved to Fairbanks and opened as a wine bar.  They were the "non-burger, non-smoking, non-liquor place."  Dexter had a very talented team at Fairbanks to include John Hoffmeister and John Washburn as bartenders and Tim Veran running the wineshop (Tom Pence was also a part of this Fairbanks team.).  The success at this location resulted in them outgrowing it and moving to New England Avenue in 1993.

During the Park Avenue and Fairbanks Avenue days, Dexter's was known for its wines.  When Tim Veran left, it hurt the business.  After unsuccessfully trying to replace him, and seeing the number of retail competitors (including Tim) grow, Dexter thought to build out the retail side of the business.  Something that he has done successfully.  He has, however, always retained his love of wine and the wine industry and is now in a place where he can re-engage and share his expertise and passion with his customers in a purpose-crafted setting.  Hence the Wine Vault Wednesday event.

The area set aside within Dexter's for the event was at the north end of the restaurant, between the bar and the wine vault.  The opening-day crowd was not overwhelming but included some serious wine drinkers.

Attendees were presented with a 3-page wine menu and a two-item specials menu upon accessing the area.  The wine list had an impressive array (Scarecrow, Hundred Acre Ark, Insignia, ...) of featured wines for the day on the first page with "vault" wines listed on the two following pages.  The prices, as advertised, were very attractive vis a vis restaurant prices.  The specials menu featured a Beef Tenderloin Wellington and a Grilled Chimichurri Black Grouper.  And there was Dexter, flitting between the vault and customer pods, urging you to get a whiff of this or a taste of that.

A group of us pulled two high-tops together and tried to see how much of a dent we could place in Dexter's stock.  The picture below shows some of the wines we bought and drank. 

The 1995 Marcassin was brought out by Dexter who was a little concerned that its best days might be behind it  (It drank pretty well early on but began to fade with the passage of time.).

I like the concept that Dexter has pulled together and I think that the setting is absolutely perfect for it.  The pricing should allow him to attract people who are tired of paying the exorbitant markups that restaurants extract from people who are not disposed to taking their own wines to a restaurant.  The food was excellent (I had the Grouper) and if the price/quality ratio is maintained will be a huge draw for this event.  Check it out when you have a chance.

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