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A trans-Atlantic wine experience at Olivia

Chef Chris Ponte’s Olivia Restaurant in South Tampa has extraordinary food, which is no surprise considering his culinary pedigree. But it turns out that the wine list is equally interesting.

Olivia’s list is a two-sided affair —one side for Italian wines, the other for American. Each is broken down into sparkling, whites and reds. The list includes 30 wines by the glass, split between the two countries, and there are currently close to 130 bottle choices in their collection, with plans to expand to 180-200.

Most of my experience with Italian wine has been confined to a Ruffino Chianti from Tuscany, so learning about the different regions with Olivia’s Managing Sommelier Tyler Wolff was a lot of fun. He calls his list a “tasting experience,” helping wine enthusiasts to explore different wines with their meal.

For instance, if you find your favorite American wine on one side of the menu, you can flip it over and locate a similar wine from Italy. Under the full-bodied American reds, I prefer the lower part of the list — cabernets by Jordan, Silver Oak and Caymus. On the Italian list there are blends of cabernet and merlot and cabernet with cabernet franc varietals from Tuscany that would match my taste. Tyler chose Italian wines from larger regions in Italy that diners may be more familiar with and would have confidence in ordering by region, similar to American wines.

In setting up a blind tasting for me, Tyler poured a Michele Chiarlo Barbera and a King Estate Inscription Pinot Noir and placed them side by side. I found them to be very similar; after tasting both I couldn’t tell which was from America and which from Italy. We discussed how the Barbera, having a little more acid, should be paired with food, as Italian wines are created for sharing with their meals. These two wines could be enjoyed as starter wines with appetizers.

In looking through the Italian choices I noticed two Travaglini wines, which are from the region of Piedmont where my grandfather is from. I can remember there being a bottle of Travaglini wine on a shelf in his house when I was growing up. The wine comes in a very distinctive bottle and sells for $76 to $102. Tyler explained that Travaglini is a full-bodied wine that is very dry and is age-worthy. It can be kept for 30 years.

For our next tasting, Tyler ordered a few light appetizers to taste and share with the robust wines I prefer. Tasting side by side was a Ruffino Modus “Super Tuscan” blend of cabernet, sangiovese and merlot, next to a Bellacosa cabernet from the North Coast. These reds were smoother, full-bodied and robust, with a dark fruit finish. They also tasted similar, but the Ruffino is earth-driven and rustic, causing me to reach for the appetizers to complement the deepness of the wine.

Tyler ordered three yummy appetizers for me to enjoy during the tastings.The arancini is a 4-cheese risotto ball, lightly fried and served over a delicious cacio e pepe sauce. The peppadew is red peppers stuffed with goat cheese, almonds and parsley, and the olives come in a stacked tray with provolone cheese cubes and petit pickles to munch on.

Going out to eat can be fun, but having a sommelier direct your wine choices and share stories about the wine makes dining out an experience.

Tyler can usually be found at Olivia Wednesdays through Sundays but always on the weekends. Stop by, tap into his knowledge and take a wine journey.


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