One recent Friday afternoon I stopped by Del Frisco’s Grille on Boy Scout Boulevard in Tampa to chat with Bar Manager and Sommelier Matt Sinclair.
Having eaten there a few weeks before, I’d fallen in love with their wine display, which runs the full length of two walls, and wanted to learn more about their new Coravin pours and virtual wine tastings. Matt set up a tasting and brought in a charcuterie plate to enjoy while he shared stories about wines and winemakers.
Before tasting the wines, Matt had a server bring in a specialty cocktail to sample, a French 75 made from EG Rosemary/Lavender Organic Vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. It was very sweet, reminiscent of a mimosa and definitely a drink to sip and savor.
Reviewing the wines on the table, I asked Matt how he made his choices. He said that he listens to what the guests are asking for and works to accommodate their interests. The Coravin corking method allows him to pour a glass of a more expensive bottle and save the rest, so that a patron can order just one glass of a wine that is normally sold only by the bottle.
The first wine he shared was one I hadn’t tasted before, yet he said it flies out of the restaurant by the bottle. Austin Hope 2018 Cabernet from Paso Robles is very smooth, with a richness immediately visible just from the dark color in the glass. The flavors of plum, oak and caramel burst in your mouth.
The 2018 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley was next, and it was delicious — one of my favorites, with a deep color, bold tannins, big flavor and a strong, sensuous aroma. There’s a liter bottle available at the same price as a 750ml, but you get an extra glass-and-a-half with the liter option.
Not on the Coravin list, but a favorite of the restaurant, is the Silver Oak 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. It has a velvety consistency with a dark garnet color; coffee, chocolate, deep fruit and rustic flavors give it a full-bodied taste. Sipping on this wine, paired with charcuterie, made for a lovely Friday afternoon!
Matt said that the onset of Covid had led him to offer virtual wine tastings, which he informed his regular patrons about through an email blast. His tastings have the distinction of featuring winery owners and winemakers as guest speakers, so oenophiles get the chance to ask questions and speak to the guests directly. Matt usually sets up the tastings on Saturday evenings at Happy Hour, before the Saturday rush of diners, and Del Frisco’s provides three kit options to choose from that can be ordered and picked up ahead of time.
Fifty-five customers ordered kits for a tasting with Joseph Wagner, the owner of Copper Cannon, Quilt and Belle Glos. They were excited to see Joseph on Zoom, talking about his wine in his own wine cellar. Another tasting featured Mike Honig, the owner of Honig Wines in Napa Valley, who spoke from his home in California. He walked viewers through the tasting with the Napa mountain range behind him on the screen.
In October, Mark Herold of Mark Herold Wines was the guest speaker. He spoke about his 2016 Cabernet Combsville Napa Valley, which on Del Frisco’s wine list sells for $200 a bottle. Matt showed it to me during my visit; wrapped in a plain brown label, it looked unassuming and not very interesting.
But Matt explained that it’s one of his favorites, with 100% Cabernet and a heavy, bold taste similar to a Nickel & Nickel. Herold Wines also makes a next-level cabernet with a white label that sells for $350 a bottle, which Del Frisco’s also offers. I was impressed with the taste and wouldn’t have thought about trying it based on its packaging.
Finishing off our own tasting, Matt had me try two wines from Orin Swift — the Abstract 2018 Blend and Eight Years in the Desert, another 2018 blend. Dave Phinney is the winemaker; Orin Swift is a combination of his father’s middle name and mother’s maiden name. He created a wine called The Prisoner which became very successful and then sold it in 2008 to concentrate on his boutique brand Orin Swift, which meant he was in a non-compete for 8 years. This Zinfandel blend is a tribute to getting back into winemaking. The stories behind the wine makes the experience much more interesting!
Right before I sent this article off to my editor, I ordered my own virtual wine tasting kit from Matt, which included a bottle of Canvasback Cabernet, a bottle of Goldeneye Pinot Noir and a charcuterie board to accompany the wine. Both of these wines are from Duckhorn Vineyards. Duckhorn makes one of my favorite cabernets, and I’m eager to hear about their two other wine brands from Neil Bernardi, the speaker and GM.
And if you feel like wining and dining in person at Del Frisco’s, it’s a great place to eat outdoors — you feel like you’re in a tree house. Or you can relax on their rooftop deck, whose canvas covering offers protection from inclement weather.