959 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park | 407-599-9463 | thewinebarn.net | $$
I’m ashamed to say that it’s taken me two and half years to visit the Wine Barn on Fairbanks Avenue, but now that I’ve notched my first appearance, I plan on making trips to this quaint wine market a regular occurrence. Owner Andres Montoya, a wine aficionado with a certificate from University of California-Davis’ wine-making degree program, took over the former Wine Warehouse space next to A Chateau Kitchen back in November 2011, and Winter Park bon vivants rejoiced. What was once the second outpost of Montoya’s wholesale wine market is now his one and only outlet (the first was in a less desirable area on 33rd Street near I-4), but the place is more than just a wine shop; in many respects, it’s the wine shop.
Soon after entering, we received a tour of the Wine Barn from a young gentleman who was as well-versed in wine as he was in patience. He fielded our questions with aplomb, then pointed out the varietals of their vast selection of boutique and small-batch wines from around the world. Montoya and his team have actually tasted every one of the 600-plus wines they sell, but, best of all, bottles can be purchased and enjoyed with your meal sans droit de bouchon – that’s no corkage fee. Our meal was on par with the two malbecs we enjoyed – a pleasantly structured 2008 Cuvelier Los Andes blend ($29.99) and a rich, balanced 2011 Diamandes de Uco ($19.99). The dining area toward the back has worktables set up amid bottles of their domestic wine selections. We took our seats on stools made from wine boxes and commenced sniffing, swirling and swishing.
The menu primarily comprises pizzas and finger foods fired in Wine Barn’s two outdoor wood-burning ovens, one of which is housed in a fire truck in the parking lot. (There’s a small prep station inside, so it’s common to see cooks shuffling in and out.)
Before we tore into the pizzas, we sampled a couple of other wood-fired instant classics. First up: chicken wings ($9). The menu said they were rubbed with cayenne butter and roasted rosemary and garlic, but we detected heavy notes of turmeric on these jumbo flappers, giving them an exotic Indian essence. The wings were topped with a sprinkling of fried shallots that had a flavor reminiscent of pakoras. All in all, they were some of the finest wings we’ve sampled. Next up: Angus meatballs ($8). While I thought the shallot rub and marinara sauce lent an unsuitable sweetness to the meaty orbs, my dining comrades felt otherwise. “You’re absurd,” they squawked. “We don’t care what you say – they’re delicious.”
The 14-inch pizzas are made from scratch with dough of 100 percent Caputo doppio zero (the best flour for pizza) and baked at 800 degrees for 90 seconds. The result: a nicely blistered crust with just the right amount of elasticity. The margherita ($9), with its San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) and basil, was outstanding and heartily devoured. We then scarfed down half of the Piemonte ($16) layered with Ibérico ham, butter-glazed mushrooms, caramelized onions, tomato chutney and a farmer’s egg. The fragrant pie was doused in white truffle oil, and we’re not complaining. If there was any fault, we would’ve liked a smidge more ham and eggs on this pie.
Because they forgot to box up our half-eaten pizza (they threw it out while we were enjoying some glasses in the front patio), the cooks made us another Piemonte at no extra charge to take home with us. Needless to say, we enjoyed our breakfast the next day.
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