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New South Tampa wine bar Cru Cellars toasts good, affordable wine

When it comes to wine, Jennifer Bingham considers herself a rebel.

She shuns any kind produced by the millions of barrels and considers wine at a supermarket or big-box store way too pedestrian.

Instead, she prefers harder-to-find, affordable wines produced by small-production wineries worldwide.

Bingham, 28, put that philosophy to work when she opened Cru Cellars, a new wine bar and shop in South Tampa. The store carries 350 different wines, including 50 that sell for $13 or less.

"With the economy being as it is, people are buying less expensive wine,'' she said. "But you don't have to spend a lot of money on wine. We have good wine that's cheap.''

Bingham and her husband, Torrey Bingham, opened the shop a few weeks ago in the former spot of Gianpiero's Pick of the Wine, 2506 S MacDill Ave. She was working as a wine distributor and met Gianpiero Ruggeri, who was looking to sell his store after nine years.

The two shared a passion for wine: Ruggeri's uncle was an Italian winemaker; Bingham is a certified sommelier and worked at a wine store in Chicago for several years. She liked his customer service attitude and taste in Italian and California wines. He thought she had the background and business sense to be successful, even in the face of price-conscious superstores.

"It's not like all these fly-by-night wine stores that are opening by people who think, 'How romantic. Let's open a wine store,' '' he said. "They think they are going to be drinking wine all day, but you have to be knowledgeable. It's a hard business.''

Bingham bought the store — and all its inventory — in July and ran it as Gianpiero's for a few months before closing for renovations in October. They added a sleek bar and a private lounge and repainted the bright yellow walls a neutral dark grey. They threw a going-away party for Ruggeri, 58, who now repairs espresso machines for hotels and restaurants.

The store sells 12 kinds of wine by the glass, bottled craft beer, such as Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA, and Miller Lite because Bingham's husband "made me do it.'' Cheese, charcuterie and desserts, including too-pretty-to-eat chocolates by Viktoria Richards, round out the bistro menu. The name Cru refers to the French word for special vineyard site.

Like other small wine-shop owners, Bingham aims to create a destination for wine, rather than just a store. She offers Friday evening happy hours — $15 for five sample flights and a glass of your favorite one — and plans to start a monthly book club in the lounge and classes for the wine-challenged.

"I love the stories behind the winemakers and the complexity of wines,'' she said. "You never get tired of trying new wines.''

Cause for wine

Cru Cellars hosts A Perfect Pairing, a grand-opening party to benefit the Children's Home from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 18 at 2506 S MacDill Ave., Tampa. Tickets are $25 and include tastings of more than 20 kinds of wine paired with cheeses, cured meats and desserts. Call (813) 831-1117 or go to crucellarstampa.com.

Sit and sip a spell

Whether you're looking for a place to meet up with friends or go on a date, there's no shortage of independently owned wine bars around Tampa Bay. Here are a few picks.

Called a "little bit of Paris right here in Tampa,'' Beaune's Wine Bar at West Palm Wines has a wine store, tasting tables, a French-inspired dinner menu and private cellar space. 2009 N 22nd St., Ybor City; (813) 241-8587, westpalmwines.com.

Bella Vino Wine & Cheese Market sells wine, champagne, desserts, coffee, gelato, cigars and gift baskets. Take it to go, or enjoy it at the small wine bar. 100 Indian Rocks Road N, Belleair Bluffs; (727) 584-5552, bellovinowinemarket.com.

Wine is just the start at The Grape, which has a large menu of cheese, flatbreads, entrees and dishes to share. 2223 N West Shore Blvd., International Plaza, Tampa. (813) 354-9463, yourgrape.com.

Wine dispensing machines at Taps Wine & Beer Merchants let customers sample expensive wines using a prepaid card. 777 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 463-1968; tapswineandbeer.com.

Sip wine, listen to live music and people-watch from the balcony at A Taste for Wine. The wine bar sells cheese plates, appetizers and desserts. Jennifer Real sings from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday. 241 Central Ave., St. Pete; (727) 895-1623; tasteforwine.net.

More a wine shop than a bar, Vintage Wine Cellars has frequent wine-tasting events, including this Friday's Holiday Heavyweights and Nov. 19th's Talk Turkey seasonal wine tasting. For times and prices, go to vintagewinecellars.net. 3629 Henderson Blvd., Tampa; (813) 879-2931.

Taste test some wine, then buy a bottle of your favorite at Wine Design, a retail store with dispensing machines. Free monthly wine tastings at 7 p.m. (The next one is Nov. 18.) 615 Channelside Drive in the Channelside Bay Plaza; (813) 223-3449; tampawinedesign.com.

New South Tampa wine bar Cru Cellars toasts good, affordable wine 11/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 6:12pm]

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