Don Decker likes nothing better than to open a bottle of wine with a stranger.
As a sommelier and general manager of the Wine Styles store in Belleair Bluffs, his goal is to help customers find the wine that best suits their taste buds.
At Wine Styles, wines are displayed not by region or varietal but by style, as in light, medium and full bodied.
"It's all about how it tastes on your palate," Decker said. "If you find a particular style you like, then it doesn't matter where it's from, you're going to like it."
The wines are arranged in alcoves against the walls. Above the alcoves, signs tell customers how the wines will taste: nectar, bubbly, bold, mellow, fruity, crisp, silky, rich.
Wine Styles specializes in small production boutique wines from around the world that many people have never seen or heard of before.
"Winemaking is an art, it's a blending art," Decker said. "These winemakers are farmers that love what they do and it shows in their wine. They talk to the grapes and they're there for the pruning, fertilizing, harvesting and blending."
Decker recalled the day one of the winemakers visited the store.
"A farmer of 13 acres for six generations in his family in Alsace, France, walked into my store smiling from ear to ear," he said. "Jean Luc Meyer was so amazed that his wine made it to America and this beautiful store. I was never so moved. It's amazing to me that I can have a world-class wine here that this man makes for only a few hundred cases."
Decker, a native of Binghamton, N.Y., has been in the food and wine business for more than 30 years, working in restaurants in Orlando and St. Petersburg, where he lives. Gerry Minton, who has the franchise for Wine Styles in the Orlando-Tampa market, put Decker in charge of turning the 2,500-square-foot space in Largo into an Old World style wine store.
"At the time I took over, I was going through sommelier school and needed an outlet for tasting wine on a daily basis,'' Decker said. "As a sommelier, you have to taste wine every day to build your palate and understand wines throughout the world. I taste from five to eight different wines every day. I taste each wine before I bring it to the store."
Next week, he finishes the final phase of his sommelier studies, just one level below master sommelier. But he's not going for master certification. "It's too intense," he said. There are fewer than 160 master sommeliers in the world.
Are the prices of these small production wines more expensive than larger producers?
The big draw here is that the majority of the wines are under $25. Prices range from $10 for a 2005 Bordeaux to $179 for a Heitz cabernet made in 2000. The quality and the price point is awesome.
What do you like best about the wine business and this business in particular?
I love educating people about wine. The whole theory behind Wine Styles is teaching people about wines; that before they walk out the door they will have a better understanding about wines. When customers buy a wine they haven't tasted, I open a bottle and let them try it. I enjoy proving this is great quality and you don't have to spend a lot of money.
Christina Cosdon can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4154.