Gary Stewart caught the bug in his early 20s. He was working in a hi-fi store, and a neighbor who owned the wine shop next door offered to trade a few cases of wine for a stereo. Stewart did the deal and ended up with several dozen bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundies, and Italians. Three decades later, he oversees thousands of bottles, more than 1,500 labels, at Cellars Wine and Spirits Warehouse (1739 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-764-4764), with partner Steve Morris. Over the Thanksgiving holidays, Stewart and Morris toured Burgundy, sampling and buying wines by the barrel. They'll be bottled and shipped to the store (they get 25 cases per barrel) when the wines are in top quaffing condition.
The partners opened the Warehouse last year -- one in Aventura and another in Lauderdale --- modeled after a concept they'd seen in Europe; it's a cross between a boutique and a chain like ABC -- big selection, lots of know-how, competitive prices, and specials. I marked off 20 glittering feet of champagnes in their gold foils, 40 feet of Chardonnays, their top seller. Assistant Manager Brandon Webbing showed me into the "cool room," where the divas of the wine industry recline like odalisques: the Opus Ones, the Chteau Margaux. Wines at Cellars range from $4 to $400. Intensive help, if you need it, comes in the form of monthly winetastings. The next takes place March 18 and costs $12. Call the store for details.
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At the opposite end of the spectrum is Dolce Vita (9 N. "J" St., Lake Worth, 561-493-3330), a tiny shop specializing in Italian and French wines, crammed floor to ceiling. Open two years, Dolce Vita is the first venture in the wine business for Lake Worth locals, owner Marco Turdiu and partner Jerry Jantzi. They're open till 8 p.m.; if you arrive breathless, needing a last-minute bottle for an unexpected guest or just to go with dinner, they'll whip out the ideal wine in your price range. Lately, they've recommended a Leyda pinot noir ($19.99) from Chile, a Rustenberg chardonnay from South Africa ($19.99), and an Aura Pinot Noir from Romania ($7.49) -- big tastes at big bargains. Their School of Fine Wine course begins soon at the Gulfstream Hotel, eight classes (including dinner) for $59 each or $399 for all, taught by Mark Spivak (you've probably heard him on Uncorked! Tuesday nights on WXEL-FM, 90.7.) Call the shop for details.