Inside Sarasota's Vino Bistro.

Image: Bob McGinn

If you happen to be cruising down Fifth Street (it shouldn’t take long), you will likely notice Sarasota’s newest wine bar decked out in red.

In March, Theresa LaSalle opened Vino Bistro at 1419 Fifth St., in a building that you could call chic-industrial, with open girders and partially finished fresco-style art on the brick walls. During a recent afternoon interview, it was light and bright, with red seats and bar stools beckoning.

LaSalle has spent at good deal of her life traveling around the world to wine venues and learning as much about wine as possible. A transplant from New York by way of Dallas, she has been enamored with Sarasota for some time, and recently a close relative’s move here made her appearance inevitable.

An engaging conversationalist and business manager, LaSalle surveyed the local wine scene and decided to commit to a wine bar. After examining local properties and competition, she settled on the Fifth Street site because the necessary infrastructure was already in place. With family support, a chef from Rome and a small staff, she is making a go of it. So far, business is good.

Like most wine bars, the offerings are unique and partial to the owner. LaSalle deals with one major vendor and a number of small boutique ones. This allows her to host a steady stream of wine experts for tasting events, and the list of available wines is extensive. The bottle prices are more attractive than by-the-glass prices, but LaSalle says she sells far more glasses than bottles.

I tried a grenache blanc from Halter Ranch in Paso Robles, California, a mixture of Grenache blanc, picpoul blanc and viognier. It had a nice balance of citrus and honey flavors, but the amber color indicated, while only four years old, it was starting to show its age. My wife, meanwhile, enjoyed a glass of L’innesco De Nerello Mascalese Cantine Valenti, which is made with an unusual grape, Nerello Mascalese, and comes from Sicily. Light and fruity, it was a nice aperitif wine.

When one thinks tapas, Spain comes to mind. But here, tapas are small plates of varying orgin. When asked about the most popular tapas, LaSalle recommended the truffle risotto and Spanish garlic shrimp. The risotto appeared as a bounteous presentation. In fact, we split the portion. It was excellent, with a lovely balance of truffle flavor, chorizo and creamy smoothness. The garlic shrimp were roasted in garlic and olive oil with paprika and sherry. Very pleasant, but with only four small shrimp, the portion seemed meager.

LaSalle's goal is to showcase wines from around the world, introduce patrons to a new wine experience and create an enticing social atmosphere. With the addition of musical entertainment and convenient parking, she is well on her way.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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