Janine Aquino smiled brightly and literally spread her arms in greeting, as Cheryl Harrison and I strolled together into Camelot Cellars in the Short North.
Janine had offered us and our fellow DuC swillers Debbie Bitzan and Morgan Treni a tasting so we could check out Camelot’s recently renovated digs and get a true taste of Columbus from wines brewed and bottled on High Street. Cheryl, Debbie and Morgan readily admitted they were beer chicks, but they were up for anything, and my 20+ years of wine enthusiasm earned me the pleasure of writing up our experience.
The new and improved Camelot opened last February, featuring what Janine calls a “Tuscan feel,” complete with long hand-crafted wood tables for communal gatherings, relaxed sipping spaces featuring couches and fluffy chairs, separate rooms for small parties and company team building, and a wood wine bar crafted from Ohio timber. But the room’s main feature ensures no one will mistake the main focus of Camelot–a literal “wine wall” displays more than 80 wine varietals, creating a rainbow of bottles across the color, taste and price spectrum.
It was in this grape-infused oasis that the four of us pulled up a seat at the Tuscan table and put ourselves in Janine’s capable hands for a trip through Camelot wines. Janine, who is fourth generation in the wine biz and clearly knows her way from chardonnay to shiraz, had prepared for us a sampler than ran literally from light to dark, fruity and flowery to thick and robust.
But before we got started she made good on her promise to educate us while we imbibed. She explained how it was key to drink white wine holding the glass by the stem, as a hand’s warmth against white or rose can alter the taste. She showed us the proper swirl to bring oxygen in contact with the wine and let it “open up.”
And then we got to taste.
The French Chardonnay was “old world,” as Janine described it, forsaking the American oak barreling that California wineries often use to infuse taste into their offerings and instead kissing it with an herbal tone under the grape.
I was a little unsure when Janine next brought out the White Zinfandel, since in California we call that “soda pop” wine,” heavy on sugar and light on complexity. But Camelot adds no sugar to its offering, just zinfandel juice with a touch of skin for color, and it came across with just a light berry flavor.
Camelot buys juice from all over the world to make its wines, and Janine next brought us a glass from my Napa Valley home with a plum-tasting Stag’s Leap Merlot. The French Cabernet Sauvignon brought a lesson about how tannins in grape skin break down over time to give depth to a wine, before we finished off with our universal favorite, the South Australian SV Shiraz, heavy on the pepper and spice.
And after she had gotten to know each of our tastes better, Janine brought us over to the bar to offer glasses of some Camelot samples that might fit our tasting personalities. She proved a pretty good judge, as Debbie and I both left with bottles.
I bet after you stop by for a taste, you won’t leave empty handed either.