A Whole New World For Wine

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Story by Dave Eckert     |     Photos courtesy of Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen

I’m going to let you in on one of the worst kept secrets out there. I am a huge wine fan. I think about, talk about, and try and learn about wine as often as possible. Lately, I’ve noticed some changes in the way wine is presented, marketed, and sold in Kansas City. It’s not that the traditional wine shops, wine bars, and restaurant wine programs are disappearing. It’s more that new models are appearing.

The first example of that I came across is occurring at the city’s oldest and most respected wine bar – Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen. Tannin has gone virtual, hosting virtual tastings around the world. “Virtual was never really our intention, but we found out pretty quickly that it fit well with our overall goal of making wine and food approachable, interesting, and fun,” Vice President of Client Experience Barry Tunnel told me. It started when the pandemic shut everything down and Tannin decided to host virtual winemaker dinners and tastings. It was a simple concept but Tannin realized consumers wanted more. 

A Virtual Toast was born! “A Virtual Toast is a very engaging and fun wine and food experience where we tailor the event to the special needs and desires of the participants whether it’s business, social, or something in the middle,” Tunnel said. “We do personal events, too, from anniversaries, to birthdays, to retirement parties.” Tannin works with fulfillment partners all over the world! “We deliver food, wine, and the experience through our partners. We’ve hosted events in Australia, Japan, India, Israel, all over Europe, South America, and South Africa-every single continent except Antartica,” Tunnel shared. Tunnel expects the virtual experiences to become a permanent part of the Tannin experience. 



As Tannin brings its experience to the world, Sail Away Wine Bar, located near the intersection of Swift and Armor in North Kansas City, is bringing the world to Kansas City. Owned by husband and wife, Russ Johnson and Heather Brown, Sail Away is the first self-serve, fully automated wine bar in the metropolitan area, offering a huge, constantly changing selection of wine in one, three, and five-ounce pours. Avid sailors, hence the name, Brown and Johnson fell in love with the concept while visited the country’s oldest automated wine bar in New Orleans. “It’s called W.I.N.O., the Wine Institute of New Orleans. We just stumbled upon it, but we were blown away. We thought how great it was that you could have all this wine from all over the world, and you got to choose what to drink,” Brown and Johnson said. That was back in 2017. It took four years for the couple to take the plunge, but in June of 2021, Sail Away went from a dream to a reality. “We were able to get a Tavern License, which allows us to sell more wine and spirits than food. They are very difficult to get in Kansas City,” Johnson offered.

So, Brown and Johnson had the space and the concept, but neither felt they had the expertise to curate the wine selection. For that, the couple turned to local sommelier, Katie Hendley. “Because of our ‘taste the world’ theme, and because there are so many amazing wines out there, the selection has a worldwide scope. I try to find wines from as many different places as I can, from unusual wines to classic styles. I really want to showcase the breadth of options out there, and to provide a snapshot across our 72 taps.  For that reason, the selection changes often. There will be around 15 new wines every other week, for example,” Hendley told me.

One last wine stop brings me to the Pairing Wine & Grocer where I caught up with co-owner Mat “Slimm” Adkins. The Pairing just celebrated its two-year anniversary in The Crossroads. Part bar-part liquor store, Adkins wants to take wine down off its pedestal and restore it its rightful place as an everyday beverage by focusing on smaller, esoteric, lesser known, family-run wineries. “You won’t find the big name, chain store brands in here, but if you tell me what kind of wine you like, I’m sure I can find something you will enjoy, even if it’s something you’ve never heard of,” Adkins shared.

The neighborhood vibe and the lack of pretense continues in the bar where you will find live music several nights a week. That’s another one of Adkins’ passions along with matching the right beverage to the right food-the right pairing, if you will. Also at the bar, you will find a big emphasis on flights. Every night, you can belly up to the bar and try small pours of four different wines. And, the flights change all the time, sometimes more than once during a single busy night. “I just want people to enjoy wine the way they would enjoy a beer. Don’t think too much about it or read too much into it. Enjoy it for the pleasure it provides.” Something for everyone. That perfectly sums up The Pairing. 

Cheers!  

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