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A Wine Wonderland:

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The Wine Sampler
4107 Oleander Drive, Unit C
(910) 796-9463

The Fortunate Glass
29 S. Front Street
(910) 399-4292

ON THE MOVE: (above top) Pious Choi and his helper, Chili, packed up The Wine Sampler and relocated to the front of Anderson Square, off Oleander Drive. Photo by Marco Raye. (above)Owners Celeste Glass and Denise Fortuna opened downtown’s newest wine bar to hit the nightlife scene, The Fortunate Glass. Photo by John Hitt

To harness the complexities of wine, a true connoisseur must be present. Differentiating between a fruity or dry wine, full-bodied or light, is as much a passion as it is sheer knowledge on the matter. Wilmington locals are fortunate that there are a slew of wine retail shops specializing in what the world’s vineyards have to offer. Of that ilk: The Wine Sampler found at its new location on Oleander Drive.

Pious Choi, owner of the shop, has an extensive past with wines. After graduating college, moving to Nags Head, North Carolina and then to Colorado, his love for wine began as did his foray into a career.

“I started serving,” Choi recounts, “and became involved with a couple restaurants that were very wine intense.” After being bit by the “wine bug,” as he describes it, his passion for wine continued to blossom. “I left and came back east to find a ‘real’ job,” Choi notes. “For 10 years I was a sale representative for wine distributors in Washington D.C.”

The ambitious professional eventually landed a desired position in Oregon as a national wine distributor, but due to the recession was forced to relocate back to Wilmington, where his mother and brother were living. All of his experiences gave birth to The Wine Sampler.

Taking great pride in providing customers with quality wines, specific to their preferences, Choi has become a veteran consultant on the vino scene. “I try to access each person’s wine level from an introductory drinker to a collector,” Choi says. “Descriptions are so important when it comes to wines because they are so subjective. For example, explaining a wine as ‘sweet’ or ‘fruity’ is a broad generalization. Multiple people can describe wines the same way, so it is up to me to interpret what they mean by communicating with them to provide the right fit of wine.”

To assure top-tier customer service, Choi often questions customers on recent wines they have had to help better assess their palates. Even more crucial to excellent customer service is being able to access the store easily. Thus, the relocation of the retail space into the old Dragonflies location in Anderson Square proves a promising move away from the past stagnate three years, a time when potential new customers could drive Oleander without seeing a visible storefront. The Wine Sampler was tucked away in the back, and finding it seemed similar to venturing through an intricate maze, nearly impossible and frustrating.

“I need to be geographically where people remember my business,” Choi says. “Customers know [Anderson Square] is the base of my operation, so it was important to relocate nearby.”

Now open in his new, spacious digs, customers can look forward to an expanded collection of wine and additional events. Wine classes will be offered, as well as tastings, every Thursday through Saturday, from noon until close. Special tastings will be conducted for specific wine distributors who travel through Wilmington. In addition, Choi will continue to participate in the “No Corkage” program to omit corkage fees at certain restaurants if they purchase the wine they bring in from The Wine Sampler.

With a new location, wider variety and events to go along with it, Choi views the upcoming transition as a critical rejuvenation for his business.

A Wilmingtonian does not have to go far to get his or her wine glass refilled. Traveling from midtown to downtown, wine enthusiasts can venture into The Fortunate Glass located at 29 South Front Street. Owned by partners Celeste Glass and Denise Fortuna, the shop’s name originates from a play off their surnames. After being open for a little over a month, the shop is an authentic wine bar, corking the nightlife scene especially authentic for wine lovers.

The shop’s presentation fits the image of downtown Wilmington’s historically hip yet laid-back vibe. “We renovated the entire space,” Glass says. “We incorporated a glass bar, a large [sculptural] mural of a mermaid and castle-rock walls to make for nice ambiance. The shop has taken on a very serene atmosphere.”

Customers get introduced to 40 different lines of wine by the glass and over 300 labels, so all palates have a full base of coverage. More importantly, the owners focus on the quality and brightness of each opened bottle.

“We have a preserving system that uses argon gas, which insures fresh wine,” Glass explains. “A major obstacle many visitors of wine bars face is being served quality wines that have gone flat. This system allows us to serve the freshest wine possible.”

While Glass spent years familiarizing herself with wines as a wine distributor, Fortuna fuels her passion for fine wine from constant research and taste-testing. They have traveled through wine countries together with their husbands.

“Our friendship grew out of a love and appreciation for wine,” Glass says. “With my experience as a distributor, coupled with [Denise’s] knowledge over wines, we decided to open a wine bar that we would like to hang out in.”

The duo’s extensive amount of time spent in and out of fine restaurants in the big cities of San Francisco and New York inspired the bar’s opening on the downtown Wilmington scene. The philosophy remains simple: Provide an aggressive product for the best price.

Wine tastings are held every Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and provide a great chance to taste new varieties. Customers can look forward to small edible wine enhancements, too. “We have a small kitchen that prepares small platters of global cheeses, Italian cured meats or desserts, such as chocolate mousse cake,” Glass says.

Much like the wine selection, it is important to Glass and Fortuna that customers have access to cheeses from across the world, as well as Italian meats, such as capicola, prosciutto and salami, mostly collected from A Taste of Italy. Desserts consisting of cheese cake, handmade ice cream, and other occasional specials are prepared by a local chocolatier and baker, offering a nice nightcap to the evening.

Once a month they host a pairing event, too. “On November 10th, we will have a chocolate-and-wine pairing,” Glass informs. “Other pairings we offer are cheese [and] wine, as well as exploring Italian hors d’oeuvre with wine.” Pairings have become a solidified event once a month for the wine shop. Providing sophisticated palates a place to convene, The Fortunate Glass lives well by its name.

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