Sunday, June 23, 2013

New Flights from CVG – Vino Volo

Ever tried to get wine through a TSA checkpoint at the airport?

The “three ounces of liquid or less” rule effectively prevents travelers from bringing a bottle from home in their carry-on luggage. If you’re an oenophile at the airport and you want a glass of wine while waiting for your flight, you belly up to a random airport bar and hope for the best – and hope there’ll be a wine store somewhere near your hotel when you land.

Until now.

Vino Volo, the new dining option at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport provides a welcome, wine-centric addition for thirsty travelers. Located at the top of the escalators rising to the concourse in Terminal B in the former location of the Starbucks Coffee, Vino Volo is a tasting bar, tapas-style restaurant, and wine store all in one. The lounge is nestled against the floor-to-ceiling windows in that section of the terminal, and the “pergola style” roof gives the place a very open, clean feel. I found it an attractive, relaxing spot to kick back.

(Don’t worry, caffeine junkies – Starbucks is still there. They’ve just moved it next door.)

 “Vino Volo” literally translates from Italian as “wine flight” and that’s their specialty – mixing and matching sequences of wine samples. While wines are certainly available by the glass, the beverage norm among the patrons I saw at the grand opening appeared to be the three-wine sampler.

As the wine educator in these parts, I really appreciate Vino Volo’s fairly unique approach to passing along information to its customers about the wines. Rather than providing a simple wine list with no information, a noncontextual 100-point scale or normal “shelf talkers” with tasting notes, Vino Volo adds a four-quadrant graphic to illustrate the character of the wine. Here’s an illustration of their "Shades of White" flight:

As you can see, the wine’s flavor gets bulls-eyed on the graph depending intensity and complexity, making it simple to compare and contrast. Major flavors and wine region are pulled from the tasting notes for easy viewing, as well as the price if you decide you like the wine and want to snag a whole bottle. Flights range in price from a $9 “Kentucky Thoroughbreds” flight to the $19 “Sommelier Selection” pair of tastes. By the glass, selections range from an $8 Benvolio Pinot Grigio to a $28 glass of Silver Oak 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

How were the bottle prices overall compared to a “regular” retail location? Well, you are in an airport. The “$2.50 bottle of airport soda” rule applies, especially among less expensive bottles in the store. Looking at the flight of white wines displayed above, the “standard” retail price for those would be $13, $11, and $23 from left to right. That’s slightly more than standard restaurant markup, but hey – you’re past security!

(One very pleasant surprise at the CVG location – the best wine value I saw, in my opinion, was from our friends at La Vigna Estate Winery. Vino Volo had their “Carnevale” Cabernet Franc – normally a $12 wine, for $19. Snag.)

The bill of fare
At the grand opening last week, I also had the chance to try several items from their menu. Their “small plates” include meat and cheese boards, cured olives, and roasted flavored almonds, all of which were quite tasty. For me, the highlight was their “signature dish” – smoked salmon rolls with crabmeat on crostini. The sample sizes of both the Tuscan chicken and brie & prosciutto sandwiches were both worthy. Also on the menu – pork tacos, a white cheddar-sauced pasta, chickpea and chorizo chili, and a couple of tasty sounding desserts.

The staff at Vino Volo were friendly and seemed quite knowledgeable about their selections. I overheard them helping a couple of travelers with potential selections, and the “quadrant system” gave folks an easy frame of reference.

I’d be shocked if Vino Volo doesn’t do very well. I thought it looked like a great place to relax while waiting for a flight, and while the bottle prices are a little on the high side, that extra money pays for the convenience of not having to find a decent wine store (or, honestly, even a Rite Aid) while navigating your path from your destination’s airport to your hotel.  

Since I know my readership, I also knew to ask the $64,000 question: “Since you can take food and drinks that you purchase beyond security onto the plane, can you do the same with wine from Vino Volo?” Bringing wine onto the plane is not a problem. However, alcohol can only be dispensed by the flight crew and you’re not allowed to carry a wine opener anyway. That said, I refuse to be held responsible if enterprising individuals decide to see what they can do with some ingenuity, considerable discretion, and one of the many screw-capped bottles available.

If you’re flying out of CVG, Vino Volo’s definitely worth checking out. Just don’t get too comfy with a good glass in your hand. You don’t want to miss last call for boarding…

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