Wine Down winds up
Restaurant brings new wines and tasty tapas to the city
Stepping into the cool, yet warm, inviting interior of Wine Down Tastings & Tapas inside the busy Harrison complex on West Jefferson Boulevard, in the heart of downtown’s entertainment district, one can be forgiven if the thought of being in a much bigger city springs to mind.
The street noise is hushed, the walls are adorned with wine crate wood, and that’s just inside the entrance. Walk into the subdivided restaurant, and you’ll experience several different ambiances. The bar area is dark and sleek, with a wall of wines available by the ounce via a contraption that keeps the wine fresh with argon gas, eliminating oxidization. Owners Gary and Kelly Skeel spotted one of the special wine-dispensing machines while on vacation in Florida and thought the concept would work well in Fort Wayne. One problem: they weren’t in the restaurant business (at that time).
“We were looking for what we wanted to see in Fort Wayne,” Gary said, “and when we saw (the wine-dispensing machine) in Florida, that’s what started the planning.”
“We wanted to bring something more elevated to Fort Wayne,” Kelly said.
At the time, Gary was a middle school teacher, and Kelly still works in the heating and air conditioning business. Gary said he was at a turning point in his teaching career when the couple decided to bring their vision to fruition. He quit teaching to work full-time at putting together the restaurant, from hiring the staff to developing the menu with chef Chuck Blevins, to creating craft cocktails with mixologists Trevor Scovel and Cory Barnard, who developed Wine Down’s unique bar service menu from the ground up.
But it was Kelly who designed Wine Down’s beautiful interior. Classic old country stone walls and pressed tin drop-down ceilings blend with modern touches like wine-bottle chandeliers and black accents. There are six “traditional” tables, plus three “couch rooms,” where friends can kick back while sampling the wine and food, up a short flight of steps from the bar area.
About that food. While there is a small selection of larger plates (including a yummy paddle pork chop and delicious creamy shrimp and grits topped with a luscious fried egg), the star of the show is tapas, which is Spanish for “small bites.” Crabmeat stuffed deviled eggs, barbecued bison meatballs with espresso barbecue sauce and pulled pork wontons are popular, as are the cheese board and Old World charcuterie board, which features a chef’s choice of artisan cheeses, meats, tapenade and quince paste.
“We try to (put) a Midwestern spin on tapas,” Kelly said. Weekly specials keep the menu lively, and the lunch menu features quick and easy meals like salads, sandwiches and pizzas to cater to office workers on time-limited lunch hours.
Perhaps its best feature, in the summer months primarily, is its wrap-around outdoor patio, which seats 130 and looks over Parkview Field, making it a prime spot to watch the TinCaps play baseball.
As good as the food is, the true draw at Wine Down is the ability to sample 48 different wines, from the palest whites to the deepest Merlots. The wine-pour machine is operated by a special card that keeps track of which varietals you’ve sampled (and how much you’ll be paying when you settle your tab). The special system keeps each bottle in an airtight seal to keep oxygen from getting in and spoiling the wine. The Skeels said they deliberately choose wines not available locally.
“We try to find wines you can’t just go down the street and get,” Gary said.
The craft cocktail menu includes herb-infused liquors and classic cocktails with a modern spin. The Smoked Old Fashioned is truly smoked, created with flamed wood, while the Pimm’s sour includes actual Pimm’s, a fruit liquor not often seen in Indiana.
Wine Down Tastings & Tapas
301 W. Washington Blvd.
Oyster Shooters from Wine Down
Makes 12 shooters
16 ounces tomato juice
2 teaspoons Frank’s RedHot Sauce
3 tablespoons prepared ground horseradish
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Juice of 1 lime
12 fresh raw oysters
12 small lime wedges
12 pieces of fresh chive
1. Mix all ingredients except oysters in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You want the flavors to meld together and be cold for serving. Note: You can alter the horseradish and Frank’s RedHot Sauce to taste. We like it strong at the restaurant.
2. Place 1 oyster in the bottom of each shot glass. Top off with 1.5 ounces of the tomato mixture. Garnish with a mini lime wedge and a piece of chive. Enjoy!
First appeared in the October 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.