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Off the Vine proves good things come in small packages

Published 8:23 pm, Monday, February 18, 2013

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  • John Noakes and his dog Nikita are enjoying the new location of Off the Vine Wines & Spirits at  67 ½ Winfield St. in East Norwalk. Behind them is a cooler full of cheese that Noakes is now selling at the shop. Photo: Jordan Osterhout/For The Norwalk
    John Noakes and his dog Nikita are enjoying the new location of Off the Vine Wines & Spirits at 67 ½ Winfield St. in East Norwalk. Behind them is a cooler full of cheese that Noakes is now selling at the shop. Photo: Jordan Osterhout/For The Norwalk

 

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In this world of super-sized meals, McMansions and the sentiment that "bigger is better," people sometimes forget the old adage that "good things come in small packages."

Wine merchant John Noakes, owner of Off the Vine Wines & Spirits, knows it and thinks his customers will agree. Noakes, a sommelier, recently relocated and downsized his wine shop from the 800 square feet of his Spring Hill Avenue shop to the 375 square feet of his new store at 67 ½ Winfield St. in East Norwalk.

"This is such a great spot. Fountainhead Wines had been here," Noakes said. "They let me know it was vacant. There's a lot less overhead."

Noakes, who grew up in New Canaan, also knows that less can be more, and he's working to maximize the available space of his new location by offering a variety of cheeses to pair with wines. Noakes said his is the first wine retail shop in Norwalk to take advantage of the new state law that allows owners to carry gourmet cheeses and crackers. Noakes offers 13 different kinds of cheese from around the world.

"Having the cheeses is really fun," he said. "It makes it easier for the customer when everything is under one roof."

Eric Nelson, an Off the Vine customer, said Noakes can suggest pairings of wine and cheese and if someone were having a dinner party they could go into the shop and tell Noakes what they are serving and he can offer suggestions about what wine to serve with the meal.

"He knows his stuff. He's a great resource," Nelson said.

"The first job I ever had was working as a prep cook at a restaurant in Montauk," Noakes said. Throughout college he worked as a bartender and in wine shops "feeding the desire to work with wine and food," he said.

"When I was in graduate school I started working at a wine shop in Los Angeles. That's when I really got into wine," said Noakes, who then went to New York City to study to become a sommelier.

Noakes' love for wine and food also led to a partnership with Chef David Repp of Splash restaurant in Westport. They write a column together for the Westport News, Norwalk Citizen and other local papers; each week, the columns are devoted to a particular portion of the meal: appetizers and cheeses, entrees and desserts.

Noakes concentrates his wine business on small production wines.

"We stay away from the huge labels or producers that you can get at the big box stores," Noakes said.

"There can be a huge variation in vintages because of weather conditions," he said. Tasting is the way to find the "diamonds in the rough," Noakes said.

Nikita, Noakes' seven-year-old Siberian Husky, is still a fixture at Off the Vine, which carries about 150 labels, a variety of wines from $8 to more than $100 per bottle; "so something for everybody," Noakes said.

The wine shop offers free delivery to customers, to their houses and dock side. There are free wine tastings every Saturday from noon to 8 p.m.

For information, call 203-847-7154 or visit www.offthevineonline.com.