The term "wine and cheese shop" doesn't do justice to Mark Gambuzza's new shop, Uva, at 519 Fleming St.
"We're more like a cocktail party and a gift basket," said Gambuzza, who opened Uva in mid-February and received his wine license three weeks ago.
The walls of the artfully decorated shop in the block between Duval and Simonton streets is lined with smallvintage wines that sell for $15 to $30 a bottle, along with high-end olive oils and balsamic vinegars, while the refrigerator in the back is stocked with cheeses produced by family-run farms.
And nearly everything can be sampled first.
"I don't expect someone to just buy a block of cheese they've never tasted before," he said, removing a cheese tasting board from the refrigerator to reveal about seven different flavors ranging from hard, sharp cheeses to soft, spreadable ones. "And I always have bottles of wine that are open for tastings."
The wines and cheese are mainly products of Spain and Italy, which makes for a fitting name of the shop.
"Uva means grape in Spanish and Italian," said Gambuzza, a Brooklyn native who moved to Key West two years ago with his wife, Dina.
He ran a tapas-style restaurant for nine years in New Jersey and became partial to the Spanish and Italian-style food, drink and lifestyles.
And Uva on Fleming Street has all the makings for those long, lingering afternoon cocktail parties that last well into the night. Wine bottles are opened and shared; cheeses, tapenades and bruschettas are spread generously over crackers while crusty bread is dipped into the seasoned combinations of balsamic vinegar and infused olive oils.
"The cheeses and wines are all from family-owned vineyards and dairy farms," Gambuzza said. "No big corporations have had a hand in any of these products."
The lesser known wine labels allow Gambuzza to keep prices lower for excellent wines.
"The wineries with the more recognizable names and labels are spending a lot of money
for that name recognition and they have to charge higher prices to recoup their advertising costs," he said.
Uva offers reds, whites and sparkling wines, along with free membership in Uva's wine club. And membership certainly has its privileges on Fleming Street, where Uva members get a choice of two bottles each month for a total of $40, along with additional discounts on select bottles, and the privilege of tasting any bottle that's for sale at Uva.
"If you're a wine club member, I'm happy to open any bottle and let you taste it, because I know you're going to buy bottles," said Gambuzza, who will host his first tasting from 6-8 p.m. Thursday.
Along with wine tastings, attendees can sample the popular pomegranate balsamic vinegar, along with blood orange olive oil while exploring the local art that lines the shop walls.
"Obviously, any of it will make a salad better," he said. "But I have recipes for every item along that wall, and I try to select things that appeal to every palate."
Uva will assemble custom gift baskets that include wine, olive oils, tapenades and specialty coffee roasted by Gambuzza's friends in Hoboken, N.J.
He also recently partnered with local caterer Danni Becker of 3 Fine Chefs to offer dinner or cocktail parties.
"Key West is a great food town, but I realized that when it came to small Italian and Spanish specialties, there was something missing," Gambuzza said, hoping to fill that hole on Fleming Street.