“Because at the end of the night, she says ‘Champagne?'”
It’s happy hour at Michael’s Genuine® a few weeks back, and Amara’s Sommelier Amanda Fraga has placed one of her favorite sparkling wines, Roederer Estate, in front of colleague Maria Pottage.
“People say Champagne all day, but let’s be honest, it’s going to get expensive when you’re the one paying for it!,” she jokes. “It’s tough to have a favorite, because it’s like talking about kids, but this is one of my favorite sparkling wines. Roederer does an amazing job, and I can afford to have multiple bottles. It may not be French, but it’s Champagne method, not bubble injections.”
We’re continuing our deep dive into the Amara Beverage Book, having transitioned from cocktails to something even more festive with Fraga as our guide. She sees every glass of wine like traveling and visiting a new place. When your new place is a new restaurant with a new menu, the journeys are endless in building a wine list. The process of discovery is winding, sometimes hidden from view.
“Because of Amara’s cuisine, I felt slightly out of my comfort zone,” Fraga explains. “The culinary team was going to Buenos Aires for their research trip, and I’m thinking, this is one if the countries I drank the least of!”
It was at this point that she remembered who she worked for. The Genuine Hospitality Group wasn’t an ordinary restaurant group with a literal approach. There was room for interpretation. Sure there would be Malbec… There had to be and should be, but not 30, with some Cabs to round it out.
“I feel like everyone thinks Latin American wines are only from Chile and Argentina,” she continues. “The idea was to have the coolest wines from Latin America at large and to not forget our roots of fresh and genuine. There is so much diversity in what’s growing and being produced from South to Central America. You have more familiar grapes like Pinot Noir, Albarino and Tempranillo, juxtaposed with Tennat, Listan Negro (the mission grape) and el Pais. It’s the perfect storm.”
Fraga’s passion for education comes from a visceral place, stemming from a drive to expand her own wine knowledge through experience, travel being one of the most salient — a potent source for inspiration that sticks. As she sees, relating those experiences to her staff is one of her most important jobs in training — the story behind the bottle that leaves an impression. Her innovative approach to training is predicated on a consistent curriculum and engaging the staff through “Wine Wednesday” trainings on various topics including the importance of backstory and context in wine not just the taste profiles. They’re catalogued, little nuggets of wine knowledge framed by a narrative on who made the wine and where it came from, on the restaurant’s Instagram at #amarabeveragebook. It’s something she developed as sommelier of Michael’s Genuine & Beverage Manager for The Genuine Hospitality Group, a useful tool grounding her training process.
Balanced with her knowledge of what our guests enjoy drinking guiding balanced by a compass pointing south, the list netted out 35% Latin America, which although not a majority is a focus on which to build, and more than Fraga has ever worked with before. In 2015 she participated in a competition among Miami sommeliers to build the best wine bar, counter tops and all, hosted by Wines of Chile. Although Amara was a faint glimmer in her glass and Director of Licensing Operations Eric Larkee’s team poured victorious, she reflects now on this intensive, apt primer that opened her eyes to what was out there.
“I realized the incredible variation even Chile has in itself,” she continues. “Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Malbec , Pinot Noir… There’s so much and the great thing now even three years later is that there is much more being imported in the US.”
It’s at this point I realize something, too. I’m actually enjoying the Verdejo she’s chosen for me, and this is exactly the point. The only way you truly know something and understand it is through exposure. Repeated exposure to new things, even when you think they’re the old thing. The old thing can surprise you.
“I never had it before [Michael’s Genuine® sommelier] Dean put it on the list,” she recounts. “I kind of wanted to give you something fun and different, and I feel like you appreciate these things. It’s fun to smell a wine and not automatically be able to guess it but know that it sure does remind you of something. You try to point to where you had it before. So we are playing this game now… I know you wanted something white and now we have something that piqued your interest, and curiosity, too.”
For herself, Amanda is settling into the Jean Claude Boisset , a sparkling rosé from Burgundy Dean has had by the glass for about a month now that she’s wanted to try. She wanted something light and refreshing and had given Maria the Roederer already.
“I’m pretty sure it’s Chardonnay-Pinot Noir…” she thinks out loud. Familiar yet at the same time foreign. Herein lies the balance that creates the magnetism of intrigue, stirring curiosity just enough. The game continues.