Fraga got right to the point. “To be honest, this has been one of the most difficult pairings I’ve had to do here. Sometimes you look at a menu and it’s more obvious the direction I want to go, like the dishes ask for certain wines. I’ll just say that’s not how this went down!”
Consider it part of our Beverage Manager’s preparation for this weekend’s Star Chefs 7th Annual Somm Slam in NYC, where she’ll be representing Miami as one of 12 sommeliers from across the country going for the title (“somms are just competitive by nature!”) and tested on categories including Tasting, Pairing and Wine Theory. We’re speaking of the current test at hand, the menu for this coming Tuesday’s Slow Fires cookbook dinner with Chef Justin Smillie. Tasting the pairings will be that much more delicious with a little back story, as I like to think is true of the experience of wine in general.
“When I’m faced with a really eclectic menu with lots going on, my first instinct is to focus, even oversimplify, each course into one key flavor attribute — usually the strongest one — and pair to that,” Amanda explains of the process. “Then I can extrapolate from there, to make sure each dish is taken into account to offer a balanced pairing.”
Salads, I learn, are actually one of the most challenging of a meal.
“You want something bright, and a little acid to open up the palate at the beginning of the meal. But dressing can be highly acidic, so you really need to be careful on the level there,” Amanda continues. “You also have an oil cure on the tuna in Justin’s Riviera Salad, which can be quite rich. So it’s really all over the place.”
Amanda decided that citrus balanced with pronounced fruit would be a good way to go, so she chose the Sauvignon Blanc, La Garde, Pessac-Leognan, France 2011. She tells me this wine also brings enough richness and round mouthfeel to match the tuna.
Amanda’s current gem
For Slow Fires’ second course, Fraga’s laser beam fixed on Grilled Quail with broccoli rabe and coal-roasted garlic first, and set Clams with avocado and chile butter off to the side, to be contemplated after. In Amanda’s estimation, something with fuller flavor, fruit and backbone would work well and Bourgogne came calling.
“Leroy (pronounced Le-wah) is my favorite wine right now at Michael’s Genuine,” Amanda says. “I named one of my fish after the winemaker, Lalou.”
Lalou Bize-Leroy was running the operation at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, making some of the most expensive wines in the world. Known for vineyard holdings dating back thousands of years to its abbey days, DRC is steeped in tradition and aggressively harvests, which means they are highly selective when it comes to what fruit is picked. One shouldn’t be surprised to see many grapes still on the vine when all is said and done. Amanda knows, she was in Burgundy for the harvest back in 2014. Ms. Bize-Leroy, who went off and started her own project, continues similar practices — aggressive harvesting and organic viticulture — but in a much more accessible form [read: we can actually afford to drink it!]
“People look at the label and think it’s basic. But the game changes when Bourgogne is coming from a producer who is so good they can compete with the AOCs out there,” Amanda says. “Ms. Bize-Leroy’s wines very terroir driven, this one in particular. The 2009 vintage is ripe and fleshy which is why I thought it would go great with the quail. It has body to it, but not enough to overpower the clams. This is when the second dish comes into play to ultimate decide on the pairing. It has to all work together.“
Short rib cover shot and our main dish at Cypress Tavern’s Slow Fires cookbook dinner.
Amanda accessed her short rib know-how (yes, she has plenty from working Genuine’s menu over the years!) for the entrée course and went with a Grenache blend, Barroche “Signature” Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, 2013.
“CDP, and this one in particular, has really great acid so it’s light on its feet,” Amanda adds. “That lemon we serve on the side with the classic preparation of Michael’s short rib is so important to use it. It cuts the fat, and that’s the role the wine plays here. CDP has 13 varietals and people usually work with 3 of them, Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre. Here the Syrah plays with the spice of the peppercorn. There’s a smokiness in tar and tabacco, too, which will always work well with Cypress Tavern’s wood grill fire.”
For tickets, visit cypresstavern.com/slowfires, and follow Amanda’s Wine Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday posts this week as more tasting and pairing notes unfold for next Tuesday’s special dinner, including its Bill Pay Buck cocktail featuring Absout Elyx.