A Little Lechon & Wine Pairing Competition? Amara Sommelier Amanda Fraga is all Cheers

Fraga in her element at Amara!

Amanda Fraga is no stranger to competition.  For the third consecutive year, our now sommelier at Amara at Paraiso has been invited to participate in Cochon 555, the heritage hog, chef and wine professional bout of brains, brawn and creative brilliance.  This is great news of course, since we get to come along for the ride not only at the event, but for the training in preparation which we found is just as strategic and mind bending as it is for their culinary counterparts. Amanda’s mission: select any wine she’d like, unhindered by sponsorship obligations, that will pair best with the presentation plates of each of the 5 chef candidates.  Yes, here’s the catch. She won’t know the dishes her wine needs to work with until she’s vying for attention to pour it amidst her four peers.

“For me, my job lies in how I figure out where my wine can be highlighted on the playing field and how I can get these judges to try it with what I think on the fly it will work best with. Under the clock, of course,” she explains.  “You want to pick a pig-friendly wine that will play well with an array of dishes.  It has to be versatile, but to a large extent you are playing the odds.  What you can control, you try to.”

It’s all timed.  Every 10 minutes, the pack of judges descends on each station and systematically hears the chef’s point of view for their offering, tastes through the dishes and also is approached by the sommeliers, who are also judges of the competition.  Everyone has an agenda and everyone votes on everything.

“I try to not stand next to the same people the whole time, and it’s not easy because the focus is on the pig and the chef,” Fraga continues. “I haven’t won yet, but I do think it’s important to find something in your approach that’s memorable.”

Fraga decided to pick a Cava in méthode Champenoise — Juvé y Camps “Brut Nature” Reserva de la Familia. This is the real, old school deal, a grower Cava from a family-owned house making wine since the 1700s.  When a Juvé married a Camps in the early 20th century, this sparkling was born.  A 40th anniversary edition, the Reserva has two years age and is made from the Spanish grapes traditional to its sparkling wine. It is bright with a little green apple but with some gravitas and toastiness thanks to the time in the bottle.

“Even the label is super classic,” she notes.  “It is even rumored that Dom borrowed the shape. The family cares about tradition and have kept the label.  Chefs are so visual, and this is the OG. I also wanted to honor the heritage aspect of what Cochon is all about.”

Clearly Fraga’s not concerned about showing her hand which is one of the many reasons we love her.  To support our fearless super somm and to partake in the pigging, grab tickets to the main event in Miami on June 10, with winners advancing to Grand Conchon finale, here.

Pound Your Fall Favorite | Stone Crab Week at Michael’s Genuine®

Boo!

Boo!

Don’t be spooked by these treats!  Genuine’s about to up its black and orange game, and it all begins on Halloween Day.  We are living large to celebrate one of this season’s most anticipated local ingredients. From Monday 10/31 – Sunday 11/6, guests who order one pound of large stone crabs, can choose any bottle of wine on our list for the table at half off, available at lunch, afternoon, dinner and brunch.  All bottles are game, all week long! Pop in and join us on a Design District stroll or reserve in advance here.  From sparkling to red and all the rosé in between, beverage manager Amanda Fraga and I will be tasting through a few gems on Facebook Live beginning at 4:30pm Monday.  Join our crab party and see who shows up in costume.  Tune into the Miami Design District’s page to join us!

Wine Wednesday | Amanda Fraga on Her Slow Fires Dinner Pairing & StarChefs Somm Slam

ct_slow-fires-cookbook-dinnerFraga 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

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.

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.

Welcoming a Happy Hour to Cypress Tavern with New Snack Menu & Summer Cocktails

CT HH presenter

The Cypress Tavern_Back of MenuCheers to summer.  Today Cypress Tavern introduces its first Happy Hour, featuring half price signature cocktails, beer and wine by the glass with chef de cuisine Max Makowski’s all new snack menu which will be available both at the bar and in the dining room.  Visit Michael’s American Grill & Cocktail Bar Tuesday through Friday from 6 to 8pm to toast over  Spiced Marcona Almonds (5), Marinated Olives (5), Mini Cypress Burgers with Jasper Hill Landaff and onion marmalade (9), Shrimp Fritters with chili lime aioli (8), and Potato Chips with creamy leek dipping sauce (7).  Take a dip into four new cocktails for the occasion, as we welcome the new season with a little refreshment, including:  SPICE OF LIFE Tequila Ocho Blanco, Sombra Mezcal, watermelon cordial, scotch bonnet agave (13), PINEAPPLE PISCO SOUR Pisco Waqar, lime, pineapple, egg white (13),  HEMINGWAY OLD FASHIONED Avion Silver, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, grapefruit bitters (13), and MILLIONS OF PEACHES Glenlivet 15 yr, Stills Crossroads ‘Shine, lemon, peach oolong, honey (14).

“Summer cocktails shouldn’t just be for poolside enjoyment,” shares Amanda Fraga, beverage manager at The Genuine Hospitality Group. “The thinking here was to liven the list by adding fruit in interesting ways. We chose a grassy, bright spirit like Pisco in a Pineapple Pisco Sour for a result that is neither sticky nor sweet, and shines with the classic combination of pineapple and lime. Peaches are finally coming in, so we wanted to celebrate that with a play on sweet tea. Jojo’s oolong brings a floral, nutty balance to mellow this fragrant stone fruit and its orchards full of ‘Millions of Peaches’.”

See you at the bar or make a reservation by emailing reservations@cypresstavern.com or calling 305.520.5197. For our a current list of The Genuine Hospitality Group Happy Hours, visit our Genuine Happy Crawl post.  There’s plenty of cheers to go around!

Model Behavior with Some Lobster and a Cherry on Top

Kasey Ashcraft is living the dream. The one on the postcard of Miami Beach. Or maybe she’s on the post card of Miami Beach.  She is nothing short of picture perfect and has had her picture taken on a whole lot of beaches, but still calls ours home. This sun kissed Wilhelmina model turned Miami local is a Tavern Tastemaker and sat down with her friend, Ocean Drive Magazine Editor in Chief Jared Shapiro, and a tasty table of Cypress Tavern brunch dishes to talk about why we all want to live in Miami and how exactly she made that dream come true.  There was lobster, of course, because Kasey is from Maryland and “seafood is a big deal.” We know a thing or two about that!  Watch here.

They toasted with a scotch and prosecco cocktail that Cypress Tavern lead bartender David Ferree created. The “Take Me Out” is Chivas Regal 12 Year with sparkling wine and house brandied cherries. An unlikely combo even for Kasey, she said, “I didn’t think I was going to like it because I don’t like cherries or either of those things. But I love it. I never stay and finish drinks, but I’m finishing it.” Come taste for yourself tonight at our Cypress Tavern cocktail hour from 6-8pm with Amanda Fraga, the Genuine Hospitality Group Beverage Manager and Sommelier as we toast Kasey Ashcraft at the end of another day in the sun.

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