Adventures in California Wine Blending, Take (Lua Rossa) 4

There was no obvious, primary barrel to use and build around, explains Mr. Eric Larkee after I swiftly negotiated a few minutes on a busy but never too busy for wine morning last week.  “That step of the process was different this year. We never really contemplated making something with a majority of less than 50 percent.”  Chalk it up to an election year trend.  Too soon?

Larkee was alluding to the annual development of Lua Rossa, Michael’s private label with Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen, and the same place but different spot in which we found ourselves approaching its fourth blend in May.  Usually first order of business (and pleasure) is to identify what will be the major component, then add whatever is necessary to enhance it, exercising a few graduated cylinders along the way.   A key palate was missing this round, too — Tamara was double booked in Miami!  Forge on we must.

“Going into a new blend, I’m not thinking it should be a departure from the previous,” he notes.  “We’ve been progressively happier and happier with the wine.  And using better wine.  Also, sure, there’s more focus and insight into what the wine should be, having had the experience working with the various iterations over the years in the restaurants.  Things like guest reactions, for instance.  This matters a great deal.  What the wine can be is always a surprise, arriving to the winery and seeing what’s there to work with.”

Speaking of better wine, the Nebbiolo used for no. 4 comes from a much stronger stock than the Nebbiolo used for no. 2.  Better grapes, better vintage.

The breakdown.

The breakdown.

So, how does it drink?  Larkee breaks it down by component parts. The Nebbiolo comes through on the nose as rose and anise.  Dark berries come more from the Teroldego and Rofosco fruit, with its Northeastern Italian breeding.  The versions grown in California are very dark-fruited.  Teroldego also imparts a little more oak and tannin than in past iterations.  The Nebbiolo’s acidity helps to make it food friendly.  Some of it is 2003, so there are actually five wines in play (two Nebbiolo), not four.  The Cabernet Franc offers finesse.  We get some spice off a younger Rofosco.  This wine will soften in the bottle and easily find its place at any number of Schwartz tables around town.  Taste for yourself.  As of December, all The Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants, including Fi’lia at SLS Brickell, have made the transition from no. 3 to 4.

“What this wine is about is being versatile and drinkable on the table and pairing exceptionally well with food,” Larkee reflects.  “And not having to represent a time or a place, but just be joyful.”


The moment of truth, orchestrated by Beverage Manager Amanda Fraga with a plate of Cypress Tavern Chef Max Makowski’s short rib.

A Pallet Cleanse with Wynwood Brewing Co.’s Missionary of Beer David Rodriguez


At Wynwood’s facility on NW 24th Street, pallets of 13 gallon (50L) Euro Kegs and 7.5 gallon (30L) Slims await their escort.

In preparation for Harry’s Design District beer pairing dinner on March 29 (one week from today,)  we are visiting each contender for the flavor of its operation and strategy with chef Bradley Herron’s menu.  Your ticket decides the winner and which brewery owns the taps in April.  Co-hosting with Mr. Eric Larkee on Tuesday is Evan Benn, newly minted editor in chief of Indulge magazine and beer aficionado long before the days of his “Brew in Miami” column for the Miami Herald.  After graduating from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, he reported on the subject for the St. Louis Post Dispatch (including authoring a book on the city’s brewing history!)  We are so lucky to have him onboard.

Last week, Larkee, Fraga and I checked in to see what a difference five years makes for Miami’s first craft production brewery.  Wynwood’s tap room was packed with lacy pints, tulips, and flight paddle sippy cups as Miami took a mid-Monday afternoon beer break. So much for 305 Cafecito. Before sampling from among its 18 styles on tap (including six guest brews,) we made the rounds in the warehouse facility to the back.

With a monthly production of 330 barrels at current full capacity, there was barely room to move as we slalomed through a forest of six 15 and four 30 barrel fermenters.  Wynwood also has three bright tanks where carbonation and other flavorings can be added to finish beers, and its bottling line, added in 2015.  We were practically mowed over by pallets of kegs and bottles backing their way out to the street in a hurry to trucks bound for grocery, bar and restaurant accounts through Brown, its exclusive distributor since 2013.

“Craft beer has been trending upward throughout the U.S. for much of the past 10 years, and it’s incredibly gratifying to see it take hold in Miami,” Benn explains. “Wynwood Brewing paved the way for other breweries to follow with its vibrant tap room and award-winning beers. The result has been a growing local craft beer community that chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders and foodies are enthusiastically supporting.”

IMG_4076Wynwood certainly seems like the Goliath in this bout.  But being a “big” brewery in an emerging craft market means you are still relatively small — most likely a family-owned operation sticking to its roots, distributing locally and staying tapped into your community and its tastes.  Since co-founders and owners Luis Brigoni and his Pops set up shop in 2011, a wave of local breweries opened in their wake, certainly on-trend with the national market.  But why (and how) in Miami?  Rodriguez chalks up the energy and support for the trade to our DNA as a tourist market.

“Pretty much Miami was the last frontier, the last large metropolitan city that didn’t have a brewery to call its own until we opened,” he explains. “Culinary-minded travelers visit a destination and look for its local beer as a way to get a taste for the local culture and its flavor. We filled that void here.  You also look at the slow food movement and its influence.  There’s a demand for farm to table in food, and now people want to drink fresh, local beer, too.  Having great restaurants are a point of pride in a community.  So are breweries. We’ve really felt that here.”

West coast Columbus hops for a piney resiny dankness we just love in an IPA.

Second from left, Wynwood IPA nails the piney resiny dankness we just love, from West Coast “Columbus” hops.

Rodriguez bets on Biscayne most likely featuring its Saison and Pale Ale, which they are known for. Maybe the Coffee Porter.

“Purely speculation,” Rodriguez adds. “But I can’t really think about what beers my opponent has chosen. I’m more concerned about our selection and pairing choices.”

According to Rodriguez, balance is the main priority when pairing beer with food.  The food shouldn’t overpower the beer nor vice versa. When the flavors of both beer and food are complementary, they bring out other attributes normally not perceived.

“What’s unique about our beers is that they are very balanced. No one particular flavor goes unchecked by another,” he says.  “A balanced beer allows you to enjoy each of the specific flavors within a desirable threshold. The contrary is also true, which is one-sided beers that are powerful in one flavor don’t pair well with food and one can most likely consume only one.”

Now that wouldn’t be fun for anyone!

La Rubia, a session beer with character. Viva the blonde ale!

La Rubia, a session beer with character. Viva the blonde ale!

Biscayne Brewing Co.’s Roberto “Tito” Ronchetta on Prepairing to Beer Slam at Harry’s

In preparation for Harry’s Design District beer pairing dinner on Tuesday, March 29, we are following along as TGHG’s Eric Larkee and Amanda Fraga visit with each contender to get a feel for the flavor of their operations and strategy with chef Bradley Herron’s menu.   First up, Biscayne Brewing Co.  Don’t forget to purchase your tickets here!

IMG_3936Located in Doral, this one and a half year old brewery found a space where it has the luxury of room to grow, into about 12, 000 square feet.  Out of its current three tanks (two 30-barrel fermenters and one 15-barrel,) the brewing facility is pumping out about 60-75 barrels a month.  They have settled into four core styles in the portfolio, including two barrel-aged working, and are thoughtfully, steadily expanding. “We want to hone in the recipes, and put out the right beers,” Ronchetta explains.

IMG_3932La Salida was the first barrel-aged product, using Bourbon casks with IPA. “We didn’t really know what was going to work, but people still ask for that beer, ” he recalls.  “We liked what we tasted, so we took Colorado’s Stranahan American Whiskey barrels and made a Scotch ale, crafted with a little more intent.  It came out great.”  Buenas Noches, an Imperial Stout, followed in the same barrels, coming in at 10.1% ABV.

Owners Gus Chacon and Jose Malles have focused on draft distribution at bars and restaurants, a world Malles knows well coming from the restaurant side (The Local Craft in Coral Gables.)  It’s a familiar model for young breweries that are kegging and still working on the capacity to can or bottle, but serves as a smart way to connect with the community and find an audience at a grass roots level and really grow from the ground up.  Look for its first tap room to open in May (8000 NW 25th St, Doral, FL 33122,)  joining MIA Brewing as Miami’s second craft brewery located west of the Palmetto Expressway.   “Doral is really up-and-coming,” Ronchetta continues.  “There is a whole new audience living and working in the area. Lots of opportunity to reach the happy hour crowd and getting people in front of the product where it’s made is huge.”

IMG_3929When it comes to pairing beer with food, Ronchetta is always looking for the complementing factor.

“Darker beers with more roasted notes go great with braised meats and roasted vegetables while lighter beers can go with simpler fish and chicken dishes. I never want the beer to overwhelm the palate and takeover the senses, leaving the food bland,” he says.

For the reception, Biscayne is offering the Miami Pale Ale, a statement beer for the brand because besides being one of the original launch styles and best-selling overall, it’s brewed in a certain fashion that almost makes it sessionable.  Easy does it in the beginning.  It’s an expression of the brewery’s approach to how they make beer — very classic and crisp, sticking with traditional brewing styles with little embellishment.  When they do offer a twist, it’s cleanly and purposefully — as in the La Colada Poffee Porter, a foundation of rich history, balanced by local flavor.

“This is ultimately a beer & food pairing competition, not a best beer,” Ronchetta reflects. “We’re going with what we believe to be the best paired offerings from our lineup and the judges will hopefully choose the best one (ours!)”

HP_Beer Slam_Sign

Cypress Tavern’s Tastemaker Cocktail Hour Begins Tuesday March 1

IMG_1129 (2)To celebrate tomorrow’s launch of Tavern Tastemakers with Michael’s episode, Setting the Schwartz Table at Tavern begins a Tastemaker Cocktail Hour where for the first two hours of service weekdays ~ 6-8PM Tuesday-Friday ~ cocktails featured in our new video interview series are available for $10.  On Tuesdays when new episodes debut, we’ll have a host join us from Miami’s food and beverage community, a tastemaker in their own right.  For tomorrow’s first TCH, Pernod Ricard’s Nelson Giacometti toasts the Tavern with Michael’s Irish Whiskey Sour featuring Yellow Spot Whiskey, lemon, Trockenbeerenauslese and egg white.

Live at tomorrow.

Live at tomorrow.

Of what you could categorize as a sommelier’s twist on this classic cocktail, The Genuine Hospitality Group beverage mentor Eric Larkee says, “It works because we add a balanced sweetness not just sugary sweetness from a simple syrup.  We use a sweet wine, with notes of caramely richness and spice that add another layer of complexity to the cocktail.”  Trockenbeerenauslese refers to the sweetness level, which is probably most familiar to us as a Riesling index, but this wine is a blend of Welschreisling and Chardonnay grapes from a producer Larkee frequents, Kracher.  So like making muffins with apple juice or beet instead of granulated sugar, this cocktail has just something a little extra special to take it to Tastemaker status.  It is for Chef, after all! Cheers.

Sweet February Somethings | Valentine’s Day, Indulge Brunch & Harry’s Beer Slam!

TGHG Blast - February Events Reminder

Just a little love note to remind you of some off-the-menu fun happening this month…  There’s something for every taste, from an indulgent brunch at Cypress Tavern, to a battle of beer pairings at Harry’s Pizzeria with a menu from TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron.  In fact, we’re releasing it first here today!  Cheers!


SUNDAY 2/14 | It’s all about getting cozy on the most romantic day of the year, and Cypress Tavern will make that easy whether you choose its 3-course Valentine’s Dinner prix fixe with a half bottle of Champagne for each couple or make a weekend of it at brunch!  To reserve a table, email or call 305.520.5197.  $5 Design District Valet is available, as well as street parking in the city lot in between 37th and 38th street. Full menus and more information are available at

Indulge Brunch_presenter drink and sweet

CT_Indulge Brunch MenuSATURDAY 2/20 | Chefs Michael, Bradley and Max are in the house for The Genuine Hospitality Group’s first brunch event.  Enjoy 3 courses of multiple dishes served family-style, a choice between two special bottomless cocktails for the occasion, and a goody bag curated by Indulge magazine celebrating its new food issue with our chocolate truffles and more. It’s all included for $79 per person plus tax and gratuity. We are booking through ticketed reservations, so guests can pick an available time from 11am-3pm to indulge; it doesn’t all start at once. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS!

HP_Beer Slam_Square

TUESDAY 2/23 | It’s a battle of beer pairings at Harry’s Pizzeria as two of our favorite local breweries go head to head with a special menu chef Bradley as the playing field.  Join David Rodriguez of Wynwood Brewing Co. and Roberto Tito Ronchetta of Biscayne Bay Brewing Co., with Master of Slam Ceremonies Eric Larkee, The Genuine Hospitality Group Wine & Spirits Director presiding, for Harry’s first ever Beer Slam competition.  Be greeted with passed snacks and some brews to get the juices flowing, then enjoy three courses including dessert all paired with one beer from each brewery. Cast your vote for best pairing after each course, and we will crown a Harry’s Beer Slam Champion at the end! The prize? Winning brewery reigns over Harry’s four taps for the next month.  Here’s Bradley’s menu, but the brews will remain a mystery until the day of!  CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS!

3 passed snacks
Selection of beers from both breweries

Course 1 – Paired with Beer 1
Crispy Pork Belly
citrus, shaved fennel, grain mustard

Course 2 – Paired with Beer 2
Braised Oxtail Terrine
pickled mulberries, almonds, sprouted barley

Dessert – Paired with Beer 3
Florida Blueberry Crostada
ginger crumble, malted malted milk ice cream