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.

It Takes Two to Tango the Amara Beverage Book — Part II: Wine

“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.

Flute-free Zone: Fraga holding court if only for a Happy Hour at her old stomping grounds, Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink.

“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!”

Sommelier Amanda Fraga with her rosé, which happens to be ON-TAP (!)

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.

Traditional, funky Prosecco, the first Wine Wednesday post at Amara. She explains, “Delicate. nice acid. good fruit. It’s not the Prosecco you know but if you’re a lover of Italy and have an open mind and heart you’re going to love it.”

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.

Preshift on Biscayne Bay, the place where it all comes together.

Drink 100% California, To California

On Sunday, it’s time to come together to drink and eat in support of the folks impacted by the California fires.  Join us for some amazing wines and charcuterie and cheese from Michael Schwartz Events with the contributions of so many more generous restaurants and wine purveyors at Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe for 100% FROM THE 305 from 1-4PM.  The event is a 100% donation to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund.  To support and attend make a $100 pledge here bring or email Jeffrey@wolfeswines.com your donation receipt.  Alternatively, bring a check made out to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund the day of the event.

“Signorello burnt down,” sommelier and Director of Partnership Operations Eric Larkee says.  “That’s a winery we have had on the list at Michael’s Genuine® in the past, their Cab. Napa seems to be really hit hard. lt could be 7-8 years for them to produce wines from their own vineyards again… for it to be in the bottle, in the restaurant. That’s as bad as it gets. Total loss, including the cellar.”

SOMMELIER DEAN FORST’S THREE CALI WINES TO DRINK RIGHT NOW AT MGFD: 1. Honig, Cabernet Sauvignon Napa $88 easy drinking, fruit forward, very approachable 2. Janzen Cabernet Sauvignon Napa $120  arrives TODAY.. delishhhh, fruit bomb, cocoa notes, long finish 3 Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma $168 Chewy tannins, elegant, silky, dry.

He explains the possibilities for damage — how enormous and varied they can be.  Consider Cabernet Sauvignon, the bigger styles, where grapes are harvested later. Many may still be out in the fields.  Then there is the loss of control over fermentation tanks in wineries that lost power. Smoke taint is the silent killer, especially with Pinot and Chardonnay, something revealed by the Anderson Valley fires a couple of years ago.

“It won’t show until it’s in the bottle,” he continues. “The wine could taste like an ash tray when you pop the cork.  Or it could be gorgeous.  I could get more wonky here with the chemistry at play.”

So how does this affect supply?  The 2017 vintage could be non-existent or very limited for Napa and Sonoma.  But this doesn’t mean prices will skyrocket.  Larkee explains it’s not a pure supply and demand thing, which begins to make sense.

“You’re not going to raise prices for something that isn’t good. And It could entirely not effect us at all at the restaurants,” he says.  “Vineyard damage is actually limited, and what is at the wineries are more collection items.  It will be about 2-4 years before we will see what’s really going on and the collateral damage.”

Sunday’s event is a time to come together and celebrate what we love about these wines and why we need to do something to help.  And there are so many ways.  There will be a silent auction of high end California wines, as well as a grab wine pull for $25 a bag.  All the wines offered at the event will be for sale or order with proceeds going to the Fund, as well.  TGHG sommelier and beverage Manager Amanda Fraga along with other amazing Miami somms Daniel Toral and Brian Grandison will be keeping your glasses full of California wine from Wolfe’s distributor partners Florida Wine Co., Artisanal, Progress, and Stacole Fine Wines and Breakthru/Augustan, and you’ll have a Riedel glass to take home.

 

Get Your Claws On Stone Crab Week at Michael’s Genuine®

It’s time to get cracking! Stonies are back and so is our week of living large at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink, because that’s just what we do in Miami this time of year.  And we have our genie in a bottle, sommelier and The Genuine Hospitality Group beverage manager Amanda Fraga to thank.

To celebrate the arrival of one of this season’s most anticipated local ingredients, for each pound of large Florida Stone Crabs from Monday, October 23 to Sunday, October 29, choose any — ANY — bottle of wine on what I believe to be one of the truly most exciting, dynamic and exceptional lists around for the table for half off.  All bottles are fair game, available at lunch, afternoon, dinner and brunch, all week long!  From sparkling to creamy, it all pairs as far as we are concerned.  Pop in and join us on a Design District stroll for afternoon menu or happy hour, or book a reservation for lunch dinner or brunch in advance at reservations@michaelsgenuine.com or 305 573 5550. From sparkling to red and all the rosé in between, treat yo self in advance of the trick!

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.