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.

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.

Bella Italia! Michael’s New ella after 3 Menu on Thursday 10.8

ella after 3 banner 9.11

Bravissimo!  With two dinner services under their belts at our Design District pop up cafe, Michael Schwartz and wine director Eric Larkee are at it again. Have they learned everything or nothing at all?   On Thursday, October 8 they throw caution to the wind with a new menu, shared here for the first time.  Looks like we will get a taste of La Dolce Vita alla Schwartz!

Click the banner above for tickets. There are a few seats left at new time slots available in the 8PM hour!  Price is $75 plus tax and gratuity for an amuse and 4 courses paired with wines, and the company of a James Beard Award-winning chef as your very own short order cook.  It’s a steal!  Follow #ellaafter on Instagram for a feed of our last two evenings in Palm Court!  See you there two weeks from today.

Ella_after 3_menu

After Glow: Announcing ella after 3 Thursday, October 8

mgfd_miaIt's. About. To. Go. Down. @chefmschwartz on the roasted and raw turnips with bottarga and white miso #ellaafter #ellaafter2 dinner service #secondpop #soldout begins at 7pm @ellapopmiami. Next dinner is 10/8. Tickets live 9/8 through the link on its profile. #bottarga #turnip #whitemiso @ericlarkee @chefbradleyj 🌟🌟🌟

Michael’s view from the pass of his first course at ella after 2, roasted and raw turnips with bottarga and white miso

On October 8, ella will turn its clocks back a little earlier for Michael’s ella after 3 dinner service to open up new time slots: 6:30, 6:45, 7, 8:30, 8:45, and 9 p.m.  CLICK HERE for tickets to select your seating.  Early bird gets the worm!

Here’s a refresher on the ella after drill: Chef’s new light and airy cafe in the Design District has a second pop. One Thursday a month the café stays open late for a prix fixe dinner cooked and served by chef/owner Michael Schwartz including 4 courses with wine pairings for $75, plus tax and gratuity. The inside is set with communal seating and offers advance tickets in 2-hour time slots beginning at 6:30 p.m.  Menu will be released prior to event and is subject to change. No substitutions. All sales are final. Please be on-time – after 15 minutes seats will be forfeited.

 Ella_Folded Menu_9.9.15_Printable final

Please join us when Chef does it again with a new menu.  He’s still thinking… But you already knew that! Thanks for playing and see you soon in Palm Court.  Our latest daytime menu adds Wynwood Brewing’s La Rubia bottles, gluten-free bread, JoJo Tea including single origin, a daily breakfast scramble and (not printed) afternoon TAPAS!  There’s just so much ella to love.

5 Courses of Clendenen: The Cypress Room’s Menu for Lua Rossa 3 Release Dinner

unnamed (30)

They have arrived! Jim’s wines coursed from left to right.

Michael’s first ever dinner with Jim Clendenen in Miami is two weeks from today on Tuesday, September 22 at 7PM, and The Cypress Room has the honor of hosting it.  The wines have landed, including our first bottles of Lua Rossa 3, and Roel Alcudia’s menu is ready to share as follows [CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS]:

WELCOME  
Passed assorted Hors d’oeuvres
Clendenen Family 2014 Mondeuse Rosé

FIRST
Garam Masala-Cured Fish, coriander emulsion, puffed rice
2013 Clendenen Family Gewürztraminer Au Bon Climat

SECOND
Slow Baked Fish, herb crust, baby vegetables, shellfish broth, shrimp tortellini
2012 Clendenen Family Viognier “Second Coming” Au Bon Climat 

THIRD
Duck Breast, leek pudding, foie gras, cranberry gastrique
2009 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo “Bricco Buon Natale”

FOURTH
Braised Beef Cheek, celery root, wild mushroom, black truffles
Lua Rossa 3 Syrah/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Mondeuse Stanta Maria Valley

DESSERT
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart, compressed pears, creme fraiche
1995 Il Podere Dell’Olivos “Sittin’ Pretty” California Aleatico

To get here, Jim dropped some crumbs from his spice rack, through Eric, for Roel.  With the dry Gewürztraminer, he would want something cold and raw, fish perhaps, an aromatic dish perfumed with coriander.  “Like an Indian spices sort of thing,” Jim says.  For the “Second Coming,” a curve ball came through the grapevine.  “He said something like a Rhone-style fish,” Eric explains.  “I’m not sure exactly that means.  When I was in Lyon all I ate was meat, and oysters.”  And of Lua Rossa 3?  “It’s red!” Eric laughs. “For now I’m letting it settle in the bottle.  Why ruin the fun when we’ll all discover it together at the dinner?”

In a 5-courses with wine pairings, we get a first taste of Lua Rossa 3 and enjoy exploring the lesser-known varietals that Jim’s coffers have to offer.

$175 plus tax & gratuity includes:
– welcome rosé and canapés
– 5 course dinner paired with Santa Barbara’s unexpected varietals, from its most curious producer
– a special bottle from the first shipment of Lua Rossa no. 3, signed by both Chef and Winemaker

Cheers you there!  For more images and recollections from our third blending trip, see here.