Until the past decade or so, Miami wasn't known as a city with a culinary scene that attracted world-class restaurants, chefs, and sommeliers. But along with getting nods for great food, some restaurants in the Magic City are being recognized by Wine Spectator for also having great wine to pair with that food.
Wine Spectator, one of the leading wine magazines in the nation, began its Restaurant Awards in 1981. They're given to establishments that the magazine recognizes as having some of the top wine selections in the world. Today the magazine publishes its list of 2016 Award of Excellence recipients, and 40 locations in Miami were chosen this year.
One of them, Juvia in Miami Beach, received recognition for its outstanding wine program. The Lincoln Road eatery, known for its spectacular views and ambiance, tapped sommelier Zarko Stankovik to be its beverage director four months ago. With more than 20 years of experience in wine, Stankovik previously worked in the cruise ship industry for a decade before working the restaurant circuit in Miami.
Receiving the award is a first for Juvia, which is known for its fusion of Japanese, French, and Peruvian cuisine. Stankovik calls it a "great success," noting that while creating the list, he considered two factors —the concept of the restaurant and understanding — which he says were most important. "It's been a big debate between guests and sommeliers of what wine goes with what cuisine, but most of the time, it's what the guest wants," he says.
In this case, the strength of Juvia's wine list relied on a vast selection of 80 to 100 Bordeaux (which originate from that region of France).
There are also some American reds from Napa Valley, particularly Screaming Eagle's 2006, 2009, and 2011 vintages. For a vintage to be declared great, Stankovik says, it must have just the right "terroir," or the combination of soil and climate conditions. "All of the stars need to align," he says. "Even though climate can be great the whole year, if it rains the night before harvest, it could dilute the taste of grapes."
At Mignonette, general manager and sommelier Matt Dinkel takes wine-and-oyster pairings seriously.
Here, you can choose from eight types of oysters taken from the East and West Coasts and pair them with a nice red.
Red wine with seafood? Absolutely, the expert says. Whereas most people associate white wine with seafood, Dinkel tends to push boundaries as far as the palate is concerned.
"When you give someone a contradictory experience, it makes it that much more memorable," Dinkel says. "Working at a seafood restaurant, you have a bit of a challenge."
Dinkel works with a handful of vendors in South Florida. One of them is Florida Wine Company, which brings in fine wines from all over the world — no big labels and nothing you'd usually see at a grocery store, he says.
Once each week, Dinkel holds wine-and-oyster tastings among staff, and the wine vendors to get a sense of what's good. He compares oysters to wine. Like wine, the taste of oysters can be affected by the environmental conditions, which he calls "merroir."
What's Dinkel's favorite wine/oyster pairing? He recommends Cape Cod's half-moon oysters paired with a txakolina (pronounced chocolina) white wine from Basque country.
To celebrate the award, Mignonette is offering a buy-one-get-one-free special on glasses of select wines for only $7, and it's available today only.
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The level of culinary sophistication has certainly increased in the past decade, says Stankovik, who never thought of Miami as the kind of place to find top-tier wine and cuisine — until recently. It's a place where you can grab not only a nice cocktail or a locally made beer but also a fine glass of vino.
"It's great for young sommeliers who want to make a career here," he says. "And it doesn't matter if you're a celebrity chef or young, talented chef — there's just a lot happening right now."
The complete list of the award recipients can be found on Wine Spectator's website.