Let's hope Uvaggio's "Somm Slam" becomes a regular occurrence, because the first-ever Sommelier Slam, held last Thursday, was one of the greatest collaborative wine dinners this writer has attended.
The premise is simple: The underrated wine bar in Coral Gables wants to push the envelope while flipping the idea that the chef is king on its head. And what better way than to eat a delectable three-course meal with six wine pairings from two of the city's best enophiles?
"People always come in here and want to talk about the chef," co-owner Craig DeWald says. "But we're a wine bar too, and it's not just about the wine, but about the brains behind the wine. So tonight is all about showcasing those geniuses." (Bret Pelaggi, by the way, is no longer the chef at Uvaggio; Tanner Gill has taken the reins.)
As for the geniuses, Uvaggio's head "wine-o," Heath Porter, battled the Genuine Hospitality Group's beverage director, Eric Larkee. "The one rule Michael [Schwartz] has ever given me in the time working with him is to not do a boring wine dinner," Larkee says. "So I couldn't think of anyone better to do this with than Heath." Indeed, he and Porter are characters and natural comics, which made the evening feel like a comedy show, filled with mom jokes, face-wetting, and foul play. And that was only the beginning.
Here's how it all went down:
The sold-out evening, priced at $75 per person (with a wine budget set forth by Larkee and Porter at $100 retail for their three picks), included Porter's mom and wife, Genuine Hospitality Group brand director Jackie Sayet, 50 Eggs sommelier Daniel Toral, and Uvaggio fans and wine connoisseurs.
Both party favors and voting cards, these selfie face sticks were a hit.
"When that perfect wine comes with a dish, any dish, it has the power to elevate it to a whole other level," DeWald says. "That's what you guys are voting for, not what is the best wine but which wine is best at elevating the enjoyment of each dish." Porter and Larkee were given the menu ten days earlier, although neither had the chance to try the actual dishes till the night of the event (and even then they didn't try everything).
Joining Gill in the kitchen was Cypress Room chef de cuisine Roel Alcudia. (Because Uvaggio had home advantage, Gill got to start the evening and cook two of the three courses.)
The first was a scallop ceviche with mango, grapefruit, cucumber, watermelon radish, coriander, yuzu, and jasmine foam.
Larkee kicked it off by saying, "No matter how bad we screw up, you'll walk away feeling better than when you got here." My group opted for Porter's choice for its balancing act with the scallops' acidity. We were surprised to find that 50 Eggs sommelier Daniel Toral liked Larkee's choice for creating a totally new flavor. "What the hell does he know?" Porter quipped. "He's just one of the best somms in South Florida." At that point, Porter's mom stepped in to defend her son: "It was just the best pairing in the world." And Larkee barked back: "That's his mom." Typically, you have to pay for entertainment of this caliber, but here it came with the wine.
The majority agreed with Porter's mom, as the head wine-o took the first round.
The second course, courtesy of Alcudia, was a roasted porcelet with porcini mushrooms, salsa romesco, and charred spring onions. If people could have licked their plates without judgment, they would have.
For the second pairing, Larkee brought out his big guns: rosé. "Besides being fun, rosé needs to be taken seriously as a food-pairing wine. This is a totally Catalonian classic, fantastic wine. I wanted to go out of the box but also keep it Spanish." Porter too kept it Spanish, traveling to the Canary Islands for this indigenous find that as he said had "the nose of grilled dead monkey brains." Its taste, however, was fantastic, and after much back-and-forth tasting (tough job, we know), it was the pairing everyone ultimately leaned toward, giving Porter the win by default in just two courses. A good thing considering they pretty much picked the same wine for the third and final course.
Larkee giving it to Porter.
Uvaggio's third and final course was duck confit with sweet carrot purée, smoked black lentils, and blackberry gastrique. At this point, we were a little too boozy to keep up with the wines, but what we do know is they tasted damn good.
As if the night couldn't get any better, it ended with a delectable surprise of spiced ginger carrot cake truffles. Larkee challenged Porter to a rematch in the same breath of presenting him with his trophy. Till the next sommelier slam.
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