By Peg San Felippo
City & Shore Magazine
If you like wine, going out to a restaurant can be a challenge. Not because the food won’t be great, but because the wine list may be narrow, limited or even uninspiring. After some intensive research, here are five of my picks where the food pairs up with the wine list just right.
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Café Maxx, 2601 E. Atlantic Blvd., Pompano Beach, 954-782-0606. With a food focus on new American cuisine, the 300-bottle wine list is arranged primarily by varietal. Consisting mainly of California wines it also includes Italy, Argentina, Italy and France. Bottle prices range from $50-$500. The restaurant hosts 15-20 California winemaker dinners a year.
The career: Born and raised in Michigan, Ron Labadie has been the Beverage Director at Café Maxx for 15 years but began working there six years earlier. “I joined the restaurant as a waiter but was fortunate to have a wine mentor early on,” he says. “I quickly knew that I wanted to be involved on the wine end of the business.”
Wine to try: 2015 Steven Kent Cabernet Franc, Livermore Valley, Calif., $125. “Cabernet Franc is usually used as a blending grape,” Labadie says. “What a lot of people don’t know is it makes a great wine on its own.”
The high and low: 2006 Château Cos D’ Estournel, Saint Estephe, Bordeaux, $425; 2016 Sonoma Cutrer, Russian River, Sonoma, $45.
Favorite restaurant pairing: Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Mushroom Risotto and the 2017 Domaine La Barbotaine Sancerre ($65).
Off duty: “I like craft cocktails,” Labadie says. “Right now I’m adding some new twists to Old Fashioneds.”
Casa D’Angelo, 1201 N. Federal Highway No. 5a, Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-1234. Known for classic dishes with some southern Italian twists, the 77-page list here features 1,500 wines. Thirty-seven of those pages are Italian; France, California, Australia and Spain are also well represented. The average bottle price is $145.
The career: Originally from Belgium, Sommelier and Beverage Director Koen Kersemans has always been passionate about wine. He’s been purchasing the wine for the restaurant for 18 years and now oversees the wine lists for all of the Angelo Elia Restaurant group properties.
Wine to try: 2014 Jankara Lu Nieddu Colli del Limbara IGT, $80. “Sardinia is producing some great wines, especially reds,” Kersemans says. “If you’ve never had a wine from there you definitely should.”
The high and low: 2009 Château Pétrus Pomerol, Bordeaux, $9,575; 2016 Jermann “Vinnae” Ribolla Gialla IGT, Friuli, $65.
Favorite restaurant pairing: Osso Bucco with 2015 Produttori del “Ovello” Barbaresco Riserva ($135).
Off duty: In summer months, Kersemans enjoys rosé wine from Provence; otherwise, he drinks Italian reds – Barbarescos in particular. His current favorite is the 2015 Le Pupille Saffredi Marremma IGT, $185.
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Cut 432, 432 E. Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach, 561-272-9898. While the name makes you think steak the menu is French/American. The 500-bottle wine list is composed mainly of California reds but there are selections from Spain, Italy and France as well. Average prices range from $40 to $150 a bottle.
The career: A Broward native, Bar Manager Jorge Ramirez has been at Cut 432 for three years. “We try to keep our wine list as unique as possible and you will find wines here that no one else in the area has,” Ramirez says. “We look for small production and the best vintages because we want our customers to have an experience here they can’t get anywhere else.”
The high and low: 2014 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanee-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru, $3,750; and 2016 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc, $60, both from Burgundy.
Wine to try: 2016 Kongsgaard Chardonnay, $275. “It’s a terrific and rare Napa ‘cult’ wine with low production,” Ramirez says.
Favorite pairing: Bone-In Ribeye with Mushrooms and Mac and Cheese paired with the 2014 I. Brand & Family “Monte Bello Road” Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, Calif. ($150.)
Off duty: Tequila on the rocks. Either Casamigos Añejo or Fortaleza Añejo; and Syrahs from California. A favorite right now is the 2014 Saxum “James Berry Vineyard” Syrah, from Paso Robles, Calif., $325.
La Mar by Gaston Acurio at The Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, 305-913-8358. The restaurant specializes in Peruvian food with an Asian/Japanese influence. The 10-page list hosts 325 labels from Italy, California, Spain and France – but also a Merlot from Virginia. Prices range from $45 to $1,000 bottle.
The career: “I got interested in wine ‘by mistake,” says Allegra Angelo, Head Sommelier. “I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 15 and thought I wanted to be a chef. When I worked in the back of the house at Jean-Georges in New York City I realized that pursuing a career in wine was a fruitful possibility.” Arriving at La Mar in October, Angelo’s wine philosophy is pretty straight forward. “Keep it simple, classics,” she says. “I like wines that justify the personality of a grape and its sense of place. Nothing weird.”
The high and low: 2012 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echezeaux, Grand Cru, Burgundy, $2,400); 2017 Azienda Santa Barbara Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Marche, Italy, $45.
Wine to try: The 2016 Dupont-Fahn “Les Clous” Meursault, France, $150. “It’s the best white Burgundy I’ve had in the past six months,” she says.
Favorite restaurant pairing: Conchitas (Seared Scallops with Parmesan Sauce) and the 2017 Servin “Les Pargues” Chablis ($82).
Off duty: “Wine wise it would be a Premier Cru Chablis, especially the 2014 vintage,” she says. “In cocktails I like spirit-forward, shaken cocktails like a ‘20th Century’ [Gin, Lillet, Lemon, Crème de Cacao].”
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Florie’s, Four Seasons Resort, 2800 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, 561-582-2800. The renovated restaurant re-opened at the end of last year with a new look and a Mediterranean food concept. The wine list is global and includes 225 selections from a dozen countries.
The career: From Chicago, Jessica Altieri, Wine Director/Resort Wine and Water Sommelier, attended college on a Division A basketball scholarship. “Traveling extensively abroad and growing up in a big Italian family where food, wine and great conversation were always a part of the picture,” she says. A career in wine seemed natural.
The high and low: 2014 Château Pétrus, Pomerol, France, $6,250; 2016 Donnafugata “Sedara” Nero d’Avola IGT, Sicily, $52.
Wine to try: 2014 Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC from Vienna, Austria, $95. “People are sometimes intimated by orange wines but this is an example of how good they can be with crisp acidity and a refreshing finish,” Altieri says.
Favorite restaurant pairing: Heirloom Tomato and Peach Carpaccio with 2017 Donnafugata “SurSur” Grillo IGT from Sicily ($70)
Off duty: “Sambuca on the rocks,” she says, “with the three coffee beans, of course, representing health, happiness and prosperity.”
Don’t forget the water: If you’re not in the mood for wine or spirits, Altieri, who studied at the Doemens Academy in Germany to become a Water Sommelier, has created a Premium Water Menu not just for the Palm Beach location but for all Four Seasons Resorts globally. Waters are sourced from areas such as New York, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France and Svalbard, Norway. “Our most expensive water, Svalbarði, is sold for $110. The world’s northernmost bottled water, sourced from icebergs in the Svalbard islands at 78 degrees north. Its super light taste and velvet smooth texture come from the snowflakes that fell up to 4,000 years ago and immediately were frozen and preserved as ice,” she says. “Every bottle is carbon negative to save 100kg of the endangered North Pole ice cap.”
Peg San Felippo is a certified sommelier and has served as a judge on the American Fine Wine Competition, South Florida’s homegrown national wine event.