ENGAGING THE SENSES

This is one of those weeks during the year when I envy that hamster running on his exercise wheel to nowhere – even he seems less hectic than the schedule I’m looking at. We are just two weeks away from the 21st annual VeritageMiami and the entire VeritageMiami team is rising early and working late to assure you have an extraordinary event. Whether you choose to come to one tasting or dinner or all four, there is a wonderful food and beverage experience in your future. Here is what’s happening:

Right now – it’s Best in Glass Month when two dozen South Florida restaurants are pouring some of the gold medal-winning wines from our sommelier-judged Best in Glass Wine Challenge. View our full list of participating restaurants for Best in Glass Month. I’m slowly making my rounds of the restaurants to sample their offerings, starting last week at Michael’s Genuine in the Design District, where head sommelier Brian Jackson is pouring Champagne Canard-Duchène’s lovely rosé and one of my favorite whites, the hard to pronounce but easy to drink Bodega Hiruzta Txakolina (just ask for “that Basque wine,” or pronounce it “chalk-o-LEE-na).

Sommelier Brian Jackson at Michael’s Genuine [Photo: Lyn Farmer]

Here at Veritage-central, we are registering breweries and wineries, testing menus and writing catalog descriptions of auction lots.

The Craft Beer Tasting at Wynwood Walls on Wednesday, October 5 is our opening event and it’s always a blast. This year we had to close the restaurant registration once we got to 37. Yeah, 37 restaurants! We have some great first time visitors including Havana 1957, Joey’s Italian Café, KYU from Wynwood and my favorite frita restaurant, El Mago de la Frita’s and his Magic Box. Woo-hoo! Of course, there are plenty of returning restaurants, too, including old favorites like Spring Chicken, Edge Steak & Bar (with irrepressible Chef Aaron Brooks), Shake Shack (and yes, they do serve full-size burgers), and Zest Award-winning R House in Wynwood. You can find the entire list of restaurants that have registered on the VeritageMiami Craft Beer webpage. The breweries are all listed there as well, though we haven’t yet listed what they’re pouring. You can figure each brewery is bringing several beers, so I imagine we’ll have around 180 or 200 different brews for sampling at this spectacular kickoff to VeritageMiami.

Then, it’s time for wine! The Fine Wine Tasting is Thursday, October 6 at Shops at Merrick Park. We’ll have about 65 tables of wineries, distributors and imports pouring close to 400 different wines, and I’m hard pressed to single out favorites since there are so many good wines there, and every year I discover new wineries I didn’t know about. I’m very excited that Silvio Alberto, the CEO and wine honcho at Argentina’s Achaval-Ferrer is coming to VeritageMiami this year, and he’ll be pouring his malbec, cabernet sauvignon and the red blend Quimera. Another winemaker who will be with us is Aurélien Jousse who will be pouring his red, white and rosé Côtes-du-Rhône wines.

A master of malbec – Achaval-Ferrer’s Silvio Alberto [Photo: Achaval-Ferrer]

Wines of Israel Network is hosting a pavilion again this year, so I know there will be 15 or 20 wines that are unfamiliar to many tasters. If you had a chance to read the recent Wine Spectator cover story on wine in Israel, you will have high expectations, and I am sure you will be dazzled by what you taste. No matter what your wine preference, you know we’ve got you covered, from light, refreshing Prosecco to big, burly shiraz, there is a wine for every taste at VeritageMiami. And plenty of food to go with it!

Among restaurants new to the event, we are pleased to welcome DIRT, Nicole Votano’s South Beach star (Nicole was a chef at the Interactive Dinner last March). Also among the newcomers, we have STK Miami, RED the Steakhouse and Dragonfly Izakaya from Doral. There are many great restaurants returning to the event as well, including Coral Gables’ Caffé Abbracci, Ortanique on the Mile, and Swine Southern Table among many others. Again, check out the list of restaurants that will join us at the Fine Wine Tasting. Best of all, tickets are very reasonable and they are still available!

After the two tastings that open VeritageMiami, there are great dinners in store – the always popular Interactive Dinner with 2016 Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford (normally at home on the range in the kitchen of the Matador Room) is on Friday, October 7 at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami. And this year, we are skipping the Saturday night auction dinner in favor of throwing a wonderfully informal Bubbly Brunch and Auction at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. I’ve been tasting through the menus as we make final choices, and I can assure you that a treat is in store at both events.

For the Friday interactive dinner, Chef Jeremy Ford has created a striking menu and I’m doing a run through with the team from the JW Marriott on Friday and will post some pictures early next week. I will add a caveat – because the heart of the interactive experience is that you get to cook alongside (well, virtually alongside) Chef Ford, preparing each course at your own table with him as your coach, your results may, well … not look quite like our run through that was plated by a professional chef. But it will taste just as good! I’ll share all the details next week, and I will suggest you get your tickets now while we still have some on hand. This event sells out every year!

Just one of a dozen dishes on the brunch table at VeritageMiami, Yardbird’s Shrimp and Grits [Photo: Lyn Farmer]

And for Sunday’s brunch the food is being created in a wonderfully collaborative effort between Juan Rivera, the banquet chef at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, and the 50 Eggs Group’s Executive Chef Christian Cuevas. You can see them here with a selection of the pass-arounds they plan to offer during the Perrier-Jouët Champagne reception. Once we go to the tables, we have more food coming from Yardbird and Swine. Within the VeritageMiami team we debated whether to keep the menu a surprise, but decided that would be unfair so I’m happy to share some images from the tasting that included Yardbird’s famous Llewellyn’s fried chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits (amazing!), quiche, banana bread, incredibly flaky biscuits and more.

Stay tuned for more!

Betty Balfour in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1928 silent film Champagne [Photo: Hitchcock Champagne 1928]

Champagne has always been marketed as a wine for celebration, and at VeritageMiami we are no different – we are going to celebrate the closing brunch of VeritageMiami on October 9 with a boatload of Champagne (both pink and white) from Perrier-Jouët, a house strongly identified with the Belle Époque age of elegance. I’ve always maintained the importance of remembering that Champagne is first and foremost a wine and only secondly a vehicle for celebration, but that has never kept me from accepting a glass at a party. Now, I learn that one group of Champagne lovers is celebrating a bit too much.

The latest wine news out of England offers a warning to enthusiastic fans of both Champagne and cricket. The Marylebone Cricket Club, while presiding over a sport with perhaps the most obscure and difficult to comprehend rules of any game known to man, is adding one very simple rule for its members: stop popping Champagne corks from the stands and firing them onto the pitch (what we Colonials would call the “playing field.”)

While we Americans would be lost without the possibility of having alcohol at our professional sporting events, the Brits (who make some of the greatest beers, gins and whiskies in the world) have been much more circumspect and in 2006, the International Cricket Council, the governing body of cricket, banned alcohol from all venues. All except one, that is, the exception being Lord’s in St. John’s Wood, London, where many consider cricket to have been founded.

The cricket pitch at Lord’s in St. John’s Wood, London. [Photo: Lord’s]

Lord’s is owned by Marylebone Club, so it fell to the club’s governors to instruct their 18,000 members on some “rules of the lawn.” In a newsletter mailed to members, the club noted, with typical British aplomb, that players on visiting teams were frequently distracted when fans fired Champagne corks at them (presumably there are some Prosecco corks in there too, coming in from the cheaper seats). Of course, with British politeness, the message was quite circumspect. It read, “In recent times the practice of some members and other spectators opening bottles of Champagne in such a way as to allow corks to be projected on to the outfield has been criticised (sic). Any items which are aimed at the playing area may cause a potential hazard to fieldsmen, and this point has been made formally to the club.”

Having grown up in Minnesota and watching my neighbors in Wisconsin throwing wedges of local cheese on the field of Green Bay Packers football games, I can only admire the Champagne taste of the cricket fans as well as the politesse with which this stern warning was delivered. And as a wine educator, I must make a few notes here for your own bottle opening exploits:

  1. Loosen the wire “cage” but leave it over the cork. Some folks like to take off the cage, but a bottle that has been shaken even a little will pop out the cork as soon as you take your thumb off, so to be safe, I leave the cage on the cork.
  2. Grasp the cork (and cage) tightly and always turn the bottle, not the cork – turning the cork runs the risk of twisting off the bulbous top and then you’d have to use a corkscrew to get out the remaining cork, not a happy prospect since the pressure in that bottle is the same as in the tire of a 30-ton truck (or, if you’re British, a 30-tonne lorry).
  3. Keep a good grasp on the cork as you loosen it – the pressure in the bottle should slowly force out the cork – don’t pop it, let it come out gently (a poetic French friend says it should open with a contented sigh).
  4. Popping the cork risks damage to friends (even if they aren’t cricket players) and perhaps even worse, means losing some of the fizz in the bottle. We wouldn’t want that.
A few easy steps and voilà! [Photo: Comité Champagne]

In all seriousness, it’s important to manage the cork of a sparkling wine bottle because it achieves a good deal of velocity and impact if not held in place by a sturdy grip. And the best way to get a sturdy grip? Practice, which of course means drinking more sparkling wine. Let’s get to work!