How to create an amazing wine list for a seafood heavy dinner party

Wine and oysters on ice at Mignonette in Miami. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.
Wine and oysters on ice at Mignonette in Miami. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

Local Miami seafood restaurant Mignonette pours white, red and sparkling wines that suit its guests’ range of tastes. Here’s how Mignonette co-owner Ryan Roman suggests building such a thoughtful list, with tips you can use when planning your next dinner party.  

Oysters begin their lives as tiny larvae not-so-affectionately referred to as “spat.” When chef Daniel Serfer and I opened our Mignonette oyster bar two years ago, we spat on a corner lot in Edgewater that used to be a gas station, across from the historic (and creepy) City of Miami cemetery. From what was at best a murky terroir, our little oyster bar that could grew to inhabit the intersection between plain and fancy.

This juxtaposition quickly became our guiding principle, first at the “Downtown” Edgewater location and then at our new “Uptown” location that opened in January in the former Gourmet Diner in North Miami Beach. Providing a humble but comfortable stool from which to enjoy a half-dozen oysters and a Pabst Blue Ribbon, or a leather banquette to sink into while feasting on a seafood tower that’s washed down with grower Champagne. You can travel low or high across the menus.

When it came time to build out our wine lists, the goal was to compile wines that best reflected the restaurants’ funky sense of place and the contradictions between plain and fancy. That also meant demystifying the way in which we presented wine choices to our guests.

Wine list
Mignonette Miami photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

Leaning Toward Loire 

Enter Allegra Angelo, a friend and trusted agent who had cut her teeth working with chef Michelle Bernstein at Michy’s and was named a Best New Sommelier by Wine & Spirits magazine. Guided by Allegra’s steady hand, we focused on wines that would showcase our seafood-centric menus, and our raw bar in particular. Tilting toward white wine, the minerality of France’s Loire Valley drew our attention.

Living along the banks of the Loire River, with occasional trips that require a passport, our wine lists feature a Sancerre by Daniel Chotard that is grown upon soil rich with limestone, and a Muscadet from Domaine des Trois Toits, grown in a more rocky environment but which expresses itself through subtlety instead of brute force.

We highlight different expressions of Chenin Blanc: a dry style under the label “La Dilettante” from Domaine Breton, and an intense “Savennières Cuvée Spéciale” bottled by Chateau D’Epiré. The lists also house a number of Champagnes, including an accessible bottle from Oudinot and a selection of Grand Cru Champagnes. Oysters and Champagne are a definite no-brainer. And since France is no stranger to oysters, an emphasis on French wine also makes sense at an oyster bar with a hard-to-pronounce French name (we’ve heard it all: Mig-not, Mig-net, Mayonnaise).

Wine Matrix 

Once we rounded out our lists, we turned our attention to how best to engage our guests with the selection of wines. We opted not to employ a full-time sommelier; instead, our talented servers and managers are constantly learning about wine and are empowered to talk with guests about what we pour.

We also were eager to test an idea put forward by Allegra. She suggested a list that takes the same group of 40 or so bottles, sorted into five separate lists: first by color, then style, then food pairing, then place and finally by price. If you are craving a wine to pair with fried conch, there’s a page for that. Or maybe you just returned from a trip to Europe and are geeking out over Alsatian wines — there’s a page for you as well. The idea is to allow guests to become their own sommelier, focusing on the category that most appeals to them.

Wine and oysters share a common idea. Each is a reflection of place. A well-shucked oyster lives in a splash of the ocean or river from which it was plucked, known as the liquor. Likewise, Mignonette occupies unique terroir. Downtown, you’ll find us across from the eternal resting place of Julia Tuttle, amid the rising shadows of 40-story luxury towers. Meanwhile, our Uptown home is an aluminum-sided diner like one you might see along the Jersey Turnpike. Plain and fancy — just the way we like it.

Near Mignonette Uptown? Check out some of these top restaurants, shops and more in Aventura FL.