Two sommeliers and one mixologist to keep your eyes on as Miami’s next generation of beverage professionals bubbles up. They may just be the ones shaking your next cocktail or pouring you a glass of wine:
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The “life-changing moment” when Michel-Ange Lafleur said he knew he wanted to devote his professional life to wine happened almost a decade ago at Lorenzo’s in North Miami Beach. Lafleur, who was born in New York to Haitian parents, had been working in the Italian market’s wine department after being transferred from the fish counter.
He liked what he was learning during in-store tastings, and then — on his birthday — his boss opened a 2004 Sassicaia. The powerhouse Super Tuscan persuaded Lafleur to delve deeper into the craft of winemaking.
“Wine is an effective tool — a portal, if you will — to learn about geography, people and cultures,” said Lafleur, now a member of Zuma’s sommelier team for the past four years. His recent research has included places like Tasmania, Australia; Greece; and Swartland, South Africa. They are all producing interesting and affordable white wines that may soon show up on Zuma’s list.
Introducing guests to new wines is a highlight of a sommelier’s job. But Lafleur noted that being able to navigate that tableside encounter is also one of the most difficult aspects of the restaurant business.
“We have about 30 seconds,” he said, “to gently acquire knowledge from the guest and suggest a wine that will satisfy and enchant them.”
Beverage Director, Coya*
Overseeing the drinks program at an acclaimed Peruvian restaurant seems like the perfect role for Maria Pottage, whose two greatest obsessions are her native Peru and its prized spirit, pisco.
At Coya in Brickell, you can find Pottage presiding over a collection of more than 400 spirits, including rare Japanese whiskies and trendy agave-based liquors. But the true object of her desire is pisco. Rows of sexy pisco bottles and infusions in various stages of steeping line the shelves of Coya’s bar.
“Pisco was the first distilled spirit in documented history,” said Pottage, who earned a master’s degree in food studies from NYU and has worked as a researcher for the Food Network and a writer for Saveur.
Once more common than whiskey in the United States, pisco “all but disappeared” here after Prohibition, Pottage explained. She sees part of her job as resurrecting our preference for pisco. She does that one guest at a time, offering a sample flight, an eager enthusiasm and an ability to answer questions someone may have.
“My work at Coya is like uncovering a lost treasure and extolling its merits.”
* Editor’s note: Coya Restaurant closed in July 2017. Stay tuned to see where Pottage will be sharing her knowledge next.
Beverage Director, Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club
Dario Vigil grew up in Italy and around wine. He started his career as a bartender before receiving his full sommelier certification in Italy and roaming around the vineyards of France for several years.
His desire to be an ambassador of Italian wines in the United States led him to Miami Beach’s famed Casa Tua, where until recently he served as sommelier and beverage director.
“It was a perfect experience,” Vigil said of his three years at Casa Tua. “Owner Miky Grendene is a wine lover and always looking for something different.” As such, Vigil had the green light to seek out obscure and small-production wines, working with more than 30 distributors to bring the best to Casa Tua’s wine menu.
Now, as beverage director of the recently opened Four Seasons at The Surf Club in Surfside, Vigil will continue to emphasize Italian wines at the property’s Le Sirenuse restaurant.
“I am proud to tell the stories of fine winemakers and their wines,” he said. “Being a sommelier enables me to pass this along to guests, to offer them new experiences.”
Recipe: El Picante
By Maria Pottage. Makes 1 drink.
2 ounces strawberry- and basil-infused pisco (see note)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce ají limón syrup (see note)
1 ounce egg white
- Shake all ingredients in a shaker without ice.
- Add ice and shake again.
- Strain into a Pisco Sour or Old Fashioned glass.
- Garnish with a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters, a strawberry slice and a basil leaf.
Note: To make infused pisco, add about a cup of washed, dried and chopped strawberries and basil to a large mason jar; cover with pisco (Pottage prefers Macchu Pisco), and allow infusion to sit, covered, about two to three days. To make ají limón syrup, combine 1 cup each water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat; add 2-3 washed and chopped ají limón peppers, stirring until sugar is dissolved; strain syrup into a clean container.