Sommelier Allegra Angelo Featured Sommelier Interview:
6927 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, FL 33138
Allegra Angelo, Michy’s, Miami, FL
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke: What advantages did you find your kitchen experience brought to learning about wine?
Allegra Angelo: I think coming from a cooking background makes you attuned to some of the herb and spice aromas, but overall, it’s still the hardest thing in learning about wine. I had a friend who would go to the grocery store and stick her nose into the fruits and vegetables to learn their aromas, but it’s such an individual thing – you associate so many aromas with things from when you were six-years old, for example. Everyone eats, too, so everyone knows what a lemon or lime tastes like, everyone knows the difference between skim milk and whole milk.
Jim: How important are pairings to you and your guests?
Allegra: We don’t have a set menu or tasting menu, so everything’s ordered a la carte, often with a lot of small plates. So when a guest wants a pairing, we do it on the fly, usually using half-bottles and wines from our by-the-glass list. A lot of our guests are getting food from all over the map, from oysters to steaks, and want one wine to go with the whole meal. Then I usually turn to something with really nice acidity and balance, that won’t overpower the food – nuanced, subtle wines that don’t kill the food’s flavors. The food should shine.
Jim: Are there particular grapes or regions you turn to on these occasions, white or red?
Allegra: I think Riesling definitely does well, but I often have to explain to my guest that it may start sweet, but it finishes dry. It rinses out the mouth, and you can pair it with heavy foods, as long as the acid is there. Pinots are always the easy, obvious choice for reds, but it’s actually not so clear-cut. So many American or even Burgundian producers are using more new oak or have more power and tannins. I like choosing a wine with some age, where the tannins have softened – aged Barolo is one of my favorites. With a lot of reds, you just have to know your producers and their winemaking style.
Jim: Do you have any preferences regarding glassware for your wines?
Allegra: We’re really tight on space, but we have several Riedel glasses: Champagne, dessert, Viognier/Chardonnay, Nebbiolo/Burgundy, and Bordeaux. I actually like to serve Port in white wine glasses, though, and our Champagne flutes are a bit wider than some. I think the range of glasses out there gets a bit ridiculous; maybe one day I’ll be somewhere that does that, but it doesn’t fit our restaurant.
Jim: How do you help a guest who seems uncomfortable with the list or isn’t wine-savvy pick something out from the list?
Allegra: If someone doesn’t seem used to wine, I try to break it down a bit to find out what style they want. It starts with white and red; after that, you’re halfway there. Then you find out whether they want a heavier, fuller wine or something lighter and softer. Then more fruit, or more earth-driven? Some people do Old World–New World, but that’s not clear to many guests. Then you can say “Try this.” If they don’t like it, you can pour it off by-the-glass or use it for staff training later. At least you’ve got a guest who’s making an effort, and is willing to try it, and they shouldn’t feel odd about saying it’s not really what they wanted. They should feel okay with trying something new; it’s no big deal.
Jim: At the end of a shift, what do you most like to drink?
Allegra: I start with anything that’s open that I haven’t tasted, even if it’s not what I’m in the mood for. But Champagne is the only wine that’s really refreshing when I’m tired, or even a beer. I can drink red wine in the afternoon or evening, but at 1am, I’d fall asleep instantly.