Miami born-and-raised, Amanda Fraga grew up with a yen to travel and dive deeply into the mysteries of the foreign culture. “It was not long before I discovered that wine was the one lens through which I could peer extensively into a variety of cultures, given its strong relationship to the soil and local cuisine,” she says. “So I started developing a keen interest in wine, joined wine clubs and took some wine-tasting courses, all for the sake of enhancing my travel experiences. Eventually, I realized that wine was actually the industry I wanted to be part of.”
She currently oversees the wine programs and manages the sommeliers for all three restaurants from the Genuine Hospitality Group: Michael’s Genuine, Amara and Tigertail & Mary.
What do you enjoy the most about being a sommelier?
A small part of it is the hours. I habitually work best in the evening and would not at all consider myself a morning person, so the off-kilter schedule works for me. I also love that I get to talk to people about the thing I’m most passionate about. I enjoy just being in the wine community, which has some amazing people who really bond over this shared interest.
What would you say defines the role of a head sommelier?
It’s a difficult question as it ultimately depends on the group you’re working with. The way I’ve interpreted it is that it’s important to nurture the sommeliers within their respective restaurants and to constantly offer the support and guidance needed to help them devise a very cool list or to challenge them to be certain they are selecting the very best wines. For example, if someone tells me they want to add a wine to the list, I might end up saying ‘I want you to spend more time looking into this because I’m not yet convinced that wine is the BEST wine for that particular price point.’ Because, at the end of the day, they are the ones selling wines on the floor and they need to be 100% behind the product they are selling. In short, we push the program, train the staff to push themselves and increase sales. Primarily, ahead sommelier needs to ensure the program is viable and that the business is profitable.
What’s the focal point of the current wine list for each restaurant?
At Tigertail and Mary, we have an American-focused wine list and this is what I wanted it to be. I was already working with the group prior to its opening and knew the owners favored Old World wines. But I felt there were a lot of excellent American wines to be had at a favorable price point and this new restaurant was a great opportunity to bring them to light—also because they happen to pair very well with the menu. In order to convince them to go this route, I presented them with the selection directly. At Amara, we have the South-American influence so we maintain that theme, which always presents great options. But at Genuine it works so well not to have a theme. Some days the menu swings more German and Austrian and other days we might explore lesser-known Hungarian wines.
What’s your personal favorite wine region and why?
It always depends on how you are feeling. Right now I’m really into the northern Rhone valley. How that happened was because I watched the Somm movie and they mention the hill of Hermitage in the northern Rhone. There’s this story about a man that lived on the top of the hill who didn’t want to be around people, kind of like a hermit, and that’s why it got the name ‘Hermitage.’ This came up in a conversation with my fiancé about this region and I think the story sparked his interest to go and investigate those wines. So that’s been my exploration these days. Last year I was more about Austria and Germany. Those are what I consider my home base, but I guess I’m veering into northern Rhone right now.
What’s your take on global warming’s impact on the wine world?
It’s really tough to see what’s happening and how quickly. Ironically, some regions are actually doing very well with it—regions that needed a little bit of ripeness are finally getting it, that is. So it’s interesting to see how normally cooler regions are now able to produce very drinkable wines. At the same time, it’s really scary because it’s happening so fast and might soon pose a real threat to production in southern regions.
What would you say is your favorite food & wine combination?
I always love pairing expensive wines with something that is very simple, like fried chicken with champagne. It’s fun to observe that good wine doesn’t necessarily require a luxurious setting and a $500 meal.
What is the best way for people to learn about wine without having to spend a fortune buying bottles?
What I always say to people is to get a journal and write about every wine that they taste and then Google it because there’s a lot of handy information available. When you buy bottles, try to buy 2 or 3 from the same region so you can gain a more in-depth understanding. Also, Miami is doing an amazing job lately with wine events. For example, Stazione has events on Mondays and Nave on Thursdays. We are doing some events as well, we started a friendly pairing competition with other sommeliers and they are sold out every time. There are lots of budget-friendly opportunities to learn.
What would you recommend for a “wine by the glass’ option here at Tigertail?
I would say the Chenin blanc from California. Chenin blanc is originally from a region in France called Loire, so it’s really cool to see it coming from California and it’s actually very well made. Another great option would be the Barolo from Italy that I personally love.
Do you ever go for beers and cocktails?
I love to go to Boxelder to try different types of beers. My fiance and I can easily go there and try 4 different kinds of beer or we often go to Bar Alter and have some cocktails and a soft egg and piece of bread. Those two are my favorites.
If you were a wine, what kind of wine would you be?
I know it will probably sound silly, but I think I’d be champagne just because it’s super-versatile so it pairs perfectly with almost any food. I like to think I can get along with a lot of different personalities.
Where do you see your path going in the future?
I love what I do right now and I want to continue to grow so I can take it to the next level. I’m learning a lot more about the business side, for now, I feel I can put my passion and knowledge about wine together with business and grow that way.
The Genuine Group is currently doing a fun pairing event through their restaurants called the “Last Somm Standing” styled as a friendly competition between Amanda and a guest sommelier. You will savor 3 courses and wines pairings by Sommeliers where the judges aka guests get to vote for their favorite pairing. All at an affordable price of $85. The next event will be at Amara Paraiso. on March 16th, at 7 pm. For tickets information visit https://amaraatparaiso.com/
You can also follow Amanda at @quepasamanda for daily wine recommendations, upcoming events and tips.