South Florida is hardly considered a Mecca for adventurous wine palates. On a visit there last week, I found a handful of places that are trying to change that. The standout among them is Uvaggio Wine Bar on Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile (ok, it’s a little south of Miami). This little bar-restaurant and its completely unpretentious sommelier Heath Porter are making wine waves. Just check out this wine list!!
21 wines by the glass and half glass, plus Coravin specials … and not a cab or a pinot grigio in sight. The most conventional thing on the BTG list is a Chardonnay from Arroyo Grande near San Luis Obispo, California.
Everything else ranges from the sublime (half glass of Barolo, anyone?) to the completely weird and obscure (read on!). This place is a wine geek’s paradise. I wanted to try everything.
Japanese white … no, it’s not plum
I started with what I considered the most obscure wine on the list – a dry Japanese white. I didn’t know Japan made anything besides sake and sickly sweet plum wine.
2013 Chateau Mercian koshu, Japan
But I later read that a number of Japanese winemakers have elevated the koshu grape, formerly considered to be essentially garbage, to what they hope will become a recognized quality wine grape.
Uvaggio’s koshu is a 2013 from Chateau Mercian (isn’t it kinda sad that so many winemakers think they have to try to sound French?). The only thing I could possibly compare it to might be an unoaked chardonnay. I found it very round, with notes of apple and medium to low acidity. It didn’t blow me away, but it was highly drinkable, and hey, it’s Japanese wine!
Yogurt naan … and also a cat
Next, my husband Steve, a lover of Indian food, wanted to try a white wine whose description included the words “yogurt naan.”
It was a 2013 Francois Cazin from Cour-Cheverny in the Loire Valley. French wine sounded a little pedestrian after that Japanese selection, but this is no chenin or savignon blanc. This wine is made from the romorantin grape, grown only in this small region, and it was anything but boring.
Steve doesn’t geek out on wine like I do, but his nose is much better than mine, and I love that he’s not influenced by what wine people think you “should” smell. Usually, he comes up with some pretty funny descriptors, but this time he was fairly conventional. He smelled nuts, vanilla, and white flowers. I got pineapple and also a nutty, oxidized quality, plus some honey. The palate had good acidity and minerality but was very well balanced. We didn’t detect any naan, but it was a fun wine nonetheless.
I like it even more after reading this post about Francois Cazin, featuring his cat, Boinko.
Slovenian orange wine
By this time, Steve and I had been chatting with Heath (whose business card bears the title “Head Wine-O”) about how gutsy it was to launch this venture in this location … and of course he recommended the orange wine from Slovenia.
Orange wines are made from white wine grapes using a red-wine-making process. (That’s an oversimplification, but it gives you a good idea.) Instead of straining the juice away from the skins and seeds immediately (the white wine way), the crushed grapes – skins and all – get to hang out for anywhere from several days to several months.
The resulting wine is unusual and exciting. It has tannins like a red wine (tannins come from the skins and seeds, so white wines don’t really have them), but they’re served chilled like a white or rose. They don’t taste like reds or whites – they belong to their own category.
The one we tried was a 2010 Movia made from the ribolla grape. On the nose, I got orange blossoms, watery orange nectar, and peach. Steve said he got Sharpie (yep, the white board pen) and orange peel. The orange peel was definitely there on the palate too, with good acidity. Really an amazing wine.
Also, I just read that orange wines pair well with Ethiopian food. I’d love to try that!
Finally, a red … from a tourist resort island
It was almost 11pm, I’m sure Heath and his crew wanted to close up shop … and I hadn’t even gotten to the reds yet! I asked Heath for a recommendation, and he disappeared into the back.
He returned with a half glass of a wine that’s not on their BTG list – Steve and I had been exclaiming about to him while perusing the bottle menu. It hails from Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, just off north Africa. Tenerife is a popular spot with British tourists, Steve (who’s British) tells me.
I had no idea they made wine there, but as it turns out (thanks Eric Asimov), the winemaking tradition in the Canaries is older than the United States itself.
Uvaggio pours the 2013 “7 Fuentes” by Suertes del Marques. It’s made with listan negro, the main red varietal in the Canary Islands. I can’t even find a website for this producer, but here are some technical notes on the wine.
On the nose, I got some funky barnyard and pepper. Steve got meat and empty mussel shell. (How does he DO that?! He doesn’t even eat mussels!) The wine was light to medium bodied with moderate to high tannins, medium acidity, and not too much alcohol.
This was a conundrum of a wine. If pressed, I might’ve compared it to a Burgundy, but that doesn’t really fit. It is its own wine from its own place, lovely in its own right.
I’ll be back
If the capacity crowd last Friday night was any indication, Heath and the team at Uvaggio are having a great deal of success converting south Floridians into wine lovers. I’m not surprised. This place makes obscure wine accessible. Nobody goes there to show off – just to drink some great, as Heath puts it, “juice.”
As for me — I have 17 more wines by the glass to try. I’ll definitely be back.