It’s true that Miami is late to most food-and-drink trends. Our city has moved at a snail’s pace in terms of wine culture, with few more than a handful of bars and shops forging the path. But something shifted over the last couple of years. We started to care more about the wines we drank and where they originated. Small shops curated their inventory while chef-owned restaurants diversified their selection, feeding our curiosity as drinkers. Collectively, we started to embrace esoteric labels and began to favor the unknown over the familiar. It’s been a slow movement that’s finally picked up speed. Now, it seems there’s some person or some place in just about every neighborhood doing something cool and unique to move the needle for Miami’s growing wine scene. Below, the folks helping us catch up and carve out our own identity with the old mighty grape.
In its very short lifespan, Paradis Books & Bread has garnered a following for its namesakes, and given the North Miami neighborhood a wonderful reason to drink. Its identity is all wrapped up around one common goal—building community—shared by its five owners, all of whom moved down from New York City to launch the business. Paradis is a lot of things—a hybrid retail shop for both books and bottles, a wine bar and café, a bakery doling out fresh sourdough and an urban garden. It’s also the first of its kind in Miami, which widens its appeal. For us, it’s lead sommelier Bianca Sanon’s rumination on vino that did us in. She presents a tightly edited selection of low-intervention wines (hand-harvested organic grapes and small-production vineyards are among the steadfast guidelines she follows) that are drinkable and budget-friendly. The former Boia De somm caters to all types of drinkers, whether it’s with something smooth and approachable for first-timers or with a bottle of a funky, esoteric label for natty vets.
One of Miami’s foremost sommeliers went from fine-dining to wine startup, and our personal collections are all the better for it. Allegra Angelo began her career nearly two decades ago, working her way through Miami’s top restaurants (including the now-shuttered Michy’s from James Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein) before heading west to San Francisco to hone her craft. She returned in 2018 to find a more sophisticated drinking city and together with Nick Garcia and Mauricio Garavano launched Vinya, a wine subscription program at the tail-end of 2019. Angelo curates the selection herself, sourcing rare and hard-to-get stuff from producers she’s worked with for more than 15 years. She also hosts virtual tastings on the company’s Instagram and these days, you can find her chatting up customers at Vinya’s newly opened wine bar on Key Biscayne. “We buy with great provenance—we use two excellent sources to get these rare and library wines—and are constantly tasting from new suppliers. That just helps us stay in tune with what’s going on,” says Angelo. Not only does Angelo strive to stay ahead of the trend with what Vinya carries, but she also keeps prices competitive. “We ask ourselves, ‘Is there something more delicious for less?’ with the understanding that value lives everywhere, and try to pass on those savings to our customers.”
Macarena Carrillo (Maca) and Mariel Dalmau (Mari) are two impossibly cool women shifting the old sommelier stereotype. Both lead the wine programs at their full-time gigs—Maca alongside a team at Cote Miami and Mari at Margot Natural Wine Bar—and together they run Grape Crush, a pop-up drinking social for natural wine enthusiasts. These aren’t your regular tastings. They’re themed with a definite educational component (these two are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to biodynamic producers) but so fun and unexpected. Think sips poured from water guns filled with vino and drinking competitions featuring porron wine decanters.
We’ve been waiting for Margot for quite a while. Originally intended for winter 2020, Margot opened in its temporary home at Nikki Beach in South Beach later that summer. One year later, we finally get to experience the fully envisioned, pink-hued wine bar from the Bar Lab team, the cocktail trailblazers responsible for launching the Broken Shaker. It’s a place for natural wine enthusiasts and those who consider themselves biodynamic curious: Margot sells more than 75 different natural wines, including labels by small producers. However, more impressive than the selection is how well-versed everyone on staff is about what’s available. Whether you opt for a flight, a single glass or a bottle, expect your server to walk you through the experience and offer thoughtful pairings from the edited bar-bites menu created by 27 Restaurant & Bar. Be it with education, its food pairings or impossibly cool design, Margot elevates the drinking experience every step of the way.
The pandemic made Downtown’s NIU Kitchen go from cozy to cramped, but its dining room wound up to be the perfect size for a pop-up wine shop. NIU’s co-owner Karina Iglesias seized the opportunity, pouring her energy into transforming the tiny restaurant into a thriving natural wine shop. Wine Medium sells biodynamic varieties from around the world with a focus on fair-trade products, ranging in price from $15 to $80. “I care about how the soil is treated as much as I care about how the employees are treated—how we treat our neighbors is very important to me, especially right now,” she says. After decades of working with natural wines, Iglesias knows labels and their makers as well as she does drinkers, which is partly what inspired the shop’s name. “I consider myself a wine medium; I can tell you what to drink because I can see it, I know what’s going to make you happy.” And we trust her to show us the way.