Perspectives - Florida

South Florida’s Gold Coast – the sun-splashed, resort-laced stretch from Miami to the Palm Beaches – has long drawn domestic and foreign visitors as one of the US’s leading leisure destinations. Foreign financial influence is on the rise, and Miami alone is expecting $16bn of this year’s whopping $23bn tourism-related dollars to come from outside the country — influence that can be seen on area wine lists.

Miami wine professionals see it as a natural reflection of their worldwide clientele. Sébastien Verrier, head sommelier at the five-star St Regis Bal Harbour Resort, has seen the shift first-hand over his 15 years in Miami, remarking how wine lists that were once 65% American are now 65% foreign, with European wine representing the bulk of this.

It’s no surprise that weather is another major factor in a wine’s popularity. South Florida’s tropical climate and resort-like atmosphere offers a lot of time in chaise lounges and open-air restaurants. So what exactly is the result of these influences? Scott Saunders asked three professionals to give their account of what’s happening at some of the area’s most renowned resorts.

David Mokha, Virginia Philip, Todd Phillips
David Mokha, Virginia Philip, Todd Phillips

David Mokha 

Beverage director and head sommelier at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Mokha oversees the wine and spirits programs and a team of sommeliers for the resort’s 12 restaurants and bars. 

Due to a large influx of travellers coming from major markets, Miami is constantly evolving and adapting to trends from all over the world; it is interesting to see how much travel influences demand. At Fontainebleau Miami Beach, we want to ensure there are options for everyone, no matter their taste or preference, but it is important to read your guests and identify patterns in order to stay ahead of the game.

Over recent years, I have noticed a significant rise in popularity for rosé. It is very prominent in St. Tropez and throughout Europe, making it very important to the Miami market. Its refreshing properties make it very appealing to our guests lounging or dining amidst our tropical climate. Amongst all the different varieties, I have noticed a preference in the off-dry and sweeter styles with hotel guests, as it is easy to drink, refreshing, and has an inviting pink hue.

Suppliers have expanded their selections and restaurants are offering a larger variety on their wine lists. At Fontainebleau, we have witnessed an increased demand for rosé in all eight restaurants and bars on property that offer wine, and have been working to expand our selection.


Virginia Philip

Award-winning Master Sommelier Virginia Philip is beverage director for The Breakers Palm Beach, overseeing the iconic resort’s nine restaurants and bars and curating its 1,600-selection wine list. She’s recently launched a wine shop and academy in downtown West Palm Beach.

Florida can claim its place in the top four wine-consuming markets in the United States. Living and working in South Florida has its ups and downs – mostly ups. Based in Palm Beach, I am fortunate to live in an area where our demographics allow for strong consumption of wine. Our client base consists of residents who are either transplants from up north that now live here year-round, or dash back and forth between their residences in the Tri-State area [New York City metropolitan area]. We also tend to deal with a more elderly population.

Our weather affects the choices of our consumers. While rosé may be popular in other areas in the summer months only, it is practically summer year-round here, so the demand never ends. I can never seem to stock enough rosé – especially from Côtes de Provence. At The Breakers, we have a rosé by the glass on every wine list. While rosé from Italy, California and other areas of France are requested, hands down, Côtes de Provence rosé has a huge advantage.

The desire for ‘other’ white wines – besides Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay – is strong. Falanghina, Arneis, Verdejo, Albariño are all examples of grapes that I recommend often as alternatives. People love these crisp white wines with bits of minerals and medium+/high acid. For the adventurous drinker, we will often recommend a dry Furmint as well. Have you tasted one lately? There are some real gems out there that are perfect as pool-side sippers or amazing with a bit of seafood.

For reds, the normal suspects such as Burgundy, Tuscany, Spain and California continue to drive consumption. Malbec seems to be slowing down, and Syrah or Shiraz has come to a bit of a halt. Lighter Grenache/Garnacha-based wines are seeing some pickup. I have been finding some lovely examples coming from Italy. With more oily fish, such as Salmon and Tuna, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Grenache can work wonders as pairings. They also work well with lighter meats, pasta and of course seafood – which we have an abundance of.

One surprise I have experienced over the past two years is the demand for Bordeaux. Bordeaux is back – and actually never quite left our market. While the thirst for this wine is still in demand, I have found that the average spend per bottle has lessened. I find most clients are willing to spend between $22.00 to $35.00 for a decent bottle of Bordeaux.

Last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not mention how Prosecco has taken control of the bubbly category. It is a must for every by-the-glass program/list in any restaurant. At retail, I offer at least six to ten selections in different price points, quality levels and styles. Several years ago, trying to sell a glass or bottle of Prosecco was challenging. Today, this easy-to-drink bubbly has finally found a niche of its own.

Todd Phillips

Wine director at Azul, Mandarin Oriental’s five-star, signature restaurant. In an intimate, fine-dining setting with a view over Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, Phillips oversees a list of more than 700 world-class wines.

Miami is an interesting scene in the beverage world; certainly a city that embraces both sides of the coin. While bottle service and the latest flavours of vodka flow like electricity through the clubs of Miami, you can also find intimate hideaways producing some of the best mixology in the country. I think the wine scene in the city certainly shares that dichotomy.

Brand recognition has a strong dictation on the palate of Miami. When dining in a restaurant in this city, it is hard not to ­notice the reference to what a wine scored or when a guest is reaching for their phone to see how a wine was rated by the latest wine app. A recognizable label can also be about the comfort level of the guest.

Now the other side of that coin is that in a city interested in the newest trends, the sommelier has become a trusted member of the guest’s experience. I’ve noticed an increasing amount of guests relying on our sommeliers to steer them in the right direction, giving us a price point and style and trusting us to delight them. I’ve seen several restaurants going away from the traditional listing of wine by country/region on their lists and instead listing by grape or style of wine.

The big names and grapes will always sell here, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, Malbec from Mendoza, Champagne. What I have seen recently is a big development in the “familiar but different” category – wines such as Franciacorta instead of Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia, Cabernet Sauvignon from Lebanon. I think guests are intrigued by trying something new without throwing all caution to the wind. 

To the extreme of this trend are wine pairings. We’ve seen an increase in sales from wine and beer pairings and tasting menus. I’ve seen a rise in guests turning over their entire meal to the chef and sommelier, which makes this an exciting time to be part of Miami’s evolving culinary and beverage scene.



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