Poolside at the 1 Hotel, South Beach 

 

We enjoy good wine. We make an effort to make sure we have only good wine experiences. So when I know I’m going to be out with guests and making a wine selection off a menu, I try to know what’s available in advance and make my decisions before I get there.

Sauvignon blanc wine for summer

Summer is special with Sauvignon Blanc

But being human, fallible, or simply lacking time to do so, I occasionally find myself confronting a wine list where I simply do not recognize a single wine that fits the situation. And so it was, we found ourselves poolside on the rooftop of the 1 Hotel in South Beach. Sunny skies. Palms swaying. No cares. Except I had to pick a wine I did not know.

 

Perfect poolside pairing

Enjoy Sauvignon blanc wine on poolside

We were in a white wine mood—not sparkling—something fresh and crisp to go along with the bright warm weather. And then I saw it was an easy choice: a Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of Australia. All Sauvignon Blancs will offer medium to high acidity, making them crisp and fresh on a hot day. There’s a wonderful consistency to Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and I can’t remember the last time I had one I didn’t like. They offer signature Sauvignon Blanc aromas of green pepper/grassiness, but also include wonderful tropical fruit aromatics—fitting the poolside vibe perfectly! (By the way, don’t let the screw top put you off. Screw tops no longer signify “cheap” wine. The screw top is a great way to seal a bottle of wine, and some producers are now using them on bottles priced at $100 or more.)

 

So what did we choose? It was the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc, a certified organic wine. This producer shapes the wine to make it feel a bit bigger and rounder, while still offering a lovely acidity so perfect for a warm, sunny day. I knew then that I could relax, enjoy the day, and look forward to a good white wine poolside.

Why Pick Just One Champagne?

 

It wasn’t just another Saturday night. We wanted to celebrate my lovely bride’s recent achievements. Do something special. But still keep it comfy, lower key. So we decided to book a table at one of our neighborhood’s best restaurants, Barclay Prime in Rittenhouse Square. That’s special. Then we dressed it down by booking a table in the bar area. Just right.

 

As it was a celebratory night out, our thinking immediately went to Champagne. It’s festive and pairs well with most every food. The restaurant has a great wine list and offers about 20 bottles of Champagne and sparkling whites, from small artisanal producers to the widely recognized houses, with a mix of non-vintage and specific-year bottlings.

 

But what to choose? A good Champagne list can be a bit daunting, with many small but excellent producers we don’t recognize. Just play it safe and go with a bigger, recognized Champagne house? At this point, we’d usually resort to the tried and true – ask for the Sommelier. We’d explain our preferences and ask for their recommendation. Sommeliers decide what wines the restaurant will offer and manage the purchasing and inventory, so they know their way around their wine list. It’s the best path when you don’t know what to order. (See our guide on “How to Order from a Sommelier” here.)

 

But then it hit us: why not try several Champagnes by doing a flight from the “by the glass” list? This usually isn’t the best way to get a great value, as restaurants mark up glasses of wine several times over what you pay for the same volume by the bottle. But the “Champagne Flight” offered an additional value tonight: we’d have the fun of tasting through several different bottles and chatting about each along the way! We explained our order to the waiter, who immediately understood and dubbed it a “Champagne Smorgasbord.” Flight or smorgasbord, we were on our way!

 

First up was a crémant, a sparkling white wine made in France but not from Champagne, a specific wine-producing area. This was the entry-level sparkler, and crémant is a good choice any time you want Champagne but are more mindful of the budget. Along with it came a true Champagne, the Ployez Jacquemart “Extra Quality Brut,” the next price step up. Both were nice; the crémant alone would have been a fine accompaniment to the meal to come, but the Ployez Jacquemart offered more on the nose and palate, and was rounder and more complex. Both paired well with our “we’re having fun” appetizer order: Wagyu sliders. The acid in the wine cut nicely through the fat of the pampered Wagyu beef.

 

Dover sole with throwback ‘tater tots’

In-season white truffle handmade pasta

Entrées were Dover sole (with, oh yes, tater tots on the side for crunch!) and the special white truffle pasta. Next up in our Champagne flight (working up to the top of the “by the glass” price scale) were a Gosset Grand Rosé Brut, and a Krug “Grande Cuvée, 169ème edition” brut. Both are NV, or non-vintage, so blends. Several of the big Champagne houses specialize in blending multiple vintages to achieve a signature profile; these blends can be quite expensive. So don’t let the “NV” throw you off. The Gosset rosé offered tangerine and peach aromas and was medium to full bodied, with nice fruit on the palate.

 

The Krug “Grande Cuvée, 169ème edition” brut pairs well with any food – even Tater Tots!

The Krug, the most expensive by the glass offering, was a revelation. While mostly based on the 2013 vintage, it includes 40% “reserve” wines dating back to 2000. So you can see how “blending” can be a long, complex game. Kudos to Krug for putting up this wine at such a high level. The nose offers apricot, biscuits and marmalade, and is medium to full bodied, with plenty of fruit and a long, lovely finish. This is a wine that could lie down and only get better for the next 20+ years.

 

The food, the crémant and the Champagne smorgasbord along with the wonderful food made for a night to remember – just the kind of special, “relaxed” night we were looking for.

Call Me Gaby, South Beach

 

It was winter, and we fled the cold Northeast for the sun and vibe of South Beach. We had already hit many of our favorite restaurants and were coming to the end of our stay. We wanted something new, something classy yet comfy, and something a bit special. We had heard good things about Call Me Gaby in the SoFi (South of Fifth) neighborhood and decided to go.

serving wine at Call Me Gaby

2016 Super Tuscan Sassicaia, expert-rated 100!

 

I always like to get a head start on the wine selection. (It can take me a few minutes, depending on the depth of the wine list, and I don’t want to be a bore as I sit there silently looking it over.) So I went to the restaurant’s website and with great delight found a wine list that not only looked like it was put together by someone who really cared about wine but also included the expert ratings! The choice was made for me when I saw they listed the 2016 Sassicaia. It’s a wine that’s earned a perfect 100 expert rating, a Super Tuscan (Cabernet Sauvignon primarily, with a bit of Cabernet Franc) from Bolgheri, Italy. We had visited the area a couple of years before. With all that going for it, I had confidence it would be very special. It would pair beautifully with the Italian-influenced food and was the perfect way to toast my bride’s most recent accomplishments and cap our stay in South Beach.

 

The restaurant and the wine were both superb – a night we’ll always remember.

 

Cheers!

Food and wine fans discuss pairings with Walter at the Walter On Wine booth

Walter explains his simplified reinvention of wine ratings to Very Good, Great, Superb

Walter On Wine delivers Wine Chats to help wine lovers increase their enjoyment of every sip

Sommelier Walter Hartman shares his extensive knowledge of wines with LA WineFest attendees

Walter On Wine pours one of Walter’s recommended wines, the 2021 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, for the crowd to enjoy

Walter educates wine lovers on how the olfactory sense affects wine tasting

Walter Hartman launches his Walter On Wine website at LA WineFest with the Executive Director, Scherr Lillico

Mitchell McSorley of Hibou Wines joins Walter to highlight Hibou’s luscious wines

Ja Rule was ‘Always on Time’ to join Walter in tastings with wine lovers at LA WineFest

Callam Clarke of Adobe Road Winery holds a tasting session with Walter On Wine