Eric Larkee shares his favorite seasonal bottles for a place where winter is less… wintry.

By Carson Demmond
Updated May 24, 2017
Eric Larkee
Credit: © The Genuine Hospitality Group

El Niño has us all a little confused this winter when it comes to figuring out what we want to drink. The recent summer-like conditions have prompted many to eschew the brooding, rich reds that the season usually demands in favor of brighter wines. But for Eric Larkee, director of wine and spirits for The Genuine Hospitality Group in Miami (Michael’s Genuine, Cypress Tavern, Harry’s), warm winters are the norm. So we tapped him for 12 great bottles that suit these alternative conditions.

“The thing about Florida food is that our seasons are flipped with regards to everywhere else,” says Larkee. “So the time of year when you might have gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in the north—that’s the only time of year when we don’t.” In January and February, it’s the heart of growing season on the peninsula; lettuces, herbs and strawberries are in their prime. Meanwhile, most of the rest of us are thinking of root vegetables and heartier fare. “Not only can we get away with drinking stuff like rosé in the winter,” he says, “those wines are necessary.”

Here, Larkee’s picks for winter wines for warmer climes:

1. 2010 Domaine de la Pépière ‘Quatre’ Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine
“This is our tomato and burrata wine, because you need something that has acidity that’s not going to get overshadowed by the acidity in tomatoes. And I really like Muscadet with age. That’s when it becomes interesting: a little more rounded out… the inherent mineral flavors beyond just acidity come out, and it has more depth. Really young Muscadet works with oysters, sure, but that’s it. And here, this wine can handle things like cheeses and hard-to-pair vegetables. This is a joyful wine that’s a steal on the list. It’s the sort of bottle that I order when I go to one of our restaurants.”

2. 2014 Le Monde Friuli Grave Ribolla Gialla
“One thing I love about the Ribolla grape, whether it’s skin-macerated or not, is the weight. And this one isn’t macerated, so it’s clean and fresh but still has that body. Drinking it is enough to satisfy the inner wine nerd in a lot of people, but this isn’t the style that will freak out your non-wine-nerd date, so it works in so many situations. It can carry dishes where you might be thinking of doing a light red; it still has that vibrant Friulian acidity without any encumbrance of oak. All ripe white pear and mildly aromatic with those white flower notes… But it’s really more about that weight—a pleasing palate texture that works with salmon and is even great with stuff like steak tartare, bone marrow and schnitzel.”

3. 2014 Couly-Dutheil ‘Les Moulins de Turquant’ Saumur
“I’ll step back just a moment here to say that almost three years ago to this day was when we first put a Chenin Blanc on by the glass at Michael’s Genuine. I really thought, I’m going to put this on, and no one’s going to buy it. That was OK with me, because I knew it was delicious and would go great with the food, and that the people who did try it were going to love it. And then it sold like crazy! Since then, we’ve listed all sorts of great producers like Breton and Huet… But with the recent Loire vintages being really small, there’s not very much of those wines coming in to Florida, so I had to look outside of the classic producers. This is one that’s imported here by a guy who was a sommelier in south Florida for more than a decade. He showed it to me, and it was this beautiful dry Chenin style, having that weight and body and then the cleanness and freshness of no residual sugar—right in that wheelhouse of food-friendly Chenin that I love.”

4. 2013 Do Ferreiro ‘Cepas Vellas’ Rias Baixas Albariño
“So, yeah… there’s going to be some Spanish wines here. There might be more Spanish wine in this market than in any market in the country. People speak the language. Or the producer’s kid moves to Miami and sets up shop to import the family wines and wines from his family’s neighbors, and all of a sudden, that’s a portfolio. This is not one of those wines. This is serious Albariño. The vines for this wine are close to 200 years old—they look like trees, all in pergola style. In the glass, it’s concentrated with intense acidity, and it really shows the potential of the grape variety. So beautiful with the whole snapper that we do in the oven. That’s a ‘matchy matchy’ kind of pairing, because there’s roasted fennel in that dish, which plays so well with the anise notes in the wine. Just thinking about it makes me want to go eat it and drink this at Michael's Genuine.”

5. 2013 Grace Winery Katsunuma Gris de Koshu
“Koshu is a pink-skinned grape, not unlike Pinot Grigio or Gewürztraminer; it gets this pinkish hue when it’s fully ripe. And they’re fairly prized as table grapes in Japan, where this is from—around the foothills of Mt. Fuji. People ask me all the time if it’s made from rice. No, it’s not sake; it’s actually made from grapes. But it is very Japanese in character: understated and subtle. If you’re a Chablis drinker, you’ll like this. We have it listed at Michael’s Genuine, which is where I can get away with some of the more quirky, out-there wines since the menu is more about quirky, adventurous food. It’s a novelty, sure, but it’s also totally interesting and a great alternative to that unoaked style of Chardonnay.”

6. 2014 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé
“By the second day of Art Basel (the renowned international art fair) this year in early December, we had flown through our two-case allocation of Tempier Rosé. It was Tempier all day—lunch, dinner… This was the wine that heralded in the season, you know? It’s like, ‘Welcome to winter in Miami, where yes, we drink rosé.’ But being from Bandol, this one has a touch more weight and savory components than your fresh, quaffing one, and these cooking herb flavors that pair really well with food. If I put this wine on the list in July, maybe we’d sell two bottles… or maybe chef and I would drink one. And then Basel hit and things changed. Folks started coming in who are interested in great wines, and this is what they want.”

7. 2001 Domaine Duclaux Côte-Rôtie
“Northern Rhône Syrah is ridiculously good with the meats off the wood-burning grill at Cypress. This bottle is so affordable for what it is. It’s a textbook example of what I think Côte-Rôtie should taste like, from a classic vintage. It’s not a super-huge wine—and tasting it makes you want to look at a map to see how close Côte-Rôtie is to Burgundy. Even though it’s Rhône, it is worlds away from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in terms of profile. There’s elegance—no trace of a heavy hand in terms of oak or extraction. And you can taste that it’s a mature wine at 15 years of age, but you can also tell it was never an overwrought wine at any point. Just smoky, beautiful Syrah.”

8. 2013 Arboleda Aconcagua Valley Pinot Noir
“We have three Pinots on the list at Michael’s Genuine at all times. It’s usually one from California, one from Burgundy, and one from Oregon to kind of hit the three major areas. But for Cypress, I was looking for something that had that Burgundian earthiness and that New World fruitiness, and the Arboleda fit that incredibly well. Pinot in Chile is still finding its identity; the regions really have this east-west thing and there can be huge differences in terms of style, but this one has coastal influence to give some coolness to the fruit. It has a little bit of seriousness and complexity to it—great spice and good acidity, so it’s balanced and not just a glass full of fruit. This with our duck confit is a little piece of deliciousness.”

9. 2013 Clos Saron ‘Out of the Blue’ Sierra Foothills
“This is old vine Cinsault with a little smidge of Syrah. It doesn’t necessarily taste like it’s from California, but it’s also not a difficult-Old-World-funky-weird thing, which some of the Syrah-dominant wines from Clos Saron can be. Rather, it’s this medium-bodied, finesse-driven style of red that’s very flexible with our food and surprises people. It’s great for the folks who say, ‘we only eat organic food... Do you have any wines that don’t have any sulfur added?’ This fits that bill while also being a pleasing wine and not a microbial disaster. Clos Saron is totally in line with what we do food-wise. We want to buy our wine from farmers because we buy our food from farmers.”

10. 2007 Castello Conti Boca
“Boca is north of the Langhe in Alto Piemonte—a really small appellation past Roero and Gattinara. This wine comes from a small family who has been farming organically since the ’70s. It’s all manually harvested Nebbiolo, with some Vespolina and Uva Rara in there as well, and it ages incredibly well. 2007 is the current release, and it’s cool to have that little bit of bottle age. The Vespolina and Uva Rara give it some more fruit, but it still has those qualities of mature Nebbiolo, the tannins have softened, and it’s in a great place. Despite it not being that cold outside, when you have a rainy day in Miami and just want to cuddle up with a bottle, this is the one.”

11. 2003 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva
“I mean, if you’re going to have a lot of Spanish wine on your list, you have to represent the coolest old-school producer, right? We have this one at Michael’s Genuine and Cyprus. We don’t usually see a lot of crossover between those two lists, but this one works so well in both places. It’s great again with that family of flavors of meats that touch the wood flames, but it’s not for someone who wants that big, oaky, extracted Spanish Tempranillo style. It’s not muy fuerte. It’s fairly delicate. It has these warming flavors but without any excess weight. The tannins are pretty silky at this point. Out of all of the Tempranillos at the restaurants, this one is the most versatile, drinking more like a Pinot Noir than a Cabernet.”

12. 2001 San Fereolo Dolcetto di Dogliani
“Have you ever had old Dolcetto? I hadn’t until I tasted this one. Oh, man. You normally might question whether Dolcetto could be any good with this much bottle age. I sacrificed a bottle one night to the wine gods when I was working service and blind-tasted some friends that came in, and they had it pegged as Brunello. It’s one of those aged red wines that is much more about being a delicious aged red wine than what grape it is or where it’s from: dark-fruited with some secondary notes coming out, soft tannins but still some good acid. I was surprised by how good it was. And it’s from Dogliani where they don’t grow anything else. Everywhere else in the Langhe, the best sites all get Nebbiolo or maybe Barbera. But in Dogliani, it’s the only grape, so it gets taken care of and is not an afterthought to Barolo.”