Miami is often characterized as a party city, with a drinking culture centered around flashy bottle service.
But the South Florida city also has a thriving wine scene. Many of these thoughtfully-curated wine programs, ensconced within some of the city’s most highly regarded restaurants and bars, are created and run by women.
Meet the seven female sommeliers who are setting the bar high in Miami.
Co-Founder, Partner and Sommelier, Vinya
At the onset of the pandemic, Vinya’s subscription wine boxes, which she paired with Instagram live tastings, were the silver lining for many during a very uncertain time.
The boxes were the brainchild of Vinya’s sommelier, Allegra Angelo, and CEO, Nick Garcia.
Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, Angelo cut her teeth in the hospitality space at the age of 14 as a busser at a country club. She first tasted wine roughly a decade later, while attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. In 2006, she moved to Miami after answering a Craigslist ad. It was for the then-new Michy’s, a restaurant from Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard Award-winning chef. Angelo began as a server and moved up to become a wine director. It was the beginning of her career in the Magic City.
In 2019, Vinya—a multi-faceted concept of e-commerce, wine shop, and restaurant and wine bar—came to fruition.
“We’d pop-up at residences with racks of glasses, coolers of wines and endless Vinya boxes, trying to spread the message of fine wine,” she recalls of the retail and wine bar’s beginnings.
Today, Vinya has locations in Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Miami Beach, where guests can enjoy Angelo’s selections from mainly France, Italy and Spain. The locations host “community bastion,” events where guests and industry tastemakers can build face-to-face relationships.
As for how they pick their wines, “We ask ourselves, ‘Is the wine sound and taste like the grape and its sense of place?’ ‘Is it delicious?’ ‘Does it offer value to our consumer?’ ‘Do we need it?’ ‘Can we sell it?’ Of course, there’s the X Factor,” says Angelo.
Favorite pairing: “Extra crispy French fries with a dash of truffle salt and a fine 1er Cru Chablis. Yum,” says Angelo.
Managing Partner, Beverage Director, Macchialina
It was through her brothers that Italy-born, U.S.-raised Jacqueline Pirolo got into wine and hospitality.
“My brother Fabrizio is my wine mentor; he has been in the wine industry for years,” she says. “While home in New York City on a college break in 2008, he took me out to eat. We popped open a bottle of Lambrusco, ordered salumi with gnocco fritto and Bolognese. The pairings were magical.”
When Jacqueline returned to her college in Oswego, New York, she searched for a similar bottle. Instead, she found a gallon jug of sweet Lambrusco and realized that “all wine is not created equal. The wine spark was then created.”
In 2010, Jacqueline and her brothers Fabrizio, Mike and John opened The Saint Austere in Brooklyn. Later, in 2011 her brother, Mike Pirolo, a James Beard-nominated chef, opened Macchialina on Miami Beach with his partner, Jen Chaefsky. When Jacqueline came down from New York to help open another concept, a month-long visit turned into a permanent move in 2016.
At Macchialina, the wine program is “all Italian with the exception of Champagne,” she says. “We focus on the indigenous grapes of Italy, specifically the lesser known, often forgotten varieties. We highlight the boutique growers that farm with respect to nature.”
Favorite pairing: “My brother Mike’s spaghetti pomodoro and a glass of Barbera,” says Pirolo.
Co-Owner, Niu Kitchen and Niu Wine
In 2014, when Karina Iglesias and James Beard-nominated chef Deme Lomas opened Niu Kitchen, natural wines hardly existed in Miami. Still, Iglesias poured what she could procure and several years later, was able to make Niu’s wine list completely natural.
Iglesias, originally from Bernal, a town just south of Buenos Aires, spent her childhood playing basketball and working at local restaurants. Later on, she moved to Madrid where she kept working in bars, restaurants and growing her passion for wine.
In the late ’90s she moved to Miami and decided to call it “a forever home” after the birth of her daughter, Lola. At Niu Kitchen and Niu Wine—her restaurant and wine bar respectively—Iglesias works exclusively with smaller producers.
“For me, it was always very important to represent the person behind the wine because I consider those personalities, the struggles and the presence in the vineyard a big part of what we like to call terroir.”
Favorite pairing: “A nice glass of manzanilla Sherry and boquerones,” says Iglesias.
Co-owner, Operator and Wine Buyer, Paradis Books & Bread
Originally from Fort Lauderdale, Bianca Sanon left for New York City at 18 to attend Columbia University. Years of eating at top restaurants prompted her to enter the industry upon graduation. She was first introduced to wine while working at flashy French spot Dirty French in 2015.
One year later she “fell deeply in love with natural wines,” at the now-shuttered, Michelin-starred Brooklyn eatery Semilla.
“Living in New York made me realize if I ever wanted to open my own place in my own way, it would make the most sense to move out of the city to do it,” says Sanon. “My partner, Brian, and I decided to make the jump back home to South Florida to open up something special and unique.”
Paradis Books & Bread, which opened in July 2021, is indeed that and more. The owner-operated hybrid wine bar serves exclusively natural and low-intervention wines. It also doubles as a coffee shop with naturally-leavened baked goods and a bookstore and library, which features selections under topics like Black studies and critical theory, to name a few.
“I always find that natural wines are the most compelling and what I see myself gravitating towards,” says Sanon. She also notes that she will often select bottles that change her perspective of a certain grape or region.
Favorite pairing: “I very much believe that wine is [best] paired with a specific mood or the immediate environment,” says Sanon. “However, [some] of my favorites [have] been slightly off-dry white wines with spicy foods like Thai, Szechuan or Haitian dishes. [And] I’ll eat anything that pairs best with white Burgundy or Chenin Blanc.”
Director of Beverage, Social Media Director, The Genuine Hospitality Group
Growing up in a Cuban-American household in Hialeah, Florida, Amanda Fraga most often saw her family sip spirits like Scotch and rum, often paired with soda. But a two-week trip to China at 19 marked the start of a new journey.
“That trip opened my mind and palate,” says Fraga. “I came back wanting to travel and try different food and beverages and found that wine was a way to find new places to go to.”
Today, Fraga heads up the wine programs at James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz’s Genuine Hospitality Group, which includes Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Amara at Paraiso and Harry’s Pizzeria.
Their wine programs are designed to complement the food offerings at each restaurant.
“At Michael’s Genuine, we have a solid German and Austrian white section, because in my opinion, they [go] best with our appetizers like falafel, chicken liver crostini and our signature pork belly,” she says. “We also carry a significant amount of medium to light reds, which pair with most of our entrees, like our half chicken or whole snapper.”
Affording guests value for money is important to Fraga. “The sommeliers and I taste the wines without asking about the price. We taste and then think, ‘What would we pay for this? Where does the wine stand with similar wines?’ And then ask for the price. We [then] discuss if it’s the best-value wine.”
Favorite pairing: “Bistec empanizado and Champagne,” says Fraga. “Did I mention already that I’m from Hialeah?”
Macarena Carrillo and Mariel Dalmau
Co-Founders, Grape Crush
Grape Crush is designed to host ultra-fun natural wine events, which sometimes include wine pours from water guns or porron decanters. But they are also intended to be highly educational; in one night, guests might enjoy a rkatsiteli-mtsvane blend from Georgia’s Kakheti region and ruché from Piedmont.
Founders Macarena Carrillo, originally from Buenos Aires, and Mariel Dalmau, originally from Puerto Rico, first met while working at the eclectic Fooq’s restaurant.
They decided to join forces in 2019 after passing their Introduction to the Court of Master Sommeliers exams and realizing there was a “lack of a [natural] wine scene in Miami,” says Carrillo. She notes that while some restaurants were serving natural wine, it was still hard to come by, especially if you wanted to find a bottle to-go. That’s why they created Grape Crush.
“We not only wanted to create a conversation for natural wine, but also a demand for it, especially as purchasers,” says Carrillo.
“Little did we know the extent our ‘small gatherings’ would develop,” adds Dalmau.
Prior to their partnership, both women spent years in the hospitality realm. Carrillo’s father was a chef and she started waiting tables during high school summers. She later pursued a beverage management degree at Florida International University (FIU). Meanwhile, Dalmau has been in the industry for 16 years—through college and while pursuing a career in graphic design and marketing.
Grape Crush pops up every fourth Tuesday of the month, with the venue disclosed on their Instagram account. “We like to choose themes given the space we’re in, but it’s [always] an array of low-intervention wines,” Carrillo says.
Outside of their events, Dalmau is the director of wine at Margot Natural Wine Bar, and Carillo is head sommelier at Cote Miami. “[We’re] on a quest to turn tequila drinkers into wine lovers,” says Carrillo.
Favorite pairing: “Homemade Fugazzeta pizza and Christophe Mignon ADN de Meunier Millésime Champagne,” says Carrillo.
“I am a lover of Asian and spicy food, so Riesling and Chenin Blanc are always at the top of my list,” says Dalmau.
Last Updated: May 9, 2023