Adventurous oenophiles know that Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula has a lot to offer, as shown by the multiple accolades showered on Trattoria Stella by Wine Spectator. The restaurant's team will bring their sophisticated interpretations of Italian food and Traverse City Wine Trail selections to the James Beard House on Thursday, June 11. We spoke to wine director Amanda Danielson about the diversity of the Great Lakes, her inspiration behind her Beard House menu, and her dreams of serving royals.
What’s your earliest food memory?
1970s Detroit: going into my grandparents’ cellar to pull up jars of canned fruits and vegetables that my grandmother preserved from items grown in their city garden.
What is your inspiration behind the wine pairings for this Beard House event?
The wines of Old Mission Peninsula have been gaining momentum all over the world in the last decade, including increased distribution in NYC and other significant markets. In 2014 and 2015, we were brutally reminded that Old Mission Peninsula is winemaking at the edge—quite literally—of viticultural viability. I want to do my part to keep our momentum going despite our temporary decrease in production by putting the wines from the best years in our region alongside extraordinary food in a venue that is recognized for excellence at every level.
What's a wine pairing on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why?
The [pig’s head] tortellini with its rich, earthy flavors and mouth-coating texture screamed for a wine with earthy character to match, yet having bright acidity to cleanse the palate between each bite. [Expect the Bowers Harbor Vineyards Block II Riesling from 2008 and Black Star Farms A Capella Pinot Noir from 2011.]
Tell us about the last great meal you ate.
I was recently in Italy and enjoyed the hospitality of a family in Montalcino. They prepared a lunch of the most traditional Tuscan fare presented simply along side their historic wines. Meals like these make me smile because they validate how authentic our cuisine at Trattoria Stella really is.
If you could pour wine for any person (historical, famous, living, or dead), who would be and what you serve them?
I'd like to be the sommelier to the [British] royal family during blitzkrieg, holding an umbrella over their glasses, so no rubble defiles their wine. To operate successfully with grace and poise under such extraordinary circumstances would be the ultimate test of a sommelier's professional ability.
It's probably tough for you to find time to dine out, but where do you like to eat in your city these days?
Traverse City is at the apex of two great American viticultural areas: the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. I would encourage people to get on the wine trails to eat and drink their way around one of the most agriculturally diverse and beautiful parts of the Unites States. The Great Lakes are truly inland seas, minus the salt, and offer so much. Many of the tasting rooms offer food now too, and there really is no better way to learn about and enjoy an agricultural region.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
From my late Uncle Louis—your life is three things: a third work, a third family, and a third sleep. Work usually cuts into the other two, so love what you do. And always have a comfortable bed.
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