Choosing the right combination of wines for a top restaurant is hard work. “I've got a reputation for being a very slow and deliberate buyer,” says Gretchen Thomas, Wine and Spirits Director, Barcelona Wine Bar. “We have nearly 300 wines right now. 65% are Spanish, about 20% South American, and the rest are from around the world. We pour about 40 wines by the glass.”
On her selection process, Thomas says, “I have a strong preference for wines made by classic producers and small producers, because they generally emphasize making wines with a ‘sense of place.’” And there’s a balancing act, too. “When I try a new wine that I think is good, let's say a Rioja Reserva for example, I need to analyze how it will fit into the program: Does it have a story that will appeal to my staff? Are there Rioja Reservas on the list already that are better and less expensive? Is there something unique about this wine that sets it apart? This may take only a few moments up to a couple months for me to figure out, but I like to be 100% confident in the choices on the wine list,” stresses Thomas.
And the wines have to pair well with the food they serve. “I love wines from all over the world and am fortunate not to be bound to … one country. We don't consider our food menu to be strictly Spanish; we have tapas with influences from other cuisines, so the wine list reflects that same philosophy. We focus on Spain, but Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, France, Italy, Austria, Germany and the US all have amazing and unique wines.”
If you’re not sure what to order, you can depend on the waitstaff. “Every new staff member has a rigorous schedule of classes and tests before they can even begin speaking directly to a guest, and this can take several months,” stresses Thomas. “Letting the staff taste wines is the key. If they can't develop their own palates as well as basic wine knowledge, they'll never feel confident in their recommendations, so we are opening up bottles almost every day.”
Who knew training could be so delicious?
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