It’s not a reach to say that the United States has a major dose of Iberian Fever. As Spanish wines continue to ascend in popularity, and as more brands are imported to the US, restaurant wine lists are making the most of it.
And it’s not just Spanish restaurants embracing the wines, but it’s also true that more tapas bars and more formal Spanish restaurants are opening in major cities.
We asked some of the top wine writers in America’s destination cities to share their thoughts on some of the most distinctive Spanish wine lists in their locales. These are the results:
Katie Kelly Bell, wine writer for Forbes.com and USA Today, cited several places in her hometown of Atlanta, including The Iberian Pig for its “terrific selection of tempranillo and garnacha and several white wines” and Eclipse di Luna for a list that’s not extensive but is “very representative of Spain — and nicely paired with the tapas.” She added: “Gypsy Kitchen and Barcelona Wine Bar hit the high notes for me personally; their selections are always so tasty and perfectly paired with the dishes.”
John Lenart, a freelance wine writer who numbers Chicagoist.com among his outlets, said that Vera Wine Bar stands above the rest in the Windy City. “Elizabeth Mendez, owner and beverage director (as well as arguably the city's leading sherry authority) and her sommelier Christy Furhman have a great list of Spanish wines and the city's best sherry list. Although the list is not entirely Spanish, it has a great range of styles and price points [including] some nerdy, hard-to-find wines as well as approachable stuff. And there are always 20-plus wines by the glass.”
S. Irene Virbila, a longtime restaurant and wine writer at the Los Angeles Times, has a trio of favorites. At Smoke.Oil.Salt in Hollywood, co-owner/TV executive Stephen Gelber offers up “80 bottles of sherry in house and rotates selections, serving them by the glass and in flights. He’s got older vintages of Rioja and Ribera del Duero and has even been known to serve Dominio Pingus PSI by the glass.” She calls Moruno in the Original Farmers Market “a treat for any Spanish wine lover, with the 45-wine list organized by regions such as Galicia and ‘other Spanish stars.’ ” The Bazaar by José Andrés features “a terrific selection … including those from cult winemakers and the most talked-about regions [and] sherry flights described as ‘very dry and floral,’ ‘complex and nutty,’ ‘rich and sweet’ and ‘flight to Jerez.’ ”
“Flying chef” Tony Lawrence, who conducts pairing seminars and dinners around the country and writes at winechefforyou.com, praised Bar Ferdinand as the City of Brotherly Love’s “most authentic Spanish restaurant for the look, the food and the wine.” He said Jamonera is “a really wine-focused, with a great sherry list. But they cover all of Spain, everything, probably the deepest book in town.” Lawrence added that the city’s young hipsters head to either Tinto or Amada for their offbeat offerings.
Tim McNally wears many vinous hats: He’s host of the daily “The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show” on WGSO-AM and wine and spirits editor at New Orleans Magazine and the blog Happy Hour. He said that despite the city’s heritage — “What is known as the French Quarter is actually quite Spanish in its architecture” — the Iberian restaurant scene is spotty. The lone exception: Lola’s, whose wine list, exclusively Spanish, “offers good breadth but not much depth.” Among his favorites: the Altes Garnacha Blanca from Catalunya and the Bodega la Milagrosa Milcampos Viñas Viejas Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero.
Start spreading the news: The Big Apple is packed with stellar Spanish wine lists. The estimable Eric Asimov of the New York Times cited a quartet of fabulous options:
Casa Mono, “Simply the biggest and best Spanish wine list in NYC with deep selections in almost every region.
Huertas, “a Basque tapas bar with a well-chosen selection and an excellent house-made vermouth.”
Txikito, “another Basque-oriented tapas bar with a great list of txakolis and other northern Spanish wines.”
Tertulia, “always deep and well-chosen.”
Esther Mobley, the stellar wine columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, suggested three destinations in the city and one in the nearby Napa Valley. La Taberna in the town of Napa mines deeply and passionately in Iberia, with such by-the-glass pours as Capdevila Pujol Brut Natural Cava and three cocktails featuring Spanish vermouths. Back in the Bay Area, recently opened Bellota (19 sherries by the glass) has joined Aatxe (“lots of natural wines”) and Piperade (three Basque reds from Irouleguy and a bunch from Rioja Alavesa) as stalwarts.
Frank Morgan, whose blog Drink What You Like has won multiple awards, split top honors between La Taberna Del Alabardero for the depth and breadth of its list (“an older vintage of Paixar Mencia, from the Bierzo region, paired with chef Javier Romero’s 20-ounce Porterhouse a la Parrilla is worth the splurge) and Estadio for “its extensive list of wines from across Spain, with some emphasis on Rioja, to pair with Chef Rufino Bautista’s contemporary Spanish cuisine.”
He also lauded Mockingbird Hill for a sherry list that ranges “from bone-dry to rich and sweet, young to well-aged, plus perfect pairings” as well as the older classics (R. López de Heredia Gran Reservas from 1947, ‘54, ‘61, ‘64) at Plume in the Jefferson Hotel.