Passion for Spanish wine


Spanish wine
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  •  Chef Katie Button: “The diversity of wines in Spain is just amazing”
  •  Chef Katie Button: “The diversity of wines in Spain is just amazing”
  •  Chef Katie Button: “The diversity of wines in Spain is just amazing”
  •  Chef Katie Button: “The diversity of wines in Spain is just amazing”
  •  Chef Katie Button: “The diversity of wines in Spain is just amazing”
1. Katie Button and Félix Meana 2. Clients at Cúrate in Asheville, North Carolina 3. Some of the dishes at Cúrate 4. Entrance All the photos are courtesy of Cúrate


Chef Katie Button: “The diversity of wines in Spain is just amazing”

Bill Ward | January 18th, 2022

Chef Katie Button didn’t set out to build a dominion focused on Spanish food and wine. But she has built it, and people in Asheville, N.C. —and beyond— have come. 

It was perhaps inevitable after she worked for the most respected Spanish chefs in America (José Andrés) and Spain (Ferran Adrià). Or once she married Costa Brava native Félix Meana, whom she met while working at Andres’ Cafe Atlantico. The two also toiled at Adrià’s widely revered El Bulli in Meana’s hometown of Roses, him in the front of the house and her staging in the pastry kitchen.

Then they headed to Asheville, opening Cúrate Bar de Tapas in 2011.
Now Button is CEO of an operation that includes Cúrate — cited by Food & Wine magazine as one of the 40 most important restaurants of the last 40 years —  the cafe/market La Bodega by Cúrate; a national purveyor of Spanish foods, Cúrate at Home; the mail-order Cúrate Spanish Wine Club; and the Iberian-focused travel agency Cúrate Trips. She’s also the author of Curate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen.

Meana, who helped open and manage several of Andrés’ Spanish-themed restaurants around the US, is her partner in all these endeavors as “chief experience officer,” and he’s the primary wine buyer for the restaurants.

Q: When you opened Cúrate, did your guests know much about Spanish wines?
Félix: Some did, but some did not. So we would help them navigate. If people were looking for a Sauvignon Blanc, we would push them in the direction of Verdejo, and if they like a Cabernet from Napa, we tell them to look at Ribera del Duero.
Katie: And for people’s understanding, everything you are looking for, you can find in Spain, the styles and the diversity of wines throughout that country are just amazing. That’s been really exciting. It’s the same thing about Spanish food. People come in, and they don’t know a lot about these things, but we’re able to create an experience for them that is new and unique. And they’re trying something different, and so they leave just having had a far better and more exciting, adventurous experience than if they had ordered what they always do at another restaurant.

Q: What does your wine list look like now compared to when you opened?
Félix: The biggest difference is that we didn’t have much selection of sherry, cider and vermouth. And I think I opened with 60 wines and then grew to 140 wines that was when we did an expansion in 2017 [adding Bodega], and that allowed us to extend the wine list.

Q: Has the movement away from Parkerized wines helped Spain?
Félix: Yes. I just did a trip to New York and everything in restaurants is going in that direction. Spain has a lot to offer that way, too. We have more robust wines from northern Spain, but we also have biodynamic, organic wines coming from regions all over Spain. Something right now that people are understanding more than ever is that food and wine go together. Those rustic, bold wines are difficult to pair with food, but these wines that are natural, organic, funky, they are more flexible to pair with different kinds of food.

Q: Do customers care more than they used to about sources of wine?
Katie: They’re definitely really interested in hearing the stories. We find that we’re creating experiences, and this happens with the wine club, that we can tell the stories of producers. That’s really impactful. People love that. It takes it beyond the product you’re enjoying to an understanding of the person behind it and the care and attention that went into it.

Q: Smaller producers reportedly got hit harder during the pandemic. Are they recovering?
Katie: On that note, people did sign up for wine clubs and started asking. I do think restaurants  play an important part in introducing people to new things, and we become a conduit to reach these lesser-known, smaller producers that people rarely come across. And as restaurants closed, it became more of a struggle. But it’s coming back stronger, and now people are more interested.

Q: How did working at elBulli inform or inspire you to make Spanish food and wine your vocation?
Katie: That vision was definitely not something we had clearly. Honestly it came from just thinking about it. We came here to Asheville and said ‘what do we want, what is missing, what is our heart aching for?’ — and it was a Spanish tapas restaurant. Happenstance had it that the only food I had ever cooked professionally was Spanish, so it was a combination of leaning on your strengths and what you know and have learned and also what is your heart yearning for.
Félix: And we thought it was the right timing, and I see an incredible increase in knowledge about Spain, not just wine and food, but everything. People no longer are looking at Spain as an extension of South America.

Q: What did you learn from Ferran Adrià and José Andrés?
Félix: What we got from Ferran and elBulli was the eye for detail, the systems and structure he created even though ours are not fine-dining restaurants.
Katie: From José we learned how to create a menu that’s consistent and beautiful and vibrant.

Q: Is the perception of Spanish food and wine among Americans evolving? Is that happening more in progressive cities like Asheville?
Félix: When we were about to open, I wasn’t sure, but later on I had no doubt that Asheville was the right city.
Katie: Here we are surrounded by mountains and rivers and these wonderful outdoor activities as well as this vibrant downtown with creative artists and musicians. I think people come here looking for new things. They come here looking for adventure; they want to go river-rafting or hiking. You have to be up for a little bit of the unknown, and this adds another experience to that. And we have a lot of people who have been to Spain, or are thinking about going, or they have a friend there, they have a connection and they’re excited about it. Or they don’t, and it’s pure adventure and new. And then they’re thinking about when they can get to Spain.

Q: What are some of your favorite Spanish wine regions?
Félix: For me sherry, Jerez. It’s still the unknown not only for Americans but for Spaniards. For me it’s the perfect wine. With all the different styles, you can go through the day and enjoy them all, and every kind of food on the table you can pair perfectly with. And the Canary Islands and Green Spain are very close to me, and of course Catalunya, which is where I come from.
Katie: I agree, although I would say that the region around Felix’s hometown, around Roses, holds a special place in my heart. I have memories driving past vineyards on the way to elBulli every day, being in a region and living there. The stuff that’s there, the table wine was so amazing, it really opened up my mind to the wines of Spain and the specific regionality.

Q: Has vermouth been something that you really have to talk customers through to understand it, because most Americans think of it as something that goes in a martini?
Katie: A key to getting to people to try vermouth is to celebrate it and make it stand out on the menu and in person. So at Cúrate, as soon as we put it in a tap on the wall, that changed people’s perceptions because they no longer think ‘that came out of the bottle’; they no longer think of you opening a bottle for them and pouring it, and what if they don’t like it. There’s something about it being on tap, on draft, that breaks down a barrier in someone’s mind, so they go ‘Oh, I’m going to try that.’ So you’ve opened them up to a whole ’nother world.
Félix: We just had a meeting about Bodega, how we can get some tinned seafood and a baguette and chips and maybe a glass of vermouth and highlighting those things or including that as part of a Spanish experience. That’s the way in for people to get them to love vermouth forever. 

Q: In recent years, small plates and sharing dishes have become more popular at US restaurants. Do you see that continuing?  
Katie: Yes I do. I think people are learning that when you share dishes, or small plates at a table, it becomes a shared experience, something to talk about, to connect on and discuss and share memories together. 

Q: Are there Spanish food items that have proven more popular than you expected with Cúrate at Home? 
Katie: I think the trend of quality canned products is really exciting.  Tinned seafood or vegetables really make my home cooking/entertaining/lunch/snacks way more enjoyable and they pair so well with sherry and vermouth. I think that trend and how good Spain is at creating these incredible products is really escalating people’s knowledge of Spanish food culture quickly. 

Q: What could/should producers do to expand awareness of Spanish quality wines in U.S. restaurants?
Félix: What I see changing is they have begun to have their own brokers, or even better family members living here like Artadi, Emilio Moro, Raventòs, that creates a connection and tells a closer story. I think the closer the connection to US storytelling, the better. Also the more people travel to Spain for food and wine, the better.


The Spanish chef that took the tapas movement to America
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