The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2017

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20  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2017 MEET THE WINE & SPIRITS DIRECTOR W ith 25 locations across seven states (with seven more to come by the end of this year), plus a wine store in Atlanta, Barteca Restaurant Group seems to have a winning formula with Barcelona Wine Bar and its more casual sibling, beach-food concept bartaco. That puts Wine & Spirits Director Gretchen Thomas in charge of one of the largest Spanish wine programs in the U.S. Thomas has a jet-fueled whirlwind schedule that includes purchasing, logistics and on-location staff training, with the added perk of multiple trips every year to Spain and South America. Originally from a "dry" Baptist household in Kentucky, her trip to wine mastery was anything but sure. As a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, she got interested in wine during the obligatory three-week wine course. Then she set her eye on the Kopf Scholarship, a high-ticket prize sponsored by importer Kobrand. When she saw the call for entries posted on the school's bulletin board, Thomas recalls, "I grabbed it. I went all in—my head was in the game." Winning the scholar- ship meant not only that her CIA tuition was paid, but that she got to spend six life-changing weeks working in Kobrand's wineries in Italy, France and California. Her new career path was set. After 11 years on the job, Thomas has developed an Iberian-centric list with around 500 selections that is also heavy on Argentina and Chile, with ringers thrown in from as far afield as Turkey. "The wine list is an ever- growing, ever-evolving child—my child," she says. (She also has a seven- year-old daughter, Maddy.) "Spain is my wheelhouse now," says Thomas. Her favorite region? Galicia. "The Galician whites are very minerally wines that can age for a long time, but the region's Mencia-based reds—light- bodied, spicy reds, low in tannins, high in acid—are really exciting." With a sommelier on staff at each Barcelona location, Thomas advocates constant wine education for somms and waitstaff. Staff sommeliers can get started on a wine education through WSET or the Court of Master Sommeliers courtesy of the Barteca Group. But, says Thomas, "knowledge is not what sells wine—enthusiasm is what sells wine." Certainly a model enthusiast herself, Thomas still throws herself into her work with the same passion that fired her pursuit of the Kopf Scholarship. But she's also quick to credit Barteca team members: "It's really important to have the team. I can't do it by myself." —David Gadd IT'S ALL IN YOUR ATTITUDE, ACCORDING TO GRETCHEN THOMAS, WINE & SPIRITS DIRECTOR OF BARTECA RESTAURANT GROUP "Enthusiasm Is What Sells Wine" PHOTO MARIEL OLIVO/BARTECA RESTAURANT GROUP Gretchen Thomas. A New Tequila: Libélula Gretchen Thomas is also in charge of Barteca Restaurant Group's spirits program. In 2016, she realized it was time to have a tequila that was the perfect base for "the best Margarita anybody ever had and one that people would crave." So she set out for Mexico to develop a Barteca house brand. "A mix of blanco and reposado tequila is ideal in a Margarita," opines Thomas. "But I wanted a bit more of the blanco acidity and sharpness, so I decided to make a joven—a 100 percent agave blend of 75 blanco, 25 percent reposado." The latter is brick oven–cooked and aged nine months in American oak whiskey barrels. "I went with really good raw materials," Thomas continues, "but instead of using a really expensive bottle, I decided to use a standard one-liter bottle. It's user-friendly for the bartenders and we don't have to charge guests a ton of money just because of the packaging." The new brand—Libélula (Spanish for dragonfly)—is now found in all Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco locations. It's also available to the trade, supplied by Cadré Noir Imports, who supply another Margarita staple, Combier Orange Liqueur. PHOTO: MORGAN IONE YEAGER

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