Wines From Spain recently spoke with Katie Putterlik, Wine Director of Otoño. In this interview, Katie discusses her philosophy in developing a wine program alongside Chef Teresa Montaño. Katie also talks about her discovery with Spanish wines and attraction to sustainable winemaking practices.
How did you get your start in the wine industry? What drove you to work primarily with Spanish wines?
I started in the wine industry while I was studying for a degree in Cultural Anthropology. My first industry job was working in a wine bar attached to a fine dining restaurant, which allotted me the opportunity to taste our ever-changing bar selections and some very special collectible wines brought in by guests. It did not take long before I segued my interest in cultures around the world into the culture of wine. We had a wonderful female wine director who took me under her wing and taught me how to taste and buy for a list, so when she was ready to move on, I took over the position.
At the time, the philosophy ‘the bigger the better’ was the major selling point for Spanish wines so that was a lot of my early exposure. While most of what I was tasting and buying at the time was bold Rioja and Ribera del Duero, it was the wines of finesse, especially from Galícia, that I really gravitated towards.
You joined the team at Otoño in Los Angeles, working alongside Chef Teresa Montaño, to open the restaurant earlier this year. Tell us about your wine philosophy as you develop the list at Otoño.
The list for Otoño started as all about the food. Chef Teresa and I started tasting very early on together, tasting every Spanish wine we could get our hands on and tasting wines we liked with the proposed dishes. It’s such an amazing experience to build a list so closely with a chef. The recipe testing sessions gave me a great reference and appreciation for her style of cooking, including the thoughtful passion she puts into her cooking. It was very important to me to create a list that reflects that same passion. It’s not about the pairing of the food and wine, it’s about continuing that feeling and energy in the list.
What does Spanish wine offer to diners that perhaps wines from other places don’t?
Diners are savvy when it comes to other wine producing regions, but I think they are just starting to explore wines from Spain. For too long there has been limited accessibility of wines beyond the mainstays, such as Rioja or Rías Baixas. There is such a depth of wines and terroirs to explore across Spain, and I think people are excited to explore.
Are there any trends specific to Spanish wine that you see in restaurants that surprise or excite you?
The trends we are seeing in restaurants is reflective of the changes in the wines of Spain as a whole. Stylistically the wines are more terroir driven. Winemaking styles are changing, less new oak ageing, more prevalent use of amphora and concrete. This shift is driven by a younger generation of winemakers as well as more female winemakers in the industry. Winemakers are using the wines to showcase their pride in their vineyards.
As far as wines themselves, we are seeing an increase in Sherry sales and availability on menus. There is so much pairing potential. I love starting, and ending, a meal with a glass of Manzanilla.
Any regions or DOs in Spain that really excite you now?
Anyone that has dined at Otoño can attest I have a mild obsession with the wines of the Canary Islands. They were such a revelation for me. I’m endlessly fascinated and surprised by the wines I taste, especially from Victoria Torres of Matías i Torres, they are otherworldly. The diversity of the microclimate changes island to island, but they all have this volcanic, mineral vein running through them that is nothing short of magic.
How would you define your approach to developing a wine program and specifically your approach to curating Spanish wines?
For me the program and list building starts with passion. Passion for the regions you are highlighting, passion for the winemakers, passion for the wine. I have spent a lot of time with Chef Teresa discussing our philosophies around food and dining and used this as the base to build the list from. It is a very exciting time for Spanish wine. There are such a breadth of winemakers making wine with passion. I feel like you can feel that energy in the list.
Our cuisine is Catalonia focused, which is reflected in the list; however, I am also working to highlight lesser known regions and indigenous varieties that have been used predominantly in blends but that you are now seeing vinified on their own (looking at you Sumoll and Caiño Longo!). I want to encourage our guests to explore outside of their comfort zone.
When the Wines From Spain team dined at Otoño, the wine list felt incredibly relevant, with a focus of smaller producers and natural or organic wines. Tell us a little about this aspect of your wine program.
The prevalence of natural wines and featuring smaller producers happened organically, no pun intended. Often these are the wines I am drawn to, both stylistically and for their integrity. Often the smaller producers are farming organically or biodynamically. They want to use winemaking practices that reflect their land and hard work. They do not want to manipulate, they want to express. It’s such a beautiful experience they share with us.
I have always been drawn to the human element of wine, wanting to know more about why the producers do what they do. It can be an easy thing to lose sight of with deadlines and P&Ls and the day-to-day needs of a business. At the end of the day, food and beverage is about the people, from the staff to the guests to the winemakers. How can we use this to relate to each other?
What are your favorite Spanish wine pairings?
Oh, that is a tough one…now it’s our Soldadito de Pavia and Bermejos Listán Negro Rosado from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The Soldadito are the lightest fluffiest salt cod fritter I’ve ever tasted and paired with the salinity and blood orange citrus notes will probably be my favorite for some time
What is your single favorite Spanish wine and why?
Another tough one! This changes week-to-week, but right now it is Laderas de Sedella from Sierras de Malaga in Andalusia. It’s a blend of Romé Tinto, Garnacha, and Jaén labeled as a Mediterranean Mountain wine, and there could be no better description. It smells like standing in a wild patch of herbs on a cool mountain side. There is a wild spearmint note that makes me giddy whenever I taste it.