Interview with Patrick Mata, of Olé & Obrigado Imports
Wines From Spain speaks with influential importer Patrick Mata of Olé & Obrigado about his start in the wine world, his favorite at-home pairings, his continuing focus on charitable initiatives and social responsibility, and of course, his go-to wines if he was ever to be stranded on a desert island. Salud!
Patrick, thanks for speaking with Wines From Spain, and congratulations on Olé & Obrigado Imports being named Wine & Spirits 2020 Importer of the Year! You founded Olé & Obrigado in 1999, and the company has grown into one of the most influential importers of Spanish wine in America. What inspired you to get into wine, and work specifically with wines from the Iberian peninsula?
I was born in Málaga, Spain where my great-grandfather produced Málaga wines and exported them to many countries including the U.S. Since a very early age my father became a mentor to me and not only taught me about the many different wines of the world but ignited a passion for anything wine related. At age 19, while I was in college in Miami, together with my best friend Alberto Orte, we started a wine import company. At the beginning we started selling his family wines from Montilla-Moriles, Bodegas Espejo, soon after we started representing other producers like Naveran, Vizcarra, Barahonda.
You’re an expert on Spanish wine regions, grape varieties, styles, and producers, and a respected voice in the marketplace. What trends are you seeing lately? And in a fast-changing landscape, how has the role of importer evolved?
The biggest trend I see which applies to many industries is the consumer’s thirst for products of authenticity and integrity. The consumer wants to support or interact with a product that has a good soul. For us at Olé & Obrigado our ethos is to give back. Everything we do has to give back to the producer, the trade, the consumer and special causes that make a positive difference in this world. During the last 8 months we have created multiple platforms and events where we interact directly with consumers and help them taste and hear about the work of our producers. All these events donate 100% of ticket sales to different charities that make a positive contribution to our world. In addition to helping these charities, the events also help our producers, distributors and retail partners. Our attitude in general is shifting to be more proactive and communicate with the final consumer.
Social responsibility and inclusivity have become very important topics in the wine world in 2020. Could you tell us a bit about Liquid Geography, your rosé from Bierzo, and all the charitable initiatives its sales support?
For us, social responsibility is not new. Since 1999 when we founded our company, we have been supporting many causes that make this world a better place. I still remember, when I was in college, reading Ben & Jerry’s case study and how giving back was a part of their ethos. This case study had a big impact on how Olé & Obrigado thinks about social causes. In 2013 Alberto and I together with our entire company decided to produce and import Liquid Geography rose which donates 100% of its profits to charity. So far we have donated over $300,000 and hope to get to $1M by 2025. We currently support Wheeling Forward in its work to help people with disabilities, the TJ Martell Foundation in its search to cure cancer, and José Andrés’ foundation, World Central Kitchen.
Spain might be just as famous for its foods as it is for its wine. What are some of your favorite Spanish dishes or specialities, and what pairings would you personally recommend?
This is one of my favorite questions. I love the interaction of food with wine. Pairing the right wine with the right food is a creative process that makes the gastronomic experience extremely rewarding; the result is a magical moment where the perception of flavor is greater because of the wine. There is a wine for every food. It is hard to point to one favorite pairing. Sometimes I cook one dish and open 6 different bottles of wine and play to see which wine pairs best. The magical pairings are the ones that amplified the flavor of the food. There are many wines that are complementary but few that amplify flavor. One of the latest pairings that I truly enjoyed is Patatas Bravas with Cortijo Tinto from Rioja. I also love to find common American everyday dishes that pair with spanish wine. For example Guacamole with Papa Godello. Or shrimp ceviche with Leirana Finca Genoveva by Rodri Méndez. For lamb lovers, I am always impressed how well JC Vizcarra from Ribera del Duero goes with grilled lamb chops. Lastly, for the sophisticated and adventurous wine drinker, I love pepperoni pizza with Escalada Do Sil from Alberto Orte.
On this topic of food and wine pairing, in the last few months we launched a new initiative where we do virtual experiences centered on food and wine pairings. We partner with celebrity chefs and feature one recipe that pairs well with three of our wines. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to pair food with wine. There are currently 40+ retailer partners around the country promoting these virtual experiences and every month we feature a new charity. 100% of all ticket sales of these experiences are donated to charity.
And for the grand finale question. . . Imagine that you’re stranded on a desert island, with only one case of Spanish wine to keep you company until the rescue party arrives. What would you stock your case with, and why?
This is a fun question. I would have plenty of manzanilla, Albariño, and my latest favorite, Vara Y Pulgar 2016, made with 100% Tintilla grapes in Cádiz by Alberto Orte.
Text: Wines from Spain in US