An Interview with Wendy Stanford, Senior Wine Buyer at Wine.com
Wines from Spain speaks with Wine.com Senior Wine Buyer Wendy Stanford about her love for Spanish wine, her go-to food and wine pairings, and how the American palate for the wines of Spain has grown and evolved over the years.
Wendy, you’re a Senior Wine Buyer at Wine.com, and you’ve been with the e-commerce giant for more than 14 years. How did you get your start in the wine world, and what have you learned along the way?
Having been with Wine.com for almost 15 years, I have seen it grow a great deal, and it has been such an incredible learning experience. My early career was in purchasing, but not wine. I discovered a love for the wine world living in San Francisco, being surrounded by so many great restaurants and living in such proximity to many world class wine regions. I dove right in. I took classes, worked weekends in a tasting room in Napa, and did many informational interviews. Like lots of people in this industry, I immediately knew it was for me! There is always more to learn about wine, and this job has allowed me to have incredible exposure and access to all aspects of the business. I work with suppliers from all over the world, purchase from wholesalers in six states with differing beverage alcohol laws, work closely with regional trade organizations, like Wines from Spain, and get to learn a great deal about consumer behaviors along the way. I have had the incredible opportunity to travel to wine regions across the globe and learn about different cultures, food, history, geography, science and more! I recently passed Level Four Diploma from the WSET. It is a forever education and will keep me interested for life!
Wine.com is one of Spanish wine lovers’ favorite sources for both old favorites and new discoveries. How have you seen the appreciation of Spanish wine grow and change throughout the course of your career?
In the early days of Wine.com, customers seemed mainly interested in value-priced, easy drinking wines from regions they knew, like Rioja. Other than the classics, most wines on the marketplace seemed to be focused on a big, modern style and tended toward what was believed to be the American “Coca-Cola palate.” While Spain still often provides bang for the buck today, wine regions Americans had less access to before have emerged over the years, like Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Rias Baixas and Bierzo, just to name a few. Interest in grape varieties other than Tempranillo has expanded to Garnacha, Bobal, Monastrell, Mencia, Albariño and Godello, among many others. While modern styles are still produced, many producers have been pulled back a little to a more classic, old-world approach. Wine.com offers it all and our extensive content provides information to help customers choose something new. It all comes down to access. When given a choice, backed up by lots of information, customers want to explore different things. Of course, the classics, such as La Rioja Alta or Lopez de Heredia, will always remain a customer favorite as well.
What do you look for in a wine, producer, or category when you make your buying decisions?
Our selection of wines from all over the world has grown over the last 15 years from about 3,000 wines to about 15,000. Spain has been part of that growth and customers have responded! In the trailing 12 months, we have sold over 2,400 different vintage specific wines from Spain. First and foremost, the wine needs an importer with local stocking wholesalers in our six warehouse markets. The supplier needs to be able to provide content for the website, which includes ratings, winery photos, tasting notes, label imagery, ABV and more. While our top volume brands are value priced, our average retail for Spanish wines sits right at our overall national average of over $32 per bottle. We do not push our customers but let them pull us towards their interest, by giving them the chance to make a well-informed choice from accessing our content and live chat somms. Our customers are looking for wines with a sense of place and a story to tell, as opposed to mass produced wines or private labels.
What are some emerging trends in the Spanish wine category that you are tracking? Any themes wine lovers should be keeping an eye on?
We are finding loads of interest in Albariño. With Summer here, it is the perfect warm weather sipper. Txakoli is also gaining some traction, with its low alcohol and easy drinkability. Verdejo from Rueda has seen some increase, as it is a good alternative to the ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc. Cava has been popular for years, but great innovation is taking place in this region. Vineyards are converting to organic and biodynamic and newer sub-regions have emerged with a focus on quality as opposed to quantity. Wine Lovers should also keep an eye on Bierzo, specifically, the wines of visionary Raul Perez. Sherry has had a bit of a come-back as customers learn that it is not just your Grandma’s sweet style cream sherries, but a vast world of varying styles. Spain has it all!
What regions or DOs in Spain inspire you right now? Where should wine lovers be looking to discover their next favorite Spanish wine?
Having recently visited Rioja, I am personally re-inspired by its history, beauty, diversity and culture. On this same trip, I had the opportunity to visit “Green Spain,” Rías Baixas. It is such a vastly different landscape and climate than other parts of Spain. And the wines that come from here, mainly Albariño, are truly unique and delicious. Canary Island wines are starting to be more available on the marketplace, and they are super-interesting and unique.
What are your go-to Spanish wine and food pairings, both for guests and for yourself at home?
For a fun dinner, it is great to start by pairing olives and almonds with a Fino sherry. I love to pair Albariño with just about anything, but the saline and tropical fruit notes of the wine pair well with grilled fish tacos with a mango salsa. Spicy Tempranillo pairs so well with a simple roasted pork loin. Or a burger! Verdejo is great with Sushi. And Mencía is a good choice for grilled tuna.
You’re stranded on a desert island and have only one case of Spanish wine to keep you company until the search party finds you (or not). What would you choose and why?
I would prefer to bring 24 half bottles because there are so many I would love to have! But alas, here is my selection (if price were no concern), in no particular order:
■ La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2001 – It is my all-time favorite!
■ Palacio de Fefinanes Albariño 2019 – It is a benchmark Albariño with refreshing, high acidity, and complex rich flavors, for a warm afternoon.
■ Raventos I Blanc Mas del Serral 2007 – It’s one of the most beautiful sparkling wines I have had from anywhere in the world.
■ Bodegas Raul Perez Ultreia St. Jacques 2018 – It is a super drinkable, yet very complex, Mencía-based blend that will keep changing in the glass and will never get boring.
■ Osborne VORS Capuchino Palo Cortado (1790) VORS – There is absolutely nothing like it. So complex and delicious.
■ Pinol L'Avi Arrufi Blanco 2017 – It is Garnacha Blanca from very old vines and would make a nice white wine for wine daytime or nighttime, and it’s made by some of the nicest people you will meet in the world of wine.
■ Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Blanco Gran Reserva Especial 1986 – Because I can pick anything for this exercise, regardless of price. This 1986 would shock anyone in a blind tasting. It remains so fresh and beautiful. It is basically perfect.
■ Bodegas Muga Flor de Muga Rosé 2018 – It is so bright with acidity and loaded with summer fruits. Very dry and clean; loads of perfume.
■ Vinos Torremoron Tempranillo 2018 – It is a fresh and fruity wine made from 100+ year old vines in a tiny town where most of the inhabitants work at the winery. Its high elevation lends to freshness and it is unoaked for primary, clean flavors. And is very value-priced!
■ R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Reserva 2007 – This is a classic old-world style not overwhelmed by oak, with precise fruit with very delicate tannin.
■ Com Tu by Rene Barbier 2017 — For something new, a Garnacha from limestone soils in Montsant that is juicy, rich and fresh. Perfect for a cool night.
■ Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Rubentis Rose 2019 – Because it’s pink, citrusy, fresh and low alcohol with light bubbles. It’s just fun to drink!