“Here’s something many people don’t know: People in Spain drink tons of Rueda. It’s more popular than Albariño,” Nacho Monclus says. The sommelier isn’t necessarily out to set them straight, he just wants American drinkers to know how much Spain offers when it comes to wine. And he does it with an extensive, wide-ranging wine list at Amada in New York City, the newest outpost of Jose Garces’ iconic restaurant.
“We have wines for every palate,” Monclus says, noting that wine-making regions in Spain can see many climates—mountainous to Mediterranean, hot and dry temperatures to cool and damp—that produce an equally diverse range of styles. “I’m not obsessed with having wines from every region [on the list], but what’s good is good.”
Monclus got his start in the wine industry in Segovia, a historic city northwest of Madrid in the Castilla y León region. Ultimately, he knew he wanted to work in a larger, international city, and landed in New York. “I felt integrated here right away, and it’s a great place to be if you want to work with wines and find opportunities,” he says.
Now in the city nearly a decade, he joined Amada as beverage director after stints in the notable dining rooms of Socarrat and Lupulo. Amada, the first and most famous of Garces’s restaurants, established the chef in Philadelphia. Today, the Garces Group has 14 restaurants in five cities nationwide, but there remain only two under the Amada name—the Philadelphia flagship and the New York location, which opened Spring 2016. It’s an Andalusian tapas bar that blends classic Spanish cuisine with a modern approach; resulting in cult favorites like a traditional Pernil Asado (recommended with Viña Pedrosa Crianza 2010) and the ensalada de jamon, a mix of greens, fig, almonds, and blue cheese bundled in overlapping slices of paper-thin ham.
The menu spans style and flavor, and the wine list is similarly approachable. There are classics for which the country is famous, like sherry, right alongside lesser-known selections. Even options for wines by the glass represent some 12 different regions. “My wine list is for everybody,” Monclus says. “I have some that everybody knows, and then some for the wine geeks, so I can surprise them. I try to have a rotation of six new wines for my regulars.”
Monclus credits a changing American palate with appreciating the diversity available in Spain’s wines today—and no longer associating a low bottle cost with being a steal. Noting that in the last 10 years he’s seen requests for oaky, fruit-forward wines with a lot of concentration give way to a preference for more acidity and more delicacy, it’s helped make the case for the value of the bottles he carries.
“People know that Ribera del Duero makes some of the best wines in Spain, but you’re not spending $15 on it in a wine store,” he says. Instead, “if you spend $100 on Ribera del Duero, there are wines worth three or four times that from other regions. It’s a bargain—but it’s a bargain for $50, $60, $80, or $100.”
Similarly, Rueda wines are high on quality and value. “It has a genuine style that is pretty easy to enjoy,” he says, adding they go as well with appetizers and salads as they do with sides like tortilla de patatas. “These are pretty wines, with beautiful aromatics, and they combine citrusy, tropical fruits and herbal notes … there’s nobody that cannot like a Verdejo.”
Amada rapidly joined several ranked lists as one of the city’s best newcomers after opening, and its popularity only strengthens Monclus’ approach. “The most important thing,” he says, “is making the customer interested and comfortable with the wine.”