The head of wine at restaurant and salumeria, Manteca in Shoreditch shares her insights with Douglas Blyde.
What is your terroir and vintage?
My dad is Mexican and my mother, English-Irish. I spent my formative years in Glasgow, where I learnt to be an adult and to drink, then Edinburgh. Before that, I lived nomadically with my academic parents in New Zealand, Canada and Surrey. From 1984, the year I was born, Inglenook Reunion proved outstanding. And before babies came along, I remember sharing a bottle of dry Agile Blanc Vouvray by Prince Poniatowski with Chris. It was delicious at first with brash apple flavours then swiftly collapsed into mushroom.
What is ‘Parents in Hospitality’?
Did you know a lot of chef’s babies are born premature? I found ‘NCT’ groups vacuous: just because you’re having a baby doesn’t mean you’ll automatically connect with other mums. I’m a deep-rooted hospitality-centred person, and wanted to support people in this industry. Hence Parents in Hospitality, of which I am a founder, provides sessions for parents working in hospitality. These feature one handed food bites given new parents often only have one hand free at any one time. Meetings, held at restaurants such as St. JOHN, are far more fun than your average toddler club.
What bottle would you reach for if the nuclear button was pressed?
Honestly, the first one to hand. Otherwise, if the missiles were more than a few minutes away, I would open and try everything I’ve patiently laid down for when Chris and I are able to have grown up dinner parties again, such as Guidalberto in magnum.
What is your motto?
Running a restaurant, and being a mum, is about looking at, and being caught up in, the intricate details, so I’d remind myself to ‘remember to look at the bigger picture.’
What did you do before working in wine?
I spent a year living in Salamanca which is tantalisingly close to Ribera del Duero. There, I met people in the wine industry who showed me wine could be a career. Up to that point, my schooling had been very academic, intended to churn out doctors, lawyers, management consultants and accountants. When I returned to Edinburgh university, I did my WSET while working aboard a floating wine school. Once, I got tipsily carried away talking to a guest and continued to pour, albeit into the spittoon by accident. It was the middle of the Fringe and no one cared, though I made a note to remember to look into the glass next time. I followed on with roles for Laithwaites, then in London, Slurp where I was the third person they employed, and Fine + Rare where I sorely missed the face-to-face interaction with customers.
Why is your restaurant called Manteca?
Primarily because Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Manteca’ is one of Chris’ favourite tracks. Manteca also means pig fat in Spanish, which has relevance to the kind of food he cooks and the salami we serve.
What is your favourite table?
23 which has a good view of the pass.
What has been a fulfilling food and wine match with the cuisine of Chris Leach?
When I put together the first draft of Manteca’s wine list, my child was just two months old! Chris’ cooking expresses the bold flavours of Lazio, being garlic, anchovy and chilli, and we like wines which stand up, hence skin contact white blends from Alsace, and Germanic grapes. It’s not necessary to have an exact match. That being said, Andrea Occhipinti’s Alter Alea skin contact Aleatico Bianco has enough tannic structure and weight to works with the garlic and chilli of seasonal puntarelle alla Romana.
What ingredient can’t you abide?
What style of wine don’t you get along with?
My automatic reaction would be commercial Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, though I could expand this to take in any grape made in a completely commercial style.
Classed Bordeaux or low sulphur Beaujolais?
Low sulphur Beaujolais. There is no Bordeaux on our list because most people seeking ‘fine wine’ default to it when I think there’s also a lot of bad Bordeaux sold expensively. And I would prefer to showcase fine Italian wines.
What are your proudest pours via Coravin?
Via my ‘red Ferrari’ Coravin which even goes with me on holiday, we offer white Vistamare from magnum, as well as Solaia Bianco, and Flacinello and Le Machiole.
How would you deal with a spectacularly drunken guest?
Sometimes drunk people are great! But you can’t serve them, so you need to try to help them out the door without any embarrassments.
What do you do on your days off?
What I’d like to do, would be to go for a really long lunch with Chris.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
I don’t drink very much.
If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
To be able to do everything I wanted to do in a day. I’m always multi-tasking, which requires me to have to be exceptionally organised. So I’d like another two pairs of hands, and another head.
Who is your idol in the world of wine?
There isn’t just one. Instead, I admire all women who are able to do jobs which require a lot of hours while raising children. It was only since I had my second child that I realised how difficult it is to juggle a full time job and family. Hats off to anyone making it happen. My youngest, Lowri comes to meetings – it’s important that she grows up understanding it’s okay to work really hard.
Should there be fewer men in the world of wine?
When I first went to tastings wine was a very male dominated are and several winemakers would ask me, ‘where’s your boss?’ even though I was the one who made the decisions. While I can’t speak for every facet of the industry, I believe if you start in wine right now, there are equal opportunities for both men and women, fortunately.
Would you prefer to share a glass with Mía Maestro, Angela Merkel or Margaret Thatcher?
I could practice my Spanish with Mia, though she seems more interested in tea rituals than wine. And not Margaret Thatcher. So Angela Merkel would be my default. She was at the top of her game for a long time and is probably very adept at formulating ideas. Though I’d rather not share a glass with anyone political. Wine is about sharing fun things.
Manteca – 49-51 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3PT; 020 7033 6642; mantecarestaurant.co.uk