Stella Hernandez of Lolita in Portland, Maine on Spanish Wine and Taking her Dad’s Advice

Stella Hernandez and her husband were working as architects until 12 years ago, when they left St. Louis for, Maine. Despite the fact that they barely had enough experience to get insurance and the city’s restaurant scene hadn’t exploded yet, they opened a small restaurant, Bar Lola. “It was like the wild west,” says Hernandez. Four years ago, they closed Lola to open Lolita, an even smaller place with the kitchen, wine and ingredients on display. Just one block from their original spot, the duo have been introducing Portlandians to bottles from both hemispheres.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo at #1
I tell the staff, don’t make quick judgments: Just because this wine is made by a co-op doesn’t mean it must be a lesser wine. These are some of the best [nebbiolos] coming out of the region and have been so for decades. The Langhe nebbiolo is appealing to our guests because they know the reputation, and it’s at an approachable price point. It’s a beautiful wine—there is ripe fruit and really balanced acid and tannins. We have a wood- fired grill in the restaurant and [the wine] is a natural pairing with a lot of grilled meats—we often have a boneless beef short rib, or house-made sausage and pork belly.

On Success with Rioja
People recognize Rioja as quality. Seeing the riserva [Senorio de Peciña 2011], knowing it has a little bit of age and elegance to it—it offers great quality for the price [$52]. One night a week we do Tapas Night and bring in wines that are not on the list. We often feature Spanish wines. I think people are more and more experimenting in that direction.

Dueling Malbecs: Weinert 2006 Mendoza Malbec vs Château du Cèdre 2014 Cahors Cedre Heritage Malbec
The Weinert I was really attracted to because we have no cellar and so I am always on the hunt for a bottle with a little age. Maine doesn’t have older vintages and we are not allowed to buy at auction. I love the Weinert because it is a really old-school, old-world style. The oak is very integrated; it has really beautiful fruit that is not overly ripe, and there is a lot of tertiary stuff going on. The Château du Cèdre: My dad told me to buy the cheapest model of the best car I could afford, and I often think of that when I see a great house producing an everyday wine. You are still getting all of the technique, knowledge and great vineyards that they have. The Heritage malbec is a great by-the-glass pour: lots of dark fruit, very concentrated and has a tannic structure, rustic, but there is a little bit of merlot in it and it sees a little new oak.

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