Sarah Tracey is the Wine Director of Greenwich Village farm-to-table restaurant Villanelle; wine writer for Martha Stewart Living; frequent wine contributor to publications like Food & Wine, Town & Country, Refinery 29, and Forbes; an in-demand wine educator with hundreds of events on her resume; and the founder of The Lush Life. Wines from Spain sat down with her this month to talk about cultivating a career in New York’s wine industry, what makes Spanish wine so essential in so many settings, and a few of her favorite regions in Spain to visit.
I originally got interested in wine when I was pursuing a music career full time—I was working as a cocktail waitress at a hip-hop club to make the rent in between recording sessions and gigs with my band; eventually I got tired of working at the club until 4am every night, so for a change of pace I went to work at a small wine bar. It totally changed my life!
When I started to learn the stories behind the wines, the people that make them, and the culture and land they come from, wine truly came alive for me and I discovered a new passion. I wanted to learn more, so I went to work at City Winery, the only working winery in Manhattan. I was emptying and cleaning spit buckets at their tasting events for a long time before I was allowed to do anything else! It wasn’t glamorous at first, but I couldn’t have been more excited just to be there. I committed to working hard and learning, and it’s been a real adventure so far.
You’ve written about Spanish wine, you’ve put Spanish wines on your restaurant lists, you’ve traveled to Spain a number of times. What makes Spanish wine different from wines from other countries, and why should readers reach for a bottle on a shelf or order one from their local restaurant list?
The #1 thing I love about Spanish wines is that they usually over deliver on quality. I have a lot of confidence when I’m tasting wines from Spain that they are going to be delicious and well-made, whatever the price point. I also think the Spanish have mastered combining tradition and innovation, in both food and wine, and the rest of the wine world should be looking at Spain to see how it’s done!
What are some of the Spanish wine regions and indigenous grape varieties that are really exciting you right now?
I always say that my favorite wine is the last great wine I enjoyed—and the same goes for wine regions! I just got back from a week in Rioja, so right now I’m very excited about the wines there. There is a lot of range and dimension to be discovered there; and it’s a classic region for a reason. Not only are the red wines beautiful (it’s easy to find great wines with age on them)—but the white wines are spectacular, and I don’t think they get enough attention.
You’ve been all over Spain. Tell us about some of your favorite Spanish travel destinations!
Lanzarote in the Canary Islands is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been in my life. The vineyards are stunning! Old vines buried in volcanic ash where the roots have to dig deep to find nutrients, and each vine is surrounded by an infrastructure of rocks designed to capture the moisture from the fog, which is the only water the vines have access to. It’s truly incredible to see.
Speaking of traveling to Spain, you’re headed to Andalucía next week for Copa Jerez. Sherries are some of the most unique and emblematic Spanish wines out there. For readers who may not be as familiar with these wines or may not have tasted them recently, why should they order a glass?
Anyone with an adventurous palate should be drinking sherry! They are such complex and interesting wines. I love a glass of fino as an apertif, so refreshing. My favorite style to enjoy with food is Manzanilla. Especially for those only familiar with the sweeter/dessert styles, most wine lovers are delighted to discover the savory side of sherry when I introduce it at a tasting.
With the Lush Life platform, a lot of what you do is about wine education, while ensuring that wine is approachable and not stuffy or snobby. Tell us a little more about your approach and style to wine education for your readers and followers.
The Lush Life is a resource for those who love wine and aren’t total beginners—but they’re also not necessarily looking to spend hours every night reading The Wine Bible or pursuing higher wine certifications! There are so many people that fall somewhere between novice and expert, so I wanted to be able to give quick, simple, actionable tips to up-level their lifestyle with wine.
Every week I send my subscribers info on one cool new wine that’s trending now, one wine lifestyle tip—like a food and wine pairing they maybe haven’t tried, or a quick strategy for tackling a restaurant wine list, or even just a fun playlist for wine tasting—and then a link to a wine product they can check out, which could be anything from a wine-scented body scrub to my favorite decanter or glassware. It’s like having a cool sommelier friend keeping you current, educated, and informed on all things wine—you can sign up here to get it straight to your inbox.
Food and pairings are a huge part of wine education as well. Any favorite food pairings for Spanish wines?
When in doubt—cheese. Always and forever!
Love wine? Learn more about Sarah Tracey and The Lush Life here.