Uncorked: Natalia Ribbe

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Barletta restaurant Margate founder Natalia Ribbe on wine

Related tags: Natalia Ribbe, Barletta, Wine, Uncorked, Margate, Sommelier

The founder of the Ladies Of Restaurants collective and Margate's Barletta restaurant on spilling Champagne over mafiosa types and her inclusive list that champions female wine producers.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine

I was always around wine with my fathers job as a hotel manager. But I didn’t take any note of it until I moved to Vienna at 18 to start university. One of my fathers best friends had a wine bar/restaurant in Am Graben called Fino, and I worked a couple shifts a week there while at university. It was the first time I was introduced to Gruner Vetliner and Riesling, how to taste properly and the importance of glassware. But I think it was my first job in New York at David Bouley’s Danube where I started to properly learn about wine and took an interest in what I was consuming. 

Tell us about your wine list at Barletta at Turner Contemporary

The wine list at Barletta is about embracing the regions in and around the Mediterranean. I don’t want to limit myself to only Mediterranean wines, especially with my affinity for Austria and Hungary wines but it’s become a great outline to build from. I also really think about value and price point. I know I am happy to spend a bit more on a wine, but our guests are coming from all over and I don’t want them to shy away from a great wine because of its price tag. So I try to make the list as inclusive as possible. Something for the orange wine fanatics and also the gallery goers who are after something easy and approachable on both their pallet and their wallet. I tend to list as many female wine producers as possible, which was not planned, I just always seem to fall in love with the stories behind female produced wine. 

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? eg. dropping an expensive bottle/ordering a case of oxidised Burgundy etc. 

I often reference this story, as it was my most mortifying for me, but also such a rookie error. I was 21 working at Le Cirque in the Bloomberg building. I was working in the bar area looking after a big group of drinkers that included Sirio Maccioni, the boss man himself. He looked everything like you would imagine, a big burly Italian mafiosa type, in a custom made pin striped suit and colourful tie, all complimented by flashes of gold jewellry. The guy had loads of charisma and boy could he work a room. He was sat in the centre of the bar, and here I come with four glasses of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, just watching them balance on the tray as if gravity was never going to interfere with this moment. One knock of the elbow and all four glasses went flying, spilling all over Sirio. He stood up as if coming out of a wave of champagne, cursing in Italian. He turned around and saw my face full of tears and I quickly ran to the back. There was no escaping him though, the back of the restaurant was wallpapered with old family photos and everywhere I looked I was confronted with my Champagne disaster staring me in the face. I will never forget it. It’s one of the first lessons I teach my team; how to carry a tray of flutes.

Name your top three restaurant wine lists 

I am going to keep it local, because we are so lucky to have amazing places here in Thanet with great wine lists and it just keeps getting better and better. Plus it’s where I spend most of my time drinking. Dory’s - a sort of seafood bar/wine bar - is my favourite spot in Margate. Lee (Coad) and the team have a great mix of wine for every occasion and they focus on English producers. Not a restaurant, but Little Swift has an incredible selection. Charlotte has transformed what was once a bottle shop focusing on beer, into Margate’s go to wine shop. I know when I go there she will have one of my firm favourites or something new to try. And I have a real soft spot for the Whitstable Oyster Company. My go to list for all the classics. No new wave hipster stuff there, it’s just good old, old world classics.

Who do you most respect in the wine world? 

I have really close relationships with the people who sell me wine and they are the ones I have the most respect for. My friend Jo Draper at Jascots, she’s such a legend. And I don’t make it easy for her. I love tasting with Fernando from Otros Vinos, he makes me excited about wine and really fall in love with the winemakers, which in turn makes selling the wine so easy. And Rupert at Uncharted is the most fun. I feel like I am just talking to my friend about wine, and I always know I am in safe hands with what he suggests. Those three have always made me feel confident in the wine world.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?

At the moment I am obsessed with Vins et Volailles, who produce a wine called Putes Feministes which directly translates to ‘feminist whores’. It is made by a band of women whose backgrounds cover a variety of industries but led by Fleur Godart. This wine not only interests me because of its agenda to highlight the misogynistic side to the wine industry, but it’s so absolutely delicious. Bright orange, slightly floral, very easy to forget how many glasses or bottles you’ve had. It is my favourite wine to sell and I have managed to convince so many people to taste it and they end up falling in love with it as much as I have.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

Dry, acidic and mineral. 

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment (and why)… 
I do think the Marterey Chardonnay (from Languedoc Roussillon) I have on drinks like Burgundy on a budget and it’s £55 for a bottle. Also the Prosecco Frizzante Col Fondo from Fidora is a cloudy little aperitif and so sophisticated for the dreaded P word. It’s just stunning and £7 a glass.

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 

Give me fish and chips with a funky orange wine anyday (extra curry sauce please). I also love having a Riesling with Thai, Japanese or Chinese food. We recently sat round our kitchen table making baskets and baskets of dumplings, drinking the Melsheimer Riesling from Newcomer Wines. It was heaven.

Old World or New World?

Impossible to answer. Both worlds are great in their own way. 

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 

Poor wine service. I love the pomp and circumstance of presenting the bottle, and opening it with elegance. I once saw someone at a very well know London restaurant open a bottle between their legs. It was like nails on a chalkboard for me. Also if a sommelier or the person selling the wine is a bit snobby and intimidating, that always ruffles my feathers.

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why? 

Constantina Sotelo in Rias Bixas. She sounds like a warrior. I have only tasted two of her wines so far, the Rosalia and the Misturas, but for me they are what I imagine the moody sea would taste like. And being by the sea, I always want to evoke that salty goodness in a glass. Every sip I take of her wines transports me to floating in the ocean, taking in the sun, listening to the waves ripple. It’s wine that has genuinely transported me to my happy place.

As a restaurant owner, what question do you most get asked by customers?  

How’s business? I like to think that our locals and regulars are really invested in us, particularly as we are in a small community that genuinely cares about it’s local restaurants. So I get asked how we are doing as a business a lot. As the go to wine “person” at our restaurant I get asked by our guests for suggested pairings a lot - which is my favourite. I hand picked every wine on the list, and I love being able to suggest what I know will go perfectly with their oxtail ragu or Sunday roast.

Which wine producing region/country is currently underrated at the moment and why?

I think Hungary does not get enough of the limelight. Sure we all know about Tokaj, but there are some stunning winemakers and vineyards out in Balaton. I also started having some Greek wines on the list last summer, and following our holiday there this year, I am eager to get more on there. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 

As it’s my last meal, I want to remember the happiest time in my life. And Christmas is my favourite time of year. I don’t always get home to the US for the holidays, but it’s our family tradition on Christmas day to drink Champagne, usually a rose. So I would reach for a Ruinart Rose, half a dozen oysters and Frank Sinatra playing in the background. 

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