Tableside with a Somm: Spoke Wine Bar

Curious about restaurant wine lists? Each month, Boston Globe wine columnist Ellen Bhang chats with a sommelier about a couple of terrific bottles and recommends food pairings—you come away a savvier sipper. 

Milking goats on a family farm outside of Poughkeepsie, New York, may seem like unconventional preparation for running a restaurant. But Mary Kurth, owner of Spoke Wine Bar in Somerville, says she gained all kinds of skills growing up in a rural setting. “Being a business owner, I know how to work through problems,” she says. “I’m responsible for others’ well-being.”

Between life on the farm and the job she does today, Kurth traveled through Eastern Europe, then worked for a year in Barcelona, Spain. “I lived off of rice and beans out of a backpack,” she says, recalling the early part of her journey.

Upon returning home, she buckled down and studied. “I put my nose to the grindstone for the next eight years,” she says, eventually moving to Boston to pursue a PhD program in biomedical engineering at Harvard University. “I found great success in academia, but it was evident other people in my program were not there to make friends,” she explains. “I’m just not a solo kind of being. I was always relieved when I could leave and bartend.”

A friend in the industry connected her with Spoke’s original owner Felisha “Flea” Foster, and Kurth began working at the wine bar. Foster had opened the spot in 2013 with the help of her wife Sheri Galyean, and business partner Dave Jick of Dave’s Fresh Pasta. “Everybody had such a good work ethic, and were so diverse and accepting,” recalls Kurth. “As needs grew, I realized it was becoming more and more a love of mine.”

When Foster was later diagnosed with an aggressive form of ALS, she made the difficult decision to sell the place. “Our conversations were about, ‘Is there a way to maintain a meaningful community?’” says Kurth. Before Foster passed away in the fall of 2017, she gave Kurth her blessing to purchase Spoke. Jick continues on as business partner.

The meaningful community that Foster established is thriving today. Kurth, together with assistant general manager and wine director Liz Mann, have created one of the most innovative natural wine programs in the city. On any given evening, 20 by-the-glass selections are available; so are more than 60 bottles. (If you commit to buying two glasses, this expert crew will open any bottle on the list.)

“It’s important to support producers who don’t see a separation between agriculture and nature,” explains Kurth. “So many people believe you have to preserve nature as a world we don’t touch, while agriculture is clean and sterile. We work with producers who have integrated the two.”

One of those winegrowers is Roland Velich of Austria’s Burgenland. A 2017 bottle, crafted mostly from grüner veltliner, is called Hausmarke Weiss. Kurth explains that Velich didn’t want this white to be a stereotypical fruit-forward, high-acid grüner. His is soft and citrusy, with notes of hay, fennel, and caramelized milk solids. It’s just right with executive chef Eric Frier’s dish of fluke with butternut-cashew curry. The wine plays well with the lemongrass, ginger, and basil in the fish curry, while its roundness doesn’t compete with the fattiness from the cashews.

A 2016 bottle from Partida Creus, called SM, is a light red made from the sumoll grape. The Spanish wine is made by an Italian couple from Piedmont who moved to Barcelona to continue their careers in architecture. Craving a slower pace of life, they moved to the Baix Penedès, southwest of the city. Unable to find wines they liked to drink alongside the food they farmed, the pair went in search of vines to craft their own. The high-acid, unfiltered pour is delicious alongside Raw Wagyu Ribeye, a carpaccio-like preparation with Asian pears, yolk sauce, pickled Jimmy Nardello peppers, and a pinch of Szechuan spices. The wine bar owner loves how its blackberry and cassis tartness cuts through the unctuous qualities of the meaty dish.

Behind the bar, Kurth still uses Foster’s corkscrew. “I ask myself, ‘Would Flea like this bottle of wine?’” she says. “It makes me feel kind of lucky.”

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