EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two columns from Stella Hernandez of Lolita Vinoteca + Asador in Portland.

Putting together our wine list for Lolita was the closest I’ve come to understanding what writers do. It’s less mechanical than you’d think. You have to choose your story line, craft that story, and then there’s the continual editing process. When I gave my first draft to a friend to review, I felt as if I were handing off my first novel. I had handed over something very personal.

Of the thousands of wines available in Maine (and the others I continue to pine for…), I had to find a way to make our list make sense. I bristled at absolutes – it should be all Old World or all organic or all whatever. Our menu at Lolita is broadly Mediterranean in focus, from Spain to Portugal to North Africa and then east to the Middle East.

We needed wines that complemented the food, so the bulk of our list was – and is – focused on French, Italian and Spanish wines. But we are also a vinoteca – a wine bar (or wine library, as I like to think of it). To me, that means we need to cultivate a list that makes diners comfortable with, and curious about, tasting new things.

I’ve always seen our by-the-glass list as a way to coax customers into trying a new wine. It’s like my husband (and business partner) Guy used to say about some of our small plates – you might be frightened off oxtail as a big, imposing entree but willing to try a small plate for just $9. Or maybe it’s like a first date as opposed to a relationship; glass pours are a great way for customers to experiment without the commitment of a full bottle. Since we opened in 2014, we’ve poured Zweigelt, my beloved Chenin Blanc, Lagrein, Frappato and other less well-known grape varietals by the glass. Our staff is well-trained to describe them, and customers can, in a small, safe way, get out of their comfort zone.

To get to the 80 bottles now on our list, I started with a draft list of more than three times that number – about 250 bottles. (Roughly 80 seemed like a happy medium between not having enough options or variety and having too many.) Clearly, I had a long way to go. After more than a little research, I chose to organize the list by style of wine, not region or varietal. For a more casual environment such as we have at Lolita, I find that having a traditional multi-page wine list organized by country of origin is limiting.

Stella Hernandez, owner of Lolita restaurant on Congress Street in Portland, said the process of creating a wine list gave her new appreciation for what writers do. Staff photo by John Ewing

We look at it more in terms of broad categories – crisp, aromatic, rich. Within each of those categories, I had to find a way to provide enough variety, not to mention value. It’s much easier to create a stellar list of blockbuster wines – cult producers, rare bottles, highly rated wines. A $500 Burgundy can be an exquisite treat, but it’s not an investment most people make casually nor one that’s available to most of us. At Lolita, my goal was to find the hidden gems – smaller producers, less familiar regions and wines that punched way above their weight class. I like to joke that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find these princes.

Then there’s our “Wild Things” category. That might be about a quirky producer – a winemaker who makes a brilliant Riesling from a centuries-old winery and who loves partnering with punk rock bands for marketing. Or it might be a unique expression – a New World field blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürtrazminer – yes, please. Or it could be a wine that’s incredibly opulent – sometimes huge is awesome. They all have to be delicious, but they don’t all have to be pricey or typical.

Last is our “Le Coup de Foudre” catgory. It’s a phrase I adore – love at first sight. It’s the one you can’t necessarily explain – it’s just, sigh, about emotion. One of the wines we picked was from a winemaker I met while in Italy last year. He came back his holiday to his tiny winery a few days after Christmas just to give us a tour. His pedigree was tremendous – the great-grandson of a historic wine-making family whose grandmother took the vineyards she inherited and created her own winery. He walked us through his cellar and showed us his tanks and barrels, and talked about his wine-making process, all with his dog tagging along. He poured us his wines in a little tasting room with a wood-fired stove. These wines were technically gorgeous but they were also, now, personal.

It’s so easy to forget that wine is made by people. It’s not a mechanical process. The vast majority of our wines are hand-harvested and made in a manually intensive way. It’s not just a bottle on a shelf, it’s someone’s work. And when you connect those things, sometimes it’s love at first sight.

Maybe that’s how to best explain how our list finally came together. We chose each wine for its unique appeal. And, like my mom says about her children, I love them all equally.

Stella Hernandez is co-owner and wine director at Lolita Vinoteca + Asador. She is also a certified sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers program.

TUSCAN CHICKEN LIVER TOAST

I’m not usually a fan of chicken liver mousse, but it’s something my husband really loves. On a recent trip to Florence, we discovered a version like the one below, which is so unique and has gone a long way toward changing my mind! You can stay in Italy and pair it with a lovely Chianti, like the Castello di Farnetella Chianti Colli Senesi. Or, if you want to try something new, I suggest a pretty Cabernet Franc from the Loire, like the Charles Joguet Chinon “Cuvée Terroir.”

Yield About 2 dozen toast points

1 pound chicken livers

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

3 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

2 tablespoons toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon capers

4 sage leaves

1/2 cup white wine

Toast, for serving

With a paring knife, trim off any sinew and/or blemishes from the livers. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a pan large enough to hold the livers in a single layer, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and gently sauté until aromatic, 3-4 minutes. Increase the heat to high. Add the livers and cook until well browned on both sides. Add the anchovies, walnuts, capers and sage leaves. Deglaze the pan with the wine and continue to cook until liquid is reduced and thick.

Transfer the mixture to the food processor and pulse until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with grilled toast points.