Despite years of working in bars, I knew virtually nothing about wine until I came to California. Sure, I drank vats of it, knew sweet from dry, could occasionally tell you that Tempranillo was Spanish. But mostly I was out of my depth and short on enthusiasm.
Then I came to America’s biggest winemaking state and met a handful of salt-of-the-earth Californians who set me straight. Here’s a secret: If a lot of wines taste indistinguishable to you, it’s because most mass-market producers aim for uniformity. Getting a mind-blowing experience from a $7.99 bottle designed to taste like every other $7.99 bottle would challenge even the keenest palates.
The solution to this, for me, was to try a lot of indie wines and talk to smart, enthusiastic wine sellers. In exploring the crazy/beautiful variety of small-producer wines, I learned to expand and trust my own palate, and my education began. I had help. The following places may house wine wizards, but none of them will make you feel like a muggle for asking questions.
There is no better word to describe Lou Amdur’s role at this store than “guru.” Formerly of the famous Lou On Vine, his deceptively modest Los Feliz shop hosts tastings several days a week. Even without a scheduled tasting, prepare to talk through your wine needs and desires with Lou or one of his junior gurus and perhaps wind up with a reasonably priced bottle you didn’t know was your favorite.
1911 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Ever-expanding, ever-fun, this eastside shop hosts a wildly popular monthly tasting at Barnsdall Park during the summer, as well as at least three in-house tastings per week. Their new location Downtown promises much of the same: interesting, curated wines extolled by knowledgeable but friendly staff.
Silverlake: 2395 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039
Arts District: 1948 E 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Buzz embraces its gritty, downtown setting with industrial decor and staffers dressed in mechanics’ coveralls. Potential kitsch aside, the tasting bar is no joke: wine and beer available by the glass and life-changing flights weekly. A popular post-art walk destination across the street from the Last Bookstore, an ideal spot to continue an aesthetic journey.
460 S. Spring St, Los Angeles, 90013
The first thing you notice entering Domaine is the circle of chairs in the middle of the shop, as if everyone were about to go on break, crack open a bottle of Sangiovese and start a group therapy session. After talking to the staff, you are certain this is what happens. Either way, you will leave changed.
6801 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Photo courtesy of Hermes Rivera