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That's the Spirit
’Tis the season to celebrate, they say, and ’tis the town to do it in. Stock up on potable gifts and mirth-making supplies at the city’s top ten wine and liquor shops. Cheers!
Photograph by Lucas Zarebinski
Wine house? Try compound, with 25,000 square feet of space arranged by region plus a giant wing dedicated to cocktail supplies, an Enomatic tasting room, a reserve room with bottles costing more than $200, and a “Rare and Old” room devoted to wines that are, well, rare and old. Descriptive cards help you navigate the abundance. The draw: Sign up online for special e-mail deals and news updates. Happening: Classes range from “Absolute Beginning” to professional-level certifications. »2311 Cotner Ave., West L.A., 310-479-3731
Red Carpet Wine & Spirits
Plush maroon carpeting and piped-in Van Morrison make things comfortable for the connoisseurs browsing the tidy shelves at this well-appointed shop. The place has a reputation as the go-to destination for high-end Napa cabernets, but in fact it carries a diverse selection of beer, including suds like Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder, and elite Signatory scotches—all priced at $6 to $600. One-stop shop: Gift boxes and baskets are a specialty—an annual holiday catalog features everything from merlots to microbrews packaged with gourmet snacks (farmstead cheeses, Godiva chocolates). Happening: On Wednesday and Thursday nights there’s live jazz in the wine bar, which is equipped with an Enomatic wine dispenser. » 400 E. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, 818-247-5544
The owners of this wine boutique have lofty pedigrees (one was a James Beard Award-winning sommelier at Campanile), but you’d never know it from the vibe. Looking for something to pair with pizza? They’ll coolly ask, “Pepperoni or mushroom?” The thoughtfully edited spread of grab-and-go affordable wines fits the neighborhood, but there are plenty of splurges here as well. On the rocks: Small-batch spirits line the front wall. Happening: Ever since the store opened in 2004, the semiweekly tasting events have been a scene—complete with hot dog cart. » 2935 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-662-9024
Topline Wine & Spirit Co.
With its concrete floors, fluorescent lighting, and industrial strip mall surroundings, this wine and spirits warehouse has all the aesthetic allure of Costco—and fortunately for us, the same emphasis on discount pricing. As a “wholesaler to the public,” the store marks up its inventory significantly less than others, so shopping here won’t leave you feeling gouged. The mix of superior and esoteric wines—300 from California alone—and spirits (there’s no beer) rotates constantly; if you see something that calls out to you, seize it. On the rocks: There are more than 75 varieties of vodka, many from the little guys. The draw: Closeout sales often focus on wines from small, noncommercial vineyards. » 4718 San Fernando Rd., Glendale, 818-500-9670
Twenty Twenty Wine Merchants
Don’t be intimidated by the celebrity-owned wine lockers or the floor-to-ceiling mahogany racks with those fancy library ladders. Lots of bottles for $20 to $30 are stashed among the grand French châteaus and hard-to-find California, Italian, and Spanish labels. Bottle shock: The oldest wine in-house is a Madeira from the 1870s. The draw: It's here—the cult-wine obsession Screaming Eagle. » 2020 Cotner Ave., West L.A., 310-447-2020
We’ve lauded this place in the past for its unparalleled sparkling selection, which is still the best in town (there are more than 250 varieties and a sign that says Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Veuve Clicquot). Roberto Rogness has been spreading the gospel of artisanal wines and spirits for 17 years. Underappreciated regions are well represented (80 percent of the wine inventory is Italian), and each bottle usually comes with a story from Rogness. The tequilas are as impressive as the bubblies. The draw: Roberto himself, and tequila master Erik Moreno. Happening: A swank tasting room opened this fall. » 2933 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-4428
Last year Jill Bernheimer, a film industry refugee, opened a brick-and-mortar version of her online wine shop next to a California Chicken Cafe. It’s a humble spot, but sleek, and proudly champions natural, biodynamic, and organic wines. The labels (and prices) tend toward the everyday as opposed to collectibles. Bottle shock: Bernheimer arranges the wine pairings for Ludovic Lefebvre’s LudoBites menus. Happening: L.A.’s top sommeliers host tasting events here, showcasing their off-the-clock favorites. » 6801 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, 323-932-0280
K&L Wine Merchants
The sprawling Hollywood outpost of the 34-year-old California chain opened in 2007 and rapidly acquired a following, and with good reason. Buyers seek out smaller purveyors (especially for champagnes and rosés). About 10 percent of the stock is exclusive to the shop, so you’ll be able to find bottles to dazzle even the most jaded drinker. The draw: Thanks to direct-import relationships with many producers, prices are reasonable. Happening: In-store tastings on Thursdays offer five wines for $10. On Saturdays 10 to 12 (higher-quality) wines can be had for $20. » 1400 Vine St., Hollywood, 323-464-9463
Wally’s Wine & Spirits
Wally’s has been filling L.A.’s cups and cellars since Sam Yorty was mayor. In recent years the stock has skewed Californian with an emphasis on the Central Coast, though if you’re in the market for an Italian, you’ll be all right. A wall of fridges is now dedicated to craft beers, and you could whip up any cocktail from the array of spirits and supplies (unusual bitters, mixers, and the like). An off-site facility has lockers for storing your finest. One-stop shop: Wally’s Cheese Box debuted last summer. Happening: On Saturday afternoons tastings are less than $10. » 2107 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, 310-475-0606
Los Angeles Wine Company
Serious oenophiles stroll the aisles of this warehouse space on the border of Marina del Rey, piling their mini shopping carts with some of the best deals in the city. There’s no way you’d miss this place, and there are no chichi displays—most bottles are stacked in the cardboard cartons they came in—but that’s partly why prices have stayed so low for nearly 30 years. Bottle shock: The staff helps you carry your purchases to your car. One-stop shop: Sharing the same complex, Beverage Warehouse is a mecca for the hard stuff. » 4935 McConnell Ave., L.A., 310-306-9463
Drink at Home
Got a locavore and a liquor lover on your list? Try these four native potions
It makes sense that Italian lemon liqueur is being made just up the coast—we’re a citrus region. The recipe from Manuela Zaretti-Carling’s Italian nonna hasn’t changed. » venturalimoncello.com.
Crusoe Spiced Rum
Green Bar Collective, a carbon-negative spirits maker based in Monrovia, combines whole spices with California oranges and tangy osmanthus flower to make its organic rum. » greenbar.biz/crusoerums.html.
The vines hug the slopes of Bel-Air—no kidding. Those in the know swear the blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot is one of Southern California’s best. » moragavineyards.com.
Eagle Rock Brewery Beer
Pick up a snazzy growler ($20) from Glassell Park’s new brewery and refill it weekly with one of its award-winning brews, such as the hoppy Red Velvet or
the Equinox sour ale. » eaglerockbrewery.com.
Photographs by Larry Underhill
Mixology to Go
L.A. bartenders attain celebrity status with a new line of cocktail kits
Hallelujah! Bar Keeper, Silver Lake’s barware headquarters, has finally scored its liquor license (it took only 17 months and $100,000). Shop owner and cocktail enthusiast (make that obsessive) Joe Keeper has put together a line of mixology gift boxes curated by the pros. Inside each hexagonal box is a signature recipe from one of the city’s top bartenders (Marcos Tello from the Varnish, Matt Biancaniello from Library Bar, Steve Livigni from La Descarga) and everything you need to make the drink yourself, down to the lemons and limes. New glassware can be swapped out for vintage on request. » $50-$225. 3910 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-669-1675.
Photographs by Lisa Romerein
Drinking (and gifting) etiquette from the experts
Photograph courtesy flickr/Willscrlt
Bring two bottles of wine to a party.
“Come with one inexpensive bottle for that night’s festivities and another pricier selection for the host,” says Susan Brink of Venokado, a West Hollywood wine and gift shop.
Spend at least $25 on a good bottle of bourbon.
“You can get something great for that price,” says Matthew Kaner of Loz Feliz’s Covell Wine Bar. “And for $50, you can get something that’ll change your life.”
Bring bubbly when you aren’t familiar with the tastes of your host.
“It’s always celebratory,” says H.K. Hedlund, co-owner of Red Carpet Wine & Spirits (see page 170). “ It doesn’t have to be champagne. Prosecco is fine.”
Say the bottle you’ve brought is expensive—even if it is.
“Include a tag describing the wine's region, ratings, and any notable characteristics—a Google search should yield the info,” says Kaner.
Spend more than $50 on wine for the boss.
“If you were my employee and showed up with a really expensive bottle, I’d question your sensibilities,” says Hedlund. “Look for selections that overexcel for the money.”
Skip the champagne toast just because you don’t have the proper flutes.
“Any glassware is acceptable,” says Julia Fitzroy of Moët & Chandon. “Drinking champagne should be spontaneous. There are no rules on how to enjoy it.”
Swirl, Sip, Spit
Tasting rooms that let you try before you buy
For the same reason you first slip on those jeans in the dressing room, it’s nice to sample that carmenère prior to forking over 30 bucks for a bottle. Our favorite tasting rooms are open almost every night for comparing vintages, varietals, and regions. If you’re having a good time slowly sipping your flight of German reds, that’s fine, too. The cozy Colorado Wine Company (2114 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, 323-478-1985) seems more like a wine bar than a tasting room. On Fridays and Sundays the wines are themed, but on other nights you can curl up on their sofa with your own bottle ($5 corkage, free on Wednesdays) or a picnic. Since the Wine Expo added a tasting annex in October, it has become a postwork-drinks destination. Featured flights have wacky titles and focus on obscure regions or unusual flavor profiles. Saddle up to the rustic bar at Cornell Winery (29975 Mulholland Hwy., Agoura Hills, 818-735-3542), an Old West-style drugstore turned wine shop that pours more than 50 of Malibu’s up-and-coming labels. The outdoor fire pits and terraced gravel patio at Sip Malibu (2598 Sierra Creek Rd., Agoura Hills, 818-865-0440) encourage you to hang out with one of the local Cielo varietals. The cool, candlelit basement at 55 Degree Wine (3111 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, 323-662-5556) makes us feel as though we’re in a Tuscan wine cave. The flight of organic California whites (along with the Starbucks next door) reminds us where we are.
Photograph by Lisa Romerein
Local bartender and all-around liquor ace Patrick Kelly offers five tips on how to buy scotch
Use A Map
As with wine, a scotch’s origin affects its flavor. “The subtle ones from the Lowlands are great for beginners. Speysides will be more floral than the basic Highland. For a challenge, go with an intensely smoky, or peaty, Islay.”
“ ‘Single malt’ means it comes from a single distillery and is made with one type of malted grain.” Blended scotches aren’t necessarily bad (think Johnnie Walker Red), but the taste is less complex.
Age is Relative
Ten years is considered the minimum for a fine scotch, but don’t be swayed by big numbers. “Older scotches tend to be more complex, but plenty of people prefer a 12-year over a 37-year—it’s personal.”
Note the Cask
Scotch is often aged in used barrels, and that can rub off—in a good way. “With bourbon casks you get vanilla and caramel. Sherry casks make it fruitier. For something sweet and mellow, they use a port or Madeira cask.”
Know Their Tastes
If it’s a gift, find out what they like and go from there. “If they love Macallan 18-year Highland Single Malt, use that information as a jumping-off point for, say, Macallan 21-year or a lesser-known Highland.”
Illustrations by Ross Macdonald