Discerning L.A. drinkers recognize the names of mixologists such as Julian Cox and Audrey Saunders, but when have you lately witnessed someone outside the wine business freaking out over a wine list? Cocktails are taking mindshare away from wine, and it’s easy to see why: Cocktails are a performance—we get to watch a bartender produce something delicious before our eyes. Cocktails are also reproducible. I expect that when I order another Bloody Mary at Bäco Mercat, it will taste like the first. In contrast, wine is slow and protean, and it can be difficult to understand that as with a bartender, a human being made the wine in our glass. The result is that tuned-in sommeliers are having a hard time finding the appropriate venue to ply their craft in L.A. Peter Birmingham, the gifted onetime sommelier at Norman’s and Hatfield’s, has left the city. Bastide’s Pieter Verheyde has returned to Belgium. I know of a young, smart, and charismatic wine director who was fired because his list was “too creative.” Within my own professional wine tribe, terroir is gospel, but I no longer believe that the way to cocktail chauvinists’ hearts is to bore them about the soul of the earth. Drinkers crave stories involving personalities. They want to hear of the crotchety vignerons who cling to the unfashionable grapes of their region. Such tenacity makes for a compelling drink. We all have stories to tell; we just have to uncork them.
Illustration by Clint Hansen