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Q&A: Lou Amdur, Los Angeles Magazine’s New Wine Columnist!
The L.A. wine world let out a collective groan when we heard Lou was closing last spring. Lou Amdur’s cozy Hollywood wine bar was more than a drinking destination. It was part oenology class, part unfussy retreat, part pig-candy dispenser, but mostly, it was a place to hang out with Lou. Amdur’s enthusiasm and knowhow for all things wine made regulars of us all, and honestly, we’ve felt a little lost without him. But we can all fret no more! The October issue of Los Angeles magazine—on newsstands now—features the debut column from Amdur, called “Lou on Wine” (clever, no?). Every-other month, he’ll discuss what he likes to call “marginal wines,” rare styles that may not get all the attention, but whose quirky charms are worth celebrating. You can see his thoughts on France’s Menu Pineau in this month’s issue. But first we wanted to check in with Amdur to find out what he’s been up to the last six months. The answer is exactly what we hoped: planning for Lou 2.0, drinking wine, and, um, making vermouth in his garage. Sweet.
So, what have you been up to since Lou closed?
I’ve done a bit of travelling: first, San Fransciso (Mission Chinese—yay!) and the Sierra Foothills (Hank Beckmeyer and Gideon Bienstock, double yay!), and then a long-planned trip to the south of Italy (Campania and Sicily). Back in Los Angeles and with my evenings free, I have been able to dine out a bit, and have enjoyed eating at places like Salt’s Cure, Tsujita, and Night + Market. It has also been great to connect with Rory Harrington, Zach Pollack, and Steve Samson at Sotto. These folks kindly hosted several wine chats this summer at Sotto with myself and Dr. Jeremy Parzen. (We are going to have another chat in November with the most radical winemaker in Italy, Frank Cornelissen.)
Are we going to see Lou 2.0 anytime soon?
I am looking for a space, but the search is proving more daunting than I anticipated. After years of living in Hollywood with a daily commute to work in Santa Monica, I believe that one key to a sane life in L.A. is minimizing your time on the freeway during rush hour. So, I want to find a location that I can bike to. I pray that I find something soon.
What do you miss most about running Lou?
I miss having delicious dialogue with my customers nearly every day of the week. You learn in nursery school (hopefully) that sharing is good, and it is true! Owning a wine bar allows you to share self-indulgently your personal enthusiasms with customers. It is gratifying and fun to turn customers on to a wine they might dig, “here, you must try a taste of this profound, single-vineyard Rotgipfler!” How do you know you are not a Rotgipfler person if you have never had a really, good Rotgipfler?
What do you not miss at all?
I do not miss the surprise inspections by the Health Department. They are nerve-racking.
What are we going to learn from you in Los Angeles magazine every month?
Remember that kid on the margins in junior high, the kid with the pocket protector and horn rimmed glasses held together with Scotch tape and a paperclip? There are wines that are just like that. They march to a different drummer, but they have treasure to offer if you only let them. I want to write about marginal wines, by which I mean wines that are nearly extinct, or made from antique grapes and methods that have become obscure because of the vagaries of history and taste. To be sure, just because something is old and obscure does not mean it is any good, but these old-timey wines are, for me, a source of continuous surprise and delight. It is all too easy to find well-crafted, pleasing, inoffensive California Chardonnay for $25, but less easy to locate an aromatic, acid-saturated $14 Napa Sauvignon Musqué that will light up your brain.
What’s the one thing going on in the wine world that has you most excited right now?
There is no one thing I am most excited about—there are many! Here is a very short list:
1. The increasingly well-made and fresh white wines coming from Roussillon and the south of Italy.
2. In the Loire, it is fun to see vigneron pushing the limits with scorned grape varieties e.g., Grolleau (Oliver Cousin and Jo Pithon).
3. I fucking love good cru Beaujolais. LOVE. The growers that turned Beaujolais on its head in the 80s (the gang of five) are now joined by a younger generation who continue to push the limits of what can be done in the appellation.
4. Pétillant naturel and old school Prosecco colfundo.
5. The small, but steadily increasing number of wines coming from California that are honestly made—fresh, not oaky, and of moderate alcohol levels.
6. Old vine, bush-trained, pre-phylloxera red wines made from Nerello Mascalese grown at high altitudes on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna. This is going to turn out to be one of the very best places in Italy to grow wine grapes.
Also, this summer, I have been learning as much as I can about an underappreciated wine: Vermouth. I am trying my hand at growing Vermouth herbs like wormwood (very slow growing—the seedlings I started in May are now only about three inches tall) and veronica, reading up on the history and manufacture of Vermouth, and—strictly for the sake of science—drinking a fair amount of it. One discovery: it is scary how much ice-cold Vermouth I can guzzle on a hot summer day with a few ice cubes, a glug of sparkling water, and maybe a thin slice of orange. Most fun of all: I have been formulating experimental vermouth in my subterranean beverage laboratory, AKA, my garage. Note: there is more to making Vermouth than just simmering wine with herbs and sugar. That is mulled wine, not Vermouth
What was the last great bottle you opened?
I can tell you the most memorable bottle I opened recently—a 1976 Vouvray demi-sec from Domaine Bisbarre that I brought to a dinner party. Dark gold, most of the sugar has resolved into a complex, honeyed, and nutty mouthful. I have had Vouvray with this much bottle age only once or twice, but now I know that I need more of it in my life.