Decoding the Wine List: California Central Coast Reds

L.A. wine gurus tell you what to drink and how to pair it at Ocean Prime, Union, and Son of a Gun

You might be the default expert always tasked with selecting a wine when out to dinner, or perhaps you’re the lover of wine with little care for the myriad foreign words on a wine list. Whatever is true for you, let your eyes glaze over the menu because we’re asking wine experts from restaurants around Los Angeles to divulge a favorite category-specific wine on their list and some dishes that would make an excellent pairing.

This month’s wine: California Central Coast reds. From Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, there’s no shortage of beautifully structured red wines that demonstrate the winemaker’s difficult task of achieving balance between expressive fruit, mineralbity, acid, and alcohol. There is, however, generally speaking, a shortage of these wines—many of which are small-production, under 1,000 cases, some even under 100 cases. And many end up as exclusive, restaurant-only wines.

We pegged three L.A. wine pros who love to hunt down those boutique gems, even if it means the bottles will exist on their menu for only a short period of time. So set aside the wine list and ask for these wine gurus—tell ’em you’re keen to try that pairing you read about on Liquid L.A. Let us know how it goes.

1. OCEANPRIMEDi Bruno 2008 Vino Rosso, Santa Barbara County 

Pick by Jonathan Mitchell, assistant general manager and wine director, Ocean Prime Beverly Hills

The grapes: “A wild blend of Grenache, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Carignane, and Merlot.”

Back story: “First off, I love blends. Blending is the winemaker’s equivalent to a great chef combining ingredients to come up with a unique end-product. This wine is made by two of my favorite people in the wine biz: Bruno d’Alfonso, of Sanford Winery and Chalone Vineyards, and his lovely wife Kris Curran, of Seasmoke and Foley fame. The Di Bruno Rosso is a very playful blend of unlikely varietal bedfellows—it’s Rhone meets Tuscany meets Spain meets Piedmont meets Bordeaux. The first time I tasted it, Bruno poured me a glass right from the fermentation tank and I was floored.”

Tastes like: “Easy drinking and soft, this wine boasts fresh red fruit, redolent of ripe red raspberries, red plum, Bing cherry, and red licorice, with herbal, spicy, and smoky notes on the mid-palate. It finishes with a racy acidity, and has a nice persistent finish, beckoning you have one more sip, then another, of course.”

On the wine list: Available by the glass and by the bottle.

At Ocean Prime Beverly Hills, pair it with: “Goes fantastic with our yellowfin tuna—a block cut of yellowfin tuna, seared and served with a black truffle jus, toasted garlic, button mushrooms, marble potatoes, red onion, English peas, fava beans, and fresh lemon, topped with pea shoots tossed in lemon juice and kosher salt, black truffle slices, and truffle oil. Yum.”


Habit 2013 Cabernet Franc Curtis Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley

Pick by George Pitsironis, wine director, Union in Pasadena

The grape: “100 percent Cabernet Franc, which is one of my favorite red varieties for the elegance it can capture as well as the floral qualities that emerge when properly ripened on the vine.”

Back story: “Habit Wines are the passion project of fellow vintner Jeff Fisher. Habit focuses on pure crisp whites and restrained and balanced reds from Santa Barbara County. The Habit Cabernet Franc current release is already sold out, but we still have a case of it at Union. A lighter style of Cab Franc that is really pure-fruited with a great floral edge that is intoxicating.”

Tastes like: “Cabernet Franc is truly a sexy wine. 80 percent whole-cluster ferment, bright dark fruits lead the nose with layers of violets, lead pencil shavings, earth and spice with a hint of smoked sweet bell pepper as well. Only 49 cases were produced of this medium-bodied Cabernet Franc, which is more in the Chinon style. Only 49 cases produced.”

On the wine list: Available by the bottle.

At Union, pair it with: “Our wild mushrooms and polenta, pork fennel sausage, tagliatelle with pork ragu, ricotta cavatelli, oxtail agnolotti, and all our pork entrees as well as our beef stracotto.”

SONofaGUN (1)Broc Cellars 2012 Grenache, Santa Barbara County

Pick by: Helen Johannesen, wine director at Son of a Gun in Beverly Grove

The grape: “100 percent Grenache”

Back story: “You won’t find this wine in the marketplace because it’s exclusive to restaurants. When I first tasted this Grenache, I was with Kimmy Wade, our GM and assistant wine director and we both fell in love with it immediately. Broc Cellars is biodynamic, organic, and sustainable, and you can taste that energy in the wines. The winery uses minimal modern equipment and a lot of heart and soul.”

Tastes like: “It has an internal freshness that is undeniable, followed by layers of soft Grenache strokes and textures. Beautiful fruit is balanced with an earthy bouquet and while the wine is lighter in body, it satisfies the palate with its roundness.”

On the wine list: Available by the bottle on the reserve list.

At Son of a Gun, pair it with: “Because it doesn’t have too much of a tannic structure, it really can pair well with our seafood-centric menu. It’s great with the fried chicken sandwich, or the crispy brussel sprouts and shows best with a bit of chill on the bottle.”