The Last Taxi

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Building Big

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The Empty City

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Move Over, Manischewitz! Kosher Wine For Grown-Ups

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 6 Comments
Chai, everyone!

Chai, everyone!

For years, kosher wine has been synonymous with syrupy sweet – almost grape jam-like – wine. Some people love it and some people force the stuff down their gullet for the sake of tradition, religion or making grandma’s dry potato kugel palatable.

But wine lovers no longer have to hope Elijah downs their glasses before they get to the gefilte fish. Vintners the world over are producing stand-alone kosher wines that any wine aficionado will really want to drink – any time of year.

I’ve highlighted a few of them below, but this post is – by no means – exhaustive. Perhaps all of these great kosher wines give us reason to be thankful that Passover lasts eight nights. Kosher wine tasting, anyone?

– Departing from our regular focus, this piece does not concentrate specifically on value wines, although some are included in this list –

* Bartenura: Italy ($10-$25). Admittedly, I am the last person who would ever expect to see an Italian kosher wine. But I’m certainly not complaining! From the land of the Blackshirts, we have Bartenura – makers of mostly whites, astis and spumantis. So bring some bubbly to Bubbe! She’ll positively plotz.

* Abarbanel: France ($10-$30). Produced by one the world’s oldest Jewish families, the Abarbanel clan can trace its lineage all the way back to ancient Israel. I guess you could call them the OGs of Oenology. They offer a wide variety of wines (including Cremant) at an assortment of price points. Doesn’t that get you ready to take a tikn?

Backsberg wines

 

* Backsberg: S. Africa ($10-$30). No badkhan! Although it might be surprising to some folks, South Africa has been making wine for centuries and has developed a reputation as one of the impresarios of the New World regions. Backsberg, specifically, has been named one of Wine & Spirits’ Top 100 Wineries of the Year, they have won awards for their mentsh-tastic sustainable business practices and strive to produce highly “drinkable” wines.

* Five Stones: Australia ($15-$25). From the Beckett’s Flat folks in the Margaret River region of Australia, we have Five Stones wines. Offering a wide selection – certified by Kosher Australia, Kashrut Authority of Western Australia and the Orthodox Union USA, these wines are kosher, Mevushal – and guaranteed geshmak!

Baron Herzog: California ($10-$50). Good ol’ Baron Herzog. When Kadem was the only alternative to Manischewitz – and just as sugary – Herzog came on the scene and gave us grown-ups something different to wash down dry brisket. This is a solid, reliable and tasty choice,with a nicely varied selection of varietals and prices. If given as a gift, your hostess will think you’re haimesh.

Dalton: Israel ($12-$50). From the site: “The Dalton Winery is set in the beautiful green, mountainous country of the Upper Galilee, five kilometres from the Lebanese border, overlooking the Hermon Mountain.” These wines have been heavily influenced by Australian winemakers, although they are beginning to dabble in Old World styles for their premium selections. This is a relatively new winery, but they are already renowned for an excellent product.

Yarden wines

Yarden wines

Yarden: Israel ($10-$75+). For the sustainability-conscious seder we have Yarden Wines, from Golan Heights. Both kosher and organic, these wines offer something to please the most rabid rebbe to your shtetle’s strictest shicker. They’ll please your eco-fanatical friends, too!

Golan Heights: Israel ($15-$70). Bordeaux-inspired and gold-medal winning, these are weighty wines for real wine drinkers. No shlock here. Looking for a truly yummy way to celebrate your yontef? Get a few bottles for the whole mishpocha. You’ll come across like a macher, but everyone will be so busy drinking, they really won’t care.

Hagafen Cellars: Napa Valley, CA ($15-$150). Napa Valley and Jew-friendly, too? Oy! I could kvell. With bottles up to $150 or so, this is serious stuff; Manischewitz is to Hagafen what spoons are to the iPod. This ain’t your daddy’s syrupy shmaltz. Established in 1979, this is a gold-medal winning, family-run winery – and highly recommended.

Covenant wines

Covenant wines

Covenant: Napa Valley, CA ($25-$100+). According to Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, Covenant makes the “finest kosher wines money can buy.” They employ both Old and New World techniques to create wines that consistently win awards and acclaim. The vintners, Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd, are bacchanalian balmalochas, for sure. And while their wines may cost a lot of gelt – gloib mir – they will be a delicious part of your celebration.

Zei gesund, dear drinkers! Hope your holidays – all of them, no matter what you’re celebrating – are joyous and delicious. L’Chaim!

* good wines at great value

Chai, everyone!For years, kosher wine has been synonymous with syrupy sweet – almost grape jam-like – wine. Some people love it and some people force the stuff down their gullet for the sake of tradition, religion or making grandma’s dry potato kugel palatable.
But wine lovers no longer have to hope Elijah downs their glasses before they get to the gefilte fish. Vintners the world over are producing stand-alone kosher wines that any wine aficionado will really want to drink – any time of year.
I’ve highlighted a few of them below, but this post is – by no means – exhaustive. Perhaps all of these great kosher wines give us reason to be thankful that Passover lasts eight nights. Kosher wine tasting, anyone?
– Departing from our regular focus, this piece does not concentrate specifically on value wines, although some are included in this list –
* Bartenura: Italy ($10-$25). Admittedly, I am the last person who would ever expect to see an Italian kosher wine. But I’m certainly not complaining! From the land of the Blackshirts, we have Bartenura – makers of mostly whites, astis and spumantis. So bring some bubbly to Bubbe! She’ll positively plotz.
* Abarbanel: France ($10-$30). Produced by one the world’s oldest Jewish families, the Abarbanel clan can trace its lineage all the way back to ancient Israel. I guess you could call them the OGs of Oenology. They offer a wide variety of wines (including Cremant) at an assortment of price points. Doesn’t that get you ready to take a tikn?

* Backsberg: S. Africa ($10-$30). No badkhan! Although it might be surprising to some folks, South Africa has been making wine for centuries and has developed a reputation as one of the impresarios of the New World regions. Backsberg, specifically, has been named one of Wine & Spirits’ Top 100 Wineries of the Year, they have won awards for their mentsh-tastic sustainable business practices and strive to produce highly “drinkable” wines.
* Five Stones: Australia ($15-$25). From the Beckett’s Flat folks in the Margaret River region of Australia, we have Five Stones wines. Offering a wide selection – certified by Kosher Australia, Kashrut Authority of Western Australia and the Orthodox Union USA, these wines are kosher, Mevushal – and guaranteed geshmak!
Baron Herzog: California ($10-$50). Good ol’ Baron Herzog. When Kadem was the only alternative to Manischewitz – and just as sugary – Herzog came on the scene and gave us grown-ups something different to wash down dry brisket. This is a solid, reliable and tasty choice,with a nicely varied selection of varietals and prices. If given as a gift, your hostess will think you’re haimesh.
Dalton: Israel ($12-$50). From the site: “The Dalton Winery is set in the beautiful green, mountainous country of the Upper Galilee, five kilometres from the Lebanese border, overlooking the Hermon Mountain.” These wines have been heavily influenced by Australian winemakers, although they are beginning to dabble in Old World styles for their premium selections. This is a relatively new winery, but they are already renowned for an excellent product.

Yarden winesYarden: Israel ($10-$75+). For the sustainability-conscious seder we have Yarden Wines, from Golan Heights. Both kosher and organic, these wines offer something to please the most rabid rebbe to your shtetle’s strictest shicker. They’ll please your eco-fanatical friends, too!
Golan Heights: Israel ($15-$70). Bordeaux-inspired and gold-medal winning, these are weighty wines for real wine drinkers. No shlock here. Looking for a truly yummy way to celebrate your yontef? Get a few bottles for the whole mishpocha. You’ll come across like a macher, but everyone will be so busy drinking, they really won’t care.
Hagafen Cellars: Napa Valley, CA ($15-$150). Napa Valley and Jew-friendly, too? Oy! I could kvell. With bottles up to $150 or so, this is serious stuff; Manischewitz is to Hagafen what spoons are to the iPod. This ain’t your daddy’s syrupy shmaltz. Established in 1979, this is a gold-medal winning, family-run winery – and highly recommended.

Covenant winesCovenant: Napa Valley, CA ($25-$100+). According to Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, Covenant makes the “finest kosher wines money can buy.” They employ both Old and New World techniques to create wines that consistently win awards and acclaim. The vintners, Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd, are bacchanalian balmalochas, for sure. And while their wines may cost a lot of gelt – gloib mir – they will be a delicious part of your celebration.
Zei gesund, dear drinkers! Hope your holidays – all of them, no matter what you’re celebrating – are joyous and delicious. L’Chaim!
* good wines at great value

Inclined to Syncline: Rhone Varietals From Washington

Posted on by Chip McLaughlin in Great Wines Under $20 | Leave a comment
Two Rhones Make a Right

Two Rhones Make a Right

Being a resident of Washington state, I have the opportunity to try some of the best wines that the state has to offer. One winery that I am super excited about right now is Syncline Winery. Syncline, (a trough of stratified rock in which the beds dip toward each other from either side) embodies it’s name. Located in Lyle, Washington, (Columbia Gorge AVA), Winemaker James Mantone was inspired by what other Washington winemakers had done with traditional Rhone and Burgundian varietals. Having worked at LaVelle Vineyards prior to starting Syncline, James had a soft spot for Pinot Noir, thus the first vintage of Syncline was a small production of Pinot Noir from Celilo Vineyard. After expanding production the following year to include Grenache and Syrah, James began working with vineyards to plant Viognier, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Cinsault, Counoise and Carignan.

James’ love and curiosity for Rhone varietals has come full circle. One wine that I really enjoy is his Subduction Red. Subduction is a blend of Mourvedre (39%), Counoise (19%), Syrah (17%), Grenache (16%), Cinsault (6%) and Carignan (3%). This is a lot of wine for it’s price ($18). Subduction red has a beautiful, dark ruby color at the core with light purple hues around the edge. The aromas of this wine are great: boysenberry, blackberry, toasted hazelnut, slight gaminess and a hint of birch. For a wine to have this many different varietals, it’s easy to balance or structure, but this is not the case with the Subduction. The palate has an initial burst of ripe red raspberries and black cherries with nice, stoney acidity. The mid palate is soft and opens up to flavors of plum, white cocoa, cotton candy and bit of white pepper. The wine has nice structure with good acidity and velvety tannins, most of which come from the French oak barrels that the wine is aged in. The finish lasts for days, again with supple tannins, plum and ripe raspberry.

In a market where the average price for a bottle of wine is $32, the Syncline Subduction Red is a great wine from Washington state that fits within any budget. Definitely check it out as well as some of James’ other wines; you won’t be disappointed! – Chip McLaughlin

syncline family

Two Rhones Make a RightBeing a resident of Washington state, I have the opportunity to try some of the best wines that the state has to offer. One winery that I am super excited about right now is Syncline Winery. Syncline, (a trough of stratified rock in which the beds dip toward each other from either side) embodies it’s name. Located in Lyle, Washington, (Columbia Gorge AVA), Winemaker James Mantone was inspired by what other Washington winemakers had done with traditional Rhone and Burgundian varietals. Having worked at LaVelle Vineyards prior to starting Syncline, James had a soft spot for Pinot Noir, thus the first vintage of Syncline was a small production of Pinot Noir from Celilo Vineyard. After expanding production the following year to include Grenache and Syrah, James began working with vineyards to plant Viognier, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Cinsault, Counoise and Carignan.

James’ love and curiosity for Rhone varietals has come full circle. One wine that I really enjoy is his Subduction Red. Subduction is a blend of Mourvedre (39%), Counoise (19%), Syrah (17%), Grenache (16%), Cinsault (6%) and Carignan (3%). This is a lot of wine for it’s price ($18). Subduction red has a beautiful, dark ruby color at the core with light purple hues around
the edge. The aromas of this wine are great: boysenberry, blackberry, toasted hazelnut, slight gaminess and a hint of birch. For a wine to have this many different varietals, it’s easy to balance or structure, but this is not the case with the Subduction. The palate has an initial burst of ripe red raspberries and black cherries with nice, stoney acidity. The mid palate is soft and opens up to flavors of plum, white cocoa, cotton candy and bit of white pepper. The wine has nice structure with good acidity and velvety tannins, most of which come from the French oak barrels that the wine is aged in. The finish lasts for days, again with supple tannins, plum and ripe raspberry.
In a market where the average price for a bottle of wine is $32, the Syncline Subduction Red is a great wine from Washington state that fits within any budget. Definitely check it out as well as some of James’ other wines; you won’t be disappointed! – Chip McLaughlin

Jacob’s Creek Reserve: Shiraz-ma-tazz

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment
It’s no surprise that Jacob’s Creek has figured out how to make crowd-pleasing wines. They’ve had 164 years to refine their technique. Jacob’s Creek was started when Johann Gramp, a recent immigrant to Australia from Bavaria, got tired of feeling homesick for the wines of his native country, and decided to do something about it. That idea led to one of Australia’s most recognized wine companies, and – especially in the case of the 2006 Reserve Shiraz – juice that is internationally acclaimed and award-winning.
On the nose, the Jacob’s Creek 2006 Reserve Shiraz is all strawberry and plum and cola. In the glass, it’s not as dark and opaque as some of the Barossa Valley Shiraz wines I’ve been tasting lately, but it’s not as heavy and overpowering, either. With its notes of cherry cola and strawberry and plum, it’s extremely approachable and easy to drink. The tannin is nicely integrated and balances well against the flash of heat in the back palate.

And for the price – approximately $12/bottle – imbibers get a great table wine at a great value.

Venture up this creekSometimes a person needs a bottle of wine they can buy and open immediately and just enjoy. A bottle that doesn’t require cellaring or decanting or pairing with a rich, juicy steak. Sometimes what a person really needs is something fresh and approachable at a great price – something like a Jacob’s Creek 2006 Reserve Shiraz.

It’s no surprise that Jacob’s Creek has figured out how to make crowd-pleasing wines.

They’ve had 164 years to refine their technique. Jacob’s Creek was started when Johann Gramp, a recent immigrant to Australia from Bavaria, got tired of feeling homesick for the wines of his native country, and decided to do something about it. That idea led to one of Australia’s most recognized wine companies, and – especially in the case of the 2006 Reserve Shiraz – juice that is internationally acclaimed and award-winning.

On the nose, the Jacob’s Creek 2006 Reserve Shiraz is all strawberry and plum and cola. In the glass, it’s not as dark and opaque as some of the Barossa Valley Shiraz wines I’ve been tasting lately, but it’s not as heavy and overpowering, either. With its notes of cherry cola and strawberry and plum, it’s extremely approachable and easy to drink. The tannin is nicely integrated and balances well against the flash of heat in the back palate.
And for the price – approximately $12/bottle – imbibers get a great table wine at a great value.

Beaujolais Nouveau "Vieux"

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Leave a comment

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 - Label

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well…France), there lived a man named George DuBoeuf. Actually, there lives a man. At 77, he’s still very much alive – in a region of the land they call Beaujolais. In fact, in that faraway land, in that particular region, George DuBoeuf is king: he is le roi du Beaujolais (the king of Beaujolais).

DuBoeuf built his empire on a wine called Beaujolais Nouveau. If you’ve seen the balloons and fliers and felt the anticipation like the coming of a grand parade, than perhaps you already know that Beaujolais Nouveau is released – to varying levels of press and fanfare – every year on the third Thursday of November. The wine is made from the very first harvest of the region’s non-cru Gamay grapes, and has usually been in bottle for less than two months before landing in festival-colored bottles, all around the world.

Beaujolais has been drinking Nouveau for ages, as a way to celebrate the end of the harvest. Up until the 1930s, Beaujolais Nouveau was a local drink to toast a local job well done. It was brilliant marketers (King DuBoeuf being one of the most brilliant), who realized the potential to take this small-time juice into the Big Leagues. Soon there were international competitions/races for who would get the first bottle. Shipments came by plane, train and hot air balloon. The marketing created a frenzy.

And, like most frenzies, as soon as people calmed down a little, the bloom fell off the rose.

For all of the rejoicing, Beaujolais Nouveau often gets a pretty bad rap. Critics pan the strong banana notes in the wine (mostly due to a particular strand of yeast used for fermentation). While the wine has a little tannin, it’s often pretty thin and tropical and no match for the lively and beautiful Beaujolais that sees a little more aging.

But…

Despite the emphasis on new and young and immediate with Beaujolais Nouveau, the wine can actually last a year or two in bottle. As it gets older, the fruit falls out – which was exactly what I was hoping for. By the time I opened my bottle in February, there was very little evidence of banana. The fruit that remained was rich cranberry, with touches of cherry and strawberry.

Beaujolais Nouveau promises fun, and my “aged” Nouveau was exactly that. Light and easy to drink, and a bargain Beaujolais, to boot! A fantastic afternoon wine; something to get the party started.

I’ll probably pick up a bottle or two next year, and hang onto it awhile. Instead of racing to meet next November’s hot air balloons, I’ll wait until the crowd dies down. I plan to pair my Beaujolais Nouveau with kite-flying and summer picnics, instead.

Just OK at A.O.C.

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

AOC

AOC

I recently had an instant message conversation with a friend that went something like this:

Her: Wearing big, goofy grin cuz Match guy emailed me back

Me: U met him yet?

Her: Going out Sat!!

Me: U been emailing him a lot?

Her: Ya and our emails are amazing

Me: Huh. Maybe u should stop emailing him, cuz it just gets really awkward when u get comfortable emailing someone all the time and u build up all of these expectations and then u finally meet him in person and find out he’s a tool.

I know, it was an awful thing to say. She was so excited, and I blew in like a thunderstorm and rained all over her parade.

This is how I felt about A.O.C.

I had wanted to try chef Suzanne Goin and sommelier Caroline Styne’s second restaurant ever since it opened, back in 2002. The reviews always praise delicious – if expensive – food, and Goin and Styne are known as top-tier professionals who know what they’re doing. The food, as one might expect with a name like A.O.C. (the abbreviation for appellation d’origine contrôlée, meaning “controlled designation of origin” – the geographical system that determines how French wines are labeled), is French-influenced. The menu also has tastes of the Mediterranean (including Spain and Italy), and everything is made in a locally produced, seasonal California style.

With its beiges and creams and splashes of dark brown, the restaurant itself is warm…yet neutral. It’s like the in-laws that seem so happy to see you on Christmas Eve, and then immediately stop talking right after the appetizers: They’re great and you’re pretty sure they love you…but there’s part of you that’s just not quite sure. There is a great build-up, you see, but by the time you’re all packed up to go home, it’s hard not to feel disappointed…

My friend and I visited A.O.C during dineLA, so the restaurant does deserve a bit of a pass. Sort of. But it wasn’t a rushed waitstaff, or unanswered questions about the menu that was the problem. The issue was extremely high prices (even during restaurant week: $44 per person, plus tax and tip), for food that under-delivered. I had the roasted pear, endive hazelnut and St. Agur salad, which was very pleasant. The grilled chicken, escarole, anchovy and parmesan was very satisfying to eat – but would have been more gratifying had there been more of it. And the pumpkin pot de creme with pecans, brown sugar cream and butter cookies was ok, but after a few quarter spoonfuls, I pushed it aside in favor of spending my calories on the wine.

The wine.

I had missed a wine class earlier in the week, and was looking forward to going to A.O.C as an opportunity to catch up on some of the regions/varietals that had been poured; wines like Priorat and Rioja, Barolo and Gavi. But when I read to our server from the list of twenty options, she shook her head every single time. She kept apologizing, and clearly felt bad about the situation. When she escaped from the table, it was clear that she felt she hadn’t fled fast enough. I felt bad for asking in the first place.

Ok, ok. There’s the whole A.O.C. thing – maybe I should’ve just expected French wine. But the wine list isn’t exclusively French – not at all. And with charcuterie such as jamon serrano, lomo and coppa, soppressata and cacciatorini, I would expect at least a smattering of wines to pair with countries of origin.

I was disappointed.

This is not to say that the wine list wasn’t excellent – because there were great wines and an interesting diversity. There were pages of wines available by the glass, carafe and/or bottle, (which can be a nice way to get a bit more for the money). Maybe, if I hadn’t been so hungry and so excited to catch up with my class, my experience at A.O.C. would’ve been entirely different.

Maybe.

But I was looking for love, and left feeling let down. I liked A.O.C., and might even try it again. But if I do go again, I will go without any expectations, and I’ll probably keep things casual. You know, like lunch.

Vertical Wine Bistro’s New Direction

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 4 Comments

Let's get Vertical

Let's get Vertical

From the time Vertical Wine Bistro opened in the fall of 2006, they have been recognized as a refreshing infusion into Pasadena’s somewhat staid restaurant culture. Founder Gale Anne Hurd stocked her bar with an extensive wine collection, and the food began winning awards and acclaim by January 2007.

But the only constant is change (and death and taxes), and Vertical soon found itself in a sort of musical chairs game of gastronomy, as one chef left the bistro and was replaced by another. Now, post-Sara Levine and Doug Weston, lauded chef Laurent Quenioux (of Bistro K and Bistro LQ fame), is manning the stoves and doing his part to push Pasadena’s culinary envelope just a little, while striving to turn Vertical into a destination worthy of that long and punishing drive to…you know…out there, up the 110 or whatever.

And just as the chefs were in and out, so it went, as well, for Vertical’s wine specialists. Although the bistro opened without a sommelier, Hurd brought in David Haskell – self-professed “wine pimp” – in the fall of 2009, to revamp and re-invigorate their wine list and seasonal California menu. But the “pimp” lacked stamina, and was out on the street in nine* months’ time.

Manuel Mesta took over the beverage menu in March of 2010, overseeing not only the near-biblical wine list, but also the beer and cocktail selections, as well as general operations at the bistro.

I was invited to try the wine bar’s latest incarnation. I felt, all-in-all, that things seem to be looking up at Vertical.

My companion for the evening, Aaron Tell of The Savory Hunter, and I were treated to an assortment of small and large dishes, incorporating some of the bistro’s historically beloved bites, as well as chef Quenioux’s new fare. But before we ordered, we were welcomed to our meal with sexy flutes of NV Gruet Brut Rose.

Everything goes better with bubbly.

Say cheese, photo courtesy The Savory Hunter

Say cheese, photo courtesy The Savory Hunter

We started with an impeccable cheese plate which included Brillat Savarin, Sao Jorge and Valdeon (perfect temperature, perfect pungent creaminess). After the cheese plate, we were treated to Vertical’s famous comte grilled cheese with zucchini flowers and tortilla soup (was ok); and the wild baby argula salad (note that there were no actual wild babies mixed into the greens, but there was some blue cheese, Asian pear and a riesling vinaigrette). The corn fritters with smoked salmon and creme fraiche came next (a nice blend of textures, in a package that looked like some sort of nigiri sushi-cum-Viennese pastry and tasted pretty good); and then mussels with chorizo (lovely balance between the spiced earthiness of the chorizo, against the delicate sweet/umami mussels). There was creamy polenta with poblano chiles and queso fresco (which I loved, due to a homesickness for Southern-style cheese grits, but did not win Aaron over); and truffled macaroni and cheese (which was delicious, because truffled mac and cheese must be delicious according to natural law – but was not outstanding). And then came the hollow leg and the duck two ways: confit leg and seared breast with pomegranate glaze, yuzu curd, shishito puree and miso jus (excellent – I could’ve eaten the confit for days; deserted island food). We ended with profiteroles with vanilla and hazelnut gelato, and Vertical’s celebrated molten chocolate cake (there is absolutely nothing not to love about both of these desserts).

Vertical's duck two ways, photo courtesy The Savory Hunter

Vertical's duck two ways, photo courtesy The Savory Hunter

With nearly every course, Manuel dutifully set down another glass of wine. 2004 Sagrantino di Montefalco Ugolino, Terre de’Trinci, and Sagrantino di Montefalc, from Umbria. There was a 2008 Les Chailloux sancerre at the very end, which – in my overstuffedness – I forgot to write down the name of the producer, but was somehow able to make a valiant effort toward polishing off the glass (because I suffer for my art).

For me, there was nothing more enjoyable than simply taking in the space and the experience. Vertical is a lovely restaurant, all dark wood, warm lighting, and – on this night – a raging fire burning in the hearth on the far wall of the dining room. The ceiling light fixtures undulate like ripply pads of butter, the booths are chocolate brown, high-backed and luxuriously deep. Vertical feels decadent – and that’s before mentioning the gleaming, glass-enclosed wall of wines, separating the bar from the dining room.

Sagrantino di Montefalco Ugolino

Sagrantino di Montefalco Ugolino

There are over 400 wines in all – with many new European additions, courtesy of Mr. Mesta – and a monumental menu of 100 by the glass. Vertical offers seven flights, with three selections each: Sparkling ($35), Spain ($30), Italy ($22), USA ($40), Greece ($18), Beer ($12), and the “Wine Dude Flight” – one of the holdovers from the Haskell days – where a flight is custom crafted to the diner’s taste ($45). By the bottle, prices range from high $20’s to almost $1500 for a 2001 Petrus (if you got it like that).

Would I drive all the way from LA, just to dine again at Vertical? To be honest, probably not. But I would make the drive for the pairing of ambiance and comfort foods and that incredible wine list. And I’d order the duck all over again; I just hope it hasn’t been replaced by the time I go back.

*updated at Haskell’s request 1/11/11

Got That Boom Boom: Bodega Wine Bar

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

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Too Bodegaliscious for Me

Last week I wrote a review of Corkbar, one of LA’s many new venues for vinophiles.

This week, I’m writing about Bodega. Bodega is a night club wine bar with locations in Santa Monica, Hollywood and Pasadena. Bodega’s website describes their raison d’etre thusly:

We like to drink wine. Not so much sniff it, stare at it, swirl it or try to describe it with funny words… but mostly just drink it. And most of our wines are the same price so it’s easy to try different things. Come check out the original in Pasadena or the new one in Santa Monica.

Cool. I can dig it. They’ve built an oasis for thirsty souls to seek refuge and quench themselves. No pretense or pretension. They’re all about sitting down, strapping in and getting sauced. I can dig that, too.

But here’s the part where I get hung up a little: They call themselves a wine bar. And when I go to a wine bar, I’m really doing it for the wine. If I want to drink just any old fermented thing, I’ll reach for a can of Four Loco. Or, actually, I’ll probably go to a regular bar – a bar that isn’t focused on wine. A bar where no one is expected to sniff, stare or swirl. Well. Not their wine, anyway.

Bodega feels more like a bar-bar than a wine bar. To wit, they offer only 12 reds and 12 whites, 3 dessert wines, 3 bottles of bubbles and beer, sake and soju. In every category, everything is – more or less – the same level of quality, and nothing you wouldn’t be able to find at a shop near you. Incidentally, this also keeps prices low-low-low.

Bodega offers a small plate menu of unfussy foods like grilled cheese, hummus and pita, a few salads and an array of pizzas. They offer long tables with communal seating, and just a few smaller tables arranged in-between groupings of low, cushion-y stools. They offer their take on the vibe like this: “…it’s a great blend of a casual setting with lots of things to munch on and share. We tried to make our menu kinda like that.”

Here’s the other thing about Bodega: It’s dark and it’s loud. Like, live-DJs-on-weekends and this-one-goes-to-11 loud. Every time I’ve been, my fellow geezers and I get run off after 9pm because the full-tilt cranial assault makes our dentures rattle.

Dude. It’s all coming clear – the straight-forward wine menu, the casual descriptors, the dark, the loud, the easy-breezy munchy food, the great big party communal vibe: Bodega’s built for young people. It’s a night club without the dancing and full bar. It’s a place to see and be seen; it’s a place to pick up digits – but not the details about what you’re drinking. If you’re feeling young and hot and flirty, go to Bodega. Go to Bodega for great drink specials and pizza. Go to Bodega because there are three, easy-to-access locations. Just don’t go to Bodega for wine.