LA wine bars come in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles, so Decanter and Ray Isle have put together a guide for wine aficionados.
These are the bars with the wine lists worth searching out in the City of Angels.
Wine Director/co-owner Matthew Kaner’s retro-cool spot lures a constant crowd with its excellent small plates menu (ricotta and fig toast with mint and honey, if you’re leaning towards an off-dry white; crisp pork terrine served with tomatillo salsa and housemade tortillas, if you’re after something more substantial, both food- and wine-wise) and a far-reaching wine list (50+ bottles, from basics like Henriot’s Brut Souverain Champagne to quirkier choices like Sonoma-based Scribe Winery’s “Ode to Emil #VI” Sylvaner). What makes it worth the pilgrimage across the hills to Sherman Oaks, though, is Kaner’s ambitious, daily-changing selection of older—often much older—vintages by the glass, written on a chalkboard above the bar. Recent offerings included bottles such as a ’95 Kathryn Kennedy Lateral ($30/glass) and a 1959 Mascarello Barolo ($75/glass), but check Augustine’s Facebook page for up-to-date listings. Augustinwinebar.com
The grand dame of LA wine bars—a comment that belies its lively, bustling vibe—A.O.C. opened in the Wilshire district in 2002, an extension of the partnership that chef Suzanne Goin and wine director Carolyn Styne first established with their acclaimed restaurant Lucques. Goin’s culinary skills have made her a Los Angeles icon (and the 2016 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s award for Outstanding Chef in America) and Styne’s ability to fashion distinctive but approachable lists is unparalleled. Key consideration here: A.O.C. doesn’t shut down between lunch and dinner service, making it the perfect spot for a mid-afternoon bite—maybe a glass of 2013 Tenute delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso with a plate of Spanish fried chicken with romesco aïoli and chili-cumin butter. Or grab a bottle of something more ambitious like a 2004 Allemand Cornas, modestly priced at $113, and while away the entire afternoon. Aocwinebar.com
Wally’s Vinoteca, Beverly Hills
One of the city’s premier wine shops, Wally’s Wine & Spirits broke out of its retail mold in 2014 when it opened Wally’s Vinoteca in Beverly Hills. The décor is luxe-rustic—thick marble tables, handmade wooden shelving—and the prices on the 100 wines served by the glass range from modest (Leitz Dragonstone Riesling for $12) to pull-out-the-bank-card (2000 Ch. Cheval Blanc for $250). Chef David Feau’s cooking is nuanced and smart (he earned four stars from the LA Times during his earlier tenure at The Royce), but the biggest draw may be the fact that any bottle from the massive selection at the retail shop can be drunk at the wine bar for a $40 corkage fee—not a bargain for inexpensive choices, but a very good deal when it comes to wines in the higher reaches. Wallysbeverlyhills.com
Vertical Wine Bistro
Ascend the wrought-iron staircase to this longtime, Old Town Pasadena bar, and you’ll achieve two goals. The first is relaxation, thanks to the soothingly lit, library-feeling décor; key after a day of driving around LA’s endless freeways. The second, more importantly, is access to some beguiling prices on cellared wines—not so much superstar rarities as appealing options like a 2005 Albert Grivault Meursault for $98, a 2009 Alion Ribera del Duero for $110 or a 2004 Leonetti Cellars Sangiovese from Washington State for $160. (The glass list sticks to more recent vintages.) Also, though technically Vertical could be called a wine bar, the “bistro” in the name is borne out on the menu, whcih offers everything from charcuterie and an extensive raw bar up through mains like braised heritage pork shoulder and grilled wild halibut. Verticalwinebistro.com
A few key things to know about this Santa Monica wine shop-cum-bar. First, it’s the creation of Rustic Canyon restaurant group wine director Kathryn Coker, one of LA’s top wine talents. Second, the 250+ bottle choices (18 by the glass) are both wide-ranging (Coker’s tastes lean towards Burgundy, Loire whites, and cutting-edge California producers) and well-priced (any bottle off the store shelves can be opened in the bar for an additional $15). Third, unlike with most wine bars, here chef Jeremy Fox’s menu was specifically designed to go with Coker’s wines—a rare choice for a lauded chef to make. Finally, the place is just so cool—and not in an annoying way: in an I’m-really-happy-to-be-sitting-here way. From the refurbished art deco building to the Milo & Olive baguettes to the five-cheese macaroni gratin (with spicy Calabrian ‘nduja as an add-on) the entire feel is of a piece, and impossible to resist. Esterswineshop.com
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