09/09/2020 On this page find out where to drink wine in LA
Wine lovers rejoice - Los Angeles’s wine scene has exploded recently, with a slew of natural wine bars joining more traditional outlets
Dodger Stadium is not known for its wine list. It does have some excellent craft beer, sourced from a host of LA breweries, including ‘Dodger Blonde’, brewed especially for Chavez Ravine by AB InBev-owned LA brand Golden Road - but not much wine, or least nothing that would make it worth the detour if you don’t like baseball. But if you’re looking for something grape-based before or after a game, then the home of LA’s National League baseball team is not a bad place to start.
It’s here, in the heart of LA, that a wine revolution - or perhaps we should say, revival - is taking place. To the west of Dodger Stadium, in the neighborhoods of Echo Park and Silver Lake, natural wine is booming courtesy of places like Bar Bandini and Silverlake Wine; and to the south-east, you’ll find the ancient and modern of LA wine-making, in the shape of the San Antonio Winery (founded 1917) and Angeleno Wine Company (2015).
The latter was the first urban winery to be founded in LA since the former, which shows how things sagged a little in the 20th century, courtesy of LA’s burgeoning size, ‘Anaheim Disease’ and the long shadow cast by the madness of Prohibition. San Antonio Winery, as it goes, didn’t do too badly out of the latter, thriving courtesy of a loophole that allowed for sacramental wine to be made (and quite a lot of it too).
San Antonio was following in the footsteps of Spanish missionaries, who first planted vines here in the late 18th century, and an aptly-named Frenchman, Jean Louis Vigne, who made a success of his LA winery in the middle of the 19th century. Since the late 19th century, though, LA has gradually become a wine backwater - until now. In the last few years, it’s developed into one of the USA’s most interesting towns for oenophiles, with new wineries, bars, and shops popping up all over. Here’s where to get a taste for LA’s wine scene:
The brainchild of business partners Amy Luftig Viste and Jasper Dickson, Angeleno was founded with the intention of reviving Los Angeles’ winemaking tradition. They use grapes from the Alonso Family Vineyard in Santa Clarita, including Tannat and Tempranillo, and from the Swayze vineyard in the Antelope Valley, where they source Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc; all wines are natural and vegan. The best place to try their balanced, flavourful wines is in the colorful and airy tasting room on-site at the winery close to Los Angeles State Park.
Attention to detail is the key to Augustine. From the layout of the bar to the structure of the wine list, this place bears all the weight of wine’s traditions without ever looking likely to be crushed by them. There’s a long L-shaped bar, small booths, a piano and bottles, and books stacked here and there. On the wine list, meanwhile, you’ll find smart selections from Old and New Worlds, from Bordeaux, Roussillon, Napa, and Paso Robles, and there’s a chalkboard listing the vintage options of the day (and some of the options are very vintage). Food plays a similar balancing act, taking in cheese, charcuterie, pork chops, and California King Salmon.
If anywhere is the epicenter of LA’s natural wine scene, then this might be it. Named for Arturo Bandini, the alter-ego of LA author John Fante, and opened in 2015, it’s a stylish, small, and sometimes sunlit bar, offering eight California-made wines on tap (plus beer), and plenty more by the glass and bottle. The philosophy is simple, or, to put it another way, natural. Pop-up eats are often on the menu, and always worth trying. The atmosphere is everything here: the words Bandini are picked out on the shop-front windows, casting elegant shadows in the bar as the sun goes down.
This is going to sound annoying but stick with it. Bar Covell doesn’t have a wine list, but the server will aim to find you something you’ll like based on what you feel like, drawn from a list of 150 available by the glass. Amazingly, it works, which is why Covell has just celebrated its tenth birthday. Co-owner Matthew Kaner cut his teeth at Silverlake Wine, and the unpretentious approach to something that can often be a little bit pretentious - wine - operates here, too. This tight, dimly-lit little place serves cheese and charcuterie alongside its wine.
While connoisseurs waffle on about Terroir and minerality, much of wine’s real magic is down to the blend, when different grapes, or grapes from different spots, are mixed together to create something that sings. That’s the idea behind Blending Lab Winery, where three friends - Michael Keller, Chris Payne, and Magdalena Wojcik - blend wines for sale (including from their on-site taproom), and host Angelenos for classes in which they hand on their blending nous.
Within spitting distance of the Pacific Ocean, and far from LA’s natural wine epicenter, is where you’ll find Esters, a shop and wine bar set in an art deco building with high ceilings and fixtures and fittings in subtle tones. Wine director Kathryn Coker has put together a wine list of more than 300 selections, with the emphasis on Burgundy. It’s a long way from Echo Park. There’s simple yet inventive food, too, thanks to chef Jessica Liu.
In the heart of LA’s ‘outdoor museum’, The Art District, where every surface seems to be covered with a mural of some kind or another, you’ll find the Pour Haus, which is not a grim 19th-century English poverty punishment but an excellent, laid-back, good value wine bar. Unlike many wine bars, the food dips its toes beyond the cheese n’ charcuterie ghetto into some distinctly LA foodstuffs, like oxtail tacos.
If Ester feels a long way from the growing natural wine scene in LA, then Wally’s might as well be on a different planet; the wine list has 11 pages of red Burgundy. It’s a grand place for a well-upholstered part of town, with prices to match. It might not appeal to everyone, but in LA Wally’s is pretty much unique.