Lou – I have to say this right up front: the aforementioned Lou (a fellow Minnesota escapee, by the way) provides on this night a silly quantity of wine and grossly undercharges me for it.
Anyhoo, this is a little wine bar/restaurant tucked into in one of those corner strip malls that, in any east coast city, would mean culinary disaster…a bad take on the sub/hoagie/grinder genre, mediocre pizza, or horrid MSG-instead-of-flavor Chinese takeout. Here in LA, it very often means something awesome, though that awesomeness is more typically confined to non-western foodstuffs. In any case, I doubt many people are casually driving down Vine, see the sign out front, and opine, “hey, honey, there’s a sign says ‘Lou’…let’s stop there and see about dinner.” Or, I dunno, maybe in LA people do exactly this sort of thing. But I suspect that, to be here, one has to want to be here. Well: I do.
I glance at the menu, which looks interesting, but I’m here on a Monday and so the fixed-price “Monday supper” is offered in its stead. Not in the mood for dessert and such, I fail to partake. Given the amount of wine I’m about to encounter, this is an exceedingly regrettable error of judgment, though I won’t necessarily realize this until the next morning’s head-throb. Instead, I snack my way through the menu’s grazing options: candied bacon, a light and delicious chanterelle and goat cheese tart, salad, bread (both natural and garlic-toasted), cheese, and so forth. Everything is fine to better-than-fine, and serves the wine well…and since wine is most definitely the focus here, that’s OK. Pretty much everything liquid is offered in two tasting sizes and by the bottle. As for what’s on the list: natural, “natural,” alternative, interesting. Not fully-described in most cases, so to know exactly what you’re drinking you’ll either need to see the bottle or have a conversation with one of the staff, and given how often aromas and tastes roam afield from the norm, I would highly recommend the latter. I suspect they would, too.
Laroche “Domaine aux Moines” 2001 Savennières-Roche aux Moines (Loire) – Layers of oxidation. Fulsome with a barky, drying palate. Snow globe-like with its swirling tartrates (and my pour is far from the bottom of the bottle). Copper-jacketed and starting to preserve itself in amber. I spend a good twenty minutes trying to decide if I like this, and never quite come to a conclusion. (11/10)
Bornard 2007 Arbois Pupillin Ploussard “La Chamade” (Jura) – Delicate and sweetly pretty, like a country girl in gingham and braids, or perhaps a Norman Rockwell portrait of same. Succulent. (11/10)
Tedeschi 2007 Monteviglio “Spungola Bellaria” Pignoletto (Emilia Romagna) – Pine and tarragon with a slight prickle, though the latter doesn’t rise to a fully tactile sensation, preferring to remain a background shade. Seems to sweeten or dry as each accompanying food requires, which is a neat trick, and a small glass taken an hour later has grown in both aroma and richness. Fabulous wine. (11/10)
Causses Marines 2008 Gaillac “Les Greilles” (Southwest France) – Lemon and ripe apple, but there’s more going on here than just a few fruit descriptors. It’s a kind of ineffable complexity, though, which is why my note stops where it does. There’s a sheen and a fairly deep core, but I couldn’t put a name or specific descriptor to either. Very good. (11/10)
Giard “Domaine du Manoir de Montreuil” Cidre Pays d’Auge “Cambremer” (Normandy) – Absolutely opaque and luridly aromatic; the Islay Scotch of ciders. There’s more pear than apple, at least to my palate, but the apples are something fabulous and iconic (perhaps reine des reinettes), and there’s a heavy hand with the white pepper grinder as the finish develops. Extraordinary. (11/10)
La Casaccia 2007 Barbera del Monferrato (Piedmont) – Presents itself with a smooth slickness, but soon gives its true self away: vibrant acidity, dark and rough-necked minerality, and a fair bit of churn and motion. It finishes as pristine and poised as it started. Experience suggests that this is a wine that rewards aging, and it is quite primary right now. (11/10)
Bermejo 2008 Lanzarote Tinto (Canary Islands) – I’ve never tasted this much spice in a red wine, not even a lavishly-oaked one. If Penzeys released a wine, it might taste like this. The dominant spices include nutmeg and mace, coriander, white pepper, and turmeric. So, so, so exotic. And – pardon the expletive, but it’s needed here – fucking delicious. This is the first quarter-glass that, by the end of the night, turns into a fully-drained bottle. (11/10)
Gramenon 2009 Côtes-du-Rhône “l’Élémentaire de Gramenon” (Rhône) – Firm tannin leftover from creating the leather sofa on which this wine lounges. Blackberry fruit-leather as well, plus an herbal stew. This tastes as much like a chinato as it does a Côtes-du-Rhône, and that’s an interesting conflation of styles. Challenging. (11/10)
Bebame 2009 Red (El Dorado County) – It takes me a long time to move past an active dislike for this wine into a wary tolerance, but ultimately I’m happy when my glass is empty of it. Tart, puckery fruit (not overly acidic, though there’s plenty of that, but without enough generosity to support the acid that’s there), underripe melon, sour greenness, green sourness. I feel like I should like this more, given that my favorite California winemaker is involved, but I just don’t. (11/10)
Barral 2007 Faugères Valinière (Languedoc) – Spicy mixed berries and cumin seeds. Quite tannic, but it’s a beautifully ripe tannin, and everything is both concentrated and in flawless balance. This is terrific now, but the question is whether or not anyone will wait long enough for it to be the even better wine it should become, many years from now. Masterful. (11/10)
Domaine de la Tour Vieille Banyuls “Vin de Meditation” (Roussillon) – Rancio, plum, and caramel. The first sip is enticing, the second tiresome…and that, unfortunately, is too often my reaction to this house’s various takes on Banyuls. So drink it in single-shot quantities, I guess. (11/10)
Primitivo Quiles “Fondillon” Alicante “Gran Reserva” (Levant) – “The best sherry I’ve had all year,” I joke. I’m not even sure if the joke’s true, but it’s a pretty extraordinary wine in that style, volatile, pointing and gesturing at oxidation, and mold-influenced (in a stylistically authentic way). It’s really big, though, and there’s not much subtlety to it at the moment. Maybe that will emerge and maybe it won’t, but it’s hard to ignore, and eventually the din is very slightly wearisome. Another wine for small-quantity consumption. (11/10)
Vin d’Autan de Robert Plageoles & Fils 2001 Gaillac Doux (Southwest France) – Silkily-sweet bronzed apples and syrup-cured citrus. Extremely appealing. (11/10)
Overnoy 2005 Arbois Pupillin (Jura) – Loaded with bretty stench (or maybe it’s reductive; frankly, I’m thirteen jibs to the sheet by this point in the evening and could be drinking stealth Franzia for all that I know, yet my notes indicate surety that there’s brettanomyces, and I probably shouldn’t second-guess). One will either be able to get past that or not. The wine underneath the assreek has the sort of breezy power that lovers of syrupy wines don’t think something this light can actually have. Well, they’re wrong. Potentially fabulous, if one is not sensitive to whatever’s stinking up the joint, or if there’s bottle variation…which isn’t exactly unheard of at this house. (11/10)