We touched down at LAX International and after a bit of this and that we headed to the mecca of the Los Angles wine bar scene, LOU.  By it’s own accord, LOU is located in a “tasteful” strip mall on Vine and Melrose, known as Melrose Place, just like the TV show (coincidence?).  It is next to a laundry mat and shares the plaza with some other interesting neighbors.  You would never know what LOU is, if you did not know what LOU is.  Like some of the other gems in LA, it is hidden in a strip mall.  Yes, if you are not from LA this may throw you.  It threw us a bit.

After parking we went to the door, and the entire front of LOU is closed off with drapes that look like they belong in a Japanese restaurant.  You cannot see in and there is a door bell.  We were intimidated.  So I called LOU and told them we were standing out front and asked if it was okay to enter since we could not figure if we should just burst in or not.  They must have thought I was crazy, but after opening the door, we were transported to a sweet little wine bar come restaurant with subtle elegance and a decided lack of noise.  It was unexpectedly quiet, only lite background music and hushed conversations.  We felt at home at once.

There is something quite Zen about LOU.  A peace settled over us and as I scanned the wine list making some mental notes of what I might like to try, I just felt good.  We didn’t eat very much, just snacked on a few little plates, which were all better than to be expected.  The most interesting thing happened when it came to the wine.  I wanted to start with a white and follow it up with a lighter red then a more full bodied one.  I had in my mind picked out the ones I wanted, but asked our server/waitress for recommendations before ordering each glass.  She would ask me a question or two and then make a suggestion.  All three times she ended up suggesting what I had in my mind to order.  Coincidence?  I think not, they just have their stuff dialed at LOU, that’s what I think.  And for a place would have been unbeknownst to me, it was full on a Tuesday evening, a testament to its devoted following.

And as for those wines I drank, well I was started with Furmint Hungary/Bott 2009 for the white: fuller bodied, rich, waxy, with stones and almonds, totally up my alley.  Moving to a lite red came the Pineau d’Aunis France/Clos Roche Blanche 2010 with lite touches of funky earth and peppy red fruits, delicious.  And finally the waitress asked if I was comfortable going to Etna, as in Sicily.  Well I am of some Sicilian descent apparently, so yes I was comfortable.  The Etna Italy/Graci 08 ‘Quota 600’ was spice and earth with great lift, could I really taste the volcanic soils in there?  All wines come in 2 oz. or 5 oz. pours or by the bottle, with the most expensive bottle topping out at a reasonable $72, but most in the $30-$40 range.  LOU lived up to all expectations and beyond, and it just proves that great things can be found in strip malls.

On the following evening we were lured east to our friend Nik’s neighborhood of Echo Park.  Nik said there was a wine bar there he had been to once before and that we should check it out.  We were curious about the neighborhood so we bit.  We found ourselves at City Sip, with the clever moniker of “Wine for the People”.  Well there was something proletariat about it, and in keeping with the young trendy neighborhood, there really was no thought at all to the decor.  It looked like they had spent a few hundred bucks on second hand restaurant gear to kit the place out.  There was bad local art hanging on the wall too, nuff said.  Thank god the aesthetics were the only questionable talking points.  The wine list is written upon the chalk board wall behind the bar and had the cool little touch of having the staffs favorites up there.  I started out with Grenache Blanc, Consilience, Santa Barbara County, CA 2007.  It was served way too cold, but as it warmed up it revealed the nutty rich yellow texture which I was hoping was there.  Moving on to reds we tried barman Mark’s personal favorite, the Pinot Noir, Testarossa, Central Coast, CA ‘09.  With the reds Mark made me guess before revealing each bottle, I got Pinot, but thought it was the one they had from Chile as it had a weird salty vibe going on.  The Testarossa was good solid Cali Pinot if you are into that sort of thing.  I asked to move onto something a little more exotic and the wine Mark poured, well I couldn’t guess which one it was, though I could guess what it was not.  And what it was was a Chateau Coupe Roses Minervois, which I liked very much and it was all black and boysenberry fruit, mixing with a tinge of earthy vinegar B.O.  And we tried one last selection from Mark.  The wine was big and smokey.  It immediately reminded me of South Africa.  But it was not from South Africa, it was The Banknote, Counterfeit Cabernet blend from Sonoma and it was dark and smokey with cedar, cigar box, and dark berry fruit.  The texture was rich and full bodied.  I kind of didn’t want to like it, but I did.  While this place lacks some ambiance, it makes up for it with the charm of the staff and the simple wine selections all of which are very fairly priced (with the exception of one Champagne, most wines seemed to be well under the $50 mark).  Perhaps not the destination that LOU is, more of an, if your in the area kind of thing.

Thanks in no small part to one of my favorite wine bloggers, Do Bianchi’s Jeremey Parzen, we found ourselves on our last night in LA dining at Sotto.  You see, Jeremey, in addition to wearing the hat of wine blogger, Italian translator, and musician, amongst other things, is also the creator of the wine list at Sotto.  He is there from time to time as well pouring the mostly Southern Italian and California wines which he has assembled.  Armed with several recommendations from Jeremy we dove into several appetizers which we shared:  chick pea fritters with lemon that we squeezed on top, the best homemade meatballs I have had in recent memory, lush creamy Burrata that we spread on homemade bread, and blistered peppers.  Needless to say, all the apps were off the hook.  We started with a bottle of white upon Jermey’s recommendation, which was the De Conciliis 2009 Fiano Donna Luna.  It was a straight shooter and featured a light nutty aroma mixing with pear fruits and a decent citrus crispness.  We moved onto the reds pretty quick with another top suggestion, the Terra dei Rei 2007 Aglianico de Vulture.  Aglianico is one of my favorite Italian varieties and this little (big) baby was packed with cocoa spice, leather, smoke, and dark red fruit.  It is fairly rich and full like Aglianico can be, it paired very well with the apps and I could not help noticing a couple other tables enjoying the same bottle.  Since we were four, we decided upon one last recommendation from Jeremey.  And as at LOU, we went to Sicily.  The waiter said the Gulfi 2009 Cerasuolo di Vittoria was a staff favorite, and I can see why.  I loved it.  It is apparently a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, and it had great lift and acidity with a slight tingling in the mouth initially.  This leads to cranberry and blackberries mixing with some earth elements.  Medium in body, but with great balance and though I can’t say it was a big wine, it was absolutely delicious.  And it paired well with the pizza’s and pastas we had.  The margarita pizza being the test, it was a big thumbs up.  One of the best things about Sotto, beyond the food, wine, and atmosphere, which were all top notch, was that the wine prices were all extremely fair.  Only a couple bottle over the $100 mark for when you are feeling like a baller, but most of the other killer selections coming in at the $30-$40 price range.  The list is short, but well chosen.  And it was difficult to not want to reach out for bottles like La Clarine Farm, one of my favorite California producers.  Nice to see their wines on the list as well.  Sotto was a great cap to our little stint in LA.