Wine clubs are often a lot better in theory than they are in practice. A couple of mystery bottles sent your way with a little writeup can be great for the wine lover wanting to try new things and broaden his horizons, but ultimately many are full of stuff you could easily find yourself. It ends up being little more than a way to save yourself time by having bottles delivered to your house.
Finding a reasonably priced wine club that selects memorable, interesting wines takes some digging, but there are definitely a few great ones in Los Angeles. One of the newest and most exciting we've found is the Tippler Club, run by Fundamental L.A.'s general manager and wine director, Alicia Kemper.
Kemper, whose pedigree includes front-of-house positions at Mélisse and Boca Restaurant and a stint at Napa Valley's three-Michelin-star institution, Meadowood, began Tippler Club as an extension of Fundamental L.A.'s old world–heavy wine program. "I was looking for another way to share some cool wines I found with people that would appreciate them. I would get asked a lot, 'Where can I buy these wines?' so I decided to start a wine club for people to enjoy the bottles at home," Kemper says.
With a choice of two, four or six bottles per month priced at a subscription fee of $50, $100 or $150, the Tippler club offers a break from the California wine set, focusing mainly on old-world European wines, "I find that a lot of European [wines] offer a better value and are made in a fresher, higher-acid style that I enjoy more, and typically pairs with our food a bit better," Kemper explains.
Kemper picks wines that can't be found at the grocery store or most other wine shops: wines that are small production, sell out quickly, are difficult to get your hands on and come from lesser-explored wine regions. "I seek out either classic grape varietals made in a unique way, or indigenous grape varietals and regions that often I had never heard of before. Like Rotgipfler from Thermenregion, Austria, or Plavac Mali from Hvar, Croatia," Kemper says.
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The great thing about Kemper's picks is that, while they are enough to satisfy an avid wine enthusiast's spirit of adventure, they aren't so esoteric as to isolate less educated wine drinkers. The key, she says, is "deliciousness," she tells me. "Of course, everyone has an opinion about wines that they do or don’t like, but I try to find wines that most people can, at least, appreciate. Sometimes I go out on a limb for a wine that is weird or different from anything I have ever had, and think, 'I freaking love this wine, but I’m not sure how people will receive it.' Surprisingly, for the most part, people are with me. For instance, who would have guessed that people would love a semi-sparkling off-dry orange wine from Greece?"
Like other on-trend wine clubs, Kemper's selection features a variety of natural and biodynamic wines, but thankfully, she doesn't let the "story" of the wine — something many sommeliers and wine drinkers alike often wax poetic about — give the wine any more clout than it deserves, "Although I find the stories interesting, the first and foremost thing is that it tastes good," she explains. "You can hear a really cool story about a wine or it can have a pretty label, but if the actual product isn’t good, then the story and the label are immaterial."
But beyond the thoughtful selection, what makes the Tippler Club unique as a wine club is how interactive it is. Once a month, the Tippler Club hosts a wine tasting event at Fundamental L.A., called Sunday Sip, a tasting with food and wine pairings for $25. Whether you're an avid drinker or just want to try some of the club's monthly selections as a one-off, the tasting is an opportunity to try some wine, chat with Kemper about the selections, and see how the wine pairs with different snacks. The event allows you to better understand what it is you're drinking — so that you might actually remember the wine in question next month.
Fundamental L.A., 1303 Westwood Blvd, Westwood; (310) 444-7581, fundamental-la.com.