Q & A With Lou Amdur: What To Drink On New Year's Eve (Part 1)

Our colleague Jonathan Gold once pointed out that Lou Amdur, owner of LOU: A Wine Bar, "can probably talk more profoundly about biodynamic wines than anyone who hasn't actually buried a dung-filled animal horn at midnight during a full moon." So it only makes sense that with a tiny handful of 2010 left, we should ring him up and quiz him on the three W's of New Year's Eve: 1) What to serve?, 2) What else to serve?, and 3) What to do when you wake up with a thumping hangover?

Lou Amdur, of LOU: A Wine Bar
Lou Amdur, of LOU: A Wine Bar
Anne Fishbein

Squid Ink: The year 2011 is upon us. What shall we drink to ring in the New Year?

Lou Amdur: Well, of course, drink whatever you fucking feel like drinking! Far be it from me to suggest what you should drink on New Year's Eve. [laughs]

SI: Okay. Let's start again. What sounds interesting to you when it comes to what one should imbibe on New Year's Eve?

LA: It might be interesting if you are at a New Year's Eve party that involves food, such as a supper, to do an all sparkling wine evening. But I also have some thoughts about champagne: Champagne is delicious and I would drink it every day if I could. Here in Los Angeles, we're fortunate to have some very good sources for fine grower-champagne.

SI: As we now know, when you say "grower-champagne" you are referring to brands of champagne with names we don't recognize that are made by some of the smaller estates. Where's a great place to buy a bottle of grower-champagne?

LA: Roberto at Wine Expo probably has the best-curated retail of grower-champagne in L.A. So, of course: drink champagne. If you've got it, smoke it.

SI: And if you don't got it?

LA: There's a whole range of things that are sparkling that are not champagne. They have different levels of carbonation and different textures and I think it's a fun opportunity to express the festivity of the evening. Now that I think about it, I'm going to actually bring a few of these to the New Year's eve party that we're going to. There is one thing I need to note.

SI: Yes?

LA: As the evening goes on, the opportunity to enjoy something that's really special decreases. Because the more you drink, the less you give a shit! So if you feel like it, roll out the grower-champagne to have at midnight. But I think it would be much better served if you had it when the guests first arrived. The last thing you want to do is open it at midnight because everybody is probably shitfaced and it's not going to be appreciated.

SI: Thank you! Actually, that is a wise and helpful tip.

LA: And it is based on my own drinking patterns.

SI: So what if we don't have a bottle of grower-champagne? What would be great to kick off the evening with?

LA: These are my thoughts about the possible progression of sparkling wines: So perhaps start with some prosecco. I'm really into this new style of leesy prosecco.

SI: Um, leesy?

LA: Lees are the dead yeast that sits in the bottom of the tank.

SI: And tasting like that is a good thing? Explain.

LA: By leesy, I mean they have yeast in them. The crystal clear, aromatic, fairly simple and even fancier proseccos from the Cartizze, the higher area in the Veneto, are all kind of made the same way. They're made in tanks. There's a new style of prosecco that is made in a way that emphasizes the yeast component. I'm thinking of two in particular. One is from Casa Coste Piane and the other is from Costo Dio. These are two proseccos where if you tip the bottle upside down, you'll notice the whole thing is cloudy, kind of like a hefeweizen beer. As a consequence, it tastes quite dry and sort of apple-y. Like dry, dry apple cider. And they have a lovely texture. Like a hefeweizen beer, actually. I can't imagine anybody not being excited to have a sip of that when they first arrive.

First of all, it looks like something interesting. You're like [apprehensively] "Do I want to drink this - or not?" or "What is this?" So there's an interesting story behind it and texturally it's interesting. They're beautiful to look at because they are so cloudy. It's a different side of prosecco that's now being expressed and I think it's really exciting. So maybe start with something that sort of confounds our expectations of what a sparkling wine must look like - and prosecco being one. This new style, this leesy style of prosecco.

SI: What's another great sparkling New Year's drink?

LA: One of my favorite things which is sparkling Normandy cider. You could go with a cloudy cider like Dupont or Montreuil or Fremont. These are all organically grown, unpastuerized, unfiltered and you could pour any of them into a champagne flute and again have something that makes people go [tentatively] "Do I drink this??" "What is this cloudy stuff?" And then you drink it and there's...silence. Because it's just so out of control delicious. Again these are not profound wines. These aren't wines that are aged or anything. But they are lovely, lovely simple things to drink.

SI: So we've finished our Normandy cider. Now what?

LA: It's a little later and someone has brought out something to eat that's mammalian based to eat. Maybe have another sparkling wine. The obvious thing to have is a dry lambrusco. For those who stopped drinking it a long time ago because it's too sweet and treacly - or never drank it because they don't know what it is, it's, again, just like these cloudy proseccos. It's sort of a confounding thing because it's dry and sparkling; not nearly as sparkling as champagne, but sparkling. But also the dry lambruscos that I like have tannin, as well. It's a little raspy in the mouth. The grower I love is Camillo Donati. Any wine that Donati makes would be a happy pairing with any mammal you might want to expose to your guests.

SI: Aren't some lambruscos a deep ruby red? Sparkly red sounds very traditional New Year's Eve and holiday-ish.

LA: Yes. But Donati also has a sparkling Malvasia, which is also dry but is made with white grapes. If it's lambrusco, it's going to be dark red and if it's the Malvasia it's going to be white, but they're all kind of made the same way. Camillo Donati -- I don't want to say he's a hippie - but he's letting his freak flag fly. I really, really like his wines a lot.

SI: Does lambrusco make a popping noise when you open it? A lot of people feel that the sound of a popping cork is an essential part of New Year's Eve.

LA: Yeah. What I'm suggesting is that you do that all evening long. If you have sparkling wine to start, then something with dinner then maybe even later on if anyone is still awake, get a bunch of different sparkling wines and try to stage them in such a way that they might work with the food that you may or may not be eating in the evening.

SI: How do you know if the wine you've bought is going to go with what you feel like cooking? Do you let your wines dictate what you're going to eat?

LA: I think the proseccos I'm talking about will work with a wide range of appetizers. Anything fishy will work well, but also anything with cheese would be a pretty good pairing. Apples would be great. Almost anything I'd want to eat as an appetizer on New Year's Eve - whether it's some little fritter or something else - would work with that. There's a reason why these wines are such great aperitivos. It's because they're just sort of good by themselves. It's hard to go wrong. If you had something spicy with spicy flavors, I don't think that would conflict at all with these wines.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Lou Amdur, and also for his Bloody Mary recipe with homemade horseradish.


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