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The Nose Knows: Pasadena's Hidden Wine Bar

The Nose Wine Cellar's Stephan Yim gets some air

Clare KleinedlerThe Nose Wine Cellar's Stephan Yim gets some air

Though the Nose Wine Cellar has been open for over five years, neighborhood folks in Pasadena are still discovering this cozy little wine bar and shop. Perhaps it's the hidden location behind a row of stores on Colorado Boulevard outside of Old Town. Or, maybe it's because the Nose's owner, Stephan Yim, is much more focused on the wine than on marketing. He readily admits that, in five years, he's spent zero dollars on advertising and marketing.

Yim, a self-proclaimed wine geek, is bursting with knowledge and eager to talk about every facet of the good stuff to anyone who's interested. For 6-8 hours a day, six days a week, Yim is behind the counter at the Nose, pouring wine, doling out information and cooking up casual but solid eats like gourmet grilled cheeses and mini crab cakes that pair nicely with his wine selections. He has a small but steady stream of regulars, most of whom he knows by name. And while it's probably not the best for his bottom line, Yim offers discounts to many his regular customers. The guy can't help it.

A cozy wine retreat hidden behind busy Colorado Boulevard

Clare KleinedlerA cozy wine retreat hidden behind busy Colorado Boulevard

As a child, Yim, 36, was always fascinated by wine. "We went to many French bistros when I was a child in Toronto, and I was always amazed by these guys called 'sommeliers,'" says Yim. "They always wore a suit and a bow tie back in those days, and people took them very seriously." At 12 years old he purchased a book called The Official Guide to Wine Snobbery and had his mother read it to him after school. "I remember the book talked about the difference between a '52 and '53 Chateau Margaux, and I just thought, 'How can that be?' I was always attracted to the mystical grape juice."

Born in Hong Kong but raised in Toronto, Yim followed a friend to Los Angeles 15 years ago because "I was tired of the cold," he says, laughing. His first job was selling "imitation jewelry" in downtown LA. His second was as an administrative assistant for a wine importer, where he was able to turn the object of his childhood fascination into a real passion. Yim eventually got his sommelier certification and spent a short time at culinary school before opening the Nose Wine Cellar in 2005. He carries wine from only small, boutique vineyards, with bottles starting from $14 (for those with deep pockets, Yim has a $6000 bottle of '82 Chateau Petrus). Patrons can drink on the premises and also purchase bottles to go.

While Yim welcomes anyone who has a taste for wine into his bar, his enthusiasm for those who come in with an open mind and a bit of curiosity is obvious. "Instead of coming here and having a Pinot because that's what "Sideways" is talking about, how about having a merlot that you think you'll hate? If I did a blind taste test, you'd love it! Listen to your palate, not trends," says Yim.