Three Bottles, One Shop is a series in which we take a peek into a Los Angeles wine shop and ask the owner to pick and describe three great bottles on offer. Have a shop you'd like to see featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the process of speaking to wine store owners all over town, one shop comes up in conversation over and over again: Silver Lake Wine. Other store owners credit Silver Lake Wine as a pioneer in the world of retail beverage sales in L.A., and while many folks who run stores in Glendale or Culver City live closer to Silver Lake than to the stores they own, a few of them have told me they steered clear of opening in or around the neighborhood because Silver Lake Wine has the area so well covered.
When owners Randy Clement, April Langford and George Cossette set up shop 10 years ago, Silver Lake was not quite the neighborhood it is today. "We could have had any one of the storefronts around here," Clement says. "They were all empty."
Even still, Silver Lake Wine isn't located on Sunset, or even on the cute little retail strip of Silver Lake Boulevard. Rather, it's on Glendale Boulevard, next to the Silver Lake Library and across the street from the Red Lion, one of the neighborhood's best dive bars -- an actual dive bar and not an ironic dive bar like you might find elsewhere in Silver Lake. It's a part of town that is likely to change over the next few years, when a planned Whole Foods goes in just up the street, but for the last decade Silver Lake Wine has been a big part of this little retail strip's personality.
That's in part because a decade ago, wine sales were not what they are now. Along with just a couple of other places in all of L.A., Silver Lake Wine was selling small-production, boutique wines from the get-go. They've always had a strong focus on service -- it's impossible to walk into the store and not be greeted immediately by a smiling salesperson, ready to help guide you. It's an important ingredient when trying to introduce folks to something beyond the labels they're used to seeing. "It's simple," Clement says. "Help the fuckin' people."
See also: Three Bottles, One Shop: Domaine L.A.
Clement always loved wine but says he learned the most while working at Campanile in the '90s. He correctly points out that if you look at the staff of Campanile from that time, you're basically looking at a who's who of the L.A. food scene today.
Three years after opening, Silver Lake Wine expanded. And then in April of last year, Everson Royce opened in Pasadena, a wine and spirits shop named after Clement and Langford's twin sons.
Between the two stores, Clement and his crew are hosting a tasting event nearly every night of the week, many of them in partnership with local food trucks, which park outside. In fact, Silver Lake Wine has been a launching pad for at least one beloved local business, Heirloom, which now has a food truck and catering business, and was written up last week on a New York Times blog. Heirloom's Matt Poley started out serving small bites at Silver Lake Wine tasting events. Customers started asking him to do parties for them, and a business was born.
It says a lot that 10 years in, Silver Lake Wine is still on the cutting edge of wine shops in the city, and more than ever helps to define its neighborhood -- not a common thing for a small shop. We asked Clement to pick three wines in the store now that he's particularly excited about.
Anthill Farms 2011 Syrah, Sonoma Coast, $21
Clement says Anthill Farms Winery partner Webster Marquez told him that he didn't know if the name of the winery was terrific or stupid, but that they thought of it because all the winemakers were always scrambling around like a bunch of ants. Says Clement: "This trio of ants -- Marquez, Anthony Filiberti and David Low -- met while working at Sonoma's Williams Selyem. The partners themselves farm many of the small plots where they buy their grapes, and the results of this labor of love are remarkably seductive wines that combine concentration and finesse.
"The Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast Syrah is a great example that shows California can produce wines and especially Syrahs that are delicate, subtle, interesting, crisp and not just ginormous, one-note fruit bombs."
Mouton Noir "Oregogne" 2011, Oregon, $43
"Mouton Noir is the brainchild of ex–New York sommelier Andre Mack. The wine is made from some of the choicest pinot noir grapes in the Willamette Valley and over-delivers up and down. Bright cherry fruit with tell-tale earthy undertones from that Burgundian-styled Oregon dirt. Killer."
Vitteaut-Alberti Cuvee Agnes Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France, $22
"Lucien Vitteaut and his wife, Maria (nee Alberti), founded this estate in Rully in Southern Burgundy in 1951 with the specific goal of making sparkling wines. They saw the potential for making classically styled, high-quality sparkling wine early on. It was not until 24 years later that sparkling wine from Burgundy was legally recognized. The cuvee Agnes is made with 100% Chardonnay in the traditional Champagne style and is lush, creamy and bright. All the awesome bubbles of Champagne, just located a little bit further south."
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