Champagne, Italian wine, blue agave and a now tasting room. Wine Expo in Santa Monica is opening a wine tasting room adjacent to the Santa Monica Boulevard strip mall shop this summer. The date is still TBD, but owner Ali Biglar says he's aiming for a late June or early July opening. There will be no televisions, no loud music, and no hard alcohol. According the Biglar, the point is to learn something while you sip your beer, wine and sake. And yes, that includes learning something about that Hello Kitty wine.
"After the recession, a lot of our regulars moved... so we're facing a lot of new customers who don't know the difference between grocery store and other wines," says Biglar.
In other words, we're buying wine like we buy our shoes, based on looks rather than terribly boring and practical issues such as how those six-inch pumps weather the day. Or how that wine tastes throughout the meal (the cartoon cat marketing campaign on the Hello Kitty wines was, appropriately, dreamed up by a fashion company).
General manager Roberto Rogness, who will oversee the bar's day-to-day operations (Biglar splits his time between Hawaii and Santa Monica), said he is planning weekly events such as cookbook signings and tastings, beer/wine/sake tasting classes, and local chef tastings. The tasting room will not have a kitchen, so salumi, cheeses, crostini and various other light snacks will be served. "We have a lot of friends who are chefs and are out of work," says Rogness. "We'll have them come in and do tastings, things like that."
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"This will be a tasting room where you can sit and have a glass of wine and work," added Biglar via telephone. "We don't want a bar, we want a place where you can hear yourself think, where we can educate our client base, expand their horizons."
You'll also be able to think about that Hello Kitty wine. Wine Expo has carried the Torti "Tenimenti Castelrotto" wines, the Lombardy winemaker commissioned to make the wines, for years. Rogness says he plans to include the Hello Kitty wines, along with the family's numerous other wines, in the tasting room lineup. "They've actually always been great wines," he says of the Torti lineup, when Squid Ink mentioned the sudden hype behind the cat. "Maybe I'll get Patrizia to come over for a class," he said. Patrizia Torti, daughter of winery owner Dino Torti, is the Hello Kitty label's winemaker.
If you are inherently skeptical of anything ingestible that is so blatantly associated with commercial products, Rogness says not to worry. Hello Kitty is hardly taking over the shop (the walls will not be painted pink). Ms. Kitty will simply be sitting on the counter alongside dozens of other wines, plus those artisan beers and sakes. The sips available will be an ever-changing selection of whatever staffers happen upon during their tasting travels (follow Rogness on Twitter at @wineexpo to find out the latest tasting room and wine selection deets).
Besides, as Rogness notes, there is positive side to all of this sudden tipsy Cat Fancy talk. "The demand for that Hello Kitty wine is so great... it has helped Italian wine growers all over the valley."