Most wine merchants realize that they are basically in the service industry, there to flatter your exquisite taste, talk the talk, maybe at the outside to nudge you toward an Oregon Chardonnay instead of the Napa stuff you’ve been drinking since grad school. At Wine Expo, crammed into a barely renovated liquor store in a forgotten corner of Santa Monica, everything you know is wrong, and the general manager, Robert Rogness, will be the first person to tell you so.

One of the store’s great specialties is Italian wine, although the Brunellos and Barolos are vastly outnumbered by Rosso Coneros and Oltrepò Paveses you will find nowhere else but this store, and if you’re in the mood for Pinot Grigio, Rogness will insist that you try something severe and Teutonic from the Alto Adige instead. One member of his staff pops out at random moments to bully you into buying an $80 tequila instead of the Cognac you were set on. And the grand specialty of the store is probably Champagne, hundreds of different kinds of the stuff, few if any of which have ever graced the shelves of BevMo or Bristol Farms. I would tell you about some of the Champagnes Rogness hectored me into buying, except I don’t remember their names — they came from a patch of three dozen Pinot Meunier vines that somebody’s grandmother planted against the side of her barn, and the 18 bottles allocated to the United States, all of them to Wine Expo, sold out the day they hit the shop. You may recognize this as indie record store attitude, but applied to grape juice instead of vinyl-only Aquabats EPs.

2933 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-4428.

LA Weekly