Hard-up wine aficionados have pondered the same question since the dawn of time — where to find a bottle of vino that is cheap, but won’t strip the skin from the roof of your mouth? Here’s one answer — the Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock. There, you’ll find delicious Riojas and specialty non-oak Chardonnays — most of them for less than $25. This is great news if you’ve invited over a pack of thirsty friends for a holiday dining extravaganza. “Around the holidays, people are always looking for a $12 bottle of wine that tastes like a $30 bottle, especially if they are entertaining a lot of people,” says John Nugent, who runs the store with his wife, Jennifer. “It’s always nice when the wine tastes so good everyone thinks you must have spent a lot of money.”
The Nugents moved to L.A. from Brooklyn in March 2004, their mission being to open a quality wine store with an egalitarian pricing policy. They were outraged by the attitude they encountered in some wine shops, where customers are made to feel that it’s somehow deeply vulgar to walk out with anything under $25. “It’s pure snobbery,” says John. “We don’t see the point.” Since opening in February 2005, Colorado Wine Company has built a loyal hipsterish clientele, usually found hanging out in the small bar at the back of the store, or partaking in the Nugents’ creatively themed biweekly tastings (“Wines From Former Dictatorships,” “Wines That Go With Beef Jerky” and “Ugly Labels vs. Pretty Labels”).
These past few weeks, John and Jennifer have been busy helping customers decide which wines to serve alongside their holiday turkey/salmon/Tofurky. For all the above, John recommends a Central Coast pinot noir from Campion, one of their biggest sellers from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Pinot noir, which experienced a resurgence after being fetishized in the film Sideways, is light enough to be paired with an extremely wide range of dishes. “You could serve it with an oily fish like salmon, or turkey, all the way to a lamb dish,” he says. “It’s soft enough that it won’t overpower food that contains spices and herbs.”
But if you’re planning on brewing up some mulled wine, the Nugents suggest using a full, rich red, like a California Zinfandel or a Rioja — “something with enough structure that it doesn’t become too sweet or too heavy,” says Jennifer. And it should be something that is reasonably priced: “If you’ve got a beautifully crafted Zinfandel, it’s not the best move to use it for a mulled wine.” She recommends their very affordable Clay Station Old Vine Zinfandel, priced at $9.99.
So wines are taken care of — but which kind of bubbly for the end-of-year toast? If you’re on a budget, they recommend choosing a cava, which is Spanish but made with the same process as French champagne. Cavas are generally less dry than champagnes, with less of the yeasty nuttiness that is craved by Bollinger fiends. Another difference lies in the bubbles. “The bubbles in cava are generally larger, and don’t tend to act the same in the glass,” says Jennifer. “But if you’re at a party, it’s only the real expert champagne drinker who is likely to take note of that.” They recommend their $15.99 Avinyó Cava, which is “very dry and has some nice citrusy characteristics.”
In line with their down-home, equal-opportunity-drinking philosophy, the Nugents even go so far as to suggest serving a good-quality beer with your holiday dinner. Best to go with a creamy, heavy one, like their California Alesmith Speedway Stout ($10.99 for a wine-size bottle), which can be paired with roasted nuts or even — if you dare — served as a bubbly substitute. “It’s a really fun, cheap alternative to champagne,” Jennifer enthuses. “And most importantly, you still get to feel the bubbles on your tongue.”
Colorado Wine Company, 2114 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 478-1985 or www.cowineco.com. Tastings on Fridays (5:30-8:30 p.m.) and Sundays (1-4 p.m.).