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.
It's an awful feeling: You're in a supermarket, or maybe even a wine shop, looking at a huge wall of wines, and you realize, "There are hundreds and hundreds of wines in front of me and I don't want to drink any of them." And it happens all too often.
The experience of entering Buzz Beer Wine Shop, on Spring Street downtown, is somewhat the opposite. Math rock blares loudly. Movies are projected against the back wall. This is not your regular boring wine shop.
You're greeted by a wall of beers -- craft American beers, yes, but also one of the best selection of Belgians in town. And then, beyond the square counter in the center of the room, the wines. A big selection of affordable and lesser-known sparkling wines, all of which look intriguing. A great representation of innovative California producers. A shelf of "French and French-inspired" wines, helpfully grouping wines not just by grape and region but also by philosophy. Jurancon Sec, Furmint from Hungary, orange wine from Madrid. This is a wine store where, dangerously, practically everything begs to be drunk.
Buzz was opened in June 2011 by Scott Kamalski and David Bakhshi, restaurant guys who wanted to cater to the new, younger residents moving into downtown. They brought on Jamil Williams, a veteran of the wine industry and retail world, to help open and run the place. Today Williams still serves as wine buyer and manager.
Buzz also has a bar component at the back of the store, which is open from 3 p.m. to midnight daily. It's more of a tasting room at this point, because Buzz only has a license to pour 2 ounces, though they're hoping that will change soon and Buzz can transform into more of an actual bar. But for now, it provides a great opportunity to try what's new in the store and maybe discover something new that you'd like to buy by the bottle.
Williams talks about Buzz's mission to be a neighborhood store. "We have a pretty young audience," he says. "They're not drinking their father's or grandfather's wines. They're willing to experiment more. And they also don't have a ton of money, but we want them to be able to drink as much wine as possible." Because of that, Williams works very hard to find interesting, affordable alternatives to better known, more expensive wines.
We asked Williams to pick three bottles from his current inventory that represent what you might find at Buzz and why it's worth seeking out.
La Clarine Farm Sierra Hills White Wine 2012, Sierra Foothills, $20
A blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Petit Manseng, this is a richer wine that feels very natural. "It's made by Hank Beckmeyer, who's this very low-key guy," Williams says. "He's a farmer who raises goats. Making wine is just part of what he does, it's part of his lifestyle. When you taste this wine, you can taste the thoughtfulness. There's an energy to it. Most wines make you tired -- this one actually gives me energy." Only 185 cases of this wine were made.
J. Brix Rougarou Carignane 2012, San Diego County, $26
Williams' description of this wine on its label in the store simply says "magically delicious." At 100% Carignane, it has a lighter body but a ton of depth. "This is made by Emily and Jody Brix Towe," Williams says. "Wine isn't their full-time job. It kind of represents everything I'm looking for in a wine: honesty, value, leaves you feeling good because it doesn't have 200 additives in it. It's very minimalist. There's just grapes in there."
Charles Bove Methode Traditionnelle, Loire Valley, France, $17.
"We sell a lot of bubbly," Williams says. "No. 1 because it's very popular but No. 2 because I really love bubbly things, and maybe we over-impose our obsessions on people, but that's part of the fun of this whole thing.
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"So much Champagne is mediocre and overpriced. We look for things in the $15-$25 range that, if you blind-tasted them alongside those Champagnes, you'd pick them. This is like that. It's mostly chenin blanc with a little chardonnay. Line this up with a blanc de blanc Champagne and I bet you'd pick this. I have a lot of wines at my disposal here, but I take home this wine a lot."