It can be a strange, solitary exercise, consuming wine dispensed by a computer. Purchase your access card from the order desk at the rear of the shop, steal a glance at the Wine House's Old & Rare cellars where magnum prices climb into the five figures, and make your way to Taste, a well scrubbed box perhaps 12 feet by 8 feet where four temperature and humidity-controlled Enomatic digital wine stewards squirt precise 1/8-glass servings from a 32-bottle assortment. Cards are available in $10, $15, $20 and $50 increments are you are permitted eight pours in a 24-hour period. Tastes range from a buck per sip to 10 times that for the blue ribbon stuff–most average between $2-$3.
The selection is ever-changing and the staff is composed of approachable winehounds who are eager to make recommends. Spanish varietals remain some of the best bang-for-the-buck grapes in the world. The right bottles drink like a 40-dollar French or Californians for roughly half the price. Maybe you'll get lucky and sample a Mendocino County Malbec, consistently superior to its Argentine peers. You'll discover Alsatian whites, the occasional sandy South African Cabernet, Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine, even honeyed and floral junmai daigingo sake. Current ringers include the 2004 Scherrer Old and Mature Vines Zinfandel from Sonoma's Alexander Valley appelation and Harrison Clarke's naturally fermented 2007 Santa Ynez Valley Grenache, an aniline cocktail of white pepper, more white pepper, nutmeg and smoke.
There are no tables or chairs in Taste's sterile little room–just a few jugs of water to wash the palate, a spittoon and a chromed gap in the wall where you insert your spent glasses. Were you to sit on the floor, alternately grinning and plunging your nose into the frustratingly narrow wine flutes, the staff might demand you relinquish your access card. Stay on your feet, however, and you'll likely strike up a conversation with a patron as infatuated with the grape as you. Turns out Taste at the Wine House is more convivial than you thought. Should you wish to wipe your card in one go, toast your fly-by-wine friendship with an haute Bordeaux or Paso Robles red for 10 bucks a volumetrically regulated drop.
Taste at the Wine House: 2311 Cotner Avenue, Los Angeles; (800) 626-9463.