Drop into one of L.A.'s seven Pitfire Artisan Pizzas and the casual approach to dining is apparent. Order at a counter, find a table (either inside or out) and wait to dig into freshly prepared and flavorful wood-fired cooked pizzas, salads, soups, paninis and pastas. What's not so apparent is the restaurant chain's equal commitment to its wine selection. Although the wine might not be served in Riedel crystal stemware – the wine list is carefully curated to pair with Pitfire's crowd-pleasing, straightforward menu.

Some in the wine business have a reputation for cultivating a certain snob appeal, which is the opposite of Pitfire's approach. As Pitfire's beverage czar (his actual title) Lawrence Rudolph explains, “The more we democratize and make wine a less fussy experience, the more successful we'll be. What we seek to do, is give people a quality experience at an affordable price in an unpretentious way.” So how does that unpretentious mode play out? Turn the page for details on Pitfire's user-friendly and very quaffable wine program.

Easy-to-read wine and beer lists at Pitfire Artisan Pizza, Fairfax; Credit: Kathy A. McDonald

Easy-to-read wine and beer lists at Pitfire Artisan Pizza, Fairfax; Credit: Kathy A. McDonald

Pitfire's wine list format is a bit cheeky. Look up for the list on a chalkboard, back-lit sign boards (like a local deli shop) or at the Fairfax location, scrawled out on reams of butcher block paper. No need to be intimidated or worry about mispronouncing a wine label name — labels on the list are accessible for easy reading and that's the point.

The seven varietals are recognizable too: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, although there's a change-up on occasion. White and red sangria add to the options.

A label's graphic look is important. “Because we sell wine quickly via counter service, we tend to sell wine that's visual, almost like a retail store,” says Rudolph. At Mar Vista there's a large windowed cooler next to the counter line, and the contemporary-looking bottles are appealing. Recently a Pushback Sauvignon Blanc and Hook & Ladder Chardonnay were there to catch customers' attention. Brand names are sometimes playful, sardonic and not too serious (although Hocus Pocus does make a very magical Syrah).

Most of the wines available are from California, though Malbec from Argentina is the bestseller. Summer means rosé and perhaps a Paso Robles Tempranillo. All bottled wines are also available by the glass but at the Fairfax location, wine is on tap and served from the keg (like beer) and made by local Santa Barbara County winemakers such as Palmina's Steve Clifton.

Pairings are made to be effortless. The sausage party pizza topped with prosciutto, bacon and sausage is a natural with a Cabernet Sauvignon or the ever-drinkable Malbec. White pie — topped with smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage — needs a tart wine like Sauvignon Blanc to cut through the smokiness. Rudolph recommends a light-bodied Pinot Noir to go with the steak salad and the Chardonnay pairs well with the kale salad's bitter notes. “The philosophy of our company is reflected in the wine and we present it in a way that is fun,” he adds.

Not to worry, there's plenty of craft beer choices too with upcoming brewery nights featuring The Bruery, Eagle Rock Brewery, Colorado's Great Divide and Stone Brewery all turning up on tap at the downtown, Fairfax and Westwood locations on certain summer nights. And soon, cocktails will be added to the bar at the Fairfax location.

Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Reach the author at writerkathymcd@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @writerkathymcd.

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