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Neighborhood wine shops

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What wine stores do you frequent? Which wine stores are in your neighborhood? What are their strengths? Whom should I seek for help at the stores? How do prices compare with elsewhere?

I regularly visit Wine Expo and The Wine House. The first is on the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, roughly speaking, near Stanford Street. The wine freak who runs this store does so with unmatched energy and attitude. Talk to the big fellow obviously in charge. The staff fights to get its patrons the lowest prices on good Italian and sparkling wines, as well as the occasional bargain California and French wines. The e-mail newsletter comes out frequently--it's uproarious.

Wine House, on Cotner, just east of the 405 and south of Olympic, is better known. The store carries a wide array of reasonably priced wines, and if you buttonhole one of the buyers you may get some good advice on German riesling, French chenin blancs or some Hungarian tokai. This place also has a decent selection of books on wine and spirits, soda pops, cheeses and so on.

Occasionally I drop by Wally's, on Westwood just north of Olympic, which is especially good for French wine and tequila. Not cheap, but some of the staff members can be quite helpful. I was dismayed by the very small selection of German wines.

Wine House
2311 Cotner, Los Angeles
(310) 479-3731

2933 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica 90404
(310) 828-4428
FAX 828-2969

Wally's Wine
2107 Westwood Boulevard (north of Olympic, west side of street)

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  1. I also like the Wine House's classes, being a beginner winehound.

    5 Replies
    1. re: SusanB

      How about the LA Wine Co. on McConnell in Culver City? Or the Pavilion's on Santa Monica in West Hollywood?

      Does anyone have good mail order recommendations?

      1. re: Deborah

        For mail order, we have relied for a long time on Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, 1605 San Pablo Avenue (at Cedar), Berkeley, CA 94702. Phone 510-524-1524. Hours: Tue-Sat 11-6. Closed Sunday and Monday. Discovered Kermie in 94 when visiting Paul Bara, a small champagne vinter in Bouzy. After buying (not enough!) of their vintage champagne, we asked where we could obtain more in the states - Vous ne connaissez pas Kermit Lynch? Il est americain comme vous! We have been buying from him ever since. Call them and get on their monthly mailer. BTW, you'll find his prices are slightly higher - but he ships all of his wines to the states in refridgerated containers, which is why you don't have the common "gee, why do European wines seem to taste so much better in Europe" problem with his wines. And consider if you will a case of the Paul Bara n.v. rose. For me, it is what I think when I close my eyes and say, "Sunday."
        Le Champagne Paul Bara, Grand Cru de Bouzy, est un vin "harmonieux, délicatement fruité, dosé à la perfection" (Michel Bettane).

        1. re: Deborah
          Carolyn Tillie

          See below for my favorite way to obtain obscure bottles...

          Link: http://www.winesearcher.com

          1. re: Deborah

            LAWC is great for bargain-hunting! Even generic sub-$10 bottles are usually a buck or 2 cheaper than at the Wine House. But their stock is limited and everchanging so it's almost like shopping for clothes at Ross... great if u enjoy the thrill of the hunt; terrible if you're pressed 4 time.

            Also in the same wherehouse complex is Beverage Warehouse which carries everything from 3-figure Cabs to underappreciated S. Rhones. Many of the wines featured weekly in LATimes food section are available.

            And for mail-order don't forget the other great wine shop in the Gourmet ghetto: N. Berkeley Wines! Unfined, unfiltered is their mantra and their special barrel selections from rising vignerons will make u swoon. Yup, i'm a fan :)

            Oh, for eclectic artisanal champagnes head over to Wine Expo. I don't know if they carry Bara, but they do have Lasalle.

            And if you're a wine feak u can always trek on down to Hi Time Wine in Costa Mesa.

            1. re: Mark

              As long as you're in OC may as well check out Wine Club--weird location but good things.

        2. c
          Carolyn Tillie

          I also recommend Wine Country at 2301 Redondo Avenue, Signal Hill and Wine Warehouse at 6550 Washington, City of Commerce (borders Marina Del Rey). Wine Country has great associations with some Long Beach restaurants and sets up fascinating wine dinners. The Warehouse has simply the best prices in town and is worth getting on their mailing list -- once a year they have a sale and I recently picked up some '93 Dom Perignon for $75.00! Such-a-deal... They had already sold out of Y'Chiem...

          Another great find is Long's Drugs. Yes, Long's Drugs. They have converted six (and only six) of their stores into expanding their wine selection. Amazing prices and frequently amazing finds. You need to check as to which ones have been so-converted (I go to the one in Manhattan Beach next to Bristol Farms on Rosecrans).

          Speaking of Bristol Farms, I have recently discovered the joy of their weekly wine tastings. This is the best deal in town with six tastings (usually around 4 oz each) plus a ful plate of food for $19.95. You can skip the meal and only drink wine for $10.00 which is a phenomenal bargain.

          Link: http://www.bristolfarms.com

          3 Replies
          1. re: Carolyn Tillie

            Yes! Longs! The one in Newport Beach/ Costa Mesa has been converted. I saw they even had a wine newsletter!

            1. re: SusanB

              Interesting to hear about Long's. I'd acted on a tip from a friend who lives near the Long's in Half Moon Bay (NorCal) and scored some 1990 Roederer Cristal for less than $100 per bottle when it was released. There wasn't anything else of that quality though. We had suspected that the manager wanted a few bottles for himself and put the rest of the floor.

            2. re: Carolyn Tillie

              I was mighty startled by Long's... Looks like a chain drugstore. Selection like a wine shop. Prices somewhere in between, which is pretty great. I want to meet the person who got that proposal past the marketing department.

            3. Can't tell you the exact addresses, but I like Topline Wines & Spirits off San Fernando Road in Glendale and Du Vin on San Vicente near the Pacific Design Center (Rene, the owner, is particularly helpful and knowledgeable on all things French). In terms of economy, Chilean and Argentine wines need to be strongly considered.

              1 Reply
              1. re: michael

                Topline in Glendale has some outstanding values. Found a very nice modest Spanish red for $3.99 last weekend. Great red bandol for $6.99. They really look for great values, and the ownership is the father and brother of the LA Wine Company operation, so they do understand value pricing. Ask for Mike, Mark or Gene.
                Also, Robert Rogness at Wine Expo is either love him or leave him. But he loves Champagne, Italians, Zins, and similar (?) Great prices too. P.S. - get to love him.
                DuVin in weho is also good for the rarities. Rene really knows his stuff.
                Kermit Lynch's wines are carried locally by many stores, most at cheaper prices than in Berkeley. You just do not get the depth of selection.
                Whole Foods in Weho, Sherman Oaks(coldwater)and Brentwood have good selections, and some great values when on sale.
                Longs being headquartered in the Bay Area is justification for their carrying quality wines in the high-incomed areas like their Brentwood store. Realistically, Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have too many stores to be able to be too boutiqued, although the Fresh Fare Ralphs stores are getting better - but the prices are not.

              2. Two additional recommendations:

                1. The venerable Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset & Laurel. Excellent specials at good prices and a wide selection of wines by the glass to go with your pastrami.

                2. The wine store next to the new tapas joint Cobras & Matadors on Beverly Blvd. It is owned by the same proprietor as the restaurant and not surprisingly features Spanish wine. The selection was small but the other night the proprietor tipped me to a very good tempranillo for only 16 bucks. Spanish wines are a great buy at the moment. Restaurant itself was all it's cracked up to be on here, although it's hard to get used to eating tapas at a table. In Spain I always ate them at the bar. I mean that's what tapas are, aren't they -- bar hors d'oeuvres?

                1. Another legendary place demanding mention, and especially befitting a real "neighborhood store", is Morry's of Naples on 2nd St. in Naples, Long Beach. I only came upon it in the last year or so, having housesat for a friend in Belmont Shore, but from what I hear the new wine buyers have improved the selection and moderated the high prices for which they had been previously known. I've actually found some bottles here for less than I've seen at my other usual OC and south LA locs.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Kriss Reed
                    Carolyn Tillie

                    I love Morry's but am sad that it is for sale -- from this month's Wine Spectator (I'll exclude the contact info 'cuz I'm not advertising, just sharing gossip):

                    Wine Shop for Sale
                    Morry's of Naples
                    5764 East 2nd Street
                    Long Beach, CA 90803
                    Wine shop for sale. The owner of a reputable wine shop, which has been a Southern California institution since 1938, is considering a quality of life change. The business maintains a minimum 10% annual growth rate. The sale of the beach area properties are also an option.

                    Link: http://www.morrys.com

                    1. re: Carolyn Tillie

                      Wow, Carolyn, thanks for the heads-up. I hope the eventual new owners stay the course and maintain the shop's purpose and character.

                  2. c
                    Carolyn Tillie

                    I forgot some important ones...

                    SOME of the local Vons have really increased their wine selection -- I know of the one in Hermosa and the one in Long Beach, specifically. Fabulous deals (especially if you have a Vons card). Plus, if you buy 6 bottles, you get 10% off. I'm impressed with the selection of Rabbit Ridge and Renwood.

                    Also, down in Manhattan Beach is a little store called Bacchus. What is interesting about them is that they specialize in fabulous wines under $20.00. There are a few selections that cost more, but only a few. It is oddly set-up, with these cave-like walls with holes in them that are back-lit and have all the bottles in the holes. Knowledgable staff and the tags above the wines have food-pairing recommendations.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Carolyn Tillie
                      More of Everything

                      I've been inside Bacchus a few times, but I've never pulled the trigger on anything there. How are the prices there? I haven't recognized anything there where I'm familiar with what kind of values they offer. I kind of assume, perhaps incorrectly, that to afford the rent in that little boutique shop, they would need to charge a higher than normal mark-up on their wines.

                      As for the Vons in Hermosa, I have found several great bargains there. Its a really nice selection for a grocery store. Another good wine store in the area is the little store on Artesia Blvd next to McDonalds, just east of PCH/Sepulveda.

                      1. re: More of Everything

                        Bacchus has very fair prices; 80 per cent of the bottles in the shop are under $20.00. The owner really know her stock, too, and is quite happy to chat with customers. I use her as a resource when I'm cooking and can't figure out what to serve. She has given me excellent recommendations every time.

                      2. re: Carolyn Tillie

                        From your description, Bacchus' setup sounds a lot like Best Cellars in NYC, which started out as a single store on the Upper East Side specializing in bottles under $10 (I think they opened another branch in SoHo, and I'd heard there was another one in Seattle). The bottles are similarly displayed in back-lit cubbyholes in the walls.

                        1. re: Mark Lee

                          Their bottle display drives me nuts, but then again so do most wine stores. My brother is an earthquake safety consultant, and because of our frequent conversations on the subject I'm very sensitized to the dangers of falling glass. I'f I'm in a wine shop or the wine aisle of a supermarket when a big one hits, I'm going to break a world land speed record out the door...

                          1. re: Richard Foss

                            Or, head for the Bordeaux section and drown.

                            1. re: Richard Foss

                              Your brother is entirely correct. In the Northridge Quake, the Wine House on Cotner lost more than a third of their stock in a neighborhood that was hit in several locations with substantial, but far from catastrophic, damage.

                        2. The best value for the money in Los Angeles are the twin "garage" wine stores: LA Wine Company (4935 McConnell in the Marina, off Lincoln) and the friendlier Topline Wine and Spirits (4718 San Fernando Road, near Riverdale, in Glendale). These are no frills bargain outlets with amazingly good wines and often less than wholesale prices. If you know what you want before you go, you'll love these places (though they only have what they can get at good prices). If you don't know what you want, at least it's hard to get ripped off.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Griller141

                            I have gotten better deals at Wine Expo than at the Warehouse in the Marina. Some/many of the cheap wines were quite poor. I have not been back in years and wine making has gotten more consistent so it might be worth another try. Wine Expo is a sure thing. They taste everything and are very picky about what they buy. I have made some great purchases there. $5.00 Grove Street Syrah. $3.00 Terrale Primativo and a killer full bodied red, can't remember the name, for $6.00. You just tell them what expensive wines you like to drink and they show you a number of options of similar wines at much cheaper prices.

                          2. I reviewed all of the suggestions below & can echo my appreciation for many of them, but I was surprised that no one mentioned Wine Exchange in Orange County (not to mention Hi-Times in Costa Mesa). Wine Exchange has a very good newsletter, fair tastings, and a fairly robust web site. Their prices are cheaper than Wine House, and it is worth a trip if you are buying a few cases of higher end wines.