Serious Eats: Drinks
What Are You Drinking, Jill Bernheimer?
We're always on the lookout for good wine shops: the kind of stores where someone has really curated the selection and is offering only bottles they can really recommend. Jill Bernheimer's Domaine LA is one such shop, located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
We chatted with Jill recently about her favorite wines under $15 and her picks for the best Thanksgiving bottles. Here's what she had to say.
Sidenote: Domaine LA offers a gift registry, which I think is a pretty fantastic idea. Why not make a wishlist of bottles you'd love to try (in all price ranges) instead of getting a fancier toaster oven? New towels are awesome, but I'd rather have Champagne.
What are you drinking these days, Jill Bernheimer?
Recently, my husband and I embarked on a challenge to dine at home for 30 nights in a row. While we don't open a bottle with every meal, when we do it's always something appropriate for the food on the table. Last week we made burgers, and I opened a bottle from the Selection Massale portfolio: the 2009 A La Tache St. Joseph Cuvée Badel. It was a great wine for the two of us, since he prefers fuller reds and I prefer lighter. This was just the perfect balance: a wine with fullness and intensity, but also subtlety and lift. It also has a great story—it comes from a vineyard purchased by a group of workers known for their ability to deal with the steepest, most difficult sites of the northern Rhone. They banded together to buy the plot, which was cast off by a larger producer who deemed it too difficult and not worth their while. They've resurrected it from abandonment.
I've also started to get into the spirit of the holiday season and so bubbles have been on my mind—new bottles are coming in every week, and it's really my duty to sample those when they arrive, isn't it? If the Bereche Brut NV could be my everyday bottle, it would. But I have plenty of restraint!
How did you get into the wine business to begin with?
I had been working in the film business for some time, in development and then as an independent producer. As the years went on, I got more and more into wine as a hobby. I decided to take the WSET intermediate level, and began volunteering in a local shop just a few hours a week to do more tasting.
Soon after, I started a website on a lark that was both a wine blog and an online store. It was back in 2007 and it was fairly easy and cheap to get licensed in California as an online-only shop. I figured I'd do a modest business, subsidize my hobby, and maybe bring in some money while I still plugged away trying to get movies made. Pretty soon, the store began to do enough business that it was apparent I needed to choose one career or the other. I chose wine, and opened the brick and mortar shop Domaine LA in late 2009.
What is your vision and philosophy for the shop? What kinds of wines do you like to feature?
There are a few driving philosophies behind what's on the Domaine LA shelves. The first is that I sell wines I love to drink; and, by the same token, if I can't stomach a glass of something, the bottle doesn't deserve a slot.
Equally important is how the wines are made. The store focuses on wines that are grower-oriented—the winemakers are either the proprietors of their vineyards, they farm their land, or they are closely involved from that stage of the process through to bottling. Finally, the wines are for the most part small production and made from organic or biodynamic grapes, with indigenous yeast fermentations. These might end up being categorized by the outside world as "traditional", "terroir-driven" or "natural" (how many clichés can I throw around here?). Really, the common thread is that the wines in the shop are made on a human scale, not mass produced. I have a strong aversion to wines that have become "brands" and a bit of a fetish for what I like to call the underdog wines.
What are your top picks for delicious drinking under $15?
2012 Vincent Caillé Gros-Plant ($12): this is from the Loire Valley, near Muscadet. The grape variety is Gros-Plant, and it's really similar to Melon de Bourgogne, though maybe has a slight bit more earthy funk to it. This has zip, a bit of depth from lees-contact, and works well with all those hard-to-pair foods like artichokes and asparagus.
2012 Domaine du Sulauze Pomponette Rosé ($15): a classic Provencal rosé from Aix, made of Grenache and Cinsault, with splashes of Syrah, Mourvedre and even some Vermentino. It's rosé weather most of the year in LA, and I'm so thankful such a good, affordable and delicious rosé didn't hit the shores until September, when a lot of our summer staples of the 2012 vintage had already sold out for the vintage.
2012 Lapierre Raisins Gaulois ($13): 100% Gamay, mostly from Morgon with some AOC Beaujolais thrown in, from younger vines than the other Lapierre cuvées. Not quite a declassified Lapierre Morgon, but as close as you can come for thirteen bucks. I realize it's not the same grape, but I would recommend this over pretty much any $13 Pinot Noir, from anywhere in the world. You will not find a cheap Pinot as honest or interesting as this.
2012 Bernabeleva Camino de Navaherreros Bernabeleva Garnacha ($15): organically farmed Garnacha from higher altitude vineyards near Madrid, Spain. This is ruby colored, with some structure to it. It's got a little tar/graphite that rounds out the pure, red fruit. It's an affordable Spanish wine that tastes like Spain should taste, without the oak chips or mega-purple.
NV Sherman & Hooker (Bedrock Wine Co.) Shebang, Cuvée VI ($12): While my inclination is toward European wines, and to lighter bodied fare, I have to tip my hat to Morgan Twain-Peterson. He's working with some of the oldest vineyards in the state, largely field blends, reviving them and making sure they don't get torn up and replanted to more marketable grapes. This is a blend that comes largely from the leftover barrels from his fancier, single vineyard offerings. There's a ton of great juice, and perhaps even more history, packed into this $12 bottle.
The wines I've listed here are great every day, workhorse wines. They get the job done and are among the best in their class, true to where they're from, and to their varieties. That being said..spend just a little more, let's say $18 or $20 a bottle, and your choices will expand exponentially. Different styles, regions, and wines with layers of complexity. Especially when it comes to California—under $15, it's slim pickings, at least for non-mass produced wines.
What are you looking for when you choose wine to serve at Thanksgiving? What bottles do you recommend and why?
This might sound like a party-pooper answer, but I generally recommend that people get wines where the alcohol levels aren't over the top so they don't pass out by 3 p.m.
For reds, lighter to medium bodied reds work best with the proteins of the holiday anyhow: Cru Beaujolais from producers like Julien Sunier or Georges Descombes, Trousseau from the Jura, such as Gahier's Grand Vergers—or if you want to go American, try Arnot-Roberts' effort—or Frappato from Sicily (COS or Occhipinti) are all recommended. For a bit more heft, Loire Valley reds from Chinon do very well.
For whites, something with body but not too much oak, like the Cuvée Estagnol Bandol from Bastide Blanche.
And then there's orange wine, another controversial category! While it might not be fashionable at the moment to push skin-fermented whites, the Donkey & Goat Stonecrusher Roussanne, with its extended skin contact during fermentation, has a savory character that matches so many autumn flavors.
What LA restaurant wine lists impress you these days and why? Where do you like to go to drink wine in LA?
You interviewed Lou Amdur not long ago and I can't disagree with any of this answers...Bestia, Night + Market, and Alma have put together eclectic lists from which I can always find an interesting, surprising bottle.
To add some more to the mix, I think Trois Mec is doing a phenomenal job with pairings in particular, and introducing LA diners to some more offbeat French selections that other restaurants at its level have shied away from. The Hungry Cat (Santa Monica location in particular) has the most daring and impressive grower Champagne list in the city. And I always enjoy ending my day sitting at the bar at Salt's Cure for dinner, where they feature the best and brightest "new California" producers.
But my single most memorable day of drinking in recent months was actually spent in Santa Barbara, at the wine bar, Les Marchands. Since opening fairly recently, they've amassed an incredibly well-thought-out selection, both by the glass and bottle, and I could have stayed much longer than I did.