Lou Amdur is a fixture on the Los Angeles wine scene. After six years in business, he closed his eponymous wine bar to focus on a new project, the recently opened Lou Wine and Provisions on North Virgil Avenue next to Sqirl Cafe in Silver Lake. His focus is 'democratically priced wine'—all the bottles he's selling clock in under $25. We checked in with Lou about what he's drinking these days, plus his tips on finding interesting and delicious wines without shelling out too much cash.
Tell us a bit about how you're choosing wines for your new shop, Lou's Wine and Provisions.
I try to support honest wines made by farmers rather than machines or score-generating algorithms. My focus is on natural and curious wines. I have a very simple-minded understanding of natural wine: wines without makeup. To me this means wines fermented with wild yeast, from grapes organically or at least reasonably grown, produced without synthetic additives, and vinified without space age technologies.
I am aware that there is colossal market pressure for growers and winemakers to make acceptable wines: wines that conform to international norms of good taste. Nevertheless, there's no scarcity of venues for those wines in Los Angeles. I am one of those assholes trying to turn people on to wines made by folks that care little about conformity and more about honoring their vines, the life of the dirt in which the vines grow, and the traditions of their regions.
Can you tell us a bit about a few of your favorite under-$25 wines in the shop right now?
That's like asking me to pick my favorite child! OK, not really. It all depends on how I feel and where I am in the Heraclitean flux. Right now, it's warm, dry, and dusty here in Los Angeles (the Santa Ana winds are picking up), and I feel like I only want to drink crisp, refreshing, light-bodied wines to blow the cobwebs from my skull. I have a very reasonably priced light and crunchy Apremont from the Bernard Family that Charles Neal brings in, and that's what I crave right now.
Your new shop will offer cheese in addition to wine. What's your advice for serving wines and cheeses that go well together?
I will sell cut and wrapped cheese; not a lot, just five or six different cheeses, and I'm going to focus on California farmstead cheese. As far as cheese and wine pairing, the simple path is to look at the region of origin and see what the locals drink with their cheese. Parmesan, not grated but just irregular shards hacked off with a paring knife? Try a dry Lambrusco, such as Fondo Bozzole's rustic 'Incantabiss.' A chalky, young goat milk cheese? Try a Montlouis demi-sec from François Chidaine. One of my absolute favorite wine-cheese pairings involves not a wine, but Normandy cider. A traditional, organically grown Normandy cider, bottled without pasteurization and filtration, such as Etienne DuPont's Bouché Brut de Normandie and a super-aged cheddar, like Hook's 15 year from Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
If we're looking for wine on a budget, how can we get the most interesting and delicious bottles?
First, right now, I want you to stop shopping for your budget wines at Trader Joe's or big box stores like Costco, and know that these merchants are venues for industrially made wines manufactured in million bottle lots. If you're lucky enough to live in a city of any size, you will have several smaller wine shops from which to choose. In SF, you will be happy to shop at Biondivino, run by my sister, Ceri Smith; in NYC, you might shop at Frankly Wine or Chambers Street or Flatiron; in Los Angeles, Domaine LA or Bar and Garden. These are wine shops with personalities, run by people that have a point of view, and they all stock a fair number of value-priced wines.
What are you drinking these days that you're excited about?
We recently had supper at Bestia in downtown Los Angeles and enjoyed a charmingly aromatic bottle from the Kremstal, a wine growing region located not far from Vienna: Berger's gelber muskateller. Dry muscat is tricky to pull off, as it's a grape lacking in natural acidity and so you can get something that has all the aroma of muscat (too much, at times), but as inert as a Real Doll. The marker for all of Berger's wines is crisp acidity, and his muscat is no exception. Other good examples of dry muscat to look out for are Grosjean's from Italy's Vallée d'Aoste, and from France's Languedoc region, Jean Gardies's basic white blend, which is mostly muscat. Dry muscat can be a fantastic food wine—in Alsace, it's a favored match for the otherwise impossible to pair asparagus.
Last week I had the remainder of a bottle of very old vines côt (aka malbec) from Grange Tiphaine that I greedily took home from a Farm Wine tasting luncheon at Salt's Cure. Even after a couple of days in the fridge, the wine was still vibrant and alive. This is one of the top red wines I've tasted this year—it's a rustic bottle, not fancy, and it won't win any Parker points, but us peasants suffering from innumeracy are incapable of caring about numbers.
Do you ever get frustrated with the Los Angeles wine scene?
The wine scene in Los Angeles doesn't frustrate me—we have incredible wine people here, and many drinkers thirsty for good wine. It does make me sad to see diners ordering cocktails with their entrees. As a wine professional, I feel like my people could do a better job of seducing younger folks to trying a compelling glass or two of wine. Cocktails are great—as an aperitif—but tell me, how is that Cosmo working out with that Kurobota pork chop? Real wine, craft beer, traditional apple cider—they're all products of the earth, and a bottle of wine, especially, has the ability to change throughout a meal.
Are there any local restaurant wine lists you love?
I already mentioned Bestia—Maxwell Leer is doing a great job of there. I dig the wine list at Alma, and the food. Terroni is the place to go for a vast selection of the traditional wines of Italy—Max Stefanelli is something of an Italian wine savant. Rory Harrington and Jeremy Parzen do great stuff at Sotto, with a small and tight wine list focused on the wines of the south of Italy. Night + Market has a great, compact natural wine list.