Maxwell Leer is sommelier at Bestia, praised by the L.A. Times for its "new, anti-California cuisine." Leer provides a sometimes offbeat wine program to complement the Italian cuisine at this downtown L.A. restaurant. He recently talked about his background as well as the "sleeper" on his list and the one bottle of wine that really blew him away.
Leer arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 2009 when he and chefs Casey Lane and Jesse Barber moved south from Portland, Ore., where they’d worked together, to open the Tasting Kitchen in Venice. He went on to work with Spanish chef José Andrés at the Bazaar in Beverly Hills and is currently wine director at Bestia.
And now he's a wine producer with the first vintage of Fleur de Valle, a vin gris from Rancho Cucamonga Valley, an American Viticultural Area just 45 minutes from Los Angeles. Made from Grenache rouge, Fleur de Valle is a very lightly hued rosé made in collaboration with the Filippi family, who have been growing grapes for five generations.
What's your favorite wine region to visit?
"I wish I had the good fortune to assign a travel section to my schedule. I’ve got a long list of places I want to visit. Since I started as wine buyer in Portland and later in Los Angeles, I just haven’t had the time or the opportunity. But where I’d like to go is Valle d’Aosta in northwest Italy. I so much want to go and invest myself in learning how wines are made there."
What's the sleeper wine on your list?
"One of my favorite wines on the menu is a Hungarian demi-sec frizzante (I’m sort of culturally muddling wine terminology here). Ultimately, it’s sparkling wine made in Budapest by the Hungarian producer Törley called Fortuna. A lot of Americans tend to say they don’t want any sweetness in wine, but what they mean to say is that they don’t want wines that are cloying. This wine is balanced and clean, with a bright acidity — and it’s cheap. It’s a blend of four grapes — Muscat Lunel, Muscat Ottonel, Irsai Olivér and Pearl of Csaba. Beautifully aromatic, it demonstrates that Hungarians are masters of how to implement sweetness and residual sugar in a way that’s polite and approachable."
If you could encourage every customer to buy just one bottle, what would it be?
"Alberto Tedeschi makes a great Pignoletto. It’s a white wine that resembles the textures of a light red wine. It’s a style of wine (people call it orange wine) that goes very well with the cuisine at Bestia. It’s lower in acidity but has a real depth of flavor and texture."
What’s the last wine that really blew you away?
"Probably a Pigato from Laura Aschero in Liguria. The current release is the 2009, and it’s the last there will ever be. I first had it at Night+Market, when I brought in a bottle to have with Kris Yenbamroong’s food. We were eating fermented sausage, rice with tons of chopped peppers, fish sauce, and the wine with the food was just ridiculous together. But Laura Aschero has passed away, and her son, who has taken over the winemaking, has a different vision for the wine."
Where do you like to eat on your night off?
"I really like what Dan [Maltern] and Roxana [Jullapat] are doing at Cooks County. We all used to work together in Portland. They have a nice, homey concept and the food is really comfort."