On the corner of 5th and Spring streets in downtown L.A., across from the Last Bookstore, is Buzz Wine Beer Shop, the go-to store for craft beer aficionados, but also for wine fanatics intent on picking up a bottle of something unusual.
Owned by Scott Kamalski and David Bakhshi, who also operate L.A. Cafe down the street, Buzz is a magnet for the downtown crowd. And now the shop has the license not only to pour tastings, but glasses of wine (and beer) at the bar in back, where you can also order food in from L.A. Cafe.
The wine buyer is Courtney Walsh, who drives in every day from the South Bay, where she grew up. When she started at Buzz, she was issued the staff uniform: a dark blue one-piece mechanic's jumpsuit with an embroidered Buzz tag over the right breast. She was offered a dress version of the uniform, but declined, and now looks perfectly comfortable behind the bar pouring wines for guests or taking them on a small tour around the shop with shelves labeled Francophile or Compelling Reds or Bubble Circus or Eurovision.
"At the shop we have a wine camp and a beer camp, and I'm always trying to lure the beer camp over to my side by pouring them a little wine," says Walsh. "What's interesting is that they tend to go for the more funky wines."
How did this 25-year-old Californian ever get so deep into wine? When she studied in Rome for a couple of years as an undergraduate, wine was just a bit cheaper than water, she says. She went on to get a master's in history and thought wine would always be a side passion, but she ended up flipping the two. Now her work is wine and she feeds her history obsession by buying books and haunting museums.
What would you consider the focus of the shop? Natural, organic and biodynamic wines from all over. That's been the focus since the store opened. I've brought in more domestic wines and created a section for West Coast reds and whites. California has so many different microclimates and terroirs. We can make not only these big bold reds, but also really elegant wines with more restraint — and that's what interests me.
Which wine region is your real passion? Right now I'm obsessed with wines from Southern Oregon made with varietals from France's Loire Valley, now known as "Loiregon." Everyone thinks Pinot Noir for Oregon, but on a trip up there recently, I found people making some amazing Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. I'm also obsessed with the wines grown on the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna in Sicily. [Both regions have been featured in tastings at the shop.]
What's the bottle you'd like to grab off the shelf right now and take home for dinner? I've discovered a new winery in Oregon called Minimus that makes all experimental wines. Each wine is made only once. The most recent is a Syrah called "No. 7 Natural?" produced without the addition of sulfites or any other additives and bottled unfined and unfiltered. It's meant to open a dialogue about what it means to make a natural wine.
What's the one bottle you're saving for a special occasion? It would be the 2011 Philippe Bornard Plouffard "La Chamade" from the Jura [about $50]. It's beautiful. We drank a little bit of it when the buyer before me left, and I can't stop thinking about that wine. It's ethereal, very aromatic and really pretty. I'm just waiting to have an occasion to open a bottle.
In terms of price/quality, what would you recommend? 2013 Domaine de Givaudan La Bete Côtes du Rhône. It's a fantastic expression of Côtes du Rhône and a great value at $15.50.
Do you have tastings? Yes, check the website for upcoming tastings. You can also make your own flight of wine at the bar, any three of the 40 wines on the menu for $11.
We can also open any bottle in the store for an $8 corkage fee, $3 for beer and during Bar Binge, our version of happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, we waive the beer corkage and the fee for opening a bottle of wine is just $3.
What's the one wine region you'd like to explore next? I'd really would love to go to the Republic of Georgia, the birthplace of wine, where they've been making wine the same way for thousands of years — it would be a historic visit as much as a contemporary one.
Buzz Wine Beer Shop, 460 S. Spring Street (at 5th), Los Angeles, (213) 622-2222, www.buzzwinebeershop.com.