To talk about the wine list at Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, you have to know that the same space was Café Pierre for 37 years and that Guy Gabriele, the UCLA student who started that place way back in 1977 as a creperie, is also the owner of this popular new restaurant.
That original creperie soon morphed into a bistro in the then-sleepy beach town and Gabriele, who grew up in Toulon, France, soon made friends with winemakers, including Fred Brander, Rick Longoria and Bob Lindquist.
He started going up to Santa Ynez and to Napa and Sonoma, always seeking out small boutique wineries not yet on the radar. And since we're talking 1980, the California wine scene was just taking off. The wine list grew and grew and when Gabriele closed Café Pierre in early 2014, he was left with a $300,000 inventory of wine. Some he sold to friends. Some he drank. Still, he had about 20% of his old cellar left.
Before Café Pierre closed, Gabriele was in talks with Michael Fiorelli, who had just left Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verde, to do a restaurant together. After a year of talking, Gabriele, his daughter Sylvie and Fiorelli opened Love & Salt in November last year in the former Café Pierre space.
Billed as "Italian inspired with a California soul," the restaurant's menu is a real disruptor on the Manhattan Beach scene. Roasted glazed pig's head? Corned lamb tongue panini? Agnolotti with wilted escarole, Parmesan broth and little rabbit meatballs? Check.
For the wine list, Gabriele researched Italian wines and Italian varietals made in California. But he's also added a sly category called cugini, or the cousins, which collects a few wines from neighboring Provence or Spain or Austria.
He wanted the list to be affordable, with great wines even at $38 or $42 and initially, every bottle was under $100. Some guests, though, wanted not just a $65 Barolo, but a more expensive Barolo reserva, so Gabriele upgraded to bottles under $200.
Still, old customers who knew and loved Café Pierre's wine list kept asking where all the older bottles were. And so, Gabriele came up with the Legacy wine list, which offers a selection of older wines from his former wine cellar.
Focus of the list: Italian and Italian varietals from California.
Author: Guy Gabriele.
How many selections: Just under 100 wines on the regular list and 67 on the exclusively red Legacy list, including a 1997 Gaja Sperss from Piedmonte, Italy, seven vintages of Napa Valley's Scarecrow and eight of Opus One.
How it's organized: Whites from the boot, reds from the boot, neighborhood whites, neighborhood reds, cugini (Italian for the cousins) whites and cugini reds. And at the end is a section called "from me to you," wherein Gabriele suggests little-known gems he's found on his wine adventures.
How helpful is the list: Just the straight facts with no embellishments: vintage, producer, name of wine and the region. Italian producers tend to be the less well known.
Wines by the glass program: 25 wines by the glass or quartino (a quarter of a liter, or 1/3 of a normal bottle) from $8 to $17 and $17 to $26.
Best wine by the glass: 2013 Habit Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, $14.
Best red wine value: 2009 Tabarrini Sagrantino di Montefalco "Colle Grimaldesco,” Umbria, Italy, $52.
Best white wine value: 2013 Giornata Vermentino Paso Robles, $48.
Red wine worth a splurge: 2012 A Tribute to Grace Grenache, $89, or 2010 Saxum Red Blend "Heart Stone Vineyard," Paso Robles, $200
White wine worth a splurge: 2012 Di Prisco Greco di Tufo, Campania, Italy, $50.
Corkage policy: $25 per bottle, two bottle maximum. Buy a bottle from the list and they'll waive one corkage fee.