A friend, deep into wine, once told me his father used to drink just one wine: Georges du Boeuf Beaujolais. Every night. I know someone else who orders two cases of rosé to last the entire summer. And that's the only wine she drinks. She doesn't want to try anything else. At that point, wine is just a beverage, nothing more, each sip the same.
Some wine buffs will drink only wines ranked over 90 points by the likes of Robert B. Parker Jr. or Wine Spectator. Presumably, anything else is beneath their exquisitely tuned palates.
Life may be too short to drink bad wine, but it's also probably too short to drink the same wine over and over. OK, say you adore Chateau Margaux, so much so that you name your daughter after the Bordeaux estate. What then? To be fair, in the 1930s and '40s, Chateau Margaux didn't cost anywhere near what it costs today.
At one time, half the restaurants in town had lists made by big distributors. Now restaurateurs know the value of a good list and a sommelier or wine director who puts it together and keeps it fresh. And you can find some of the most informed people in the business clerking at your local wine shop.
But if you want to drink better, you need to pay attention. When a sip of wine rings a bell, when you can't wait to take another sip and try to untangle the wine's distinctive perfume and taste, seek out other examples of that grape or region. Punch editor Talia Baiocchi tasted a sherry one night and found to her surprise that she loved it. Soon she was on her way to southern Spain and writing a book about it. Poet Bill Mayer was attracted to German wines at a time when the names and labeling were almost impenetrable to a Californian. He relished the challenge and ended up becoming an importer of German and Austrian wines.
To find the wines you love, you might start by picking one grape you like and following its iterations through the new and old worlds. It's fascinating how different, or in some cases how similar, Riesling or Syrah can taste, depending on where it's grown. Or try setting aside the so-called noble grapes — Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc. — and explore little-known, indigenous grapes that are indelibly wedded to place.
If Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc speaks to you, go ahead and trace that grape through different terroirs and landscapes. The character of the wine can change depending on soil, climate, the way it's grown or vinified, or the hand of the winemaker. Chameleon-like, its presence can be blunt or infinitely shaded.
What's important is to develop your own sense of taste. If you rely too much on points or what critics write, you'll end up drinking the wines that somebody else loves, but maybe not you. And if the point of wine is pleasure, get out there and find your own. The way to do that is by attending tastings, sharing bottles with friends and also drinking just one bottle and noticing how the wine evolves over a couple of hours. Wine is not only a beverage, it's a relationship.
Some wine shops that offer tastings in the L.A. area
One way to find wines that you like is to go to the tastings at wine shops. Some have very impressive tasting programs. Most charge a moderate fee to taste wines from a single producer or region or grape. Most tastings are themed — and tempting. To find out about them, check the wine shop's website or get on the email list.
Bar & Garden
Sign up for the mailing list for this well-curated Culver City store and you'll get invitations to quirky tastings two or three times a week, always accompanied by cool cheeses, bread or other bites. Recent themes have included indigenous Greek varietals, wines grown on volcanic soils, California rosés and Italy versus U.S. (same varietals, different soils and climate).
Bar & Garden in Culver City, (310) 876-0759, www.barandgarden.com. Tastings 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays. Three wines for $12 or four for $15, Occasional spirit tastings on Thursdays.
Buzz Wine & Beer Shop
This downtown L.A. shop has a terrific selection of wine and beer. Wine lovers will want to stop in for the Thursday night flight. The themes are very specific: wines of the European isles or Italian wines from volcanic soils, say, or, here's a good one, "Loiregon" (Loire Valley varietals made in Oregon). On the website, check out the hilarious trailer for the 2010 documentary "Blood Into Wine" with
Buzz Wine & Beer Shop in Los Angeles, (213) 622-2222, buzzwinebeershop.com. Thursday night flights from 7 to midnight, $22 to $30 for five or six wines. Monday to Friday happy hour flight, three wines for $8 from 3 to 7 p.m. Build your own flight of three wines anytime for $11.
Owner Jill Bernheimer hosts tastings in her eclectic Hollywood shops on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. The subject could be grower Champagnes, new California wines or wines from a single winemaker, such as Pedro Rodriguez from Ribeira Sacra region in Spain. On Thursdays, guests of the shop pick wines they're passionate about and pour them for customers. Fridays are more of a casual thing. And Sundays are for more serious tastings. Check the website for an updated schedule.
DomaineLA in Los Angeles, (323) 932-0280; www.domainela.com. Tastings 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays. $5 to $20.
This savvy Pasadena shop schedules three tastings a week: Tuesdays (three wines plus farmhouse cheeses and bread, with the Heirloom LA truck parked out front), Friday night (three wines from a single region, grape or winemaker) and Saturday afternoon (a sparkling wine and three wines focused on a theme).
Everson Royce in Pasadena, (626) 765-9334; www.eversonroyce.com. Tastings 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays. $12 to $15.
Lou's Wine Shop & Tastings
Lou Amdur sends out an email blast once a week with that week's very eclectic tastings. Get on that list so you'll get notice of winemaker events, tastings of Cabernet Franc or orange wines, natural wines or wines from a single importer. A few events require reservations, but most are just walk-ins and can get crowded. Some, like a recent Lambrusco and pizza event, include food.
Lou's Wine Shop & Tastings in Los Angeles, (323) 305-7004, www.louwineshop.com. Usually 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 2 to 7 p.m. Saturdays. Most tastings are three wines for $10.
At this Pasadena shop, the schedule varies for tastings of Rioja, Spanish whites, high-end Australian reds or red Burgundies and more. Thursday through Sunday, you can always find an interesting array of wines at the bar, along with focused tasting flights that may highlight one region or grape. On Fridays, there's a blind tasting contest: Gess the grape varietal of three out of four of the wines (two whites, two reds), and the tasting (normally $20) is free.
Monopole Wine in Pasadena, (626) 577-9463, www.monopolewine.com. Tastings, 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, all day Saturdays and Sundays. Night flights of three wines, $10; focused flights of three, $20.
Rosso Wine Shop
Jeff Zimmitti plans a robust series of tastings on Fridays and Saturdays. He's strong on French and Italian wines but also brings in exciting bottles from the Central Coast. Some tastings follow a theme; others are just what's new and of interest. Friday night's lineup also includes appetizers from chef Matthew Roberts.
Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale, (818) 330-9130, www.rossowineshop.com. Tastings, 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Three wines, $10.
Silver Lake Wine
George Cosette and Randy Clement's tasting program is exciting and well attended. Flights of three reds and three whites are poured on Thursdays while the Let's Be Frank hot dog truck is outside. Blue Mondays offer three unique wines paired with farmhouse cheeses and bread while the Heirloom LA truck is parked out front. Once a month on a Sunday, it's four wines paired with four courses from a local chef.
Silver Lake Wine in Los Angeles, (323) 662-9024, www.silverlakewine.com. Tastings 3 p.m. Sundays (one per month, includes catered food, reservations required), 5 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. $15, or $25 for the Sunday event.
The Westlake Village shop has a tasting of eight different wines every week from Thursdays to Sundays. It could be new Cabs, Syrahs from around the world, Pacific Northwest wines or other themes. In addition, they have 42 wines on tap to taste.
Wade's Wines in Westlake Village, (818) 597-9463, www.wadeswines.com. Tastings 4:30 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 to 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays. $18.
The Wine Country
This Signal Hill shop offers a crazy number of tastings each week. In just one week, they featured wines of Italy's Puglia, Rhone Valley wines and Napa and Sonoma Zinfandels. Fridays are usually reserved for classes and seminars that require a reservation. For others, especially Thursdays' commuter tastings, walk-ins are welcome. See the schedule on the website.
The Wine Country in Signal Hill, (562) 597-8303, www.thewinecountry.com. Tastings 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, 4:30 p.m. Thursdays and 1 p.m. Saturdays. Thursday commuter tastings, $10; Saturdays, $20; and Friday night classes, $40 to $60.
The tasting bar at Wine Expo in Santa Monica is open nightly, but every Monday and Thursday, you can taste 20 diverse wines for just $20, which is quite the deal. The choices change each week. And on the second weekend of each month, get ready for the Champagne and artisanal bacon fest.
Wine Expo in Santa Monica, (310) 828-4428, wineexpo.com. Monday and Thursdays, 20 wines for $20, before 7 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, happy hour with 50% off glasses of wine; 5 p.m. to midnight on the second weekend of each month, Champagne and bacon fest, $30.