The Best Kept Wine Secret in L.A.


From the outside, Les Freres Taix on Sunset doesn’t appear to be the kind of restaurant that would have one of the great wine lists in America. Maybe that’s what makes it such an incredible place: It’s still unknown.

Well, not exactly unknown. Any night of the week the valets can be seen scampering to handle the traffic. It’s just that a place that has about 200 seats for dinner and serves twice that number of dinners on weekend nights should be selling more than $250,000 worth of wine a year.

It’s not. It is, however, doing more than twice the wine business it did in 1984, the year before Mike Taix took over the wine program from his father and turned it from something that was merely interesting to something that was exciting and dynamic.


It wasn’t until about a year ago--when Taix began printing a multi-page computerized menu listing virtually every drinkable wine owned by the restaurant--that the real intent of this program took shape. (Previously, only 30 or 40 of the restaurant’s wines were printed on a menu and it was rarely updated.) It may be another year before Mike gets his true pay-back: national recognition.

Here are a few of the things this wine program offers:

Good wine-by-the-glass selections that change often.

450 selections all priced so low you think they’re a misprint.

Many wines for sale to take home by the case--at prices competitive with the deepest-discount shops in town.

Some examples: There are 25 white Burgundies priced at less than $30 a bottle, including 13 from the famed 1985 vintage; 37 California Chardonnays priced at $20 or less (including 1987 Silverado at $16.75, 1985 Vichon at $18.75 and 1985 Simi at $17.75); 80 Bordeaux including 1976 and 1978 Chateau Montrose at $30 and 1974 Lynch Bages at $27; and a string of California Cabernets, many from older vintages.

You won’t find any vertical selection of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild here, however, because Mike buys with his palate, not his ego.

“I’m a close-out buyer,” he said. “I buy good wines in small quantities until I find that ‘deal’ that other people can’t see because the name is wrong.”

Such a wine is the 1981 Chante-Alouette, white Hermitage from Chapoutier, a wine you can buy for $9.75 a bottle here, or $3 a glass. The wine is a good example of an older white Hermitage. It would sell for about $13 a bottle at retail. Mike bought dozens of cases of it after the wholesaler went out of business.


He made the same kind of deal on a 1979 Haut Cote de Beaune red wine, which you can buy for $8.75 a bottle with your dinner. Or you can take a case home for $54--$4.50 a bottle.

The tradition of selling wine both on-sale (with dinner) and off-sale (for take-out) is an old one at Taix, going back to Marius Taix’s pharmacy, Brunswick Drugs, on Commercial Street in downtown L.A. in the 1930s where medicinal wines were sold.

Later, his son, Raymond Taix, handled an extensive wine list at the old family-style Taix Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. When office development forced a move to the present location on Sunset, Raymond opened a wine shop at the entrance of the new restaurant. He closed it a decade ago to add seating space.

Mike, 30, said he was raised the same way his father been raised: with wine on the dinner table. At age 16, Mike already knew what he liked. In 1985, after taking a course in wine appreciation from the late Dr. Ralph Hutchinson, Mike asked his father if he could handle the wine program.

Shortly after Raymond gave his OK, Mike stumbled upon a treasure trove of White Burgundies and Bordeaux from the 1920s hidden in the wine cellar.

The wines had been perfectly stored, and were in fine condition, but the clientele that then dined at Taix wasn’t knowledgeable enough to know they were worth hundreds of dollars per bottle.


So Mike shipped them off to an East Coast wine auction house, took the profits he earned from their sale and began to stock the cellar. Fancy names or gold-sprayed labels meant nothing. Taste was everything.

And instead of re-opening the shop, Mike simply put the case prices of wines available to take home right on the wine list.

Example: 1981 Chateau Clos L’Eglise, $22 with dinner, $165 by the case ($13.33 a bottle).

Case prices for older wines here are often a bargain: a 1976 Burgundy at $19 a bottle; a 1982 Bordeaux at $12; 1977 Louis Martini Monte Rosso Zinfandel, $6.50. (Alas, the latter wine was discovered recently by a gentleman who bought all five cases that were left.)

There are some obvious weaknesses with this sort of buying program--you sacrifice depth for price--but there’s no denying the validity of Taix’s formula for pricing younger, commercially available wine:

“I price everything at $5 a bottle above retail,” Mike says. “That way, I can discourage people from bringing in their own wine.”

Of course you can bring in your own wine--corkage is $5--but when you can get well-cellared wine for the same amount you’d pay retail plus corkage, who would want to?


Les Freres Taix, 1911 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 484-1265.