Chris Keller on Spain, Albarino and Jelly Roll Syrah
Wine consultant Chris Keller is responsible for the wine lists at Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, and Bar Pintxo and Tar & Roses in Santa Monica. But he also makes his own wine near Santa Maria and sells that at the restaurants (and others) too. The wines he makes under his “emanuel tres” label are influenced by Catalonia and, as he puts it, have an accent on freshness. They include a Blanco (Grenache Blanc) and a Tinto (a young Tempranillo). And he also makes a Rosado or rosé, because, he says, “I want to have a wine to drink at the Hollywood Bowl!”
What’s your favorite wine region to visit?
Spain. I really like the variety from east to west coast, to north. Everybody makes something completely different than everybody else. But I think the main attraction is that people are making wines that are really good with food and making wines very naturally — with native yeasts and not very much alcohol. Because of that lack of manipulation, you get very varietally specific wine that tastes like the place it comes from. And that quality is important to me when I’m trying to put a wine list together that goes with food.
Rioja has probably has influenced me as much as any.
My favorite spot there is Elciego in the Rioja Alta, a little postage stamp town that’s so quaint and great. I go into the market and hold up two fingers and the lady will give me two bottles of wine with no label on it for 1.75 euros. And the wines are just a beautiful representation of the region.
What’s the sleeper on your lists?
The Avinyó Brut Reserva Cava, an incredibly high-quality sparkling wine from Penedes. It’s really reasonably priced, one-third the price of Champagne — and delicious. It matches really well with first courses. You can also serve it with dessert. Cava makes you smile. For me it’s all about having fun.
If you could encourage every customer to buy just one bottle, what would it be?
The Do Ferreiro Albariño from Galicia in Spain. It’s awesome. They make three levels: regular, old vines and an Albariño in barrique. I think the minerality and the richness are something that domestic wine drinkers probably have not experienced. The combination of cool climate and really gravelly soil makes a really bright, brilliant wine.
What’s the last wine that really blew you away?
Jelly Roll makes a Syrah from Arroyo Grande’s “Rim Rock Vineyard.” This wine is amazing, like a combination of Hermitage and St. Joseph with new-world fruit component and no new oak at all. It’s strictly an expression of the vineyard in the bottle, really beautiful.
Who else has a great list?
Paul Sanguinetti is doing a great job at Ray’s at LACMA. For a young guy, he really gets the elegance of wine.
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