Red, white and bubbly

Tucked away in a cozy corner at the 55 Degree Wi7ne shop and bar in Atwater Village, Tony Essa's students listen intently as he cradles a bottle of bubbly, pink wine from Penedes, Spain.

"It goes through two fermentations; the second takes place over 24 months, making this very nice and balanced," Essa said. "It is light and dry on the finish, bone dry on the finish, with a nice froth to it."

The Canals Rosat Reserva Brut Nature was one of three bubblies offered recently as part of a wine flight at 55 Degree Wine. While they look and taste much like champagne, the wines cannot be referred to as champagne because they hail from Italy and Spain, not Champagne, France, Essa explained.

There are toasts, sips and lip smacking all around, and then it is on to one of Germany's most famous exports.

"Rieslings kind of have a rap as being a sweet wine, but they are not always a sweet wine," Essa said. "They weren't originally accepted as a sweet wine; they were accepted as an elegant wine."

Open since February 2008, 55 Degree Wine offers formal and informal tasting classes for those looking to broaden their knowledge of wine. The bar specializes in Italian wines, although it does offer a smattering of options from Spain, France, Germany and the United States, said manager Stephanie Jensen.

"Our collection is extremely exclusive," Jensen said. "We try not to have too many California wines because we live here, and it is more fun to take a field trip to the winery, so we thought we would introduce people to new wines they have never heard of from regions they have never thought of."

In addition, 55 Degree Wine offers flights and glasses of specialty European beers.

The four-flight wine menu is composed based on region, winery and grape, Jensen said.

"The flight menu changes every week, so there is always at least 12 wines open to try," Jensen said. "They are available in the flight or by the glass."

The tasting lessons also include the history of the vineyards and wineries themselves, such as the Italian Barolo wars of the 1970s.

"I like the atmosphere," said Christine Lang, 38, of Sherman Oaks. "I of course like the wine, [and] the fact that they have the shop upstairs."

Melissa Jazmines, 26, of Glendale, and Thomas Broersma, 31, of Glassell Park slowly sipped their way through Zinfantivo flight, stopping to buy several bottles of the Italian red Doppio Passo Primitivo on the way out.

"But I just don't see [white wine] as quite as adventurous and exciting," said Thomas Broersma, 31. "When you find a really good red, the rewards of it are much greater."

The exclusivity of the wines makes for a sharp learning curve for new 55 Degree Wine employees and their patrons, Jensen said.

"They are not wines you are going to try [elsewhere] and know about," Jensen said. "These are wines you know about because we are the only ones who carry them."

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