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WINTER 2010: "Off the Clock" Wine Tasting Series at DomaineLA

domainela.jpgI guess it's been over a year since I first visited DomaineLA and met owner Jill Bernheimer face to face. Before that we were just Twitter buddies, who both loved to talk about our favorite wine finds. I love visiting her store, because it's not only cool looking, but it has a great collection of some of the worlds best and mostly unheralded wines. Jill covers all the bases from sparkling to dessert, but nothing that you'd find in a grocery store or BevMo. Her bottlings are from small producers making exceptional wines at prices that won't hurt your pocketbook. There's no need to be intimidated in this store. She knows every bottle and will make sure you go home with something you'll be happy with.

Clearly you can't be in the wine business without making plenty of friends in the winery/restaurant/bar world. She recently began putting her connections to good use by starting a new wine-tasting series in the store featuring local wine professionals who share their thoughts on wine, along with tastes from their favorite bottles. Called Off the Clock, it gives visiting sommeliers and winemakers the chance to talk about wine in a more casual and friendly way, while exposing guests to varietals and regions they may be too scared or never had the opportunity to try.

domainejeff.jpgThe first guest speaker was Jeffrey Porter, who is the wine director/sommelier for the Mozza restaurant group. Nice job if you can get it. Not only was he quite funny – not sure all of the other tasters were expecting such an off-the-cuff experience – but his passion about wine was electric. His forté is in Italian varietals (Mozza's list is exclusively comprised of wines from Italy), but his knowledge spans the world and it was great to taste some of his favorites found outside of his job. Not only did he discuss the properties of each wine, but their origins and why it was special to him. He encouraged participation and answered all our questions with firm knowledge and a quick wit. I am not usually a fan of Champagne or Riesling but two of the wines he picked – the NV Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition and the 2009 Willi Schaefer Estate Riesling – reminded me just how good these wines can be. (I would have left with bottles of each, if I hadn't promised to stop buying wine...at least until the end of the year. Yes, I have a problem.) We all get in ruts and it's events like this that help push our wine boundaries. It doesn't hurt that Jeff took the usual guess work out of finding great producers that produce truly classy, complex wines that also delivered high quality for their price. He made me excited about wines I usually ignore and I hope to be able to learn more from him in the future.

keithmatt.jpgSince I had so much fun at the first tasting in November, I convinced my husband to drive over the hill on a recent weeknight to attend the December one. This time the evening featured the wines of Matt Kaner, a one-time employee of Silverlake Wine and the Wine Cask and current manager/wine director at Bar Covell, a wine bar that opened this summer in Silverlake. We were pleasantly surpised to find his friend, and recently ours, Keith Saarloos was also there. (He's on the right.) Growing up in Santa Barbara Matt found his love of wine early and a search to find under-the-radar winemakers in the region led him to the door of Keith, whose family are growers that began bottling and selling their own wines a few years ago. They connected over their love of Syrah and when Matt expressed his desire to make wine, instead of just sell it, Keith sold him some grapes and gave him access to their facility to create his AM/FM label. Their relationship is unique, as Matt is the only person who purchases Saarloos and Sons grapes who's allowed to say that on his label. And they sell a lot of juice/grapes to a lot of people in the SB region.

amfmbottles.jpgThis was the first public tasting of Matt's new wines – the 09 AM/FM Grenache Blanc and 08 AM/FM Cabernet Sauvignon both from Saarloos' El Camino Real Vineyard. They are so new they aren't even labeled yet. Both were deeply flavored, well-balanced and delightful to drink, showing great varietal character. With only 40 cases of the former and about 75 of the later, they are going to go fast. We also got to try the 2008 Saarloos and Sons 1947 Union, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah, as well as an off the shelf wine fav of Matt's, the 09 Yves Cuilleron Les Candives Syrah. They were complex and well-crafted though there was no mistaking which was from CA and which from France. Both disappeared from my glass quickly and made me quite a happy woman. Matt and Keith are doing a lot of experimenting, delivering wines that are far from the same old cookie cutter model and I for one look forward to drinking their current and future efforts for years to come. Their joy in crafting and sharing their wines really came through. Winemaking is their life, not just a business. For them it's not about the scores and awards, but the friends they make along the way.

Kudos to Jill for finding people for this series who are showing that the world of wine can be fun and accessible to everyone interested in exploring it. Her guests are professionals, but you'd almost never know it...and I mean that in the best possible way. The fact that the evening includes food (the first from Tinga, the second gourmet deli sandwiches) and 4 generous pours for a little over $20 a person makes it a steal. I can't wait to see who she brings in next. If you live in Los Angeles and don't know about DomaineLA, well you're missing out. Their motto – More wine, less attitude – is exactly what wine drinking and education should be all about. PS: Parking is a pain in the ass in this neighborhood so come early before all the spots are gone.

DomaineLA, 6801 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038 – (323) 932-0280

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