I love shopping at a wine store that's new to me. Tiny boutiques, huge warehouses, corner liquor stores, grocery store wine aisles - it doesn't matter to me. I love the discovery of finding what sort of wine delights the owner of the establishment. Often, that's exactly what you'll find on the shelves.
I recently purchased a Groupon to be redeemed at 55 Degree Wine in Atwater Village. I had intended to drop into the place for some time, but hadn't found the opportunity. Having what amounted to a two-for-one deal to redeem, and a Christmas shopping trip to the Glendale Galleria, gave me the impetus to do my shopping here.
55 Degree Wine occupies a portion of a nondescript strip mall set back off Glendale Boulevard, just east of the Golden State Freeway. Inside, the store is narrow and long with the shelves running from the door to the cashier's table. It's so full of wine there's barely space enough to turn around.
Founder Andy Hasroun sat at the cashier's table and had a conversation with me while I shopped. He peeked out from under his pork pie hat to talk to me and other customers who happened in to the store. He seemed very young for a pork pie hat, but everyone who wears a pork pie hat these days seems too young for it.
"We have 90, 95% Italian wines in here," Andy explained. "Some Portuguese, some from Spain, a little from all parts of the world. Mostly Italian, though." His accounting is probably accurate, as I performed a slightly more than cursory examination to find amid the rows of Italians only half a row or so of Portuguese and Spanish wines, a handful of Germans, a few Champagnes and two California wines. "Nearly all the wines in the store come from very small producers - less than a thousand cases per year. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing." "How's that?" I asked, taking the bait perfectly with my Jack Webb impersonation. "The good thing is that all the wines are of the quality you can expect only from a small producer. The bad thing is, when you come back to get more of a wine you loved, it may not be here."
That would be unfortunate, but I'm guessing you'd be able to find something else you like without too much trouble.
Even though it was too early for the tasting in the cellar, Andy insisted I go downstairs and have a look. It's cold down there - I'd say about 55 degrees - and dark, too. That's all the better for storing the wine. Several tables and a small bar awaited the evening's wine lovers, with an array of bottles and glasses at the ready. It looks like a very comfortable place to have a tasting. You might be well advised to bring a sweater or jacket if you plan to stay awhile. Staying awhile seems to be a distinct possibility.
The tastings are held nightly except Mondays, beginning at 6:00 p.m. (5:00 on weekends) and run until 10:00 p.m. (11:00 on Saturdays.) The wine and cheese menus change weekly, and there are special wine flights each night. The room is also available for private events.
The prices at 55 Degree Wine didn't seem too bad. There aren't too many $10-and-under bottles, but quite a few between $10 and $20. There are plenty of wines in the $100 neighborhood, too. I didn't run across too many labels I recognized, but Italian wine is not my strong suit. There's plenty of choice in grape varieties and all of Italy's wine regions seemed to be represented. My visit resulted in three choices which I took home. From Portugal I chose the Vidigal Vinho Tinto 2005 Douro made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela. My Italian selection was the Doppio Passo Primitivo 2007 Salento, and from Lake County I took the Line 39 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. I had this wine recently with a different design on the label, and I liked it quite a lot.
Andy's store isn't exactly geographically convenient for me, but I'm sure I will visit again sooner rather than later. It's a wine store that makes it worth going a bit out of your way.