May 13, 2009

Du Vin and Ott Bandol

Two days ago I drove around west LA on a quest to see my dad's childhood home in Hollywood. On the way I stopped at a couple of wine shops.

One is the relatively new Hollywood location of Bay Area leader K&L Wines on Vine Street near Hollywood Blvd. K&L was long a favorite of my when I lived in San Francisco. K&L Hollywood has a parking lot, which is saying something these days in LA, and a deep selection of mostly conventional domestic and international wines. It lacks the depth that the Redwood City store has in the rarities section, but I'm sure I'd be here regularly if I were still an LA local. Prices are very competitive.

The other is a store in West Hollywood that I found back around 1992 called Du Vin. It's on North San Vicente just below Melrose and is one of my favorite wine shops ever. Not because it's big, because it isn't. And not because it's particularly inexpensive, because it isn't (though there are some exceptional values if you dig around).

Rather, Du Vin is great because it's like entering another world, one authentically rooted in French wine but squarely LA. From the tile-roofed San Vicente frontage, you walk down a red brick driveway to a shady courtyard with the wine shop in a rear building. Past the "Ouvert" sign, the shop is dimly but satisfactorily lit and cool, bottles arranged everywhere, the most prized in plastic bags to protect fragile labels.

Back in the early '90s the shop featured sandwiches and other light snacks, and the courtyard made for a nice place to grab a bite to eat and catch up on the LA Weekly. These days things are focused solely on wine, high quality wine that's mostly from Europe and well selected. The Burgundy selection is nice, the Champagne well chosen, Rhones attractive, and the Bordeaux deep for a smallish shop.

But for me, the prizes are in the lesser traveled appellations, like Bandol or Rasteau Vin Doux Naturel, which Du Vin seems to specialize. On my last visit five years ago, I found 500ml bottles of Trapadis Rasteau VDN that apparently aren't available in the US anymore. This time I found the oddly shapes bottles of Bandol from Domaine Ott at relatively discount prices (Ott isn't ever cheap).

Since I was leaving the next morning for Portland with only carry on luggage, and I wasn't looking to ship a bunch of wine, I purchased only a half bottle of 2001 Domaine Ott Bandol Chateau Romassan to try back at my Mom's. What a terrific little Bandol, very interesting and quite good if not great.

The color is bricking and the perfume woodsy, very mourvedre, with some fruitness but much more to the earthy side of things. In the mouth it was much softer than I expected, but pleasantly so. Mourvedre can be so tannic when young, and while this isn't new wine, even at 10 years a true vin de garde can still seem primary and ungiving. This wine was flavory with a round but natural texture, nothing glossy or candied, and fine tannin that's nearly resolved.

My brother tried the wine and described it as having different flavors after a few moments in the mouth, which I interpret as "finish." This wine has a finish, which so many big, bold wines lack. I think that quality alone makes a wine interesting and worth drinking. I wouldn't keep this wine in the cellar too long, but what a delicious Bandol for the dinner table. If you're in LA, head down to Du Vin and pick some up. And for those Sine Qua Non fans flush with cash, I noticed some bottles of the Raven series wines for a clean $200 per. Some might find that a bargain.

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