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Little wines among friends

A neighborhood ritual is born out of Silverlake Wine's passion for the unique.

September 16, 2004|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

Thursday nights at Silverlake Wine in (where else?) Silver Lake have become something of a cult event. When some friends asked me to meet them there a few weeks ago, I was more than glad. I'd been intending to make it to one of the three weekly tastings for, I'm embarrassed to say, months.

For those who don't know it, this little wine shop on Glendale Boulevard, kittycorner from Red Lion Tavern and practically next door to Rockaway Records, is a little gem. Forget about wandering listlessly through vast aisles and thousands of bottles, lost in the Roero or the Alto Adige, Corbieres or Tokaj when all you really want is a pretty little Chianti.

Silverlake Wine stocks just 400 labels, but they're all interesting, hardly a clunker among them. Owned by Campanile wine director George Cossette, his assistant there, Randy Clement, and partner April Langford, the shop concentrates on wines the partners are truly passionate about, i.e. "handmade, small production -- wines of clarity," Clement says. They've made a commitment to supporting vintners who believe in sustainable or organic farming too.

Fortunately, they've settled in a neighborhood where people don't generally come in looking for a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, but something more eclectic and, well, sexy. The design, by Ana Henton of AHD across the street, is as inventive as the wine selection. Birch plywood counters with sort of built-in wine coasters (depressions, really) show off bottles like models on a runaway.

When I wandered in one Monday to meet my friends, they'd just installed some taller counters that store wine, sure, but also stand in as bar tops for the tasting, this one a wild-card lineup that included the 2001 Valderiz Ribera del Duero from Spain, a 1995 August Kesseler Riesling that was in splendid shape and the 2002 Bishop's Peak Rock Solid Red. The tastings have become a neighborhood ritual for some people -- like going to a bar, except much nicer. I met a woman who incorporates a pit stop at the tasting into her evening walk, adding a mile to her normally 3-mile hike to do so. Everybody seemed to know everybody, and if they didn't, they soon did. Fun.

The tastings started on a whim, Clement says. They had some e-mail addresses. They sent out an invitation to a tasting they put together at the spur of the moment. And the thing took off beyond their wildest dreams. Now they've got not only Thursday night flights, usually three reds and three whites that might be informative to compare, but also Mondays, otherwise known as "Blue Mondays," when it's a free-form tasting of three wines of interest, and Sundays, a more structured tasting with hors d'oeuvres from caterers and cooks to complement each wine.

The cheeses always come from the Cheese Store of Silverlake, because the minute the health inspector signed off and they were officially open, their first customer showed up, sent over by Chris Pollan, owner of the popular cheese shop at Sunset Junction. "From then on," Clement says, "we decided to pledge our allegiance to this guy."

The tastings and the shop have taken off so much the three may soon be quitting their day jobs. I see more tastings in their future.

*

Silverlake Wine

Where: Rockaway Plaza, 2395 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake

When: "Blue Monday," 4 to 8 p.m.; "Thursday Night Flights," 5 to 9 p.m.; and Sundays at 3 p.m. (reservations recommended)

Price: "Blue Monday" tasting, $12 per person; "Thursday Night Flights," price varies depending on the wines tasted; Sunday structured tastings, $20 per person. Street and lot parking.

Contact: (323) 662-9024; www.silverlakewine.com

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