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EVENTS & FESTIVALS

A sideways approach to wine's wonders

July 10, 2008|Elina Shatkin

THE CROWD at the Echoplex is cheerful and chatty, but as they sip an elegant French Gewurztraminer infused with "subtle tones of honey, grapefruit and tropical fruit" (or so says Wine Spectator), their ersatz sommelier, Julian Davies, slugs down a distinctly pedestrian bottle of Red Stripe Jamaican ale. This curated eclecticism is par for the course at Irregular Wine Tasting, where an Italian Cabernet Sauvignon might be followed by a milky junmai sake.

"I'm a terroirist, but I also consider it important for the average Joe to be able to drink something clean, tasty and affordable when he's not in the mood for Olde English 800 or cop coffee," Davies says.

As the comely bar lasses pour full glasses of wines (no delicate splashes here), Davies, wearing a baseball cap that looks as though it was carved from a wedge of Cheddar, races through a dense monologue peppered with witticisms, British-isms and even a few facts. "I do a lot of subverting and perverting of wine back stories, or I make them up entirely," he says. He repeatedly refers to Alsace as "owl's ass" and drops charmingly useless statistics about soaring maple syrup prices and the origins of LSD. Bloke-ish bonhomie aside, Davies' demeanor belies his deep appreciation for and broad knowledge of wine.

A native of Southeast London (if anything he says can be fully believed), the puckish Davies was raised in a family of oenophiles where wine was commonly served at the table. "It's the best prevention for creating an alcoholic," he says. He developed a thirst for knowledge, so to speak, and found a job at a wine store immediately out of college.

Since moving to Los Angeles in 1987, Davies has worked at several well-known wine shops, including Beverly Hills Wine Merchant and the now-defunct Epicurus in Santa Monica. He also curated the original wine list for Father's Office when chef Sang Yoon bought the space in 2000 and, more recently, he can be found at the Cheese Store of Silverlake and Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale. He readily admits the English accent imbues him with a certain authority among Americans. "Back then my customers were mostly middle-aged white men, and their adventurousness rarely exceeded Merlot," Davies says.

During his tenure at Epicurus, he met "Sideways" author Rex Pickett, "who came in one night and ended up sticking around for the freebies," according to Davies. A boozy friendship developed and Pickett introduced him to Roy Lee Gittens, a.k.a. DJ Cuz'n Roy, who often provides the soundtrack for Irregular Wine Tastings. Gittens is reportedly the inspiration for Jack, the character ultimately played by Thomas Haden Church in the movie, and Davies concedes he himself might be "a little bit of the inspiration" for Paul Giamatti's sad-sack Miles. In fact, the book's dedication reads, "To Roy and Julian, partners in wine."

With a bit of encouragement from Liz Garo, the talent buyer for the Echo and Echoplex, Davies launched the first Irregular Wine Tasting in June of 2002. Scheduled at odd intervals -- whenever enough wine can be rounded up and there's a free night at one of the venues -- the tastings feature four to eight wines paired with an idiosyncratic theme: the haunted lighthouses of Maine, invented curry recipes, the songs of Johnny Moped, the movies of Theresa Russell. "There's no science in it," Davies says. "All we're trying to do is find amusing anomalies in what we're drinking and what we're looking at."

For its 40th edition, Davies will host a special session of Irregular Wine Tasting at Bonelli Contemporary in conjunction with the Party Favors exhibit curated by Holly Myers (a Times reviewer). Halfway between the show's festive theme and his own idiosyncratic tastes, Davies has paired four wines with four pool parties from Frank Perry's surprisingly dark 1968 film "The Swimmer." While casual sippers, wine snobs and the occasional lush rub elbows, the vino will flow copiously; the veritas, perhaps less so.

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-- Elina.Shatkin@latimes.com

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IRREGULAR WINE TASTING

WHERE: Bonelli Contemporary, 943 N. Hill St., L.A.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

PRICE: $20

INFO: www.myspace.com/ irregularwinetasting

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