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It was inevitable that I would want to test the heralded and native red grape of Umbria, before departing the region, with… a hamburger! We all saw it coming. Despite Sagrantino di Montefalco probably never encountering the likes of a 25˚ hamburger, the two together seemed apt…foredestined. My plan would come to fruition (some minor alterations included) with a mutual buddy from Michigan, while visiting a friend who had recently relocated from the Great Lake State, to his new apartment in Franklin Village.

Close to the UCB—Upright Citizens Brigade theatre—our friend (Harry) and his girlfriend found a fitting dwelling that suited their artsy and comedic aspirations. A little pocket of Hollywood that I never knew existed but seemed to have everything I had always imagined Hollywood being without the commercial aspects interfering. We arrived with a decanted bottle of 2006 Tinarelli Sagrantino di Montefalco in tote. We took a look around their place, surveying the handiwork and decorative touches that were applied by his girlfriend. We caught up for a moment and then discussed our lunch options, settling on the closest eatery that had a hamburger.

Within a few minutes walking we had arrived at Franklin & Company. Mostly a beer-heavy gastropub, the tavern poured some carefully chosen wines, but we were sticking to our Italian seven-fifty. We paid a hefty corkage on a bottle I had picked up for only ten dollars at a Trader Joe’s (Shhh! Don’t tell my employers). I was unable to wrap my head around the absurdly low asking price for the Umbrian red wine, yet I snatched it up as if I were stealing it. While I wasn’t sure of its provenance or quality, I was confident that it was the best fit for the casual lunch. It also happened to serve my thesis for the months of dedicating myself to central Italy’s other red wines.

Minutes in we hit a slight snag; the burgers that the tavern offered were not of beef—no, that was Thursday on a themed evening—but of poultry. I had it set that I wanted a burger and was not about to fold over a turkey patty. To be fair, the meal was a play on the Southwest tropes, with tomatillos, roasted onions, and pepper jack cheese, cradled within a signature gourmet brioche roll. I settled. There was a lot used to mask the weak flavors of a turkey patty and we nearly all decided to order the turkey burgers, save for one, who remained doubtful. For two dollars more I traded up my side of potato chips in favor of Brussels sprouts.

A measured glance revealed the Johnnie Walker stairs and the skylights that made Franklin & Company unique. While we talked playoff hockey and studied the environment, our food arrived. Nice presentation, my brioche bun gleamed brilliantly under the sunlight and the other plates looked equally neat. We doled out the wine and were ready to get started.

The turkey burger was nothing special, the flavors masquerading above the patty, as anticipated, helped make the transition a little smoother but in the end, it was still a turkey burger. However, the brioche bun finally found its place on a sandwich, rather than disintegrating under a sopping beef patty, it stayed intact through the duration of the meal.

The wine also helped grease the wheels for the burger, making the entire transaction (bite+juice) a little tastier. The Sagrantino from Tinarelli was a little rough on its own initially, medium plus acid, heavy tannins, yielding dark and earthy flavors. Over the course of the lunch the wine eased up and expressed more, becoming a little easier to tolerate once our plates were clear and where it was the only show at the table.

The dishes were fair, ingredients were good, and my Midwest company was better—all and all we were not completely ruling out a return visit to the tavern. The environment was pleasant and after a UCB offering I could see a group of us mosey down a couple storefronts for a bite. The Tinarelli Sagrantino from Trader Joe’s definitely over-delivered for its price…and the million-dollar answer to burgers and Sagrantino? Totally as successful as Muscadet and oysters!

Alright! Alright, you caught me. Sometimes I accompany friends and family to Costco to see the wine selections and their astonishingly low prices for enticing bottles. I am not normally drawn to low prices per se; I value quality much more than cost and will often have a clear-cut image of something that I want rather than buying it because it’s on sale. When I am not frequenting the wine shops of Los Angeles, I will occasionally do some wine buying at a local market. I wanted to share here some of my trials with the wine troves of supermarkets and wholesale retailers since it can sometimes bear a thrilling experience.

Nothing will ever titillate my senses more than the first time I walked into Amoeba music on Sunset Boulevard. A kid, fresh from the suburbs—albeit, the coolest in Orange County (Laguna Beach)—in the pantheon of music, in all forms… posters, films and the never-ending bustle of denizens from far reaching places inside and out of Los Angeles, on their own musical pilgrimage—me, alongside. A close second, for a very different reason occurred when I was living in Washington State. My hockey billet family took me to a Costco; it was the first time I had ever set foot in the massive retailer. Unfathomable. The parking lot alone brought to mind a stadium and the innards were cold and unfamiliar, aisles of food in abundant size, accessories, and electronics all under one roof. It was strange to take home a flat of blackberries as opposed to the one package to which I was so accustomed. Years later, Costco still wears that forbidden feeling for me because it provides me with too much for a single person, but when I throw a party I know that there are few better places that I can stock up from so affordably.

I cracked a few bottles from Costco last week, two very familiar producers that I had left over from my Christmas party. The first was a bottle of Cameron Hughes 2009 Meritage “Lot 234” from Atlas Peak in Napa Valley (#3). It had been some time since I met the man at my wine business class at UCLA Extension and had yet to fulfill my promise of tasting more wines from the California Négoçiant. With excitement, I cut into the foil and uncorked the bottle transferring some of the juice to my stemware to breath. I quickly sniffed the wine detecting scents of blackberries, black cherries and herbs. The bottle began on a high note, the fruity aromatics were powerful and I eagerly took my first sip. A curveball on the tongue, more grounded tones presented themselves; the wine was far different than I expected. An hour into the Meritage, it began to change, exposing more fruit flavors in the mouth and for a few coins over ten dollars I couldn’t complain.

A couple days later I uncorked another bottle from Costco, this time it was a 2008 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon (#4) for less than an Alexander Hamilton. I uncorked the cab with an ex-girlfriend. In the background we coursed through Son Ra and his Arkestra’s film score-esque work: The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra. In the past, I had enjoyed the Montes Alpha Carmenère immensely and was really excited about this Cabernet. Unfortunately the wine was not as kicky as I had hoped, paling behind Sun Ra’s synesthetic compositions. Five jazz albums scored the night during which we drank the Cabernet and caught up, while I lamented that this wine could not compare to the closely related Chilean Carmenère.

On Saturday, after a long morning inventorying my wines, I left with a craving for a homemade ragù . I gathered the necessary ingredients and decided to purchase an organic Italian Sangiovese from southern Italy—one that I had brought into my store blindly—for the purposes of partnering with my dinner. After cooking the sauce nearly all afternoon (four hours) I uncorked the 2005 Antica Enotria Sangiovese from Puglia (#5). My first whiff found unremitting red cherries, rose petals and a menthol-meets-eucalyptus scent buried deep in the glass. After an hour untouched, I tasted the brick red wine noticing drying but sensitive tannins, medium body, prominent cherry notes, and felt the heavy acidity that would make it a smashing success with the tomato sauce. I paid a little more for the organically grown wine but was content with the results.

Perhaps I put unreal expectations on my Costco purchases (I have had that haunt me in the past), in awe of the way Cameron Hughes spoke in my business course and crushing on the relative of the Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon might have lead to their less-than-resplendent showing. These two wines didn’t rouse my taste buds; it will not deter me from shopping the gargantuan wholesaler again. The Cabernet and Meritage wines are perfect examples of context wines, serving their roles they will shine, but giving them the task to carry the room would not be doing them a favor. The organically grown wine delivered more but for the price (twenty dollars) I demanded it. The markets are a curious study. Going forward I will start to write more regular installments, perfecting my picks and striking a fine balance between value and worth. There are plenty of awesome wines to be found in the markets and I will make a concerted effort to uncover many this year.

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