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Thursday night tastings at Silverlake Wine are something that I always look forward to, when I am able to attend them, and last Thursday happened to be one of those rare and exciting occasions. I could care little about what I was going to taste, jazzed from leaving my awesome new position and the prospect of getting to hang out with my buddy who would be meeting me there. What is consistent about each trek to Silver Lake is that the tasting, no matter how spectacular, becomes dwarfed in the lineup of the night’s activities. I could hardly wait to see what the cards had in store for me and frankly after the dismal performance of my beloved Anaheim Ducks, I could use another distraction.

Despite ripping through the first two acts of Il Trovatore as conducted by Von Karajan while stopped in traffic, I managed to make it to the wine shop almost on time. The high notes of Maria Callas and the Anvil Chorus distracted me; keeping me calm as the 10, 110 and 101 did everything they could to exhaust my patience yet I knew greater things were bound to come.

The first pleasant surprise was that a young lady, from our wine class joined us for the tasting…putting off the dude fest, it was now time to actively engage in more suitable banter and taste more since there was an excuse to with another opinion on the matter. I selected a flight of red wines—California Syrah; my buddy followed suit and our friend Liz rounded out the flights by picking California’s take on the white Rhone varietals.

California, in most parts, is conducive to mimicking conditions found in the most celebrated old world regions, and the central coast happens to be especially good for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rhone varietals. There was one unexpected wine poured hailing from Malibu—an area picking up steam in the wine world. I would not say that the Syrah found in Santa Barbara screams Northern Rhône, exchanging the expected bacon fat and green olive esters of the red grape for jammier and fruitier expressions, at least that has been my experience. As far as Syrah from Los Angeles County… who knows? I knew what generally to expect like pepper (from white and black peppercorns), smushed fruits and a hint of roasted meat.

The three wines played right into my expectations and the biggest shocker was that the Montage (#284) from LA County, with notes of red berries, a dash of pepper and earth, full in body with the alcohol in check, moderate tannins, medium acidity and a nice finish, it was hard to imagine the proximity to my apartment and a varietally correct product going hand in hand.

The Jelly Roll (#283) also had some vestiges of Los Angeles, with affiliations to the Wine House in some manner—it was not clear. The Martian from Santa Ynez (#282) was another winner in the lineup with blend of black and blue berries, smoked meats on the whiff, with a sinewy body, moderate acidity and the oak in check.

After completing our flights we headed out to Palate Food + Wine, in nearby Glendale for some grub and a chance to meet the director of wine. It was something I relished because not only did we get to satiate our bellies but also our minds, with the best wine service I have had to date. We were served an endless amount of glasses from quality producers around the globe, from Anderson Valley to Piedmont and everywhere in between. It was not enough to taste the wines and determine the nuances betwixt producers (in the case of the Barbaresco), we were orally handed down fact sheets of each vintner, their location on the map signed out visually for us—it was a genuine breakdown on terroir.

As the night got nerdier I was completely enthralled, picking the brain of their director to glean information on the regions rather than focusing strictly on the product before us. I felt truly lucky sitting there (never mind the Ducks not proceeding to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs), I was in the company of great people, with a tremendous selection of foods, a fine array of wines and an exquisite selection of music to complete the scene. It is beginning to feel like bragging if I continue recounting the events of last Thursday but just know that the night continued and I very much look forward to my next time on the Eastside.

Recapturing the magic that transpired a couple weeks ago Thursday was my goal, but realistically, I did not think it would be attainable. For those of you that have not scrolled down to the “Ducks, Lakes and Speakeasies” article allow me to sum it up in a word: awesome! This last Thursday I planned on weaving my Better Burger Bureau group into my wine tastings at Silverlake Wines—a best of both worlds scenario—by first enjoying a burger at The Fix Burger on Hyperion Blvd and then heading to the wine shop to enjoy their pours.

Driving eastbound around 4:30 p.m. on Santa Monica was miserable (really anywhere in LA, but the problem is always localized like a blood clot); too much traffic to type into words, but my stomach was a staunch supporter of my architected plans and thus would propel me through the unfathomable slowdowns. In addition to my stomach’s adamancy I had some great music to help me wade through it.

Apparently getting there was only a brief part of my stomach’s problems, I still had to wait for my party to arrive. Meanwhile, I took in the place, observing that it was clean, minimal in decorative touches, a nice looking counter and a few potted plants streamlining the entranceway to really help the feng shui. They were also stocking a cooler with clever beverages, such as Kickapoo Joy Juice and Captain Eli’s Root beer.

Trickling in slowly, the first attendee biked in and the rest followed on four wheels. When the group was finally amassed, we took little time to order, almost entirely selecting the “Fix Burger” with slight modifications like changing the patty to bison and one person ordered the “Pesto Burger” and a ton of garlic fries to go round the table.

My choice, the Fix Burger with bison arrived first, donning two wedges of tomato, slightly translucent rings of red onion, leafy lettuce, some spread nestled between sesame seed buns. The garlic fries were topped with copious amounts of cooked down toes of garlic. They were very good! I helped myself to the pickles and peppers and began eating, noting that the patty was firm but still revealing a slight pink in the center so it was not over cooked but just a coarse grind. All other elements were satisfactory but nothing special, especially not for the price—a heaping basket of garlic fries, a buffalo burger and root beer will run you the better part of a twenty ($18 after tip).

After our burgers we carried on to Silverlake Wine, where there was a slew of activity stirring in the shop, a livelier bunch than I could recall. I spied a head of hair so familiar that I knew we were in the graces of one of the most portentous winemakers of Washington State—Charles Smith.

His wines receive enormous scores every year from reputable critics and publications, most recently adding to his acclaim he was dubbed Food & Wine magazine’s Winemaker of the Year. He also has been credited with a hundred point Syrah from his K Vintners label so while other winemakers vie for cracking the 90 point score he has reached the pinnacle of winemaking, lumping him in with some of the greatest winemakers of all time (wow, getting controversial on a burger ‘n wine blog). The man is no slouch.

Silverlake Wines would be pouring four of his modest bottles, namely: Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon, Boom Boom Syrah and a K Vintners Syrah. I put my tasting book away and just decided to be in the moment.

The Riesling was excellent, fresh peaches jumping out of the glass and singing on the palate. It was vibrant, replete with good acidity and was most likely my favorite of the tasting. We then moved on with two bottles I am familiar with the Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon and The Boom Boom Syrah. The Cabernet was not showing as well (that is, it was not as wonderful as I remembered) when I last had the bottle to mark the beginning of the Ducks tumultuous season.

The Boom Boom Syrah was noticeably jammy and delicious like a blueberry cobbler but had the potential to be cloying in high volume. Finally, moving on to my first experience tasting a K Vinters Syrah and that was markedly different, trading the blue fruit for savory notes of meat, smoke, earth and a touch of cherry.

I was pleasantly full from my burger so the alcohol did not totally rip me apart even though I politely polished off each glass of wine. I spent the day with close friends and was elated (geeked out) to get to meet Charles Smith after seeing him on my favorite wine program (WLTV), and to erase four more bottles of wine from my countdown with his creations, leaving 372 remaining. Thursday is fast becoming my favorite day of the week, not just another in the steady rotation.

Watching my Ducks flounder, tail spinning out of playoff contention and desperate to make changes to halt the backsliding by acquiring goaltenders in the latest rash of trades in the NHL was depressing me. I wanted to spend my Thursday in an uplifting way, so I had my car detailed (paid for by the construction company that had previously showered it with cement) and attended a tasting at Silverlake Wine. Something else was in the cards. The nights agenda of tasting was transformed into something a little more big city.

After picking up my car from its date with detailing, I was set to faceoff against Los Angeles rush hour traffic. A normal thirty-minute drive multiplied in length by a factor of three.

I made it to Silverlake (an hour and a half later than expected), depleted of patience and thirsty for wine, meeting with my father and a friend from my wine class. My friend was already into his flight by the time I arrived; my dad and I shared two flights of wine, six glasses in total.

The first flight would be white Côtes du Rhône varietals—Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne while the three red wines shared a global perspective on a very popular grape—Malbec.

My first time in Silverlake Wine and I was in such a hurry to get there that I forgotten to take in my surroundings. A casual glance yielded a fashionable shop with modern touches like a home you would see in Dwell Magazine. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout—cute girls were rampant, a food truck parked conveniently outside and a nerdier array of wines to consider purchasing after tasting through the flights.

The energetic staff walked us through the wines of each flight with panache. Detailing the lay of the land (the grapes’ country of origin), the varietals and any interesting tidbits about the wines or the winemakers.

I tasted the following:

09 Mas Del Périé Les Escures Cahors Malbec

08 Côtes du Rhône Andrieux & Fils

09 Earth First Argentina Malbec

09 Atrea “The Choir”

09 Cowhorn “Spiral 36”

08 Sur de Los Andes Argentina Malbec.

Aside from the flair-filled intros preceding the wines, they missed the mark with my palate. The white wines underperformed. They were served chilled and because of that the flavor intensity had been muted. More than that, though they were nearly devoid of aromatics they still showed some less-than-desirable traits, like a large blast of alcohol stood out, intensifying in my throat as I discussed the wines with my father and friend. That is not to say the wines were bereft of fruit: I noticed some aromas of pineapple, peach and citrus but not enough to be wowed or hide their transparent flaws.

Moving to the Malbecs, I was feeling a bit more optimistic because the Malbec grape is typically brash. In contrast it would provide dynamics that were not delivered with the previous flight. As I sipped through fuller-bodied reds, I detected a lot of meatiness in the Argentinean examples of the grape where the French Malbec from Cahors was a little buttery and did not do too much for me.

After sipping through the six glasses of wine (only 403 wines left) my friend invited me to continue the night in Downtown at Seven Grand—a whiskey bar, housing over 270 different producers of Scotch Whiskey—with a few of his friends… and I obliged.

Before departing and saying goodbye to Dad, I was hit with the idea of chasing the tasting with a hot dog from the Let’s Be Frank food truck. A little expensive—five dollars for an artisan dog—but my hot dog was perfectly spiced and quelled my cravings for a bona fide food truck experience.

On to Downtown, I made it to Seven Grand and traded in my wine glasses for a specially numbered silver cup to house my Mint Juleps. My buddy was entertaining two young ladies from Canada and he was dead set on showing them a good time, pulling out all the stops. In a moments time we packed up from the elegant digs of Seven Grand and made our way to a crowded speakeasy. Late into the evening and the place was packed, didn’t these Angelenos have to work at 9 a.m. the next morning too?

About an hour and a half into Friday morning it was time to wrap up Thursday. Although the body of wines was not too memorable they served as catalysts in launching a great night and I cannot wait to see what next Thursday has in store for me.



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