The Cheap Wine Girls' Guide to the L.A. Wine Scene
When it comes to wine drinking, the philosophy of Alex and Ali, aka the Cheap Wine Girls, is pretty simple: "The truth is, we don’t believe you need to be a connoisseur to taste wine, and we don’t think you need to be rich to know what you like. "
We asked these blogging and video-making Angelenos to give us their insight into the L.A. wine scene, including their picks for great vino-centric Happy Hours, how to pick an affordable wine to bring to a party, and if L.A. is a wine city.
Where are your favorite wine shops for affordable wine in L.A.?
We love Silverlake Wine for their affordable and diverse wine selections. They tend to highlight interesting varietals and smaller producers, and everyone that works there is super passionate about wine and really, really helpful. They have great bi-weekly tastings on Monday and Thursday nights with a flight of 3 wines for $12, plus 20% off any bottle that you tasted.
BevMo is also a favorite, especially during their 5 cent wine sales. For any bottle that you buy, you get a second one of the same bottle for only 5 cents. It’s great to go with a friend to split your purchases, so you’re basically getting everything at 50% off.
Finally, even though it's a supermarket, we can't leave Ralphs off the list. When you buy 6 bottles (of wine, liquor, or a mixed pack), you receive 30% off, plus an awesome reusable bottle carrier which is great for parties. And you CAN find decent and drinkable wine at Ralphs. One of our favorites is the Aconga Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay from Argentina, which you can get for only $3 (after 30% off).
What restaurants, wine bars, or watering holes have the best "cheap wine" selections or specials?
Barbrix in Silver Lake is one of our favorite Happy Hours. Every wine is half-priced from 6-7:30pm and then again at 10pm, Monday-Thursday. They were recently named Best Wine Bar in LA by Los Angeles Magazine, and they live up to the distinction. And as an added bonus, their cheese plates are excellent.
The Gorbals Downtown has a similarly awesome Happy Hour with half-priced drinks until 8 pm every day, and a late night happy hour from 10-2 on Thursdays. Their wine list is really excellent - a small selection of interesting wines from around the world.
Figaro Bistrot in Los Feliz has $4 glasses of very drinkable house wine at Happy Hour, and inexpensive carafes of house wine all the time. Pair a large carafe with a cheese plate, and voila - romantic date night (that doesn’t break the bank)!
We also love Bodega Wine Bar, even though our beloved Hollywood location closed, we still think it's good enough to make the trek to the Santa Monica or Pasadena locations. They have a different special each night of the week, including Happy Hour all night on Mondays and $20 bottles (of even their most expensive wines) all night on Wednesdays.
Is L.A. a wine city? Is there a particular neighborhood that is ideal for a cheap wine gal (or guy)?
Yes! L.A. is a fantastic city for wine! (Just make sure that if you overindulge, you have a DD or a taxi to bring you home.)
The Eastside seems to be more affordable in general and there are a lot of great Happy Hours and tasting events, but we both live on this side of town, so we are biased. In our experience, a lot of Mid-City and Westside wine bars either don't have a Happy Hour, or don't include wine in their Happy Hour prices, which is a bummer if you’re looking to drink on a budget.
When dining out, what is a Cheap Wine Girls' guideline for buying by the bottle? By the glass?
Restaurants make a lot of money on alcohol sales, so everything is marked up pretty heavily. We try to keep it under $30/bottle and under $10/glass no matter where we go. We love finding bottles for $20 or glasses for $5, but more often than not, those prices reflect special events or Happy Hours, so it’s not necessarily practical.
Obviously when you’re with someone who isn’t drinking wine, or you’re looking to try a few different kinds, you obviously need to buy by the glass. If you’re out with a group, though, a bottle (or two) is usually cheaper and more fun. There are also deals to be had if you’re flexible about what, exactly, you’re drinking - like $10 pitchers of Sangria at Cha Cha Cha. They are delicious.
As far as choosing the wine, don’t be afraid to ask your server, and be honest with them about your budget. It’s in their interest to help you choose something that you’ll like, and sometimes they’ll even bring you a small taste before you buy (bonus!)
What are your suggestions for affordable wines to bring to a party that won't immediately signal "hey, I'm cheap!"
Pretty labels are always a good thing. Nobody wants an ugly bottle of wine sitting on their table when they have guests over.
Choose interesting varietals from smaller/less popular regions. Lesser known wine regions like Argentina, Chile, or even Slovenia generally have a much better quality-to-price ratio than places like Napa or France. An interesting varietal, like a Torrontes or a Malbec, can be a conversation starter. Also, everyone knows what a cheap Chardonnay tastes like, but only really experienced (or pretentious) wine drinkers can pick out the cheap Gruner Veltliner.
Another thing you can do for a party is make a sangria or wine/champagne cocktail. If you need a recipe, come check out our blog! People will be less concerned with what wine you've brought, and more impressed with your creativity.
Is there an affordable way (besides lots of taste-testing) to learn about wine in L.A.? Should we be checking wine guides out of the library, reading any websites, taking any classes?
The problem with wine guides, is that if you don’t taste a lot of wine, reading about it isn’t always helpful. You can pick up a 94 pt wine and hate it - and that’s totally okay! Wine is subjective, and taste is often dependent on various factors like what you’re eating, or what memories you associate with specific tastes or smells. So, unfortunately, the very best way to learn about wine, is to drink it. And then talk about it.
That said, there are resources to help you learn the vocabulary, or learn about what you’re drinking. Snooth is a great website/e-mail newsletter for people with all levels of knowledge about wine. They have reviews, recipes, and "Wine 101" which is great for people (like us!) who are still learning. Karen MacNeil’s book The Wine Bible is also a go-to resource for us on specific varietals or grape-producing regions as well as tasting notes in general.
A lot of people will recommend keeping a tasting journal, but that is way too much work for us. We recommend using your phone to take a picture of the label of any wine you particularly like (at home, at a bar - wherever). This way, you’ll always remember what you liked, and you can show it to the guy at the wine shop and ask “do you have anything like this?”
Most of all, ask questions - of your bartenders, your servers, and especially the people working at the wine shop. They really do want to help you. Wine people love talking about wine, so take advantage of that!