Covell // Los Feliz, CA
Disclaimer: wine is not my thing. I mean, I drink wine. I like wine. But I find the whole thing intimidating and overwhelming. And I recognize myself in some of Matt’s answers below as far as trying to memorize wines or grapes that I know. Makes me feel like I know a little about what I like, so I’ll stick to that and not seem like a complete idiot.
But this is about Covell, a cool little wine bar outside LA, in Los Feliz. I was only on answer number two from Matt Kaner, when I thought “This is the kind of place I need.” It’s hard to explain why, but it feels like a place to discover. And what’s better than discovery? Dig into Matt’s answers and tell me I’m wrong. Or better still, drop in, have a seat and let Matt do his thing.
What makes Covell so unique?
At Covell, we don’t have a printed wine list. There are give or take 100-120 wines by the glass at any given time, and the wine list is actually interactive. We ask each guest a series of questions to narrow down 120 wines to 3-4 wines that are in the style they are looking for, and then we do a small tasting to make sure they are pleased with the selection. In essence, we have to be very good listeners.
You don’t have a menu – how often do your wine and beer offerings change?
Our wine and beer offerings change daily. As soon as a keg empties, there is a new beer in line to take its place. There’s only one beer that has a guaranteed spot, that is Stiegl Pilsner from Austria. Since we opened 9 months ago, there’s only been 1 day that Stiegl wasn’t on tap.
The wines are a different beast entirely. We are always bringing in new wines: small production, things we love, rarities, things that are brand new to the country. Often times people will come in recounting a wine they had here a few months ago and without fail that wine isn’t still within our walls. We like to reward guests with an open mind, by asking them to think conceptually rather than focus on past wines or grapes they know the name of. At the end of the day, it’s more rewarding to think about qualities of the wine which keeps our minds open to try new things that might be in a similar flavor/texture context.
Any favorites that will always be available?
Our selections are all seasonal. Wine and beer choices change with the weather. Right now Spring is upon us and rose season is strong. We’ve started to see Easter and Spring Ales make their way into the bar. We find favorites by the week. The reality of the beverage world is now with the Internet and technology being what it is, well-crafted wines and beers are becoming more widespread and easier to get your hands on. What used to be unattainable now can be tracked down and shipped to your doorstep. HELL, I drive 6 hours round trip to Alpine Beer Company in Alpine, CA just east of San Diego just so I can have their beer when I want it.
If you had to give advice to a wine aficionado in the making, what would you say?
Keep an open mind. Always be willing to learn. Taste anything and everything. Once you’ve tasted 15 wines made from the same grape from the same little town, that’s when you start to get a sense of what wine really is. Wine is location. Wine is geography. Wine is mother nature. It’s so outside of our realm of normal perception. Wine is not television. Wine is not Hollywood. It is as far from “black & white” as you can get. Each year weather is different. Each year the person growing the grapes and making the wine is different. AND THANK GOODNESS. The most well crafted wines are made by people who understand that each go around is a new experience. Wine is not Jack Daniels that will taste the same in LA, Helsinki, Tokyo, Rio De Janeiro. It has a new personality each year. My best advice is not to overlook that element of wine.
Wine on tap – is a do or a don’t?
I personally have mixed feelings. There isn’t any spoilage, so on paper that helps it make more business sense. But I’ll tell you, I can taste the difference. Just like wine with a plastic cork, I CAN TASTE THE DIFFERENCE. I’m not going to say it’s a good or bad decision, but for now it’s not a decision I am willing to make.
Wine cocktails. Will they ever be welcome at Covell?
During the warm months we make a white wine Sangria every Sunday. Yesterday was our first of the year. That’s about as “wine cocktail” as we’re going to get.
Could you shed more light on the sniffing, swirling, and swishing we often see at wine tastings?
A lot of it is for show. It’s like when you go out dancing for the first time, you observe how everyone else does it then you emulate his or her movements. At the end of the day your goal is to open the bottle, pour the wine into a glass, smell the wine, taste the wine, decide whether or not it pleases you. Everything else along the way is learned behavior and usually a distraction from what is actually going on.
It’s true that when we swirl the wine in our glass we are influencing the wine with oxygen to basically speed up the aging process and have the wine show characteristics that would reveal themselves with maturation over time. Also, when you swirl wine before you dig your sniffer deep into the glass, keep in mind you actually smell the wine vapor that has clung to the sides of the glass. Fun little fact.
Any trend predictions for wine and/or craft beer in 2011?
It’s so hard to say. Trends in wine/beer are dangerous. All I can really base that on is what winemakers/beer brewers are starting to produce, and what people ask for on the customer side. The reality is Covell isn’t really about trends as much as we are about featuring classics and new interpretations.
Rumor has it you’ve bottled your own wine (Google is creepy). Can you tell us a little bit about AM/FM?
AM/FM is a collaboration I do with Keith Saarloos of Saarloos & Sons in Los Olivos, CA. He and his family own two vineyards in Santa Barbara County and we’ve been making wines together under the AM/FM label since 2008. I’ve had a great small-scale success in getting the wine into people’s mouths through many friends of mine who own/run wine stores and restaurants. You can currently have them at Spago, XIV, Silverlake Wine, the Cheesestore of Silverlake, Rosso Wine Shop, The Village Idiot, Domaine LA, Michael Mina, BOURBON Steak, and RN74.
Covell is approaching its first anniversary – Big celebration in the works?
We will be DRINKING. July 2nd, 2011 will be a big party.