Lou (A Story of Wine and Sardines)

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If you’re lucky in your life, you’ll encounter a person who is so passionate about a particular subject, they become a constant resource, a trusted guide through a murky world you might not otherwise enter. Sometimes this happens socially–you meet a classical music maven at a cocktail party who gently nudges you towards Schubert–other times it happens commercially, as in: you stumble into a store whose proprietor reveals themselves to be something of an oracle. The latter scenario played out for me recently when I entered the store that popped up next to SQRL down on Virgil Avenue here in Los Angeles: Lou Provisions and Wines.

Lou is the name on the marquee and it’s the name of the owner, Lou Amdur, who is something of a living legend in the Southern California wine world. Until pretty recently, he ran a wine bar–also called Lou–that was such a beloved fixture of the wine community here, L.A. magazine wrote that “the L.A. wine world let out a collective groan” when it closed last spring. His disappearance ultimately led to his reappearance at the shop where I finally encountered him a few weeks ago.

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“Are you Lou?” I asked, unsure, after he greeted me and Diana from his desk.

“I am,” he answered.

“Oh wow,” I said. “I’m excited to meet you.”

The store is like an artsy warehouse, with neat art on the walls…

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…but not much else by way of furniture. It’s really all about the wine:

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Looking at the wine, as you begin to stroll around, it’s a bit like looking at the baseball cards in the most hardcore collector’s collection. The bottles are so carefully curated, there’s no way to penetrate it, really, unless you read the little signs (which are, indeed, quite helpful) or–more practically–talk to the man behind the madness.

“So,” I said to Lou, “I’m cooking a Valentine’s Day dinner for my fella…a rib-eye steak with BĂ©arnaise sauce and potatoes. Which wine would be best?”

You could see a physical transformation in him as I finished my sentence. He was pumped up with ideas. “Well,” he said, “We could go in this direction…” and then he proceeded to tour me through several bottles, all of which sounded fascinating and unique. We ultimately wound up here.

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I wish I could tell you all of the things that Lou told me about this wine: I should’ve been taking notes. But I will say this: when the time came to drink it with the steak, it paired beautifully. Its qualities weren’t the usual qualities I look for in a red (smoky, leathery) but were, instead, funkier…almost like beef jerky. I loved how offbeat it was. So did Craig.

“Maybe I should also stock up on a white,” I said to Lou after the red had been dealt with. That led us to this bottle, one that came with strict instructions that Lou wrote in pen on the label.

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“1/2 hour air” meaning: decant it and let it sit, in the refrigerator, for 30 minutes. How cool! Wine with instructions! Only, I didn’t own a decanter or a pitcher or anything, really, I could pour a whole bottle of wine into so, on a trip to The Grove, I bought this glass decanter from the French goods store there in the farmer’s market.

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Lou suggested I take a sip before decanting and then, again, after 30 minutes. The change was remarkable. It went from very acidic and bright to more mineral, like something that washed off of a rock. It was way more interesting than your typical glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Two bottles, two success stories. I was hooked.

But there’s another reason to visit Lou, a reason that Russ Parsons wrote about recently in The L.A. Times: sardines.

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These aren’t your every day sardines. These are the best of the best, imported sardines from France that actually improve with age. They’re not cheap–the container cost $9.50–but when you get it home and open it up, you’ll quickly realize why.

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These aren’t shriveled little fish corpses like the kind the singing hobo eats on the train in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” These are beautifully preserved pieces of fish:

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I served ’em just like Lou suggested: on good bread (though he said “crusty” bread and I got bread from Proof Bakery which is excellent though not crusty) with some of the oil from the tin drizzled on top and a squeeze of lemon juice.

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It may not look like much but paired with that decanted white wine, I felt like the most sophisticated European sitting on the beach in France, casually reading from a copy of Proust instead of where I really was: in my living room watching Wheel of Fortune.

That’s the power of knowing an expert. And if you live in Los Angeles, you’ll do very well to get to know Lou. His store is a real treasure chest, filled with the most intriguing drinkable gems, all presided over by an affable, approachable guide. We’re lucky to have him.

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