Wondering who has the best restaurant wine lists in Los Angeles and why? It is not the size of the wine list. It is not because it has a list of every aspirational, expensive, highly scored wine. And it is definitely not a good list when the list consists of generic mass-produced brands that can be found on the shelves of the local grocery store.
A good wine list is one that is curated by the wine director of the restaurant to pair with the food on the menu. It is a list that offers a range of price points and combines familiarity as well as uniqueness.
With so many exceptional restaurants in Los Angeles, a good wine list is what can set one apart from another. Here are 15 restaurants offering some of the most interesting, exciting and appropriate wine selections for the customer.
Kali (5722 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038)
Located in Hollywood, near Paramount Studios, Kali is an upscale modern restaurant owned by Chef Kevin Meehan and Drew Langley who both came from the fine-dining world. Featuring local, seasonal ingredients, Kali is a recent recipient of a Michelin One Star.
To pair with the contemporary California cuisine prepared by Chef Meehan, Kali has a small and focused wine program. Drew Langley seasonally curates the wine list with the needs of the neighborhood in mind and is always available to offer a suggestion to pair with your dishes, such as the Arnaud Lambert Clos de Midi 2017 Samur to pair with the berries and cheese.
Maude (212 S Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills CA 90212)
After four years of monthly seasonal ingredient tasting menus, Maude shifted its focus to wine regions. Four wine regions are selected each year and the team secretly heads to the region for a few intensive days to explore the cuisine and the wine. The menu is then inspired by the experiences and tastes that the Maude team enjoyed. With a tasting menu, you put your trust in the chef and with the wine pairing menu, you can do the same. That makes enjoying one of the best restaurant wine lists in Los Angeles a breeze.
General Manager and Wine Director Ben Aviram and Head Sommelier Andrey Tolmachyov carefully curate three wine pairings – Classic, Reserve and Grand Pairing - that explore the full range of wines and producers in that region. If you cannot travel to the region, or want to reminisce about a past trip, journey to a wine region with Maude, also a One Star Michelin restaurant.
Dama Fashion District (612 E 11th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015)
From the décor to the upscale Latin-inspired menu, influenced by Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian and Brazilian cuisines, Dama, located in the Fashion District in Downtown Los Angeles, will transport you to a tropical Caribbean island. Wine Director Taylor Grant believes in selecting quality wines that also fit the theme of the restaurant.
For Dama, everything started around one dish, a whole snapper served with escabeche, lime, and pineapple. Grant started with Spanish wines and ended up with an eclectic, international wine list that supports local producers. The wines are listed by country and then by grape variety, as the producers and regions may be less familiar.
Dama has 22 wines by the glass and the wines are from around the world, including Spain, Portugal, South America, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Greece, Lebanon, California, Oregon, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. There is also a small selection of Sicilian wines that represent Grant’s first love and heritage.
Scopa Italian Roots (2905 W. Washington Place, Venice, CA 90292)
Across town in Venice Beach, Dama’s sister restaurant Scopa Italian Roots is inspired by Chef Antonia Lofaso’s interpretation of New York style, old-school Italian food. It also happens to feature one of the best restaurant wine lists in Los Angeles.
At Scopa, Wine Director Taylor Grant is able to delve into Italian wines. The list is international, with wines from France, California and beyond, but it is primarily made up of Italian wines. The wines are listed by region from Veneto in the north to Sicilia in the south. Like at Dama, you may not know the producers, but perhaps you know the grapes (Barbera, Nero d’Avola, Nebbiolo) or the regions (Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Etna Rosso). Grant’s list is balanced with no brand names to dominate the list.
Auburn LA (6703 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90293)
A recent addition to the Los Angeles restaurant scene, Auburn LA is a juxtaposition of traditional fine dining and exploration. Chef Eric Bost, who previously worked at Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy and Republique, highlights ingredients, building flavors through layering.
The menu has twelve items on it and guests can choose a 4-course, 6-course or 9-course option. The idea is to have fun and create your own menu and Wine Director Rick Arline shares the chef’s ethos when it comes to the wine pairing.
The wine list at Auburn is eclectic yet accessible. “I don’t want to get too obscure. Obscure lists exist to stoke the wine director’s ego. I just want people to drink good, fun wine,” Arline explained. “I want people to be able to pick wines that are reasonable but still find some new, fun wines as well. It’s supposed to be fun.” There are classic producers (Pegau, Lopez de Heredia, Heitz, Musar), up-and-coming producers (Louis-Antoine Luyt, Le Grappin), and modern classics (Pax, A Tribute to Grace). And, if you shake it all up, you get the wine list at Auburn.
Elephante Beach House (1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401)
Located on the rooftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Elephante transports guests to the Southern Mediterranean. Inspired by the flavors of coastal Italy, Elephante boasts a large wood-fired oven, three bars and custom natural wood furniture for a laid-back yet vibrant atmosphere.
Seating 400-600 people per night, Elephante is a big restaurant and Wine Director Diane Pandolfini has crafted a wine program that is cool and eclectic but also comfortable and accessible.
As a beachfront restaurant, this top Los Angeles wine list offers more than one dozen rosé wines and almost as many orange wines. Italian wines dominate the list, but France and California are also well-represented. The by-the-glass list is approachable with three or four wines in each category (sparkling, rosé, white and red). Elephante has a wine list that is easy to navigate on your own should you chose to. The wines are not obscure, but they are textural and interesting.
Kassi Club (8422 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA)
Across the city in West Hollywood, Wine Director Diane Pandolfini has taken on the wine program at the brand new Kassi Club, sister restaurant to Elephante.
A Greece-inspired lounge serving up Mediterranean island-flavored cuisine inspired Pandolfini to create a coastal-inspired wine list. Wines come from every region along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, from France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Israel, Croatia and more. This is a great restaurant wine list for the adventurous wine drinker.
Margot (8850 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232)
Located on the third floor of the Platform retail complex in Culver City, located along the Expo Line, Margo offers a market-driven, coastal Mediterranean inspired menu. The wine list offers a selection of small-production wines and intriguing varieties and the wine-by-the-glass list is succinct and interesting. From Grower Champagne to Pinot Blanc from Alsace to Gruner Veltliner from Austria to Rosé from Provence, Margot offers fun, vibrant wines that match food and the décor.
Los Balcones Studio City (11334 Moorpark St., Studio City, CA)
Located in Studio City, Chef Ricardo Zarate explores Mestizo cuisines, Peruvian dishes blended with Spanish and Asian flavors at Los Balcones. Many of the dishes come with heat and the wine-by-the-glass offerings include crisp, mineral-driven white wines, such as Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Txakolina which work well with spices.
The red wines, such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, Alicante Bouschet and Cinsault, are balanced and not over-the-top reds so they also pair well with the dishes without overpowering. The wine list consists of wines primarily from Spain, Chile, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, but there are also wines from Oregon, France, and California, mostly from the Santa Barbara area.
Tartine Bianco at the Row DTLA
Tartine Bianco may be where all bread dreams come true, but wine lovers can rejoice as well. Taylor Parsons, formerly of Republique, consulted on the wine program and Chef Sommelier Jake Malmberg can be found on the floor suggesting wines to pair with the delicious tartines, flatbreads or more. The list is heavy on French wines, as the menu is French-inspired, but California is also represented. The wine-by-the-glass offerings are eclectic and fun and celebrate boutique and artisanal producers.
Esters Wine Shop & Bar (1314 Seventh Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401)
Esters is a wine shop and wine bar but offers a full menu for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Whether shopping for a special bottle, stopping in for a glass of wine or enjoying a meal, Esters will likely introduce you to a new wine producer from France, Italy, California or elsewhere.
Esters specializes in boutique production wines so do not expect to find familiar brands but rather come to learn about new ones that you are bound to fall in love with.
Bar Augustine (13456 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423)
A neighborhood wine bar in Sherman Oaks, Bar Augustine is the place to go when looking for affordable, unusual wines. There are more than 50 wines poured by-the-glass, ranging in price from $10 to $25. You will likely find Wine Director Omar Lima behind the bar, ready and willing to explain a grape varietal, introduce a wine producer or geek-out over one of the wines on the special board.
The special board is a rotating list of vintage wines available by the glass. You never know what you will find on the board ranging from $20 to $100 per glass but it could be a wine that is 20, 30, 40 or more years old.
Republique (624 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA)
A true wine restaurant, Republique offers a wine list that is more than 100 pages long. French wine dominates the list, which is organized by style and then grape varietal. Perusing the list, there will be many recognizable producers, regions, and grapes but for those looking for something new or different, Republique has those as well.
The wine list may be long and seem overwhelming, but Wine Director Sam Rethmeier and the sommelier team are available and happy to help with suggestions that fit within your budget.
71 Above (633 W 5th Street, 71st Floor, Los Angeles, CA)
The highest restaurant west of the Mississippi, 71 Above boasts breathtaking views while enjoying elevated modern American cuisines by Chef Javier Lopez. While enjoying three-course tasting menus, where the guest selects one item from each course, Wine Director Catherine Morel has put together a wine-by-the-glass list with more than two dozen wines from around the world.
The comprehensive bottle list lists the wines by grape variety and offers classics such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Melon de Bourgogne, Silvaner, Friulano, Monastrell, Mecía, Nerello Mascalese and more.
AOC (8700 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048)
The restaurant that introduced Los Angeles to wines-by-the-glass has been a mainstay for more than 15 years. Named James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year 2018, Caroline Styne is nationally recognized for her wine programs at all of her restaurants (Lucques, Tavern, AOC and the Hollywood Bowl). The wine list at AOC offers a selection of wines from around the world and ranges from classic producers to modern stars.
Wine lists do not have to be mundane or cliché and these 15 restaurants demonstrate that wine can be approachable while offering dynamic, interesting wine lists. Whether you are wine-savvy or just starting out, these lists will likely introduce you to new regions, new wine producers and likely some new wine grapes. Whether you chose to explore on your own or engage the sommelier for some assistance, the ultimate goal is to have fun pairing wine with food and these 15 restaurants offer this opportunity.
About The Author
Allison Levine is the owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. Allison is Level 3 WSET Certified from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, so she knows about way more than just wine tasting Santa Barbara. Allison is certified as an Italian Wine Specialist from the North American Sommelier Association and has a Master's Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.