Friday, May 13, 2011

Where to Drink: California Wines @ Corkbar

UPDATE: As of February 2014, Corkbar has closed. 

When it comes to wines, I know all about Trader Joe’s two-buck chuck. I know there are reds and whites, and that pink one called rosé. And thanks to Waka Flocka’s hit song “No Hands,” I now know all about moscato, which can be found in my refrigerator on a regular basis.

Clearly I know as much about wines as Fox News knows about rapper Common’s music career.

And talking with many friends, I noticed that yes, while we enjoy drinking wine, no, our wine knowledge is not that vast, nor do we care to memorize every grape, region and vintage out there. We simply want to sip really good wine while we focus on the important things in life, like debating about which Real Housewives series is the best one out there (for the record, it’s the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills).

I discovered a great wine bar that caters to all levels of wine lovers, whether it’s the skilled connoisseur who can precisely pinpoint the subtleties in each glass, to the novice like me, who just knows what my taste buds like.

Corkbar opened in downtown L.A. two years ago, exclusively showcasing delicious California wines and artisanal quality dishes. With a casually chic décor and hip, urban edge, this corner bar brings the art of wine tasting down to a level that anyone can understand. The staff sociably guides you through the process of selecting a specific wine, and if you’re in the mood to eat, the appetizers and entrées are comfortingly satisfying. Corkbar serves up hundreds of wines, hosts interactive events and offers a super chill California ambiance to pass a pleasant weekend afternoon away.

Last week I met with one of the four owners, Caleb Wines (pictured below), because I wanted to get an idea of what Corkbar had in mind for spring, and to also shed a little light on the world of wines. He provided a lot of great insight, which I think you will find helpful for your next wine experience, whether that’s in your house, at Corkbar or somewhere in the valleys of Napa. Read on!:

On whether or not wine has to be expensive and old in order to be “good”:
“Wine doesn’t have to be more expensive to taste good,” Caleb says. “Wine is more expensive because of how it grows and the areas where it comes from. If they have a small yield, they’re [the vineyards] going to charge more for it. And if they have to keep it caged in barrels for six, nine, twelve, eighteen months, then they’re going to charge you for that. But wines that go right to market and are maybe a little larger yield, they may taste good, but they’re going to be able to pass more of the savings to you. And I think the other thing is that California wines especially, are really not meant to be aged. You’re supposed to consume them within the first five years, for the most part. There are some California wines, especially in the cabernet varietals, that have a lot of tannins that can sit down for five, ten or fifteen years, but by and large, I’d say that about 90% of California wines are made to be consumed within the first two to three years.”

On California’s best year and region for wine:
“It depends on the sub-region, whether it’s central coast, Napa or Sonoma,” Caleb says. “And then it depends on the grape. So like a pinot noir might be really great for 2007, but not so great for 2008. But the opposite might be true for cabernet. When we get a new vintage, we try it, and if we don’t like it, we don’t carry it anymore. So I think that’s one of the things you’ll see – some of our favorite wines kind of fall off every vintage or so. If they come back with a really good one, then we’ll add that back.”

On great wines for the spring and summer:
“We generally try to have a variety year round so that we have almost an equal amount of reds and whites,” Caleb says. “The one thing we’ll do is that when summer comes up, we’ll add a few more rosés. Rosés are just meant for summer: they’re slightly chilled, they have highly concentrated levels of fruit but they’re not sugary and it’s a great wine to sip.”

On Corkbar:
“The best way I’ve been able to describe Corkbar is as a California-focused wine bar,” says Caleb. “And by that I mean we focus on only California wine and farmer’s market fresh food that celebrates what’s grown in the Golden State. 100% of our wines come from California. And the reason why we did that is that a couple of buddies of mine loved going to the wine country and trying all sorts of wine, and I thought, 'boy, I really wish there was a place like this in LA.' The second bright idea was to create one ourselves. We wrote a business plan and put the concept down on paper. It took a while to get off the ground because a lot of real estate owners don’t want to lease a place to people who haven’t done this before – all of our backgrounds were in marketing and other areas, and not in restaurants.”

On why you’ll find foods – not just wines – at Corkbar:
“One thing we wanted as customers was a place to eat some food, because we’ve been to bars where they don’t serve food and it really bums us out," Caleb says. "We want to stick around, but just drinking for three or four hours would tend to lead to a bad morning. So we wanted people to stay and so we said we have to have food. And we didn’t want to just have charcuterie and cheese; we wanted to have foods that people could snack or have a full meal. We always wanted it to be seasonal focused and artisanal quality. And one of the things we mandated was that it has to be fresh. We don’t have a microwave. We don’t have a freezer. We don’t have heat lamps. We don’t even have a deep fryer.”

So the next time you’re in the mood for killer wines in a lighthearted, casual ambiance you know where to turn. Let’s make a toast the next time you’re there. Cheers!

- Many people will head to the large patio with the fire pit and scores of tables and chairs. But there’s also a smaller patio off of 12th Street that’s a great place to people watch.
-Don’t be afraid to venture off onto the unbeaten path with a wine you haven’t tried before! “If you just want to taste a wine – to just sample and you’re not sure if you want to commit, we’ll happily pour you a little taste so that you can try,” Caleb says.

For more information:

403 West 12th Street

Los Angeles, CA 90015




  1. Waka Flaka, lol ..smh well at least he is teachin folks about moscato. That natural burger looks great. They've done a great job merging food, wine, and atmosphere together.

  2. The Corkbar is pretty awesome. I love a great glass of wine.

  3. Well that's an amazing article! I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.