The Tasting Kitchen | Natural wine | Orange wine | Venice Beach | Los Angeles | California Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

The Tasting Kitchen HeartHeartHeart
Restaurants and bars
Los Angeles
Open: Dinner daily
Price: Moderate

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Phone Number: +1 310 392 6644
Address: 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice Beach, California, 90291
Country: United States

Our visit to the Tasting Kitchen had been a while in the planning - when you live in Tasmania, Venice Beach is a long way away, so it doesn’t happen overnight. We knew from the Web site that the place was interesting. The menu, the chef, the wine list packed with natural wines (and others) and the reputation of the sommelier had fuelled our desire to give it a try.
There was also an experience at Lou’s wine bar in Los Angeles two nights before where we enjoyed the conviviality of the host and increased our knowledge of Italian and Spanish natural wines during an extended session there.
It also came at a time when we had been writing and musing over the role that oxygen plays in wine making and how this seems to divide people from the so-called ‘new’ and ‘old’ worlds of wine. Oxidative treatment of wine is common in many European countries (think Sherry, for example), but it is frowned upon in the new world, particularly by wine judges and wine writers, especially when found in table wines.
In our writings we have been pointing to the umami qualities developed when wine is introduced to oxygen to allow it to develop oxidative qualities. We have also reported that many very serious wine makers such as Jovillier, from the famous Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne appellations deliberately introduces oxidative qualities to his wines because he believes that it protects them from the less desirable effects of oxygen over the long term.
But, more than anything, we just love the flavour of these wines. We find them very compelling to drink. So why are they rejected by some?
We think that it is probably similar to parallels in the world of music and art. Many lovers of fine music find that harmony and tonality is like a warm coat in winter. They turn to Beethoven or Mozart or Tchaikovsky or Johann Strauss for melodious music that soothes and never jars. But they are uncomfortable with dissonance. If they hear a piece by Carlo Gesualdo or Shostakovich or something contemporary such as a piece from Ryuichi Sakamoto or Bright Sheng’s H’UN (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-1976 a work remembering the Cultural Revolution. They find that the notes don’t fit their perception of harmony because the composers use dissonance to create a different musical experience.
Experiences of art works is similar. Some look to art to reflect the world they see around them. They are comfortable with a sweeping Lorraine landscape interpretation or a portrait by Picasso in his early period. However they become uncomfortable with his abstract art.
And so it is with wine. Lovers of wine in the New World have become comfortable with clean, technologically-driven, highly filtered, highly fined wines where the some of the predictability comes from the use of specific commercial yeast which stamp their indelible flavour on the wines.
When they taste a wine that has used native yeasts and which has not been filtered or fined or sulphured and maybe has been oxidised as well then they are outside the zone of comfort.
Now back to the Tasting Kitchen. The wines have been cleverly chosen so that you can sample wines that do not fall too far outside the comfort zone or you can go for broke and have a full-on wild ride through some of the most compelling and exciting wines we have tried in a long time.
We began gently with a German Gilabert Cava which was a pleasant, easy drinking sparkling wine with a nice bead and some hints of yeastiness.
But by then we had noticed the Slovenian Movia Ribolla Gialla 2007 which was offered by the glass and said we would love to try it because we had recently had a wine from the Radikon vineyard that used the same grape at our favourite wine bar Garagistes (now closed) in Hobart, Tasmania.
At this stage the sommeliers became excited by our choice and soon we had two glasses of orange liquid with oxidative aromas, great texture and lovely liveliness on the palate. This was a wonderful wine and we asked for them to continue in this vein. The sommeliers relished the challenge.
We had ordered a dish of pickled vegetables, including green zebra tomatoes, radishes, cucumber and onions along with some Kumamoto and Island Creek oysters. The Movia wine stood against the pickles but we wanted something different for the oysters and the dish of sweet carrots, beetroot and octopus that was to follow.
We were offered an Italian wine from the Vodopivec vineyard in the Venezia Giulia appellation. This was a white/orange wine of considerable complexity that worked well with these dishes. It was made from 100% Vitovska, a grape variety that is native to the Friuli and Venezia areas in north eat Italy, but is also found in some parts of western Slovenia.
This wine also had enough body to stand alongside a great roast bone marrow with celery and caper salad. This was so rich that the white wine cut through the richness beautifully.
Next we moved to a Bodegas Carballo Listan Blanco 2007 from the Canary Islands which weighed in at 12% alcohol but had a great mouth feel and roundness that belied this reading. This was a lively wine that was immensely appealing even though we had never tried the Listan Blanco grape variety before.
We returned to Friuli for the next wine which was an amazingly deep and complex Ronco Severo Pinot Grigio - they know how to do amazing things with this grape in Friuli. This was Pinot Grigio like we've never seen it before.
Sommelier Maxwell Leer and his team were really pulling ourt all the stops, so the mind blowing wines keep coming. This time a Damijan Kaplja Bianco. More Venezia Giulia from Gravener acolyte Damijan Podeversic whose vineyards are very close to the Slovenian border. This was an extraordinary wine with creaminess on the palate, a smoothness that belied the look in the glass (murky and orange) and a length that had to be experienced to be believed. A lovely wine that went nicely with the bitterness of a radicchio salad. Another dish totally dependent on the quality of the produce - and its slight bitterness totally at home with these wines.
Moving along on the wine front we returned to the Canary Islands for Bodegas Vinatigo Vijariego Blanco DO Ycoden Daute Isora 2006. We just loved this wine and the pairing with a dish of pasta with mushrooms was perfect. High altitude grape growing, 18 months on lees, natural fermentation. This is a very exciting wine.
After this diversion we returned to Italy with a Cascina Degli Ulivi Filagnotti Gavi di Tassarolo was an intense Cortese made in the village of Tassarolo which is immediately north of Genoa. At Cascina Degli Ulivi the grapes are hand harvested with very low yields per hectare. The Cortese grapes are left to ferment naturally in 25,000 litre wooden vats on their lees for 11 months. Very little sulphur is present. This was another wine that could have lasted the whole meal.
We seem to have forgotten about the food here and we shouldn’t. The chef and his staff had been turning out beautiful food all night and we had been savouring every mouthful. However the next course was particularly special. A sensational goat boudin blanc with flageolets and a touch of foie gras was ‘flavour-on-a-plate’. It was just stunning. Now our immediate reaction would have been to call for a red wine to accompany the complexity of this dish. However, the suggestion of a Dinavolo from Emilia-Romagna showed that white wines can be just as perfect a match. Struggling to comprehend just how left field and exciting white wines can be!
Next tomme dulce, a goat cheese from Petaluma, served with fig and walnut which worked beautifully with the last of the Dinavolo.
Heading into dessert territory the kitchen sent out their two main desserts which were bread and butter pudding with ice cream and an apple galette with a serve of raw milk gelato on the side. These were both very peasant desserts with the raw milk ice cream being stunning.
We were interested in the wines that had been chosen to accompany the dessert. The first was a Vintripodi Mantonico Locride. This is an Italian wine from Calabria made from Mantonico grapes that had been dried on straw to concentrate the flavours. We thought that it would be overly sweet but it actually finished quite dry. It was a delicious wine that teamed perfectly with the apple dessert.
The other wine was a Fondillón - the delicious sweet wine from Alicante we had earlier in the week. This is a great find with its oxidative notes providing a nuttiness that went beautifully with the bread and butter pudding.
By this stage the evening was winding down so we opted for a couple of digestives to finish the night. First Vajra Barolo Chinato (Barolo steeped in bark from Chinato and then spices and herbs added), then a stunning Endrizzi Gran Masetto 2005 made with Teroldego and Teroldego (so called because half is made from dried Teroldego and the rest from fresh Teroldego grapes.
This was a wild ride ranging over many wines that we had not tried before but which confirmed our love of wines with oxidative qualities.
Tasting Kitchen is a great restaurant with a great food and wine program. We loved our meal and we loved the wines that accompanied them.
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