LA’s BEST Classic Wine Store

gus2WEB.jpgMany wine shops are nominated as BEST of LA wine stores. These would include Dennis Overstreet’s Beverly Hills Wine Merchant [ed. yo tBoW didn’t he used to be just Wine Merchant?], West LA’s Wine House, Steve Wallace’s Wally’s, Bobby Golbahar’s Twenty-Twenty, perhaps even the Marina bargain palace LA Wine Company. While local and equally well-established Woodland Hills Wine Company might only get a biased nod the fact is in order to be a C-L-A-S-S-I-C you gotta have some class.
Each shop has its pedigree: open at least 20 years; notable personality associated with the joint; and cachet for some distinctive quality whether it is best bargains (LA WIne Co), widest selection (Wine House), best selection of older vintage wines (20-20)[ed. where Bipin Desai would shop?], or simply best in one class such as Bordeaux verticals (Wally’s).
But, for tBoW’s money and interest one shop with one guy stands above all the others for CLASS and CLASSIC: The Chronicle Wine Cellar in Pasadena owned and operated by Gus Martin who has been around town long as anyone, knows everyone and everything there is to know.
Forget finding the place. gusdeskWEB.jpgThe address may as well be unlisted because when you drive up you will ask yourself what’s the gag. Here behind Pasadena’s answer to West LA’s Apple Pan, the Pie ‘n Burger, is where Gus holds court. Enter the driveway and head to the back. Try and park. You may get lucky on a Tuesday at 2:00 PM. You still will only know you are there by the French flag flying outside Gus’ door.
The place is a closet. Blink your eyes. Now again. Gus mans the squat behind the counter; strictly a symbolic gesture to role definitions. Me wine merchant. You customer. tBoW has been coming here for decades and it never changes. Including Gus. Thank God. Once upon a time he headed up the wine program at the equally venerable Chronicle restaurant in Pasadena which for awhile had a Santa Monica site on Main. When the operations folded Gus opened up his shop on East California. Behind the burger place.
gusshelf3WEB.jpgGus is crazy about bargain wines. He KNOWS the world of wine is filled with bargains as it always has been. Only the names and regions change. 30 years ago he bought them from Bordeaux when a 1983 Malescot St Exupery could be found for $12. Or 1976 Mosel Ausleses were being blown out at $15. Those days are long gone although Gus still has a cellar with proof it was all true. He still brings some out every now and then. They are on the shelf across from his “desk”. I spotted a 1953 Napa Inglenook Cab for $450. Gus has them. He just won’t sell too many anymore. You can always make an offer.
What he will sell are modern era steals and bargains from New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. And do not expect the typical blends. He sold me an Argentine Sauvignon Blanc. “tastes nothing like the grape” he said. $5.
What about the class? Check him out. Always in a tie and penny loafers. He insisted on putting on his retail apron before I snapped his picture. Not only does he look sharp he knows more about wine than Robert Parker and maybe as much as Michael Broadbent. Take a close look at the photos of the wines above the shelves. That’s right. DRC La Tache from the 60s. You can’t rent these from a Hollywood prop shop. Above the $10 and $20 modern day bargains rest the empty bottles of wines considered priceless. A classic. What fun.
Here is a sample selection of U20 wines available at his shop.
kaleido06WEB.jpg2006 Kaleido Familia Mayol Vista Flores Sauvignon Blanc $5: Because Gus took all the Phoenix-based distributor had left he can let it go for this absurdly low price. Grapes grown at ~4,000 feet. Unfined and unfiltered. Chalky nose like an oxidized Chardonnay. However, the flavors are fresh and citric, almost grapefruit. Not grassy. Has some weight and stuffing. Not sophisticated but plenty of wine to warrant a case for the summer. Extreme U20 value. 12.8%
2008 Mezzacorona Chardonnay
$5: Italian juice from the Dolomites. More austere, lean flavors, good acid. Old world Chardonnay, not fat and buttery or tropical. Interesting without much charm. Held up nicely over 3 days. 13%
comosur09WEB.jpg2009 Como Sur Adolfo Hurtado Viognier $8: from Chile’s Calchagua Valley. Stoney, flinty fruit. Some sweetness and some citric character blended well with acidic spine. Has some Viognier foxy quality. Still going strong after 3 days! 13.5%
cescopinotgrigio08WEB.jpg2008 Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio $12: The high priced wine with the hand-tied vine twig around the neck is a tipica local. Lightest style of the lot. Mild mannered, soft, local. Somewhat oily. Easy drinking. Not much personality. Low alcohol. 12%
These are little trophy wines! Even Dotore’ agreed the QP ratio [ed. quality to price] is off the scale. Any of these wines are fine selections for a large party, a fund-raiser, or wedding. The $5 wines would be excellent choices for a large affair. Or you could buy a mixed case and just drink them in June on your patio. Gus has other wines on the shelf that are U20; closer to $20 such as a 2007 Morgon Beaujolais by Chermette for $15. Small shop, big value, interesting guy, many wines you will not find anywhere else.
Gus is going strong and his Chronicle Wine Cellar is definitely worth a visit.


  1. Hi,
    I just ran across your site and thanks for your kind words.
    Next time out our way please say hello.

  2. Wavatar
    Steven williams says:

    Sir, I’m looking for a vintage 1976 Cabernet which the year significant because it is the year I joined the u.s. Coast Guard and now 40 years later I’m retiring. It is for that reason I want to savor a good wine that signifies the beginning. The Wine just as myself went on a wonderful journey which we both changed with time. I located a Napa cab on and I’m wondering is this a wise choice or What would be your choice?

    • Wavatar
      Bacchus says:

      1976 was a good year for California Cabs. Most are tired now. I would recommend Inglenook or BV or any of the “classic” producers in the 70s. Look on for best bets. Cost will be ~$300. I do not know Happy retirement.

Got something to add?