Greatness by the Glass

It is not what is on the menu at Augustine, but what’s on the chalkboard, as the Sherman Oaks wine bar becomes the most exciting place to drink vintage wine in LA.

  • Category
    Eat & Drink

“Do you want to taste something I think is fantastic?”

When Dave Gibbs, the proprietor of Augustine in Studio City, is asking, there is only one possible answer. And so he begins to gently ease the cork from a bottle of 1968 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve—an extraordinary glass in any wine bar, but as Dave explains, this particular bottle is also from his personal collection. In fact, it is one of the first bottles he encountered as an 18-year-old in upstate New York, when he was just getting into wine. “Then, wine was a completely mysterious, weird thing,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what I was tasting but I loved it.”

If it’s rare to find a wine bar pouring treasures like this by the glass, it’s unheard of to find one owned by a lifelong collector, offering the gems of his own collection. But Dave seems to be on a mission to provide that kind of enological enlightenment to every wine drinker in the city. His snug little bar—in a Ventura Boulevard space built in 1941 as a radio store—is decorated with vintage radios, old family photos, and other artifacts, like typewriters. And when he opened two years ago, in partnership with his friends Matthew Kaner and Dustin Lancaster of Bar Covell in Silver Lake, his idea was to bring the relaxed but serious approach of Bar Covell to the Valley. “I thought there should be a place with no TV and no loud music, where you can have a conversation,” says Dave, who also lives in Studio City. “When I saw this spot, I got a great feeling. So I built it out, always with the intention of having the old vintages. That would be the novelty.”

Augustine’s printed wine list alone is exciting, with dozens of hard-to-find selections from around the world, such as a Domaine Weinbach Sylvaner from Alsace and Ouled Thaleb’s Moroccan red blend. But the real draw is the “Rare and Vintage” list on a chalkboard hanging near the bar. Each night, Dave pours about eight different vintage wines by the glass, including legends such as a 1966 Domaine Marey-Monge Romanée St.-Vivant for $60 (a bottle retails for about $2,000—and can sell for three times that at a restaurant). He varies the chalkboard wines by decade, with some going back as far as the 1860s and aims to keep it all affordable. On a recent night, prices ranged from $18 to $45 for a six-ounce pour.

Dave, who is also a musician and songwriter, was for a time lead guitarist for the ’90s power-pop band the Gigolo Aunts. He built a fair bit of his collection while touring with them and started Augustine with a personal cellar of about 4,000 bottles, heavily French and Californian. He expected it to last the life of the bar. But after quickly selling about 1,000 of those bottles, he began to source wines from other collectors as well.

Early praise for Augustine centered on the wine, with food recommendations running toward cheese and charcuterie. But a few months ago, Dave hired a chef with some serious chops. Simon Tan, whose resume includes Gramercy Tavern in New York City and State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, changes the menu weekly with subtle, seasonal dishes such as an earthy farro risotto with peas and asparagus, and a light crab and avocado salad with chilled cucumber soup. Fortunately, two standout dishes are always in place: a 28-day dry-aged strip steak from Flannery Beef, perfectly seared and served with crisp, smashed fingerling potatoes and pickled cipollini onions, and a cool, creamy disk of foie gras complemented by warm triangles of buttered challah toast and Simon’s nuanced black currant jam.

It goes without saying that Dave is ready with surprising pairings for all of it.

Drinking with Dave

Beautifully aged trophy wines, wines made from grapes you’ve never heard of, brilliant bottles from off-vintage years. Here is a taste of what Dave Gibbs selected on a recent summer evening.

Beaulieu Vineyard 1968 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

A landmark California wine, but a less-than-perfect bottle upon opening, and Dave declines to serve it. “The ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of what that wine used to be,” he says. “When you pour people old wine, you want to wow them.”

Caves Sao Joao 1995 Poco do Lobo Arinto

A skin-fermented unicorn wine from a vineyard just east of the Atlantic Ocean in Baraida, Portugal. Subtly aromatic with pears and truffles, this 22-year-old wine (the current release!) is savory with delicate acidity.

Gutzler 2015 Blanc de Noir

An unusual white wine made in Germany’s Rheinhessen using the red Pinot Noir grape, it offers rich flavor and texture, and a soft finish. A streak of acidity runs through it, supporting hints of oranges and ginger.

Château Climens 1975 Barsac Sauternes

From one of the top 10 Sauternes vintages of the last century, it is a vibrant deep gold and luscious with flavors of orange peel, baked apple and almonds. “The most clichéd pairing in the world,” Dave says, serving it with foie gras, “but sometimes it works.”

Michele Chiarlo 1992 Barolo

This vintage in Piedmont was universally deemed awful, yet this wine is singing with all of the traditional Barolo characteristics: tar, roses and hints of dusty cherries, wrapped up in a seductive, sensual finish.

Château Canon 1982 St.-Emilion Bordeaux

Poured from a magnum, this Grand Cru red is full-bodied and fresh, with sensations of tea, exotic spices, smoke and dark red fruit dusted with cocoa powder. Large-format bottles age more slowly, and this is deliciously at its peak.