Gjelina is now eight years open, no longer the new face, no longer trendy, and busier than ever. During those years, Henry Beylin’s wine program has evolved in some compelling ways: Beylin and co-beverage director Joshua Frederick have been making trips abroad, looking for compelling producers who aren’t yet distributed in the US, and working with importers to bring them into the country in exclusive deals, making Gjelina’s one of the most singular wine lists in Los Angeles.
It seems like we’re able to sell wackier and wackier grapes. So many people are willing to try any wine as long it’s clean, crisp, mineral. Riesling sales are the best ever. And we’ll always sell syrah. And we actually have two or three furmints on the list. Go figure. It has those dry-field flavors of chenin, but they feel more expansive, with a greater depth of flavor. We carry the wines of Samuel Tinon, a sweet-wine specialist making his first classic dry furmint, and then we have one from Heidi Schröck, with its burnt orange peel, legume-y flavors—totally the other side of the spectrum.
The [Becker Landgraf 2012 Rheinhessen] St. Laurent was a surprise. It’s made in a bigger style than most, a little rounder and richer, more fruit forward. From Germany, not Austria. That bigger, richer style actually allows it to hit those flavor notes that make it a good Napa cab alternative, oddly enough. In a lot of cases we try to find an Old World example of wines that represents a flavors people know. The other wine that works like this is our pignolo from Friuli, made by Comelli winery. That’s a big grape that not many people make, but it makes for one of the richest, roundest, most potent wines in the region. We love selling it with our red meat dishes, and the wines come in at a fraction of the cost of a high-end cabernet—just $77 for the Comelli. With a Napa cab you just couldn’t do that.
On Etna Rosso, and Importing Direct
Irene Badala Etna Rosso Nerello Mascalese—we’ll be buying most if not all their production of this wine this year. They make only about 300 cases a year, and it’s a fairly atypical nerello mascalese: fairly light and delicate, but it still manages to have grip and teeth. The next vintage is completely different, from a hotter year, and it’s big, bold, rich, tannic, much higher in alcohol. The essence of the place still there, and it’s still light on its feet, with a through line of acidity; it’s just that the fruit is more enveloping. You still get that Etna ashiness, the minerality underneath the fruit.
We [he and Frederick] found her; no one sold us on this brand. The older I get that’s something I appreciate more—finding families to work with and build relationship. So we have someone to bring it in for us. It’s a more proactive way to do things. We go to Europe twice a year. Last year we spent time in Austria and Italy, looking for singular wines that are usually very small production. We like to take most of all of their production, with the idea that we’re going to develop a long relationship. If things go well [we say] we could be in this for twenty years. There are about twenty wines on our list that we’ve found in this way. It cuts out a few layers of profit takers, that’s nice, but I can’t tell you the satisfaction we feel it is to pass this on to customers, how cool it is to give them something they can’t have anywhere else.
Patrick J. Comiskey covers US wines for Wine & Spirits magazine, focusing on the Pacific Northwest, California’s Central Coast and New York’s Finger Lakes.