Ian Lokey of Los Angeles’ Sushi Note on Red Wine with Sushi - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Ian Lokey of Los Angeles’ Sushi Note
on Red Wine with Sushi

Ian Lokey started in restaurants at the age of sixteen, eventually nabbing his first stint in fine dining at West Hollywood’s Norah, where wine director Dan Veit held blind tastings every Sunday. Lokey began studying to be a sommelier himself, taking his level one and two back-to-back through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Five years ago, Lokey joined Sherman Oaks’ Sushi Note, where everyone on the floor is both a sommelier and server. “It’s a complete somm experience from beginning to end,” Lokey said. And while the restaurant does carry sake by-glass and bottle, the pairings consist solely of wine. Lokey took over the title of Beverage Director in 2021 and helped open the group’s second location in Beverly Hills, Sushi Note Omakase, in 2023. He now leads a team of seven sommeliers across both restaurants. —Alissa Bica

Ian Lokey

What are your personal favorite wine regions right now?

My first love is Alsace. I think it has the greatest wines in the world. The first time I had a dry riesling it had some age on it—it was a 2004 Marc Tempé from Zellenberg. I have his wines on my list right now—his pinot blanc and rieslings go well with our cuisine. I think the oiliness of fish with pinot blanc is kind of unmatched. That’s the one that I think is probably the star pairing, but his rieslings are super mineral with this spice component to them. I visited Alsace and stayed in Colmar for about a week or so at Christmastime. It was paradise. Everything looks like it’s made out of gingerbread.

Beyond Alsace, I’m a big fan of Santa Barbara, specifically Santa Rita Hills and cool climate pinot noirs, but also when a Central Coast syrah hits, it hits really hard. We just brought one on by Samuel Louis Smith, a very small producer, and it drinks almost like a Rhône, which is what he wanted. It’s not overly ripe, big fruit. It’s not hyper black pepper. We pour it by-the-glass because I feel like no one would order it if it were by the bottle; they think they’re not supposed to [with sushi]. When the heavier tunas come out, like Otoro and Kama-Toro (Bluefin), those have a level of fat that can really work with this cooler-climate syrah. I often tell people that Central Coast syrah is the cut off as a general rule when it comes to pairing red wine with sushi. It’s not a hard and fast rule—I’ve poured zinfandel and that’s fun, but really that’s kind of about where the balance is. Australian Shiraz is too much and blows out the food.

If I had to pick a third, I’d go with Mosel in Germany, with really assertive, acid-driven, bright wines—I’m an acid hound. I really love those cool climate, almost frigid growing regions. I come from a German family so, I grew up eating a lot of German food. Putting those two together, it’s kind of an ancestral thing for me. If we’re zeroing in on sushi, I like the Grosses Gewächs style. But if I’m having spicy Thai food, Spätlese always hits the spice better. I’m not opposed to sweetness, like most of the American drinking public is. I’m opposed to sweetness when it’s out of balance. I love Joh. Jos. Prüm Mosel Spätlese Graacher Himmelreich Riesling.

What other regions do you focus on at Sushi Note?

We have a very big Burgundy presence, chardonnay and pinot noir—and for some reason someone cleaned me out of aligoté the other day. We have tons of Chablis on the menu—it’s our biggest seller. Right now, Daniel-Etienne Defaix Les Lys is popular. He has a habit of releasing older vintages and we have the 2010. They have taken on that tertiary flavor, adding an extra layer of complexity. It’s not just mineral acid, nailing the enamel on your teeth; it has a little more of a food friendly level that can get kind of savory, and the texture goes great with our food.

We also get people who want red Burgundy. No bottle is going to go with absolutely everything—that’s why we have the pairings—but red Burgundy is really popular when people are given the green light from our somm saying, ‘You can have a red Burgundy. Don’t worry about it.’ I find that Beaujolais works insanely well. I’m a big fan of Fleurie, and when it comes to gamay, I try to find ones that punch way above their price. For Burgundy as well. Our by-the-glass selections switch, probably every two weeks or so. I don’t commit to a lot of large orders of cases because we have people who come back every week. I am also lucky that we have a clientele who’s not afraid to spend $25 or $26 a glass on a great Burgundy.

Have you added any new categories that have been successful?

Galician reds. The only two fish [we serve] that don’t come from Japan would be the salmon and the tuna. And the tuna comes from Spain. When you take that ‘what grows together, goes together’ mentality, the Galician reds are light enough with just enough texture. One I’m pouring right now—Manuel Moldes ‘Acios Mouros’—has a very cedar-woodsy thing to it. That’s one of those wines, when people have it on its own, they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Then they have it with the tuna specifically, and it all makes sense.

And orange wine specifically has been very popular. I sell 20 glasses of orange wine to one of rosé. Literally, we Coravin our rosé because we sell it so rarely that we’re not just wasting the bottle. Orange wine, however, especially the Georgian orange wines, those are the ones really moving. The texture of them is wonderful for fish. Also, they’re trending at the moment.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Alissa Bica is the Associate Editor and Spirits Critic at Wine & Spirits. She is also a sommelier at 71 Above and co-runs the home wine tasting company, Côte Brune and Blonde. In any rare moments of free time, she writes about obscure grape varieties in the blog Off the Beaten Wine Path.

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