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Pourtal Wine Bar opens in Santa Monica

April 29, 2009 |  2:31 pm

Pourtal Wine Bar in Santa Monica

Go ahead, ask Peter Birmingham what he'd pair with a 1979 Brunello di Montalcino.

The wine guru pauses for a moment, "The king of cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano," he says. "I'd cut a quarter-inch wedge off a wheel, get some 25-year-old balsamic vinegar and drizzle it -- but just a drop or two -- on the cheese. Then I'd sit there nibbling it and contemplating my rosy future."

That should give you a taste of the detail and specificity Birmingham brings to Santa Monica wine bar Pourtal, which opened today. Tucked between Robata Bar and Sushi Roku where Santa Monica Boulevard almost falls into the ocean, Pourtal seems like a big gamble in an area glutted with wine bars: Bar Pintxo is almost directly across the street, Saluté recently opened on Main Street near Ocean Park and there's always Bodega and Rustic Canyon.

Birmingham brings the palate and owner Stephen Abronson brings the technology to this sleek little space centered around an Enomatic wine display and serving system. These self-serve linear dispensers -- three rectangular ones along the walls and a larger circular one that dominates the center of the room -- dole out 1-ounce pours while keeping the uncorked bottles at the proper temperature. You prepay for a wine card, and when you're ready to taste something, you slip the card in the reader embedded into each display case and pick your poison. The cost of a pour is listed above each bottle.

It's a nifty way to sample expensive wines you might not otherwise have gumption to buy. $56 is a lot for a bottle you've never tried, but $4.50 for 1-ounce pour is more affordable. The pours range from $1.50 to $9, with most pours hovering in the $3 to $5 range. Be forewarned: The costs quickly add up, and it's easy to get carried away. (You can also buy wine by the bottle; corkage is $15 per bottle.)

Pourtal also offers a small selection of appetizers: olives, breadsticks, slices of chorizo speared with Pecorino and peppadews, mixed nuts, crostini with various toppings (including, most interestingly, a combo of Grevenbroecker blue cheese and Chocovivo chocolate) and a variety of flatbreads.

Birmingham has grouped the wines by theme: GenuWine Worldly Whites, Pinot Envy (Pinot Noirs and wines that want to be Pinots) and Three's Company (each wine is a blend of three grapes). Get him started on his favorite wines and he might point you to the 2005 Donkey & Goat "3/13." The title refers to three of the 13 grapes that are allowed in Chateaunuef-de-Pape wine: in this case, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. He might tell you that the winemakers studied under Eric Texier, a former nuclear physicist who left his job with the French government and pored over satellite images to determine what parcel of land to plant. He might use words like luminescent and call it "one of the great cult wines in the making." But ultimately, he just seems happy to have you taste it.

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo credit: Above left, courtesy of Pourtal; above right, from Enomatic Systems.