Thursday, June 20, 2019

Wine-Curious: Little Death Brings a Bawdy Take on the Wine Bar to the St. Mary’s Strip

Posted By on Thu, Jun 20, 2019 at 12:34 PM

click to enlarge ERIK GUSTAFSON
  • Erik Gustafson
Despite its unremarkable interior, Little Death is a wine bar that stands out from the mutable St. Mary’s Strip. Named for la petite mort, a French expression for a sensation related to orgasm, Little Death is a wine bar that lives up to its Rabelaisian exterior, covered with blatantly bawdy graphics by artist Rudy Herrera and his collaborators.

The wine bar is the latest operation from the fertile, if not fervid mind of Chad Carey and the Empty Stomach Group, which operates Hot Joy, Barbaro and neighboring music venue Paper Tiger.

Since Little Death opened in March, the former service station has been filled with a new wine-curious crowd, one comprised of neighborhood folks, wine geeks, youngsters with a yen for something new and even old farts who don’t care about labels. According to one server, everyone outside of people in line for Burger Boy on weekends comes into the small bar.

At Little Death, there are no baller Bordeaux and Burgundies, no Screaming Eagle examples of California excess. The wines lining the wall are mostly French, sourced by producers most of us have never known, and they are well-priced for consumption in place. Add Riedel glassware, a $10 discount on take-away bottles and there’s no excuse not to experiment.



The serving personnel knows enough about the wines to be helpful, but not so much that they become snobby about the topic. For any Little Death visitor, the best place to start is with the limited, but attractively inexpensive list of wines by-the-glass. At last look, there was a $4 red that might have lacked finesse but more than made up for it in guileless exuberance. These bottles are already open, so feel free to ask for a taste of something that strikes your fancy before moving onto the library found along the walls.
click to enlarge ERIK GUSTAFSON
  • Erik Gustafson
I’m personally fond of Loire Valley reds such as Chinon and Bourgeuil, made principally from cabernet franc grapes, but there are lighter Gamay options from Beaujolais to explore as well.

If you aren’t interested in exploring the unfamiliar in glasses of lesser-known wines like Picpoul, then a somewhat more conventional Sancerre — a snappy, fresh wine that is fully expressive of Sauvignon Blanc — may be a better bet.
While Riesling and sherry were a focus at Carey’s late Monterrey restaurant, they take a back seat here. Carey, along with other wine enthusiasts, has moved on to other regions and other grapes, like South African chenin blanc and Oregon pinot noir. Move with them.

Little Death does provide a few amuse-gueules (a house term that roughly translates to “mouth-gratifier”) to keep the wine company. The entire menu won’t be available at any one given time, but snap up a chicken liver pâté served on a slab of Bakery Lorraine’s country bread when it’s around; fresh oregano gave the already well-seasoned spread further zing. Chef Anne Ng had just delivered several baguettes for the cheese plate — in this case, a melty goat brie and a robust Roquefort — during one of my visits.

The menu’s broad beans with lemon lacked character, but house-seasoned roasted almonds came through, and if radishes with butter and sea salt should be available, give this classic French combo a spin. I haven’t yet sprung for the washed-rind Époisses, a Burgundian cheese that, at $25, is by far the food menu’s priciest option, but with a few bottle-loving buddies on hand to share the experience, the expense might well be worth it.
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