An Interview with Caroline Styne of Lucques and A.O.C., Los Angeles
8022 West Third St.
Los Angeles, CA
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke: Where and when did
you first develop an interest in wine?
Caroline Styne: I was working at Jones Hollywood,
which had a small, California-oriented winelist. The General Manager
was the wine buyer and he let me sit in on his wine appointments with
him. I found that I had a good nose for aromas and really enjoyed the
selection process. He let me make some of my own selections for the
list as well. When we opened Lucques, we had someone help us put the
list together, but once we opened, it was up to me.
JC: What qualities do you look for when buying
wine for your restaurants?
CS: To begin with, I try to concentrate on small-production,
boutique wineries. I think it’s really exciting to find a wine
that few people have tasted and introduce it to a wider audience. Whether
large or small production, I tend to like wines that have great acidity
and structure – the wines that we serve need to have both. The
food at Lucques and A.O.C. is very robust and flavorful, so the wines
on the list need to be able to marry with those flavors as well as hold
up to them.
JC: How much do you and Suzanne Goin collaborate
when developing your menus and winelists?
CS: I think we collaborate most in terms of our understanding
of one another. By this I mean that I feel very in tune with her food
and her style of cooking, and that we have a similar aesthetic and palate.
Because of this kinship with her and her cooking, I am able to buy wines
that I know will pair well with her food and style. So, although the
restaurant menus and winelists were created independently of each other,
they share in a soulful way and work really well together.
JC: “A.O.C.” clearly has a strong
wine-orientation; how is your second restaurant’s wine program
different from that of Lucques?
CS: I would say that the wine program at AOC is far
more dynamic than that of Lucques. This is a result of it’s being
such a prominent part of the restaurant’s concept. When one walks
into AOC, the first thing one sees is the cruvinet displaying the 50
dry wines that we serve by the glass. The sheer number of wines that
we serve allows me to be creative in terms of the wines that I can serve
by the glass. And similarly, it allows the guest to be adventurous in
their wine selections. In most restaurants a guest chooses one, maybe
two bottles of wine that the table will enjoy over the course of an
evening. At AOC however, our guests can order carafes of wine and taste
a multitude of wines with their meal. The restaurant is built around
this kind of experimentation. I serve 20 wines by the glass at Lucques,
but the overall wine program isn’t as aggressive.
JC: How do like to theme your wines-by-flight
CS: The wine flights are based on a few different
criteria, and are really wide-ranging. Sometimes the flights are seasonally
based, like the rosé flights we have been serving all summer.
Other times the flights will feature three wines from a single producer
(i.e. the pinot noirs from Tantara in central California). And still
other flights feature one varietal, like the Grenache flight that we
served in June that consisted of wines from Spain, France and California.
I change the flight every two weeks or so, based on availability of
the wines and their popularity. We also always offer a sparkling flight
that changes quite frequently. Our current flight has a champagne, a
sparkling vouvray and a prosecco.
JC: What wines do you favor for your cellar at
CS: My personal wine collection consists of a little
of this and a little of that. I try to have a variety of wines on hand
at home to satisfy whatever my mood may be. I love the wines of Burgundy,
both red and white, for the combination of power and elegance. I adore
the meaty, earthy Rhone wines of Côte-Rôtie and Cornas.
I’m also quite fond of Austrian and German whites.
JC: Which wines or regions are most popular with
your guests at the moment?
CS: This doesn’t come as much of a surprise,
but I’ve been finding that people’s interest in Spanish
wines is on the rise. I have around six Spanish wines in the cruvinet
at AOC, and I can barely keep them in stock. The wonderful thing is
that people are being adventurous about tasting wines from all over
Spain, including the lesser known regions, not merely Rioja.