How cool is Helen Johannesen of Helen’s Wines? So cool that, when talking wine, she keeps an entire group of somewhat tipsy women transfixed with the topics of terroir and alcohol percentages.
We recently gathered at the gorgeous home of Erica Chidi Cohen of the brand new LOOM, and Zinzi of Knit Wit Mag for an evening to discover and enjoy a few favorite bottles from Helen’s well curated collection. We asked Helen to share some of her notes from our evening together, including her tips on buying cleaner wine. We had no idea about a couple of the pervasive fillers that were discussed and are shifting our buying habits a little right away!
Helen’s shop, delivery service and forthcoming wine club is nestled inside Italian hotspot, Jon & Vinny’s. Walking into Helen’s Wine Shop is like entering a jewelry box you can get a buzz from: While the space is tiny, each wine is hand-picked, tasted and tagged with attitude by Helen herself.
From brunch to Burgundy, Helen’s taste is trusted across L.A. (projects include Animal, Son of a Gun and now J & V). Our evening with Erica, Zinzi and Helen was one of the best wine tastings we’ve experienced yet, thanks in some part to the gorgeous September weather, strings of white lights, and the stunning wild florals from Iris and Daughter…
Why you're obsessed with wine:
If made well, wine captures a moment that indicates a terroir, a season, a person who made it… It roots you in space and time in a way that is different from other beverages. It also has life, aging and death – it’s very human.
I once had the chance to drink some 1942 Bollinger Champagne. That was pretty dreamy – white chocolate and truffles and the bubbles were still super lively!!
Favorite wine memory:
Driving up to a single vineyard site called Veaupessiot in a small Burgundian AOC called Irancy with Thierry Richoux. He looks like Gerard Depardu and we were in a Defender, tearing through small windy streets and it started pouring rain. I just remember he looked terrified and thrilled at the same time. Did we turn back? No. I laughed like a maniac and got soaking wet. This moment was special for me because in an instant I realized some crucial changes I needed to make back in Los Angeles. Sheer joy can bring about great change.
Top reads on the topic:
For anyone getting into wine, I always recommend Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World wine book. It is very approachable and things often make sense. A lot of wine reading is incredibly dense and it won’t make sense if you zoom in too quickly. I also read Burghound, which is a top Burgundy reference by Alan Meadows. The New California Wine is enlightening and talks about changes in California wine making that I am in to. Lastly, a shout out to my friend David Lynch who wrote a book called Vino Italiano – it’s epic.
3 tips on drinking a healthier/cleaner wine:
There are so many wine producers and many, many of them are amazing, so it’s not as easy to say to the average wine drinker: Know your farmer. But I do think it is important to know your importer or distributor. These are the people curating a collection of wine together that fits an ideology and vibe.
My favorites are: Neal Rosenthal, The Source, Kermit Lynch, Beaune Imports, Louis Dressner… to name a few. Look for these on the back of wine bottles or just ask, “What do you have from Dressner?” They will know what you’re talking about!
Talk to us about purple drank:
Bottom line, be careful. Mass-produced wine is full of awful chemicals and stabilizers and just plan old crap. Corn syrup gone bananas. Buying from specific importers can help avoid that gnarly hang over you get after only two glasses of wine… Its not a mystery, you basically drank battery acid.
Wine tip for hostesses:
If entertaining overwhelms you, a very easy thing to do when you have people over is to put out a big ice bucket with a few bottles of white and rose. Let guests serve themselves after you offer them the initial glass. Also, when you sit down for dinner, grab bottles and throw them on the table – don’t hold back. Abundance helps put people at ease. This doesn’t have to be expensive wine, but get it from a shop you trust.
Wine tip for cheapskates:
Gruner Veltliner should be your best friend. It’s often bottled in liters and the quality is very high for the price. For red wine, regions like the Languedoc and Corbieres can offer delicious wine for not a lot of money.
Wine tip for health nerds:
The higher the alcohol content, the more sugar and thus the more fattening. I like to drink wines that are around 12%, anything thats 14% and higher, I stay away from – all of this information is on the label. Not only do the 14% + wines fill you up if you’re eating dinner, they also make me feel a little sluggish. There are, of course, exceptions!