Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pasadena Wine Scene: Chronicle Wine Cellars

Today we have a new entry that combines my love for my city of Pasadena with my love for finding and exposing people to great wine. As a part of Greater L.A. Pasadena exists in the midst of so many wine shopping options that it can be overwhelming. There are the big guys down in Hollywood and West L.A. There are many cool bars that combine wine tasting experiences with retail options. But for my money and time there is really only one place to buy wine that captures the essence of friendly, laid back Pasadena in a way that quintessentially combines Pasadena's friendly conservative attitude, with their urban willingness to ignore idiosyncrasies and embrace new experiences. This place is Chronicle Wine Cellars, and there is truly no place like it.

Located in the bottom floor of a rather run down apartment building, it is impossible to stumble upon, and rather difficult to find even with one's first time determination. The only way to describe its location is that it resides literally right behind the Pasadena restaurant institution Pie and Burger. By right behind I mean right behind, as in down the Pie and Burger driveway and behind their kitchen door. You will know it is open as the proprietor Gus Martin will always have an American flag waving both at the main entrance and at the end of the driveway on California Blvd. The address for Chronicle will not help you, literally go to the NE corner of Lake and California Avenues and find your way behind the restaurant (about 40 yards East of the actual corner).

The shop is only a few hundred square feet and precariously packed with homemade shelves of plywood and 2 x 4s, old wine crates, and several hundred hand picked wines that Gus and his crew consider values for what the wine offers. This results in primarily labels you will not be familiar with, although there is often a couple of large production, more familiar wines at the absolute lowest prices I have ever seen them (for example a big Champagne house is regularly available for $29.95, when $36.95 is the BEST price I have seen elsewhere). Organized roughly into varietals the store is pretty well split between reds and whites with a small section for sparkling wines in one corner. Surrounding the wines are hundreds of dusty decorations ranging from empty bottles of Echezeaux to neon Schlitz signs, all interspersed with wonderfully descriptive shelf talkers generated by the staff of the store themselves (and occasionally taped on the shelves under the wrong wine). If it sounds eclectic and a bit disorganized it is, so that has to be part of the charm for this place to make sense to you.

The real reason the store has such a following, and a devotee in myself, is the care with which the wine for sale is chosen and the passion that comes through when working with the staff to make your purchases. Gus has a knack for finding wine that over delivers for the price, and keeping a great mix of wines from all over the world in stock. Many of the less expensive wines I have featured on these pages have come from Chronicle, and many of them have been recommendations from the Chronicle crew. You can get as much, or as little help as you want and can find something for Tuesday night pizza, or something to lay down for 15 years. In fact it is fair to say you will literally bump into your options upon walking through the door.

So while Chronicle is not the place to go if you are looking for something specific (I can save you the time, they will not have it). It is absolutely the place to go to stock up on values, things you haven't tried before, and great conversation about pre-war American jazz while you shop. It is the friendliest, happiest, and certainly most fun place to shop for wine in Pasadena, and if you don't like that you can always take your chances at Trader Joe's.

Where do you like to buy your wine, and why?


  1. Noir is promising to be one of the greatest outdoor destination spots in Pasadena.

  2. I love the setting and the concept but did not think the food was worth the price. Sometimes I feel that Pasadena can get away with that because of it's perceived isolation from the rest of LA. I'll give it another chance though. They have a great winelist, with very few deals....

  3. Monopole right... Just take a cab!!


  4. I've been in that part of Pasadena before. I didn't know that there was a Wine Cellar there. I should have bought wine there if I had known.

  5. I wish I could also visit where I actually buy Australian wine. It would be great to know how it's made and processed.