When I walked into Pourtal I was immediately greeted with a “hello” and a big smile from an attractive young woman. As I approached the bar a handsome young man said “welcome.” I immediately felt at home, and was reminded of the TV show “Cheers.”

Yes Pourtal is a bar, and you can get some great beers there. But the main feature is wine, and, to my surprise, some great snacks. And that’s what I like with my wine!

The place is small, with a few tables and bar stools in the front window, and a bar in the back. A lot of the space is taken up with enomatic dispensing machines. The trick is that you get a card, and the card allows you to pour your own wine from any one of a number of selections. The card records your purchases and you pay at the end. The self service aspect is nice because you can time your drinking by yourself without waiting for the server. Waiting for refills sometimes slows down my drinking.

The last time I was there was on a Saturday evening. There were two tables filled with laughing friends, mostly women. As I guessed, it’s a meeting place for young women and couples on their way to dinner or a show on the Third Street Promenade. I noted that almost everyone was drinking red wine.

The young woman who greeted me initially turned out to be Kasey. I had met Rachel, the wine director on an earlier visit. Both are great hosts.

The most popular red wine turned out to be the Heller organic cabernet. The fact that it’s organic tells you something about the crowd. The most popular white wine seems to be the Domaine de Larzac, an inexpensive Vin de Pays d’Oc Roussanne-Chardonnay blend from a famous chateau in the south of France. Neither would be my choice, but that’s not a problem because there is a terrific selection of wine there, unmatched by any but the most expensive restaurants in town. And the selection is eclectic and represented by every major wine producing country. I noted (and salivated over) the Plumpjack cabernet (produced by J.Paul Getty’s son), one of my favorites, and the Lioco pinot noir.

It’s a good place to start the evening with a glass of champagne, or sparkling wine, and I had a glass of a cava from Spain that was delicious and reasonably priced.

To snack on there’s a selection of over a dozen cheeses, various flatbreads, dips like hummus, and some high-end items like duck rillettes and lamb skewers. Some of the most popular dishes are the pulled pork sliders for $8 and the gyro lamb-pita sandwich for $10. As you can tell, there’s plenty to eat for a nice lunch or dinner even though they call them snacks.

As a side note, the happy hour donates back to local and national charities. Pourtal has many wine related events, including classes and tastings; and they are a very green business.

Pourtal is a great place to meet with friends. The people there, the wine selection, and the food selection all make you feel good. When you stop in, you might see me there. It’s open Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. until everyone leaves, Wednesday through Sunday for lunch, and all night Mondays, and Tuesday through Friday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. is “Angel shares happy hour” when there are $4 appetizers and $5 wines by the glass.

If You Go

Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar

104 Santa Monica Blvd.

Santa Monica, Calif. 90401

(310) 393-7693

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com.