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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Tasting with Oliver Krug

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We host regular weekly and Saturday wine tastings in each K&L location.

For the complete calendar, including lineups and additional details related to our events, visit our K&L Local Events on or follow us on Facebook.  


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>>Upcoming Special Events, Dinners, and Tastings

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Wine 101: Learning to Choose Wine (Part II) - Wine Labels

One of the most daunting tasks in selecting a good bottle of wine is recognizing exactly what grape is inside of it. Once you've gotten to know your varieties, what style of winemaking you prefer, and which flavors you do and don't like, then finding a bottle that suits you should be much easier. Unfortunately, for the casual wine drinker identifying that bottle is made all the more difficult by the myriad of wine labeling laws that can differ by region or country. I use the word unfortunate because there are so many great wines that get passed over due to their esoteric markers. If the average person has absolutely no information to go on other than Côte du Rhône-Village Rasteau, then the average person is going to buy something else that he or she can comprehend. I get the feeling that many people drink mainly domestic wines because they are easier to recognize and identify than, say, French, Italian or Spanish wines. The bottle simply states which grape the wine is made from be it Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. Sure, the locality of the wines probably plays a role as well, but I'm not convinced that these same people wouldn't appreciate a foreign substitute if they were exposed to just the right one. I'm not saying that domestic wines are inferior, but on the other hand, isn't it nice to have options? Capitalism tends to favor the educated shopper. The actual box of Cheerio's will usually cost me around $4, but the Trader Joe's O's taste the same if not better, and are half the price. Knowing this small piece of information makes me a more savvy shopper, and I currently don't know anyone who isn't especially aware of what they're spending right now. Finding an imported version of your favorite grape can literally pay off in a similar fashion. Brand names tend to dominate the domestic market and, as a consumer, you will more than likely pay more for a product if it carries such a prestigious tag, even if the product itself is inferior to its cheaper competitors. The same is true for a bottle of wine. While you may recognize the name of the producer, it doesn't necessarily reveal anything about the wine. In almost any market, there are usually cheaper substitute products that are comparable if not better in quality to the big-time players. I am convinced that in the global wine market, the best deals are often the imported bottles that are unidentifiable to the untrained eye. I remember going to the grocery store to buy my wine and picking out the only recognizable bottles I could find: usually a random Merlot blend or a straw-basket covered Chianti. For as often as I drank these wines I never had a clue which varietals I was drinking. The main reason that I bought them in the first place was because my parents drank them, and I'm not sure they know exactly why they did either! I was a creature of habit, mostly because I didn't have any idea what I should buy and these were safe picks. What I discovered later, however, was that both of these wines were terrible and that when tasted alongside comparable bottles of a lesser known status, I found I had been drinking veritable sludge for who knows how long. The key to my wine awakening was a tasting at a local retail store. When I learned how the better-than-average bottle of cheap Merlot from Bordeaux could actually taste, I was absolutely shocked. If you like Merlot, and you know which regions of the world produce Merlot, then you can increase the possibility of finding a Merlot at the price you want to pay. When I went to shop for a cheap bottle for dinner, my Merlot options for under $10 (as far as I knew) were limited to about three choices and none of them were great. Had I known that the bottles labeled as Bordeaux were also made with the Merlot grape, I would have had at least four or five other options in that price range, which may have resulted in a better wine selection. Most foreign wine laws prohibit the labeling of the varietal on the bottle; opting to feature the name of the particular region, appellation or vineyard. It is up to the shopper to know which grapes are grown in a particular geographical zone. If this is old news to you, bare with me, because there are still a few tricks that you may not have known. Learning the name of every wine appellation in the world and which varieties they produce is a near impossible task that even we at here at K&L have not mastered. There are simply far too many obscure places making some pretty obscure wines from some pretty obscure grapes. In order to provide some general assistance, I'm going to focus on the most commonly consumed domestic varieties and provide a list of foreign alternatives as well as how they may differ in style (and price!). The next time you go searching for a reasonably priced Sauvignon Blanc, it may be the case that the best possible option is the bottle that doesn't have Sauvignon Blanc on the label. Value Wine Label Decoder: One thing to keep in mind is that the bottle may have a general regional name on it, like Bordeaux or Burgundy, or it may have a more distinctive appellation name. Generally, the wines that feature a more specific vineyard or geographical zone are going to be pricier and less of a deal, but for the sake of education I'll list some of them in parentheses anyway. Another difficulty is that many regions produce blends rather than single varietal wines, which I will also be sure to note. Cabernet Sauvignon French: Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superieur, Haut-Médoc, Médoc (generally blended with a large dosage of Merlot). Everyday cabs from Bordeaux tend to be less round and smooth than the California version, and they also come blended with at least some Merlot. The wines have more structure as well, and can really bring out the flavors in a grilled piece of beef. Merlot French: Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superieur, Fronsac, Listrac, Vins de Pays d' Oc. Unfortunately the amount of Merlot or Cab in a bottle of generally labeled Bordeaux is impossible to know by label or region. A good general rule of thumb is price. Wines in the $10-15 are usually heavier on the Merlot side. Merlot is sometimes seen as a rather boring grape to drink as a single varietal, but that doesn't apply to wine from Bordeaux. The French version is usually bolder and brawnier than the jammy and over-ripe California style. Syrah French: Côte du Rhône, Côte du Rhône-Villages, St-Joseph, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage. Wines labeled simply as Côte du Rhône are usually blended with a larger percentage of Grenache, and can also contain up to 15 other grapes. The Syrah wines from the Rhône that are composed of near 100% Syrah are rarely inexpensive. Sometimes there are some deals from St-Joseph around $15, and now and then there is a simple Côte du Rhône with a higher percentage. One example would be the 2007 St. Cosme (1.5L $29.99), which is currently a very hot commodity. Grenache French: Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (blended with other varietals). Italy: Cannonau. Spain: labeled in Spanish as Garnacha. There aren't a lot of domestic drinkers looking for Grenache, but it is catching on in California as of late. Always smooth, low in tannin, and full of grapey aromas and juicy berries. The Rhône version is a bit more peppery, while the Spanish style is juicy and fat. Both are almost always amazing for what you pay. The 2007 Crucillon Garnacha Campo de Borja for $7.99 is outstanding. Pinot Noir French: Burgundy, Bourgogne, Bourgogne Rouge, Marsannay, Fixin, Côtes de Nuits, Santenay, Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Cheverny (blended with Gamay), Arbois, Passetoutgrains (blended with Gamay). Italy: labeled as Pinot Nero. There are so many different places making Pinot Noir today and each of them has their own distinct style. Burgundian pinot is impossible to pigeonhole, but they tend to be earthier and more tannic than the domestic version. The Loire Valley style from Sancerre and outlying districts tends to be higher in acidity. Cabernet Franc French: Chinon, Bourgueil, Touraine. Cabernet Franc is still an "insider" grape, mainly because it tends to turn off a lot of casual drinkers, while long-time aficionados revel in its greatness. Always peppery and full of structure, the French options from the Loire are bold, tannic and can age with the best of them. Chardonnay French: Burgundy, Bourgogne, Bourgogne Blanc, Mâcon (or Mâcon + the name of the village, like Mâcon-Charnay), St-Veran, Pouilly-Fuissé, Chablis. The Burgundian Chardonnays can be chalky and mineral-driven or round and fruity, but rarely, if eve,r are they buttery and fat like the California style. If you are looking for unoaked domestic Chardonnay, you need to start looking overseas. We have a bunch of cheap options from the Mâcon that are stunning for less than $15. Sauvignon Blanc French: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Touraine, St- Bris, Bordeaux Blanc (Graves, Entre-Deux-Mers), Italy: Sauvignon. The Loire Valley will knock your socks off with its Sauvignon Blanc quality. Sancerre makes the best in the world, and that point is not up for argument or debate. They usually come in over the $20 mark, but we have some great direct imports like the 2007 Franck Millet that can be had for less. The whites from Bordeaux can be, and usually are, blended with Sémillon and are rounder and more honey flavored. All New World countries like Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia produce wines of great quality as well, but they will almost always print the name of the grape on the label. Argentina is primarily Malbec territory, but like Chile they do make some outstanding Cabernet Sauvignons as well. Australia dominates with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, while New Zealand's best offerings are usually Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are always great deals on wines that are made from varieties that we do not produce here domestically, but we'll save that lesson for part three. Until then, try some of your favorite grapes in a different language and see how they translate. —David Driscoll

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