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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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Friday
Jan082016

New to K&L: Champagne Jean Josselin

Jean-Felix Josselin and I with his tanks in Gye-sur-Siene.

Champagne Jean Josselin tells the story of the terroir of the Aube in every sip of their top class wine. Of all the properties that I have visited in the Cotes de Bar, none have wines as transparent and so clearly of a place as Josselin. I am very excited to offer them, and due to the strength of the dollar and the direct nature of our purchase proud to say that they are and incredible value in fine Champagne.

While the northern, Marne area of Champagne is famous for its chalk, the southern, Aube part of Champagne is famous for having the same sort of soil as Chablis. This soil is called Kimmeridgian clay, and is very rich in limestone. While all of the wines of the Aube have at least subtle hints of Chablis like flavor, none that I have tasted express this characteristic as clearly as Josselin. If you love the clean earth character that one finds in the best Chablis, you will love this range of Champagne.

The rolling country of Gye-Sur-Siene is home to the Josselin family vineyards.

The Josselin family began making wine in the 1950’s, and they now have 30 acres of vineyard in the village of Gye-Sur-Seine. That being said, they have been growers for as long as anyone can remember. They only use estate fruit in their Champagne and have small enough tanks in their modern winery to ferment parcel by parcel. Jean-Felix Josselin makes the wine with his father using a traditional Coquard press, stainless steel tanks and full malolactic fermentation in the winery. 

As a professional, I need to stay objective tasting in many different circumstances, but I have to admit that Champagne tastes a lot better with a cat in my lap!

After tasting with Jean-Felix and Sharona, I bought nearly every wine that they make. Here is what we have:

Jean Josselin "Cuvee des Jean" Brut Champagne $29.99: This all Pinot Noir Champagne is a blend of many small plots on the Josselin estate in Gye-Sur-Seine. It is aged for three years on the lees and contains fruit from a minimum of two harvests. This is pure, clean, driven Champagne that still maintains the signature cool black Pinot Noir fruit. It is balanced in every way, and perfect for a refreshing aperitif. Cinnamon and I enjoyed this bottle with some “duck sushi”- sliced cooked duck breast served over risotto shaped into sushi rice shape this past weekend. While this wine is clean and refreshing enough to have on its own, the clean earth and Pinot power really came on with the food. At this price, I will be drinking a lot of this flexible, delicious Champagne and I will no doubt have more pairing suggestions soon!

Jean Josselin "Alliance" Brut Champagne $39.99: This is composed of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. This Champagne has pin point bubbles and a seamless, perfect texture, but the real excitement comes with the wine underneath… This has the minerality and clean earth flavors of the very best of Chablis! It is aged for four years on the lees and has fantastic length and effortless balance. If you are looking for an oyster Champagne look no further! This dry, balanced Champagne has the perfect salinity for a trip to the oyster beds. I love it with any kind of shellfish from scallops to crab to lobster.

Jean Josselin "Audace" Brut Rose Champagne $49.99: This big, vinous rose is made entirely from estate grown Pinot Noir and given a full maceration with all of the skins in contact with all of the juice. The maceration is about 18 hours give or take depending on the harvest. This rose is a little darker than most and much more full bodied and full of flavor. That being said, it is still an elegant wine and one glass of it is never enough. The initial strawberry fruit quickly turns to Pinot savor and the finish is dry and refreshing. We don’t have many Champagne’s that have this sort of excitement and complexity. The big red fruit of this rose is an ideal partner for salmon, especially if you like Pinot with it!

A toast to you!

 

Gary Westby

 

Thursday
Dec312015

Craft Champagne: Alexandre Le Brun

Young winemaker Alexandre Le Brun in the younger part of Les Vignes d'Etoges planted in 1950- the old part was planted in 1902!

It is New Years Eve, the biggest day for Champagne of the year. Just last week, one of our smallest craft Champagne producers’ wines has arrived, barely in time for the celebration. This is good luck, as his Champagne was my choice for last NYE and now I will get to repeat this year. The wine business is busy, and I will be celebrating at home with Cinnamon, the Morsel cat, and perhaps a bottle or two from the selection below!

Alexandre Le Brun is one of the very smallest producers that we carry, and because of this, we don’t have the wines year round. He only has 7 acres, and does nearly everything, from pruning to pumping himself. He is quality obsessed, and spares no effort on any of the growing and winemaking steps in the Champagne process, and this shows through in the scintillating, detailed wines he produces. The property that he owns is incredibly diverse given the size- he has vines in eight villages spread across twenty two individual sites. Among them are the oldest vines I have ever seen or heard of in Champagne, the 103 year old Meunier vines in Monthelon that he uses to make the red wine for his best-of-class rose Dilection.

His winery is diminutive, but very well equipped, with a top cellar of stainless steel and a lower cellar for oak barrels. He isn’t dogmatic about malolactic- the tanks and barrels choose their own path. When I visited in October, his fermentations were the most incomplete of any that I tasted, with most of tanks and barrels still showing a lot of residual sugar. The cellars are cold, and he takes his time! While Alex’s Champagne’s are more expensive than a lot of our DI’s, I think they are worth it. His Fascination Blanc de Blancs and Dilection Rose are certainly the best in either class that we currently have in stock regardless of price. I hope you will check them out. Here is what we have:

Alexandre Le Brun "Tradition" Brut Champagne $39.99: This is composed of a third each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier from Mr. Le Brun’s estate, and nearly every wine in this blend has gone through malolactic. This Champagne has a rich bready nose from the over 20 months it has aged on the lees and some very nice savory qualities as well. In the mouth the high quality Meunier gives this wine great roundness as well as some tasty baked apple flavors. The cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir show their stuff on the dry, long finish. It is dosed at 6g/l.

Alexandre Le Brun "Passion" Brut Champagne $49.99: Although labeled as non-vintage, this is in fact all 2005, and has been given eight years of ageing time o the lees. This Champagne is composed of half and half Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and tastes much more expensive that it is. If you like creamy, toasty Champagne with depth and richness, this is one of the best that we carry.

2007 Alexandre Le Brun 'Cuvee Fascination' Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne $69.99:  This was one of my top Champagne experiences for 2014- out of a plastic cup at an airport hotel! I drank it again for New Years Eve last year with take-out sushi, this time with better glassware, and was blown away again. The biggest problem with it is production- it is only one press load and we don’t get very much! This Champagne is all Chardonnay from two long rows in the Monts Aigu parcel of the Grand Cru of Chouilly- right across a small path from Cramant. If you love the high class toast of Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne, this is a bottling that you don’t want to miss. The Chardonnay in this bottle has top notch concentration and texture as well as a complex array of flavors; baguette, succulent nectarine and bright chalk. This wine is labeled as Extra Brut since the dosage is very low, but while it is quite dry, it is not overly austere. It has one of the longest finishes of any type of wine that we carry- truly top notch!

2009 Alexandre Le Brun "Cuvée Revelation" Brut Champagne $79.99: (36 bottles available) If you are a fan of Meunier based Champagne, trying this is a must. The Revelation is composed entirely of Meunier from vineyards of fifty years or older, only 1200 bottles of this incredible wine were made. The vines for this Champagne are in the very cool micro-climate of Monthelon, just south of Epernay, and thus have a far racier character than any of our other Meunier’s that come from the Western Valley of the Marne. With quince like fruit, subtle brioche and ample mineral drive, this serious wine has a finish that lasts like a blanc de blancs. It is dry at only four grams per liter of dosage, but not austere. A classic!

2008 Alexandre Le Brun "Cuvee Dilection" Brut Rose Champagne $99.99: (60 bottles available) If you love fine, subtle, elegant rose, the Dilection is not to be missed. The base wine is composed of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir from vines of 40 years or older. To give it the rose color, flavor and aroma Alexandre adds 15% red Meunier from the vignes d’etoges, a plot in Monthelon that was planted in 1902… Easily the oldest vines I have ever seen in Champagne. All of the vinification is done in wood. I found it to have incredibly pure, Burgundian cherry fruit and a seamless, medium to light body. This wine has so many layers that it will reward those who taste it quietly, but it is so delicious that one does not have to ponder it to enjoy it. The finish is, like all of the Le Brun wines, the best part- a true peacock’s tail!

Happy New Year! A toast to you!- Gary Westby

Friday
Dec252015

Caviar and Champagne

What a treat- Champagne and Caviar!

The wine business spoils us. I feel very lucky to have been exposed to plenty of fine dining experiences over my nearly 16 years doing the Champagne buying here at K&L. Often my very favorite experiences are at home… Nothing beats being able to relax and enjoy food and wine knowing that you don’t have to go anywhere except to bed afterwards!

Caviar is an indulgence that I love as much as white truffles and foie gras. It is expensive for sure, but delivers a ton of pleasure for every ounce- and I love the way it goes with Champagne. The pairing is not as straight forward as one would think. Because the roe is rich, a bottle that is fresh and full of good cut and minerality is a must, but austere extra brut styles tend to go metallic and finish short when paired with caviar. The Champagne should have good body as well as creamy qualities from longer ageing on the lees to balance good acidity in order to be a perfect match.

This past week we ordered some paddlefish caviar from Kelly’s Katch in Tennessee. Clyde had recommended Kelly’s years ago to us, and we have enjoyed their stuff immensely. We treated ourselves to a two ounce can and paired it with the newly arrived Le Brun de Neuville "Authentique Assemblage" Brut Champagne ($39.99) which worked out very well indeed. I prepared some buckwheat blini in our trusty skillet (a super easy recipe from the back of this package) and brought home a small container of crème fraiche to complete the caviar kit.

 Amandine from Le Brun de Neuville with the vines of Bethon behind her.

The Le Brun de Neuville is composed of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, all from the village of Bethon in the picture. This is the center of the Sezanne department, a chalk outcrop about 30 miles south of Epernay that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. It is aged for five years on the lees on a cork rather than a cap, so the cork we pulled out before serving it was the 2nd that had been in the bottle. Ageing on a cork like this is a pain- none of the disgorgement lines will accommodate bottles like this, and they must all be disgorged by hand. The benefit is a better exchange with, and a bit of immunization from oxygen.

The five years on the lees gave this wine a nutty creaminess that mirrored the caviar, while the pure chalk soil gave the wine the zip and minerality needed to cut the richness. It was a great way to spend a Monday night! It is too bad that Kelly’s sells out of their stuff so regularly, I would love to order more… But they are out!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby