This fall I had the extreme pleasure of attending K&L's first ever "Fete du Champagne" (Champagne Party), a fabulous afternoon affair that took place in a giant tent just outside the SoMa store. The sold-out event included over 30 bubblies to sample alongside dynamite appetizers and a colorful crowd of local enthusiasts and international producers, many of whom flew in especially for the occasion. K&L has always had a fantastic selection of bubbles, but this was the first time the retailer threw a party to showcase all their good stuff. And what a party it was! With New Years just around the corner, I thought it a perfect time to give a little recap of the affair and list some of my fav bubbles, all of which can be procured - naturally! - at K&L just in time for the big day. Let's start with the green stuff. The first pic in this entry is a snap of Bruno Lemoine, manager of Trade Organic Wine, a marketing organization dedicated to furthering sales of organic wines and spirits. Bruno is an energetic and affable Frenchman who was pouring one of my favorite bubblies of the day, the Fleury "Carte Rouge" Brut Champagne. At a very reasonable $29.99/bottle, this stuff is awesome! In the glass it has a pretty copper penny color and lively small bubbles. The nose shows enticing notes of macadamia nuts, caramel, bread dough, lemon squirt, butter and some flowers. The Fleury further entices on the palate, with zippy acidity, lovely effervescence and flavors of freshness, including citrus squirt, meadow grass and a hint of honeysuckle. The mid-palate brings melon and tangerine, while cream, yeast and nuts round out the finish. Wow! All this, and the 100% Pinot Noir sparkler is both organic AND biodynamic. For those who're wondering what this means, biodynamic agriculture is sort of like organic agriculture on steroids. Besides eschewing pesticides and all chemicals in the vineyard, producers using biodynamic farming take cues from the phases of the moon and other natural elements in and around the vines. It's serious stuff - and usually leads to seriously healthy, pure and expressive wines. The Fleury Carte Rouge is a great example! Moving along, the next pic in the series is my favorite snap: it's of Benoit Tarlant, winemaker for Champagne Tarlant, his family's firm. It's always a treat to meet winemakers at these sorts of events, and the fact that Benoit flew across the pond (then across our large country) from La France to be here made it all that much more of a treat to meet the guy. Like Bruno Lemoine, Benoit was super energetic and enthusiastic about being a part of the Champagne party. He poured four bubblies, and I particularly enjoyed the Tarlant Cuvee Louis Brut Prestige Champagne, which retails for $39.99. Tarlant's highest-end bubbly, this one is described on the K&L site by buyer Gary Westby (pictured here, in the striped shirt!) as "one of the best Champagnes we carry regardless of price." I'd have to agree! The Cuvee Louis made me think of being near a mountain stream, with its redolent minerality (which essentially smells, for those who are wondering, like the wet stones alongside a mountain stream) mixed with lovely aromas and flavors of sugared lime, caramel and toast. Complex notes of flowers and cloves play back-up. Overall, a stellar wine. Merci, Benoit! Onward! There were many wines to taste, as I mentioned, and I was on a mission to try them all. Very near made it, too! You can see me here in the next snap, a shot taken by M Lemoine himself (he emailed it to me later). I'm the blonde in the middle taking notes. Trust me, it wasn't all work and no play: I was accompanied by three friends who were hovering nearby, and we enjoyed ourselves so much we took a taxi home. The ONLY way to do the Fete de Champagne! What next? How about a Frenchwoman with some delicious bubbly to share? Everyone, meet Chantal Bregeon-Gonet, Sales & Marketing Manager for Champagne Philippe Gonet. Chantal was a lot of fun to chat with, and she was pouring some delicious pink bubbly that caught my attention. The Philippe Gonet Brut Rosé Champagne, at $29.99, is a great buy and offers up aromas and flavors of strawberries, flowers and a savory note that can be attributed to the wine's composition of 100% Pinot Noir. There's never a BAD time to bring out pink Champagne, and at this price you can feel really good about doing it more often. Some of the heavy hitters of the Champagne world were also there. I particularly enjoyed the 1998 Louis Roederer Vintage Blanc de Blancs ($54.99; I believe the 2000 is the vintage currently in stock), a 100% Chardonnay-based bubbly that shows strong acidity and vibrant toast notes that make it a fabulous food wine. I was also introduced at the Fete to Roederer Estate's Vintage 1999 L'Ermitage bubbly, a vintage-dated beauty from the Champagne house's Northern California outpost. At once rich and delicate, this is one of the only California sparklers that can truly hold its own against its French counterparts. About $33. The most fascinating wine of the day for me, however, was from maverick Champagne producer Rene Collard. M Collard is known for using more Pinot Meunier in his blends than most Champagne producers, and his René Collard Cuvee Ultime Ultra Brut (how's THAT for a flashy name?!) follows suit, made from 100% old Meunier vines harvested entirely in 1995. Complex notes of earth, mushroom and game (yes, game, as in meat - you heard me correctly) waft up from the glass and make this, in my opinion, one of the most fabulously un-Champagne-like Champagnes I've ever had (Pinot Meunier is known for its earthy/savory notes). Supporting notes of bread dough, exotic pear and apple complete the experience that will delight even your most jaded bubbly drinkers. Throw 'em for a loop with this one! All in all, the event was a total success. My friends and I even retired to the store afterward to pick up some more of the good stuff to take home. With its wonderful prices - many of which are the happy results of K&L's direct buys from producers - and a truly fabulous selection of the big guys as well as lesser known gems, K&L is a great place to pick up some special bubbles this holiday. Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and happy New Year! --- Courtney Cochran, aka Your Personal Sommelier, provides personalized wine services to adventurous wine collectors, purveyors and enthusiasts, making wine accessible and fun for those who think outside the mainstream wine box. Visit her site at www.CourtneyCochran.com.
Just because this vintage is sandwiched between two “blockbuster” vintages, doesn’t mean you can ignore it altogether. The most important factors in this vintage are value and typicity. They are nowhere near the high prices of the 2003s and 2005s. The 2004 Langoa-Barton, St-Julien ($32.99 Pre-Arrival) stuns with its balanced dark chocolate, cherry richness. Rich, deep and fruity in the Bordeaux fashion, balanced and structured. A wine that will continue to grow with age, but tastes amazing now. Dare I say, a must have. Langoa’s big brother, the 2004 Léoville-Barton, St-Julien ($49.99 Pre-Arrival) is what you’ve come to expect. The unraveling textural sweetness of Cabernet Sauvignon’s black currant-y richness layered on top of tobacco smoke and a winter’s fire. An overlooked jewel. If you’re looking for something a bit more old school, the 2004 Lynch Bages, Pauillac ($48.99 Pre-Arrival) could be for you. The spice rack rather than the jam jar here, savory rather than sweet. This keeps the oak in check and astounds with complexity. Keep this in your cellar until 2011, then enjoy responsibly. Always a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, the 2004 Cos d’Estournel, St-Estèphe ($74.99 Pre-Arrival) would be sure to rake it in at the box office. With its head turning raspberry, black pepper and Asian spice styling, not to mention a big ol’ hunk of bloody steak thrown in for good measure, this is a wine that comes after you with its unabashed flavor. One new find from the value section is the 2001 Franc-Perat, Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux ($7.99). This little number astounds with its snappy blueberry tartness and subtle mocha-y core. Refreshing acidity and a refreshing price for this time of year makes this one of those Dominique Wilkins type slam-dunks. —Bryan Brick
Judi Cullam and Barrie Smith have 29 hectares under vine in Frankland River, the coolest and most isolated area of Western Australia. The vineyards are organic and dry farmed with all harvesting done by hand. The 2005 Frankland Estate “Isolation Ridge” Riesling Frankland River Western Australia ($17.99) has soaring aromatics of stone fruit, lime and a wax note with hints of lanolin. There is fine balance with crystal clean fruit on the palate supported by great acidity and a long finish. The 2004 Frankland Estate “Isolation Ridge” Chardonnay Frankland River Western Australia ($19.99) is barrel fermented but goes through about 10% malolactic fermentation and spends nine months in French oak barriques of which are 20% are new. The wine has a bouquet of pear, citrus, mineral and hazelnut that follow on the palate with pristine clarity. The Rocky Gully is a less expensive tier from Frankland Estate that uses purchased fruit, but still has the commitment to quality. The 2004 Rocky Gully Shiraz-Viognier Frankland River Western Australia ($10.99) offers a beautiful aromatic lift with its bright boysenberry fruit and black pepper notes accented by a peach and floral component. The wine is a fine example of Aussie Shiraz that does not have knock you over the head with oak and alcohol but rather elegance and finesse. Happy Holidays —Jimmy C
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