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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Wednesday
Jul012015

Sherry Country - Part II: The Cask of Amontillado

Alex Russan, Santa Monica resident, coffee broker, and wine importer, is more than obsessed with Sherry. So much so, that he recently started a company named Alexander Jules to function as an importer and sort of independent bottler (no different from Scotch bottlers such as Signatory, Gordon & McPhail, etc) for his favorite sherries, identifying his favorite soleras, tasting through each and every barrel, and forming his own selections, blending his favorite barrels to produce something unique. I suppose that you could also compare this selection and blending process to what brands such as Pappy Van Winkle do with Bourbon. Currently, while the amazing fortified wines of Jerez and Sanlucar are enjoying something of a renaissance (particularly amongst collectors, connoisseurs and big city restaurants), let's just say that we don't have hundreds of people calling us regularly, asking us in person, for the latest new Sherry release...yet. However, the mere fact that Alex is crazy enough to start his company based on the selection and sale of the highest quality Sherry he can find - this is worth supporting. Our goal is - as it is with spirits of all types - to be at the forefront here, to establish ourselves in Jerez, and be well positioned when demand inevitably catches up to the astonishing quality of these inimitable beverages. Just as we do for Scotch, I would love to begin identifying excellent soleras, and either create a blend or bottle a small amount from a single standout cask, to make available for K&L customers. Do I think this is worth doing? Absolutely. Will it be commercially viable? I think so. Pues, vamos a ver (translation: we'll find out).

My copa resting on one of many decades-old barrels.

Our barrel tasting took place at Herederos de Argueso. Originally founded in 1822 by a northern Spaniard, Argueso is considered to be one of the great producers of Manzanilla, that specialty of the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda which is the lightest, crispest, most thirst quenching of all the Sherries. Due to the seaside location, temperatures here are more constant: less hot in summer, less cold in winter, which encourages year 'round flor development as you can see in the demonstration barrel below:

A demonstration barrel showing the formation of "flor" on top of wine.

When the Manzanilla ages some years and loses its flor, it turns into an Amontillado: a Sherry that is favored by Sherry connoisseurs (see, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado) and develops burnished, nutty flavors, intense citrus candy qualities, and retains its salinity, all of which add up to quite the amazing drink. Argueso makes my favorite amontillado - it's an older average age than it's price would normally dictate (probably close to 15 years old, with older wine added) and is just delicious. A selection of this wine is available under the Alexander Jules label , and soon we will likely see the regular bodega bottling as well.

Sherry importer Alex Russan hopes to unearth some mind blowing "botas" of Jerez.

In addition to this bottling, Argueso has stocks of extremely old Amontillado, or VORS (Vinum Optimum Rarum Signatum) which is tasted, carbon dated, and certified by the Jerez consejo, or regulatory board, to be older than 30 years of age. This is, quite simply, my favorite old Amontillado. It's so concentrated, so unapologetically salty, so fiercely individual an Amontillado, that it begs to be tried. It's a challenging Sherry, and not everyone will like it. But it is simply a marvel, and several days ago Alex and I had the privilege of tasting it 26 times. That is because it is a solera of 26 botas (approximately 600 liter barrels), and we wanted to understand the solera, the subtleties of barrel variation (if any existed), and how we may move forward to begin working towards a selection from such an amazing pool of possibilities.

Our first K&L exclusive bota of Jerez?

What became immediately apparent was the following: not all barrels are equal. Just as in a winery, or in a Bourbon or Scotch warehouse, due to varying rates of evaporation, location of an individual barrel, and a range of other factors, different barrels develop in unique ways, resulting in varying flavors. We fully expected the variation we encountered while briefly tasting a small portion of the 44 barrel San Leon Reserva de la Familia solera (an awesome Manzanilla pasada that, hopefully, one day, we may also select for a special K&L bottling). However, the degree of variation in the old Amontillado barrels was fascinating. All of them delicious, just some, perhaps, more delicious than others. Common descriptors we found were: salted toffee, candied citrus, oolong tea, roasted hazlenuts, amongst others I cannot remember. Some barrels were a little bit softer, fruitier and less angular than what I expect from this Amontillado. Others were just how I remember the finished, blended product, incredibly salty, pungent, woody and singular if very challenging. Finally, there was a small handful of barrels which combined the slightly friendlier quality with the characteristic salinity, amazing purity of fruit, intense mid-palates and finishes that would not quit. Two barrels in particular stood out, and we are determining whether to blend them or bottle them individually. Keep in mind, however, that due to Sherry consejo rules, as well as out of respect for the winery, the rarity of their wine and their desire to maintain soleras of very old stock, we are only able to blend or bottle about 10% of the contents of any barrel. So if we go with one barrel, we will have something to the tune of 50-60 bottles, double that if we blend two barrels.

All this begs the question: Who out there is interested in a cask of amontillado?

The dark, quite, almost eery calm of a barrel room, the oldest of which may be called "sacristias".

Thanks so much for reading my guest posts. Please feel free to contact me (joemanekin@klwines.com) with questions, or to request to be on my personal email list.

UPDATE! We did in fact bottle a portion of both of these botas of Amontillado. They're both spectacular and we have a small amount of stock remaining.

Alexander Jules Amontillado "Singular" K&L Single Barrel 19/27 Sanlucar de Barrameda ($139.99)

 

Alexander Jules Amontillado "Singular" K&L Single Barrel 4/27 Sanlucar de Barrameda ($139.99)

 

Tuesday
Jun302015

Michel Loriot's 100 Year Rewind!

This past Sunday, the Redwood City staff and I enjoyed an incredible pairing with incredible Champagne. Now that Foie Gras is legal again in California, I went to see my “French Connection” Jean Baptiste Su at the California Ave. Farmers Market and pick some up. I wanted to serve it with one of the most unique and interesting Champagne’s that we carry, the Michel Loriot "Marie-Leopold" Sec Champagne ($34.99). Michel created this Champagne for the 100th anniversary of his house a few years ago, with a vision of making a wine in the style of the early 1900’s.

Looking back 100 years, a lot of things have changed in Champagne. For one thing, the climate is now warmer which has changed the style in a number of important ways. This meant that the wines started off a lot higher in acid and needed longer ageing to show well. This was compounded by the fact no one in Champagne ever did malolactic fermentation, and this was not a choice, but rather the way things had to be… The harvests were often in early October, and the weather was always turning quite cold after the first alcoholic fermentations. By the time the still wines would start the malo, the temperature in the winery would be to cold, so everyone stabilized the wines then so they would not go through malo in the bottle later.

This colder climate, resulting in higher acid Champagne, needed a lot more dosage to be brought into balance. Over the years as the temperature has risen in Champagne, and more and more people have taken advantage of earlier harvests to complete malolactic, dosage has dropped in the region precipitously. Some of this has to do with a taste for drier Champagne, but most of this drop has been a matter of balancing a very different base wine than that of 100 years ago.

Our friend Michel took his coolest vineyard plots that produced the tensest base wines to make his Marie Leopold, and like all of his wines, he blocked the malolactic completely. While his normal non-vintage is 100% Meunier, this Champagne is 80% Meunier and 20% very high acid Chardonnay. His normal non-vintage gets three years on the lees, and this Marie-Leopold gets four years, giving it extra authentic toast and fine pin-point streamers. For the dosage, it is given 20 grams per liter as opposed to the 6 grams he uses in his Brut. The overall effect is richer, but not cloying or dessert sweet.

For the Foie Gras that we paired with this, Cinnamon and I took advantage of high apricot season and grilled our fruit on our little Lodge hibachi before chopping them up to make compote. We also bought some very high quality Manresa Bread Brioche at the Farmer’s Market, which also went on the grill after the fruit came off. The results were pretty darn good. The extra richness in the wine played very well with the apricot, and the extra acidity cut the super decadent Foie Gras. This is a match made in heaven, and one that I hope you will try soon!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

Saturday
Jun202015

Hollywood's Sherry Thursday: Flor Edition

Sherryfest, the biggest Sherry festival in the world, begins next week. Unfortunately, it's in NYC.  But don't worry, we won't let NYC have all the fun.  K&L will be holding satellite tastings both here in Hollywood and in Northern California to celebrate Sherryfest on the West Coast. This time, we will focus on styles that are biologically aged, otherwise known as being aged under "flor," the surface yeast that thrives in the Sherry triangle and give these wines their unique flavor. 

Join us for a killer line up of rare and extraordinary Sherry, such as:  (*Line up is not finalized*)

Equipo Navazos Flor Power #44, a very rare non-fortified Palomino Fino from Sanlucar. 
 
The line up of Lustau's Fino & Manzanilla which showcases the three main cities that produce Sherry in the Sherry Triangle, and gives you a unique glimpse into how drastically the wines can differ from city to city. 
 
Colosia Fino, one of the most raw and rich finos around, this producer is one of only 5 remaining bodgeas in El Puerto de Santa Maria.
 

And maybe even some Valdespino 'Inocente,' one of the only finos aged for an average of 10 years under flor. 

Leave work a little early on Thursday to get flor'ed! Tasting starts at 5:30, tickets are only 5 bucks and can be bought at the register. 

 I can't wait to see you all at the Hollywood store on Thursday!​

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