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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.

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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

Wednesday
Dec232015

Elisabeth Goutorbe Champagne

Elisabeth Goutorbe in her new cellar in Ay.

The Champagne buying job here at K&L has to be one of the best jobs in the whole world. It is such a pleasure to get to work with producers that make such incredibly good wine and are also so incredibly nice. Elisabeth Goutorbe is one of those people. She comes from a long line of vignerons in the village of Ay, and her father still makes wine under the grandfathers name; Henri Goutorbe. When I first visited in 2007, they had never had a US importer visit. That very week they had four! Terry Thiese ended up getting the Henri Goutorbe line, and K&L got the Elisabeth Goutorbe line. We were both lucky.

This batch is actually the very last batch we will receive under her name, as they are switching to her husband’s Jean Maries’s name, Egrot, to avoid confusion with the Henri Goutorbe line. They have already made this change in France, but I managed to get one last batch under the Elisabeth Goutorbe name for the holidays since December is not a good month to change names. They purchased a new winery and caves last year, but the stuff that we have for sale was made at the Henri Goutorbe facility, and will continue to be for a number of years to come because of the long ageing of the wines.

The two of them own six hectares of vines, but are currently only keeping one or two hectares of the fruit to make their own wine. They sell the rest off to a roll call of famous negociants. The production is tiny- around 10,000 bottles a year, and besides Jean-Marie and Elisabeth they only have one full time worker. These are super Champagne’s at very fair prices. This is what we have:

Elisabeth Goutorbe "Cuvée Éclatante" Brut Champagne $34.99: This is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir from the grand cru of Ay and 20% Chardonnay from the 1er cru of Louvois. The wine is composed of 70% from a 2008 base and 30% is reserves from 2007. It is dosed very lightly at only 8 grams per liter. The Pinot comes through on the nose with very pretty candied cherry interlaced with fresh baked bread. On the palate it has a lot of body, firm, dry black cherry fruit, and tons of savory, masculine Pinot Noir flavors. It has a good finish with a line of chalky minerality that is uncommon in Pinot Noir-based Champagnes, but the signature of Ay grand cru.

2009 Elisabeth Goutorbe Extra Brut Champagne $39.99: This 100% Ay grand cru Champagne is composed of 2/3 Pinot Noir and 1/3 Chardonnay all from the family estate. Although the Champagne has no dosage whatsoever, it is still full and rich. It has a great nose of baguette toast, cream and some of that famous Ay chalk. The finish is long, clean and very dry, but not too strict.

The next time we get these Champagne’s in, they will be labeled as Egrot et Filles. Enjoy the last of the wines with Elisabeth’s name on them!

 

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

Friday
Dec182015

Baron Fuente- Great Champagne from the Aisne!

Sophie Baron and I in the Chantemanche Chardonnay vineyard.

The Champagne’s of Baron Fuente come from the Western edge of the Champagne region, mostly from the Aisne department, but some even from the Ile-de-France- the same district as Paris. The vineyards here are on more varied soil than in the Marne, and are usually steeper. Because of the proximity to the big city, much of the production is snapped up in France, and we are one of the lucky few to be able to import some Champagne from this important sub-region.

Baron Fuente is a negociant, but most of their needs are met from their estate. In fact, less than half of the wines that we import from them use purchased fruit at all. All of the grapes they buy are bought on the vine, they handle all of the picking themselves. This is a stark contrast to large negociants who deal in everything from juice to ready to-be disgorged bottles. The wines all go through malolactic fermentation and everything is vinified in stainless steel.

We only received 4 cases of the Baron Fuente "Cepages Meunier" Brut Champagne ($44.99) which is a wine with quite a following from the folks who have visited the property. This all estate grown Meunier gets four years of ageing on the lees and is full of the rich pear and apple fruit that this grape is known for, but also great cut from the cool Aisne vineyards. This wine took the staff by storm at our Baron Fuente dinner when paired with garlic prawns!

The most astounding value in the Baron line has to be the Baron Fuente "Esprit" Brut Champagne ($34.99) which gets an astoundingly luxurious seven years of aging on the lees. It is composed of even parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier from the estate. The Esprit has a very high-quality sourdough toastiness arrived at honestly from the long aging on the lees. It is round and easy to drink, with flavors of hazelnuts contrasting its nice citrus zip. Sixty bottles are available.

Eric de Brissis of Baron Fuente with a bottle of the excellent Esprit Blanc de Blancs

We also received sixty bottles of the Baron Fuente "Esprit" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($39.99). This unique, all Chardonnay Champagne comes from a nine-and-a-half acre single vineyard in Saacy-sur-Marne called the Chantemanche. It might be the most western vineyard site in all of Champagne, and is actually so far west that it is in the Paris district, on the very edge of Champagne. It is aged for three years on the lees with reserve wines from three previous harvests. This creamy, nutty Blanc de Blancs is seamless, integrated and has good, refreshing lift on the finish. I promise you will be the only person on your block drinking Champagne from the Paris district!

If you are interested in organic, you should try the Baron Fuente "Galipettes" Brut Champagne ($34.99). Farmed entirely organically, this is both Ecocert and Demeter certified. Like the rest of the Baron Fuente Champagnes, this wine gets plenty of time on the lees: four years. It is composed of 20% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 70% Meunier, entirely from a friend of the family who grows grapes in Crouttes-sur-Marne. The nose reminds me of pain-au-chocolate, lots of buttery croissant and just a hint of cocoa. It is rich and fairly full-bodied; with a great high quality, savory cherry flavor from the top-notch Meunier in the blend.

For pink Champagne lovers we also received five cases each of the two roses made at the property, the blended Baron-Fuenté "Dolores" Brut Rosé Champagne ($34.99) and the 100% maceration Baron Fuente "Esprit" Brut Rosé Champagne ($34.99). Tasting these two roses side by side is an education on the two different methods of production and a lot of fun! They are both great quality for money.

On this shipment we also received our last slug of the 2006 Baron Fuente "Grand Millésimé" Brut Champagne ($29.99). This Champagne is composed of 45% Chardonnay, 40% Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir and spent more than seven years on the lees. While this nutty, well balanced, open knit Champagne drinks great right now, don’t count it out for ageing! This will be a lot of fun to drink even in 2026, and at this price you can afford to save a few.

Our biggest seller is the Baron Fuente "Grande Réserve" Brut Champagne ($23.99) which is also available in magnum ($49.99) and half bottle ($14.99). This is a giant slayer of a bottle, with more than half estate fruit composed of 10% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 60% Meunier. This wine is lavished with three years of ageing on the lees and 40% reserve wines and has none of the rawness associated with this price point. On the contrary, this is toasty, round, pleasure giving Champagne with a ton of personality without going out of balance. Don’t let the low price scare you away on this one. It is very good Champagne.

A toast to you!

 

Gary Westby

 

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