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Saber Madness at K&L!

We have been chopping off the tops of Champagne bottles as fast as we can drink them- who needs a stopper when you are ready to commit to finishing the bottle! One of our favorites was this magnum ($84.99) of Franck Bonville Brut Rosé that Mellyn expertly decapitated on Christmas Eve. It also comes in regular 750ml ($39.99) and half bottles ($21.99). Olivier Bonville adds 8% Pinot Noir Rouge from Ambonnay superstar Paul Dethune to his top class assembelage of grand cru, estate Chardonnay to create this fabulous rose. This is one of the most elegant, bright, refreshing rose Champagnes that we carry, yet it does not lack red cherry Pinot Noir authority. We can’t get enough- bring another to the block!

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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.  


Free Spirits Tastings at K&L! Now that we have our license for spirits tastings in Redwood City and San Francisco, we’re excited to host regular free spirits tastings in those locations.  Check the Spirits Journal for an updated tasting schedule.

All tastings will feature different products from the Spirits Department and take place on Wednesdays in Redwood City and San Francisco. Visit our events page on Facebook or the K&L Spirits Journal for more information.

>>Upcoming Special Events, Dinners, and Tastings

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Champagne Alexandre Le Brun

Our tiny allocation of Champagne Alexandre Le Brun has just arrived in the stores. He is the smallest producer that we import, or even carry from Champagne at just 7.5 acres. He only makes wine from half of the grapes he brings in, selling the rest off to negociants- his production is just one thousand cases a year total. This tiny scale allows Alex to do nearly everything himself and this hands on approach shows through in the finished product. He only uses his own estate fruit for his Champagne, and although small, it is diverse. He farms 22 plots in eight different villages. Among these are the oldest vines that I have ever seen in Champagne, the Meunier of vignes l’etoges in Monthelon were planted in 1902, making them now 113 years old. 

Alex Le Brun in his Monts Aigu vineyard used for the "Fascination" Blanc de Blancs.

About half of the production is vinified in stainless steel in the upper part of his small winery. The other half is vinified in 300 liter wood barrels from the Tonneliere Artisinal in Reims. He lets each lot decide for itself whether or not it wants to go through malolactic and never filters. He fines the wine only when necessary.

He bottles late, so when I visited him this July, we were still able to taste the 2013 vin clair, which was very impressive. A barrel of his Chouilly grand cru Chardonnay from the Monts Aigu parcel was particularly impressive. This plot, pictured above, is right next to Cramant- in fact the vines behind Alexandre and across the path are Cramant Grand Cru, and the Chateau Saran is visible up the hill behind him. He has two long rows here, and uses them to load his press once for his excellent cuvee “Fascination”. Perhaps in another seven years we will be offering this 13 for sale- we have the 2007 now.


Alex Le Brun tasting with Cinnamon Westby in the family home in Mothelon.
The wines share brightness, precision and concentration across the range. He calls himself “a crazy winemaker” but perhaps obsessive-compulsive might be a better description. These are detailed Champagnes made by a very careful young man, and on the level with the best that we carry. I drank his 2007 Fascination for New Years Eve and it was as good as any bottle I have had this year. Every Champagne lover should at least try to get a bottle of this tiny producers wine- they are excellent. 
My New Years Eve sushi and Champagne!

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: (36 bottles available) This was one of my top Champagne experiences for 2014- out of a plastic cup at an airport hotel! I drank it again (in the picture above) for New Years Eve 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: (36 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!


A toast to you!

Gary Westby


The Last Bottle In the Case


Pork and sangiovese- it works every time.

Eventually, you come to the last bottle in the case. When I know I only have one left of a wine that I really like, I tend to hold onto it for a while. In the case of this 2004 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico I managed to hold out for a few years. We are currently selling the fleshy 2012 vintage, so I am guessing that I had made this case last eight years. Too bad I didn’t have more patience; the last bottle was the best of a great case!

Just past its 10th birthday, this $20 Chianti was drinking perfectly. The savory, galestro earthiness and dark cherry fruit were in perfect harmony, and the wine still had the incredible focus and length of its youth. It had gained layers of texture and quite a bit of complexity since the last time that I had it. We couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Marco Ricasoli owns this property, which is located in Monti in Chianti, right in the very heart of the Classico. His family was key in creating the rules that solidified Chianti as one of the best wines in Italy and he can trace his roots in the area all the way back to the 7th century. The estate has fifty acres of vines and produces a range of excellent wines; this bottling is his entry level. The property was certified organic in 2010, but Marco has been working without pesticides for years.

The last bottle- at least it went out in style!

For me, these wines are not just the best that we offer from Tuscany, they are also incredible values. Cinnamon and I have the Rocca di Montegrossi "San Marcellino" Chianti Classico, his top end, single vineyard wine going back to 1999 in our cellar. We are currently selling the 2009 for only $44.99, and I like it more than any Brunello that we carry at any price. This wine is made from one plot that surrounds the church in the village and is only made in great vintages. It is on the scale of Brunello, with incredible power and complexity, but drier and more focused.

We had an opportunity to visit in October of 2009, and saw the grapes for this bottling being brought in. It is a magical place, and I can’t recommend visiting, or at least drinking the wine, highly enough!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby


Gary's Top 10 Champagne Experiences of 2014


It is great to be back to work at the best job in the world. 2014 has had its share of challenges for me and recovering from a broken femur is taking me longer than I would like. But looking back on the year, I certainly have nothing to complain about when it comes to great Champagne experiences. In keeping with a tradition I started a few years ago, I reviewed my notes for my top 10 experiences of 2014. It was hard to get it down to just 10! Don't pay to much attention to the order- these were all incredible experiences!

Cristal from magnum at an elegant lunch at Roederer's pressoir in Ay.

#10- This July Cinnamon and I traveled to Champagne for vacation with our dear friends Doug Burress, Corey Potter, Anthony Piazza and Jen Piazza (pictured with the Cristal). We were invited by Jean Baptiste Lecaillon to a tutored tasting of the range in Reims, and then to lunch at the pressoir with Charles Fournier. The magnum of 2002 Cristal had what so little of the Cristal consumed in this world ever has- a little bit of time in bottle! At 12 years old, this wine was still young and energetic, but had integrated into a poised, rich, long finishing masterpiece. Cristal must be the most understated of all the world’s great wines, how ironic that it has become so associated with ostentation!


From Mr. Michel Loriot's old stocks- almost as old as me!

#9- This spring, Scott Beckerley joined me in Champagne for the annual tasting of the vin clair (unfinished Champagne) and our first stop was Loriot. After tasting through the 2013’s and the current releases, Michel and Martine Loriot surprised us with a fantastic treat, their 1975! Michel had disgorged it that very morning and explained that it was made exclusively from selection massal Meunier from their estate vineyards. It reminded me of the 1975 Rene Collard that I have been so fortunate to drink more than my fair share of with its big baked apple and chanterelle flavors. It was medium bodied, had a lively mousse and a fine texture, and best of all had the incredible direct, fresh acidity of the vintage. Our first stop set the bar very, very high!

A great old vintage in the house where the Dom himself worked!

#8- It was pouring cold rain on July 9th in Epernay, and in classic Californian fashion, Doug, Corey, Cinnamon and I were all completely unprepared. We visited Moet, and the bad weather just added to the magic of touring the abbey where Dom Perignon had worked in the 1600’s. Axelle, one of the winemaking team for Dom Perginon poured this 1970 as a comparison to the current release 2004 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne. Both vintages had big crops without any extreme weather events, but I suspect the old selection massal vineyards used in this pre-clone bottling and lower total production did a lot for the quality of this fantastic bottle. The 1970 Oenotheque was golden in color and had a bouquet of porcini, apricot and butter. It was very concentrated and rich, with a big texture and plenty of high quality mousse. It had a long chestnut like finish that I won’t soon forget.

#7- The 1985 Rene Collard Brut Rose has always been a favorite of mine, and I have drunk far more that my share of this tiny production wine. The bottle that Jimmy C opened for Kyle Kurrani (a 1985 himself!) on September third of this year was the best one I have had. We had coordinated a boys night at All Spice restaurant in San Mateo and the cusine here was perfect for this all Meunier powerhouse. In Champagne, producers love to talk about “gastronomic” Champagne for spicy, complex food, but this was my only experience with such synergy. The lemongrass pork belly and lamb tongue matignon woke this rich Champagne up and snapped it into refreshing focus. The Collard balanced truffle and strawberry flavor with rare dexterity. What a bottle!


The right place, the right company, the right pairing and the right bottle!

#6- Olivier Bonville takes the last disgorgement of a run of vintage wine and makes his excellent Franck Bonville Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($39.99) with it. Cinnamon and I took a trip to Nick’s Cove in Marshall on Tomales Bay this spring and paired this wine with Hog Island Oysters from just two miles down highway one. It doesn’t have to be ancient wine to be a top experience; it is pretty hard to go wrong with the most perfect location, the most perfect company, the most perfect oysters and their most natural Champagne match… A 2008 vintage with only 2g/l of sugar! While many extra brut style Champagnes are made for industry insiders with a masochistic streak, this flinty, dry, focused bottle had lots of charm. Perfect for fresh shucked oysters overlooking the bay that they were born in!

#5- I am a sucker for a big bottle, and for Cinnamon’s 40th birthday we had the right group together to open a Jeroboam of the Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne. Like most big bottles of Champagne, it isn’t just a better ratio of air to wine in the bottle that accounted for the higher level that this 3L was on. The Ariston’s had aged this more than six extra years than the 750’s!!! It was a gift from them to us for our 10th anniversary, and will go down as one of the best Champagne’s I have ever drunk. This had all of the friendly white fruit and cream of the regular bottling, but had texture and poise on a world class level as well as layers of kirmidgian complexity backing up its easy going charm. It was drained in a hurry.

Paul Vincent and Anthony inspect the ancient varieties in Brouillet.

#4- It is an excellent set up for a great Champagne experience to have just toured the vineyard of the wine you are drinking. Paul Vincent Ariston took all of the ladies in his car, and let Anthony and I rally his little Cirtroen C3 behind him. It was a wild ride trying to keep up with him in the dirt, mud and boulder like chalk of his vineyards! The highlight of the tour was the Walin parcel, where he grows the Arbanne, Meslier and Pinot Blanc that uses for his peerless Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne ($99). It was hot and humid in the fields, and when we got back to the winery, he opened up a chilled bottle. Part exotic beauty, part high voltage hot wire, this wine refreshed in a way that a wine of this complexity and scale just shouldn’t be able to. Unforgettable.


Krug always delivers and this year the 2000 helped make our Christmas extra special.

#3- Krug deserves its reputation as one of the best wines of the world. This Christmas, I bribed Cinnamon into posing for a version of Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” album cover for our Christmas photo by opening the 2000 Krug Brut Champagne ($229). I have to ask each time “how do they do it?”- it is like black magic, combining lush toastiness with pin point delicacy and massive complexity with simple refreshment. At 14, this is in a very nice place, and doubtless will be for generations to come! 


A unanimous selection from the K&L team!

#2- Every September our Champagne team (Scott Beckerley in SF, Mari Keilman in LA, Kyle Kurrani in RWC and myself) meet to taste all of the big houses current releases. It is an all day affair, and this year we tasted 52 different Champagnes. We were unanimous when it came to the wine of the day- the 2004 Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Cuvée Alexandra Brut Rosé ($299) blew us all away. I have never put a bottle from a cattle call tasting like this in one of my top 10 lists before, and doubt that I will again, but this was that good! The bouquet of red cherry fruit was so expressive and generous and the presentation so laid back and elegant that it made all of our jaded and abused palates take notice, and pleasure.


Out of a plastic cup in an airport hotel- my top Champagne experience of 2014!

#1- I am happy to say that great experiences are not predictable. This year, my favorite Champagne moment was on the last day of our vacation in France, in the IBIS at Charles de Gaulle airport. Everyone else had left for Paris, and I stayed behind to lounge around, and watch all four hours of the 14th stage of the Tour de France on TV. I drank the 2007 Alexandre Le Brun 'Cuvee Fascination' Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($69.99) out of a plastic cup, ate leftover jambon sandwiches and fell asleep a couple of times. This Champagne had a strong Chassagne-Montrachet like character. It had tension and electricity married to clean earth, subtle white fruit and fresh baguette aromas and flavors. The finish was extraordinary with chalk, more white fruit and fine acidity- it seemed to go on forever. I have another one chilled down for tonight!

Happy New Year and a toast to you!

Gary Westby



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