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Just add duck crepinettes!

Buying ready to drink 1er cru Burgundy is not easy. For a couple of years I did the Old and Rare wine buying here at K&L and found it easy to find California Cabernet and even Bordeaux from collectors. But Burgundy… Forget it. They had to die, get a divorce or have doctors orders to part with the king of all Pinot Noir! This bottle of 2007 Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Nuits St-Georges 1er cru Les Boudots ($99) comes direct from the property from our friends at Atherton, and like most of the 2007’s, drinks fabulously right now. This wine showed excellent sweet beet fruit, savory depth, and incredible finesse and length. The tannins are completely resolved, and went perfectly with duck crepinettes from the fatted calf in San Francisco. This is the kind of Burgundy that gets people hooked- you have been warned!!!! –Gary Westby

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1996 Launois- A Bottle Worth Saving

When you save something for a long time it raises expectations- it is nice when they are met!

How did 1996 get to be 19 years ago? It seems like only yesterday that we were flush with Champagne from this great vintage here at K&L. The very first DI orders that arrived from Champagne Aspasie (at the time selling under the family name; Ariston), Bonville and Launois all included the 1996 vintage. I bought cases for myself all those years ago, but not nearly enough. Last night, with Scott Beckerley of the San Francisco K&L coming  to dinner with Cinnamon and I, I had an occasion to dig deep into the cellar and pull one of these out.

We went for dinner at the Fish Market in Palo Alto, a venerable local institution that not only serves Fish, but also operates their own fishing boat and wholesale facility. This isn’t the place for foams and food towers, it is a place for the freshest and highest quality fish served in an unfussy and deliscious way. As usual, the restaurant delivered with excellent food and great service. Scotty and Cinnamon both ordered the scallop special, which came with a nice polenta cake bed and roasted brussels sprouts. I had the sushi sampler, which came with a spicy tuna roll and some of the best hamachi and ahi I have had.

The 1996 Launois was a fabulous shape shifter. It never seemed to be the same wine twice and every shape that it took was excellent; from carmel richness to chalky electricity. Usually Champagne of such depth, richness and tertiary complexity doesn’t agree with raw fish, but this worked perfectly. I think it is the magic high acid of the 1996 vintage that made it work. In Champagne, they refrer to 1996 as the 10/10 vintage, since the ripeness was so high (10% natural potential alcohol on average) and the acid was just as high (10g/l on average). This Champagne still has decades of potential in it, and luckily I still have a few left.

The 2008 vintage has very similar characterisitcs- super high ripeness (for Champagne) and extrodinary acidity. I am planning on laying a case of this vintage down as well, to go with my Bonville and Aspasie 2008’s that I have already snapped up. Time will tell, but judging by this 1996, I have reason to be confident!

A toast to you!

-Gary Westby


Sashimi Bowl- A Perfect Champagne Pairing!

Ready to be eaten!


My New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to add more dishes to my repertoire, and I have started with a straightforward sashimi bowl or Chirashi. Cinnamon and I love the combination of sushi and Champagne, and order take out all the time from the several very good sushi places in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Making sushi at home is not easy, and usually after buying all the ingredients I don’t feel like I come out ahead. A one bowl sashimi dish, on the other hand, is very straightforward, and while sushi grade fish is never cheap, it can be a good deal compared to take out.

About a year ago, Cinnamon bought us a Zojirushi rice cooker, which at first I thought was just another kitchen gadget, but has turned out to be a great and often used piece of equipment. They have a whole number of very simple recipes on their website, and my first idea came from this one for a tuna and avocado tower. I posted my version of that recipe last year. I love the combination of avocado and raw fish, but felt like I could do something with more flavor in a bowl, so I started to experiment. When the folks at the Mountain View farmers market offered fresh Nameko mushrooms, the bowl came together and turned into something worth sharing with others. For the fish, you can substitute any sushi grade variety that you want. Salmon is a great alternative (and in some of the pictures, it is cold smoked salmon that I used), especially if you are drinking a Pinot Noir based Champagne. 

Ingredients ready for slicing

Sashimi Bowls for two people:

3 cups cooked sushi rice

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 basket (about six ounces) Nameko or other mushrooms

1 tablespoon soy sauce for mushrooms, more for dipping sashimi

4 ounces sherry for mushrooms

2 spring onions or chives

1 lemon

1 ripe avocado

4 ounces sushi grade Maguro (tuna)

4 ounces sushi grade Hamachi (yellow tail)

2 tablespoons sweet rice cooking wine (mirin)

2 pinches pickled ginger

2 tablespoons crispy onions (we use Lars)
Sherry- essential to traditional Japanese cooking?

Step 1: Get the rice cooking well ahead, as you will want to cool it to just over room temperature before assembling the bowls.

Step 2: Prepare the mushrooms. Preheat a sauté pan to medium heat. Cut so each mushroom is free, discarding any dirty roots, sauté in oil until mushrooms have given off their juices, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add soy and sherry, continuing to stir until liquid is absorbed, about five more minutes.

Step 3: Slice the spring onions into rounds of a little less than dime thickness, stop slicing once you are getting more green than onion, set aside in a bowl

Step 4: Cut lemon in half, squeeze half into a work bowl. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and slice into six lengthwise pieces per half. Add the first half to the lemon juice in the bowl and toss. Add the next half avocado in slices and squeeze the other half lemon over it. This will keep the avocado from turning brown, and add some zip to the dish.

Step 5: Remove the first type of fish from the refrigerator and slice into nickel thickness pieces, cutting against the grain of the fish. Set aside on a plate and return to the refrigerator. Repeat for the second type of fish.

Step 6: Toss the rice with the sweet rice wine. If it is still hot, fan it to cool as you toss it.

Step 7: Assemble the bowls. First add half of the mushrooms to each bowl, then about a cup and a half of rice, next the avocado, top with ginger, crispy onions and spring onions. Arrange the two types of fish in fans on opposite sides of the bowls and serve with some soy for dipping.

All prepped and ready for assembly!
If your rice is to hot, you can always fan it. Since I don't have a fan, I used my Burgundy book!
Bon appétit!

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I have. I would love any tips to improve this… And don’t forget to open plenty of Champagne to wash it down with!


A toast to you!


Gary Westby


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

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