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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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Bordeaux: Buying in "Off" Vintages


If you don't have enough time to dedicate every waking minute to booze (like I end up doing), then you sometimes have to depend on generalizations. For example, you may not have time to read about the weather in Bordeaux during the fourth week of June, about which specific vineyards were harmed by rain, or about whose buds were bitten by an early frost. That's what wine professionals are there for.  We're constantly obsessing about every little detail. However, because we're trying to summarize information in an accessible and easy-to-understand format, we tend to generalize a bit - especially when it comes to vintages.  Customers pick up on these generalizations, but they tend to grasp them a bit more tightly than we do.

Working in a wine shop, I often hear customers discuss Bordeaux in the following manner:

2005 - great vintage.  2007 - bad vintage. 2009 - great vintage.

That's partially our fault.  There are simply too many specifics regarding each producer's wine to issue such broad and sweeping statements, nevertheless it's sometimes what gets translated.  While it is true that some growing years provide better conditions for achieving optimal ripeness, there are exceptions in every vintage. For some of us who work here, we secretly love it when the critics pan a Bordeaux vintage because it means the prices will go down, allowing us a chance at some of the region's top wines.  In great vintages, prices go through the roof and the entire world scrambles to get their hands on whatever they can afford.  2009 is a terrific example of this.  When looking to purchase wines from the top chateaux in Bordeaux, many of us look to the "off" vintages, the years most of the general public avoids because they heard it was "bad."

The 2007 and 2008 vintages provided some fantastic opportunities for those in-the-know.  2007 had an irregularly early bud-break, followed by a rainy and cool summer. However, the early fall months rewarded patient growers with warm weather allowing them to pick late into October.  There were many outstanding wines made with reasonable pricepoints.  We still have a few on hand:

2007 La Croix de Beaucaillou, St-Julien $39.99 - This was one of my favorite wines of the vintage from one of my absolute favorite producers.  This is the second wine of second-growth Chateau Ducru-Beaucailloux and it's a real winner.  Soft, supple fruit with that classic mineral note from the heavy clay soil.  The 2009 Ducru-Beaucaillou was $340 a bottle.

2007 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge, Pessac-Léognan $49.99 - These guys make great wine almost every year and the prices keep going up.  The 2009 is $85!!  Yet, you can still get this fantastic bottle for almost half that price. 

2007 Poujeaux, Moulis $29.99 - We've all become big fans of this chateau here at K&L.  The restraint of their wine, with its terrific balance of fruit, earth, and structure, appeals to the wine geek in all of us.

The 2008 vintage is perhaps the sneakiest one of the decade for Bordeaux.  In a market looking for powerful, fruit-driven wines to drink now, the 2008 vintage provided wines of nuance, subtlety and grace.  I loved this vintage when I tasted it at the UGC event a few years back. With the hype from the 2009 pre-arrival campaign taking up all the airwaves, many wines from 2008 got overlooked and the prices went down as a result.  All the better for us!

2008 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge, Pessac-Léognan $59.99 - Some people, like our owner Clyde Beffa, thought this was one of the best wines of the vintage - PERIOD!  Yet, it's only $60 and we've got a good amount of it still.  Buy! Buy! Buy! Even Parker himself said, "One of the fabulous sleepers of the vintage and a wine for serious Bordeaux afficionados to consider buying. I would not be surprised if it turns out to be as impressive as the 2010." The 2010 is selling for $80 on pre-arrival right now, so you're getting this for $20 less.

2008 Saint Pierre, St-Julien $39.99 - St. Julien, more than any other commune in the Haut-Medoc, seems to produce wines that speak to my palate. The 2008 from Saint Pierre has loads of juicy fruit and some fine tannins. This is a great short term ager.

Another great thing to do, if you love Bordeaux and are looking for value, is check back with us for older "off" vintages. When consumers flock to the great vintages like 2000, 2005, and 2009, it creates a glut for the so-called "lesser" years.  This always provides us with a great opportunity to find hot deals on wine that was passed over in favor of "better" vintages.  Lanessan is an old-school chateau that we've been working with directly for years.  They were never included in the original 1855 classification because their proprietor at the time refused to submit samples for judging! Over time, this decision has kept Lanessan under-the-radar, despite its reputation for long-lived wines of distinction, because it was never included on the list of classified growths.  Located near the St. Julien border close to Beychevelle and Branaire Ducru, the estate has only been owned by two families since 1310!  We've got the following older vintages back in stock:

1996 Lanessan, Haut-Médoc $19.99Still showing some strong structural elements with fantastic, dark fruit.

1997 Lanessan, Haut-Médoc $19.99 - Softer, more integrated tannins with some earthy, savory flavors.

1998 Lanessan, Haut-Médoc $19.99 - The most old-school of the three, the 1998 has more Cabernet tannic structure and plenty of heft.

The best part about the Lanessan wines is that they allow customers to get a feel for older Bordeaux without dropping the hammer on something more expensive.  It would be a shame to age your wine for ten years and then dislike the ultimate result of that maturation!  What a tragedy that would be.  Give these a shot in the meantime if you're looking to get your feet wet.  While Bordeaux prices continue upward, there are still plenty of values to be had if you do your research. If you don't have time, then we're here to help!  Drop on by the store or check back in on the blog from time to time.  We're happy to share our secrets with you!

-David Driscoll

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