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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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« Champagne Summit 2014: The Vintage Wines Part 1 | Main | Tour de Provence »
Friday
Aug152014

Champagne Summit 2014

The K&L Champagne team: Mari, Kyle, myself and Scotty.

Every summer, the entire K&L Champagne team gets together to meet and taste. We have Mari fly in from LA, Scott come down from SF and Kyle join from here in Redwood City to take a comprehensive look at current releases. We start with a big dinner party at Cinnamon and I’s home, this year with Clyde Beffa our owner joining the festivities as well.

Henry Hiatt, my long time friend and manager of the Fish Market in Palo Alto came to shuck oysters, and we drank last years Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne (based on 2008) and a magnum of 2002 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Vintage Champagne. Both showed the benefit of holding onto Champagne in a good cellar, if even just for a year! Then we dug into duck leg confit, ratatouille (I have been trying to perfect this since Marie-France Ariston gave me a lesson in July!), mashed potatoes and green beans from Clyde’s garden. To go with this, Clyde brought 1966 Chateau Phelan-Segur, which was smoky, delicate and still completely vibrant, and I opened 1998 Chateau Palmer, which was surprisingly elegant for this tannic year, with excellent perfume and Margaux character to spare. It was a good night.


By the end of the day, we filled the basket- 52 Champagnes tasted!

The next day, we had nine appointments and 52 Champagnes to taste, so we started out with breakfast burritos. Nuts and berries would not be enough to stay strong throughout this day! It took a lot of planning to do this smoothly, but everything worked out, and all four of us were able to stay focused, take good notes, learn about the wines and get some good perspective on 2014’s Champagne releases. All four of us are now ready for your questions!

 

My strongest impression from the day was how high the baseline is for quality this year. Some of it has to do with many of the non-vintages being based on the good run of harvests between 2010 and 2007, but I would guess that more has to do with stable, but not crazy demand allowing for both more time on the lees and careful production methods for basic cuvees. I would go so far as to say that no big house Champagne has improved as much over the past five years as the Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne ($29.99) which was rich and full of apple flavor, but very clean. This is now up to 2 ½ years on the lees and shows a lot more poise than ever before. Similarly impressive was the lemon curd and baguette Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne ($31.99) which came together with more focus than I have ever experienced from this wine.

 

As for the vintages, we certainly do have quite the crop to choose from right now. For ready-to-drink mature wines, the 1999’s in the market taste far better than I ever thought they would and are of very high quality. The 2006’s are starting to taste a lot like the 2002’s did four years ago, and have the potential to be very interesting in the riper and more powerful style. Out of all the vintages that we tasted, it was the 2004’s that fill me with the most urgency. Not only did this vintage yield the “wine of the day” (more on that later) but they were incredibly consistent. These sleek, classic, racy wines are from the type of harvest that used to come along a lot more frequently in Champagne, but sadly are now ultra rare. We haven’t had a vintage like this in the market since the 1988’s, and we won’t have another until at least 2014… But I won’t hold my breath. The 2008’s and 2002’s might be more “spectacular” but those 2004’s are from a style of harvest that climate change has made rarer than rare. Jump on them.

 

I will follow up next week with an article on the best of these 2004’s!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

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