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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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Archives

Entries from April 1, 2011 - April 30, 2011

Thursday
Apr212011

Wine of the Week: 2005 Ch. La Garde

K&L Hollywood's Steve Greer, fresh back from the 2010 Bordeaux En Primeur tastings and excited for this weekend's Bordeaux tastings submitted the 2005 Ch. La Garde from Pessac-Léognan ($24.99) as this week's Wine of the Week. Here's what he had to say:

Since it seems like it is "Bordeaux Week" at K&L with articles on the 2010 UGC tastings, staff tastings on new arrivals and a public tasting this Saturday I thought the Wine of the Week should be a stand-out from yesterday's staff tasting at the Hollywood store. The 2005 La Garde from the Pessac was one of the stand-outs for our Hollywood staff.

It has a beautiful nose of smoke, perfume, floral, spice, cedar and blackberry. The heady black fruit and incense continues on the palate with a long, spicy and cedary finish. The tannins are still evident, of course, but the wine isn't overly astringent.

A beautiful wine for only $24.99.

Steve Greer

Tuesday
Apr192011

Back from the Road: 2010 Bordeaux En Primeur

The cellars at Pontet-Canet.“I’ve always read that young Cabernet Sauvignon is easier to taste than younger Merlot. Now I get it”

–Ralph Sands

I’m sitting at my desk in Los Angeles, having just returned from the Bordeaux En Primeur tastings a couple days ago. I wanted to write at least three other posts while in Bordeaux, but the pace of our trip didn’t allow the time to write daily blogs. Over the course of eight days we tasted about 600 wines from the petite châteaux to the First Growths. This complete immersion provided a solid glimpse into the 2010 vintage. The first thing I took away from the trip was that we are seeing the quality of the wines across the region increase, from basic Bordeaux to the Classified Growths. There are wines in every price range that are good to very good. We are still sifting through our notes for the June newsletter and preparing our Vintage Report, but here are some quick observations.

Margaux is the most consistent of the communes.

Many Margaux châteaux are stepping up their attention to proper vineyard management. Kirwan has a new(ish) director Phillipe Delfaut, he started in 2007, who came from the acclaimed Château Palmer, where he worked from 1996-2006. The first thing he did at Kirwan was map the make-up of the soils in the vineyard’s different sub-plots. There were 29 different kinds of soils, which he is now harvesting and vinifying separately. He also made the decision to pick before the grapes were over-ripe in 2010, to ensure the freshness of the fruit was maintained. Better viticulture extends beyond Margaux's borders, though. For example, Pontet-Canet in Pauillac is certified organic/biodynamic in 2010. They are using a horse to plow a portion of the vineyard (59 acres), and they plan on adding a horse each year.

This was the year of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Cabernet grapes achieved perfect ripeness, with high acidity lending freshness to the wines.

Cabernet Franc seems to be falling out of favor on the Left Bank. Old vine Cabernet Franc is still being used in blends, but as the vines get older the owners aren’t replanting them, saying they don’t like the fruit produced by the young vine Cabernet Franc. Instead they are planting those parcels over to Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The 2010 vintage showed how important skilled winemakers with knowledge of how to deal with the Merlot in the vineyard are. If a winemaker followed the same “formula” they use every year, then the Merlot turned out alcoholic and overextracted, with high tannins from both the oak and grapes. But if the winemaker did his work in the vineyard and saw that the grapes were already high in sugar, tannins and acid, and were careful not to overmacerate and overextract, then the wines came out fantastic. 

Big bucks for the top growths.

The rapidly growing Chinese market was the topic at every château we visited. Will the American market be able to afford the wines with the Chinese desire for Bordeaux driving prices? It seems likely that the Chinese market will push prices to a level that US consumers, and others, won’t be willing to pay. One négoicant commented that circumstances were much like the ’96 Bordeaux campaign, when the US market’s desire for the top wines priced British consumers out. That is why it is so important for us to travel to Bordeaux, and for us to try 600 wines. We can obtain the overall view of the vintage, realize the regional highlights and discover the hidden gems that any wine connoisseur can afford.

Steve Greer

Monday
Apr112011

From the Road: 2010 Bordeaux En Primeur

This is my first trip to Bordeaux with the K&L Bordeaux team, but our group is loaded with experience: Clyde Beffa Jr, K&L’s co-owner and main wine buyer, has been coming for 26 years, Ralph Sands from K&L Redwood City has been coming for 21 years, Trey Beffa from K&L Hollywood has been coming for 12 years and Alex Pross from K&L Redwood City has been coming for four. 

So far the trip seems to be about rare occurrences.  The weather here in Bordeaux is amazing.  The temperatures have been in the 70s, and it’s been sunny and clear. I have been asking everyone we meet if they remember April being this beautiful, and no one does. The Merlot vines have already seen bud break. One producer told me that it was a great start to 2011, with the season beginning gradually, so now growers are holding their breaths to see if late April frosts (like the ones in 1991) hurt the great start.

The warm weather also has an effect on the tasting of 2010s.  The UGC tasting at Branaire-Ducru was hot, and the wines were warm making the tannins comes across very astringent. A couple of producers mentioned that while they usually have to find a warmer place to taste the wines, this year they’ve been trying to find cooler locations. 

This (Friday, April 8th) is the start of our third day. So far we have been to the UGC tastings for Pessac-Léognan, Margaux, St-Julien and St-Estèphe, and today we are working our way through Pauillac. There is no question that the star of the vintage is Cabernet, with some producers claiming 20-30% loss of Merlot.  (The Merlot suffered from drought as well as coulure [uneven fruit set] and millerandage [uneven ripening].) The Cabernet, however, is incredibly powerful and concentrated, balanced by high acidity from a cool August and September.  One producer told me that this was the first time they had seen this kind of high acidity and perfect ripeness, although we have not tasted one wine that feels acidic. 

So, rare occurrence one: balmy, 70-degree days in Bordeaux in April. Rare occurrence two: high acidity and tannins plus ripe concentrated fruit. This second rarity makes for an exceptional vintage, but one that’s very different from 2009.  At Léoville-Barton they poured us both the 2009 and the 2010 Léoville- and Langoa-Barton side-by-side, which illustrated the differences perfectly.  The ‘09s were voluptuous and rich, concealing their obvious structure. The 2010s showed their tannic backbone, but it was balanced by rich, concentrated fruit.  These wines built for the long haul, not for early consumption.

Of course the question has been where the pricing for these wines come in relation to the ‘09s.  No one is saying anything yet, but I do think this concentrated vintage will give us plenty of value wines, as well as the great Third, Fourth and Fifth Growths even in the Firsts and Seconds are crazy expensive.  We can only wait and see.

Steve Greer