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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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Entries from January 1, 2013 - January 31, 2013

Thursday
Jan242013

What the F is this? #3

More adventures in randomly choosing bottles off the shelf at K&L

Few sections at K&L are more confusing (and more intimidating) than the Burgundy shelf. I mean, we're only talking about two grapes here: pinot noir and chardonnay! Even still, you're telling me that it's difficult to decipher between the wines and the producers when you've narrowed it down to a couple of varietals? That's what I'm telling you.

Whereas Bordeaux is about brands, Burgundy is about land. You might see thirty producers making wine from the same vineyard site because each of them lays claim to a plot within the designation. How do you know whose wine is better? Whose is drinkable now? Whose is old school? Whose is new school? You taste, that's how. However, who has the disposable income to continuously purchase $30-$60 bottles of red wine, purely to find out if they want to buy a few more? I'm asking a lot of questions here, so let's get to the answers.

Knowing your importers can be a huge help when choosing a French or Italian wine blindly, especially Burgundy. People like Neal Rosenthal and Kermit Lynch have become importing celebrities by filling their portfolios with wines of a particular style and origin, so knowing a handful of names and their general philosophy can really make a difference. Lynch opened his landmark Berkeley wine shop in 1972 and wrote a book called Adventures on the Wine Route. He began drawing attention to small farmers and more rustic producers who make traditional wines that express the purity of their varietal. We at K&L do our best to follow in the footsteps of guys like Kermit by traveling to Europe and beyond, in search of interesting new wine and spirits. Therefore, when I see his logo adorning the back label of a Burgundy bottle, I have a bit more confidence that I'm going to end up liking what's inside of it. Lynch has locked down some of the best winemakers in the business and we're happy to sell them at K&L. 

One of these producers is Domaine A. & P. de Villaine owned by Aubert de Villaine, heir to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. That's right, the DRC (as in the most expensive pinot noir wines known to mankind). Despite his inheritance, Aubert decided he was more interested in studying law in New York. However, after spending some time abroad and meeting his American wife, he finally came back home to follow the family tradition, but in his own less auspicious way. Settling in the village of Bouzeron, Villaine stayed out of the Burgundy limelight, prefering to practice his craft outside the focus of interational attention. Rather than using fruit from the famed Côte de Nuits or Beaune provinces, he focused on the lesser-appreciated Côte Chalonaise region. With appellations like Rully and Mercurey, the Chalonaise was known for making drinkable table wine, rather than serious, age-worthy contenders. However, Villaine was bent on bringing his organic and biodynamic methodology into the these vineyards and making the best wine the Chalonaise has ever seen.

I only learned the above information after randomly grabbing the 2010 Domaine A&P de Villaine Bourgogne Côte Chalonaise Rouge "La Fortune" $35.99 off the rack and doing a litle research. I knew absolutely nothing about this bottle before that instant. I saw a fairly expensive red from the Chalonaise, which peaked my curiosity the same way a $10 Hershey's bar at the supermarket would. $35 for Chalonaise rouge? What the ____ is this? Then, flipping the bottle over, I spied the Kermit Lynch logo and figured I would do some investigating. If Lynch was willing to put his name on the bottle, then there must be something of merit inside of it. 

Grabbing a roasted chicken with potatoes from our local BBQ spot, I sped home to open my prized specimen. I love red Burgundy and I'm always on the hunt for something new and exciting. If this turned out to be good, I might be laying a few down for later. Without any decanting the wine's aromas were immediately enchanting and exactly in the style I had hoped for. Bright, fresh red berry notes with just a hint of that earthy Bourgogne thing emanating from the bottleneck. La Fortune is a single vineyard planted with 20-25 year old vines and Villaine does some whole cluster fermentation from the hand-harvested grapes. The wine spends 10-12 months in barrel which really makes a difference, I feel. The fleshiness of the red fruit is keenly balanced by the richness of the wood. While not overly present, the extra weight prevents the tartness of the acidity from overpowering the fruit. Overall, the wine is textbook, young red Burgundy, hitting all the right highs with none of the lows.

While it's possible to find wines of this quality for less than $35, you can't get them all year long. Any Bourgogne that tastes this good and costs in the $20-$25 neighborhood usually blows out of K&L in less than a week (either via staff recommendations or the staff itself!). It's a bit of a splurge for the quality, but you're definitely not overpaying with the La Fortune. I haven't tasted any of his other wines, but Villaine seems to have some skill as a vigneron. Based on the La Fortune and what I've been able to gather from the Kermit Lynch pamphlet, the entire portfolio is something to celebrate.

So if you're perusing the Burgundy aisle and you're completely overwhelmed and confused, look for the name Villaine, or at least the Kermit Lynch logo on the back label. It's a good way to branch out without taking a complete risk. You might pay a little extra, but you're paying for security of quality. At least, in my experience that's the case.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan192013

What the F is this? #2

I had this great plan to start typing up this series at least once a week and then I got totally sick. I wasn't drinking anything, let alone the oddball bottle of wine, so the "What the F is this?" series got completely sidetracked. Now....where were we? Ah yes. We were talking about those bottles at K&L that don't turn up on emails, nor in the monthly newsletter, and they don't adorn the bright yellow staff pick stickers when you peruse the store aisles. Your eyes glaze over as you observe an entire wall of Austrian varietals that both look and sound entirely unfamiliar. You pick up the bottle and ask yourself, "What the ____ is this?"

Claus Preisinger is a young Austrian winemaker that we need to keep a close eye on. His first vintage was in 2000 and he has dedicated himself to hands-off winemaking, letting the purity of the grapes speak for itself. We currently have this fantastically delicious 2008 Claus Preisinger Zweigelt $14.99 that I picked off the shelf completely blind. First off - what is Zweigelt, you ask? Is that the name of the region or of the grape? In this case, it is indeed the name of the varietal. Zweigelt is a crossing of two different grapes: St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch devloped in 1922 by an Austrian viticulturist named Fritz Zweigelt. It is sometimes also called Rotburger.

The part I found most appealing about the Claus Preisinger Zweigelt was how approachable the wine is. It's fruity, soft, round, and easy to like. If I were to have tasted it blind, I would have guessed Zinfandel or a California red blend. The red fruits are concentrated and pure, not overly ripe and well-balanced. The alcohol is also a low 12.5%, which really does make a huge difference. The lower percentage allows the fruit to shine and me to have an extra two glasses without waking up with a headache.

Overall, this is a wine that any red wine drinker would appreciate. It's nothing wild, crazy, or new on the palate, but rather just a great table wine for just about any meal you can whip up on a weeknight. If you want a familiar flavor in an exotic package, or if you just want to learn more about the red wines of Austria, I think you'll really like this bottle.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan182013

Champagne Friday: Les Crayeres

Chateau Les Crayeres

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Top Destinations in Champagne #1: Chateau Les Crayeres

For more than a decade, I have been helping K&L's Champagne loving customers visit the region of Champagne with advice on restaurants, hotels and producers to visit. One place that I always recommend is Chateau Les Crayeres in Reims- it is the pinnacle of luxury in the region. The property consists of the Relais and Chateau hotel, “Le Parc” which is the high end restaurant, and “Le Jardin” which is the brasserie. Les Crayeres is an immediate neighbor of Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Demoissele and Ruinart and sits on top of a network of underground galleries which contain all of those houses stocks- millions and millions of bottles of Champagne!

I have been lucky enough to visit this property many times and each experience has been unforgettable. The first time was on business with Trey Beffa, the night before we left Champagne and headed to Bordeaux. It was Sunday, and we had a four hour lunch with the Aristons before checking in, so we ran around Reims until my foot bled trying to make room for our dinner at Le Parc. It worked, and we had a great meal and a very memorable bottle of 1993 Domaine Marquis d'Angerville Volnay that evening. My best experiences have been staying there with Cinnamon, drinking Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siècle" Champagne in the room and old Rene Collard and Chateau Phélan-Ségur, St-Estèphe in the dining room. The service and the food are top notch, the Champagne list is perhaps the best in the world and the hotel has been called by many the best in the whole world.

Gary pouring Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siècle" in the room at Les Crayeres.

My favorite bite that I have eaten at any restaurant in France I ate here, it was a deep fried foie gras ball that you had to take down in one mouthful. The pairing with 1990 Rene Collard was simply off of the charts.  Great pate and foie gras in particular are fantastic partners with old vintage Meunier. If you can’t find any (it is not easy to come by outside of Le Parc) you can settle for old Krug! The cheese cart is like no other, and while it is very difficult to save room, you won’t want to miss the excellent selections which are all ripened to perfection. They are even open minded enough to offer some English Stilton, and if it is there it will blow your mind. I thought it was even better than the piece that I bought from Neal's Yard Dairy under London Bridge!

As wonderful as Le Parc is, the brasserie Le Jardin is not to be missed, and if you had time for only one meal, I would recommend going here. It is the hottest table in Reims, and always filled with producers. The ballotine of foie gras is fantastic as is the rest of the menu. The casual atmosphere is great after a day of appointments. Cinnamon and I had a wonderful time with the Aristons here the last time she came to Champagne with me.

As for the hotel, you have to see it to believe it. While it is expensive, it is no more so than a very good hotel in San Francisco and a lot less than a nice hotel in Paris or New York. The rooms are decorated in classic French style. The place was entirely redesigned by interior architect Pierre-Yves Rochon and has every comfort you could imagine.

Gary and Cinnamon dining at Le Parc

You can check out more about Les Crayeres here: http://www.lescrayeres.com/#/index/

If you ever plan to visit the region, please drop me a line at garywestby@klwines.com and I will send you a list of other recommendations in the region.

A toast to you!

-Gary