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2000 Labégorce, Margaux $39.99

A great value in Bordeaux! This bottle is mature enough to drink now, but has time in hand if you want to keep it in the cellar for the future. We love it for its laid back elegance and classic balance. A must try for your next nice steak dinner.

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Entries in Cabernet Sauvignon (27)

Tuesday
Dec112012

Introducing Waterkloof: An Exclusive Special Import From South Africa

Announcing the arrival of six stunning direct imports from Waterkloof, now in stock at K&L!

In 2011, I spent ten months travelling the world in search of good waves, great wines, and to see what else this little planet of ours has to offer. Everywhere my wife and I went offered incredible experiences, from the fish markets of Vietnam to the coral reefs of Western Australia, the glaciers of New Zealand, and the ancient walled cities of Umbria. However, one place really blew us away us with its undeniable beauty, stunning landscapes, fantastic wine and food and magnificent wildlife: South Africa. 

During our four (way too short) weeks in South Africa, we visited dozens of producers and tasted more excellent wine than I can recall. As a staff member at K&L, I taste anywhere between 50-100 new wines each week. That's a lot of wine to remember...and forget! Yet the producers and wines that make the biggest impact on me will always stand out in my memory while the others fade into oblivion. Waterkloof Estate in Stellenbosch is one such standout producer.

Visiting any major wine region in the world can be a daunting experience. The decision about whom to visit and where to start is a tough one to make. I normally try to find a wine industry map and then do some background research into producers that sound interesting, or with whom I am unfamiliar. Generally speaking, I gravitate toward small producers with the following criteria:

1) A special site. Be it a certain geographic location, specific soils, steep or dramatic aspect, I like to visit producers who believe they have something truly unique special and take risks in order to be able to share it with the world.  If someone is planting grapes in a place that is borderline too cold, too steep, or too rocky, I want to know why, and I want to try the wines. I admire their dedication and drive. These people aren't following a proven recipe for success, rather they are striving for something new and interesting.

2) Organic/Biodynamic practices. I do not think organic/biodynamic wines are inherently better, but in my experience, the most careful, detail-orientated viticulturalists and winemakers tend to farm according to these practices. I do believe natural, minimal intervention winemaking techniques are often the most successful in allowing the expression of place in the wine. This ties back to my first point about producers who seek unique terroirs and strive to let that character shine through in their wines.

Waterkloof Winery

Waterkloof met all of the above criteria, and so on one rainy winter's day in July we snaked our way up the long driveway past bare vines that had long dropped their leaves. The winery sits on top of a wind-swept ridge almost 1,000 feet in elevation in the Schapenberg Hills, on the southern edge of the Helderberg region. (Map) It has magnificent views overlooking the dramatic False Bay and the wild Southern Ocean just a couple miles to the south.

The vineyards are planted in an amphitheater-like bowl behind the winery and on adjacent slopes. This is a very cool sub-region of Stellenbosch. The ocean in this part of the world makes the Central California coast look and feel like Florida. It is bitterly cold and intensely stormy, conditions that define the growing season. The wind is also a major factor at Waterkloof; their logo is designed in honor of Boreas, the God of wind.

During the growing season, cool ocean breezes and the south-facing aspect of the vineyards result in much slower ripening and a longer hang time for the grapes. This produces intense flavor development while preserving freshness and acidity in the fruit. Soils on the property are diverse, ranging between shale- derived soils, rugged sandstone and decomposed granite. These low fertility soils reduce vine vigor, keeping yields naturally low. 

Half of all the land at Waterkloof Estate has been set aside to preserve the natural flora and fauna of the region. Waterkloof also operates a fully functional farm to provide all of the compost and biodynamic preps needed for the vineyards. Vineyards are plowed by horse, and the estate has plenty of in-house horse power too! This operation is truly focused on creating wines of integrity, balance and encapsulating the essence of this remarkable place.

The main winery building, that which houses the production facility, tasting room and restaurant, looks more like a modern art museum than a winery! It is a stark contrast from the traditional Dutch style buildings that most Stellenbosch wineries inhabit. The barrel room is the first thing you see entering the premises on a suspended walkway, high above the hibernating wines below. From the tasting bar one can watch operations in the cellar through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. I was amazed by the array of oak foudres lined up in immaculate fashion. The restaurant is all glass construction, cantilevered out from the side of the building providing uninterrupted (if a little unnerving) views over False Bay.

With all this sophisticated, dazzling architecture and design, I really hoped that the wines would show as good as they appeared on paper....and thankfully they did not disappoint! Which is why, eighteen months later, I am very excited to bring you the Waterkloof "Circumstance" wines exclusive to K&L!

Quoting Waterkloof's winemaker: "Circumstance is a range of wines, each defined by a single grape varietal and a unique symphony of fortuitous circumstances (soil, aspect and altitude) in which that given varietal is grown."

2012 Waterkloof "Circumstance" Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch (Biodynamic) $19.99

From a rugged, rocky, wind swept slope looking directly out over the ocean. The wine is bright, concentrated and fresh. Soft, fleshy stone fruit notes are sharpened by a citrus and mineral finish. This wine has many layers of flavor, great persistence on the palate and immaculate balance.

2011 Waterkloof "Circumstance" Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (Biodynamic) $19.99

Fom old bush vine Chenin Blanc. Whole cluster pressed, settled for 24 hours then racked to 600-liter French oak barrels called Puncheons. The wine is fermented with naturally occuring yeast. The wine's flavors are dominated by orchard fruits, especially pear and quince. On the finish more savory notes come through with a bit of added texture and richness from the Puncheon fermentation.

2011 Waterkloof "Circumstance" Viognier, Stellenbosch (Biodynamic) $19.99

By the proprietor's own admission, he believes there is only one place in the world that truly excels with Viognier, and that’s Condrieu. However, we were very impressed by this Waterkloof effort. Perfumed and alluring, but somewhat restrained. Not a big, oily Viognier. More bright and lithe in character. A nice freshness to the acidity works well with this grape's natural richness and weight. It really think that this windy, cool site is well-suited to produce balanced Viognier; a very pleasant surprise from the line up!

2010 Waterkloof "Circumstance" Chardonnay, Stellenbosch (Biodynamic) $19.99

Aromas of apple pie pastry crust with spices from the oak. this is a broad, rich, toasty wine, with ample freshness and lively acidity. Apparent but well-integrated use of French oak. More focused on the finish than the dense mid-palate might suggest, with intriguing mineral aspects and good length.

2010 Waterkloof "Circumstance" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch (Biodynamic) $24.99

Great Cab! A lovely balanced between rich, soft, saturated fruit and some smoky cedar and mint nuances. Many South African reds can be overtly smoky (something I attribute to the unique flora and fauna of the country), but this wine has subtly complex smoke that doesn't dominate the flavor profile. The wine has some grippy tannins that help lengthen the inky concentration of fruit on the palate. Very good.

2009 Waterkloof "Circumstance" Syrah Stellenbosch, (Biodynamic) $24.99

A very low-yielding (1.25 tons per acre) vineyard block produces this fascinating Syrah. Made with all wild yeast and a good amount of whole cluster fermentation. The wine is fermented in open-top wooden fermenters and hand punched down two to three times daily. After a gentle basket pressing it is aged for 20 months in 600L new French oak barrels called Puncheons. This wine simply exudes the classic Syrah qualities of dark red fruits, herbs and cured meats. Some spice on the nose runs through the substantial, rich and generous palate, all carried by driving acidity.

If you can't already tell from my over-the-top enthusiasm, I am very excited that we have managed to get these wines via an exclusive import. You will only find these Waterkloof "Circumstance" wines at K&L, in-store and online.

If you are interested in South African wines or just balanced, honest and authentic wines of terroir in general, please try these. They are extremely well priced when you consider the huge attention to detail and care that went into making them. All of them, including the whites, like some air so don't be afraid to decant for an hour or so.

If you have any questions please feel free to post them in the comments below of contact me directly, details below. Waterkloof also has a fantastic website with lots of information about their wines, philosophy, biodynamics etc. Click here to be directed to their site.

If you're interested check out this fantastic video telling the story of Waterkloof.

Cheers!

-Ryan

Ryan Woodhouse

K&L Wine Merchants - Redwood City

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Tuesday
Oct232012

A Quick Mid-Harvest Visit To Some Napa Stalwarts

 

Heitz Cabernet Grapes looking perfect

By: Ryan Woodhouse | K&L Staff Member

For all that is good and bad about visiting and tasting in Napa these days, there are still many producers worth checking out. My family was recently visiting from England and I thought I would take the opportunity to show them around the valley during harvest--when all the action happens--and visit a few of my perennial favorites. Here are a couple of highlights and shots from the trip.

I kind of blew it right from the beginning in terms of saving the best for last...the first place we visited was the old property at Heitz Cellars. Kaj was kind enough to give us a great look around and popped a bottle of 2005 Martha’s Vineyard, it turned out (unsurprisingly) to be my favorite wine of the trip!

and these beautiful old upright FoudresHeitz wines mature in French oak Barriques

We started with the 2010 Heitz Cellar Sauvignon Blanc, which is really a delicate, restrained style with great drive and freshness with to much fat fruit. This is a wonderfully mineral laden wine with great persistence on the palate. Excellent drinking with oysters.

An old photograph of the Heitz estate and the historic stone winery

Then, as I said, we went right to the top with the 2005 Martha's. Wow - what a wine! So attractive and expressive now but you can just tell it's got another decade(+) in the tank. The quality that struck me most about this wine is that it's 100% Napa Cab, and a wonderful expression of exactly that; it’s not pretending to be Bordeaux. There's the power of the fruit and ripeness of tannin at the forefront. Then the wonderful warm dusty notes, and some minty, herbal edges. Fantastic wine, and very thoughtfully made, as evidenced by such an elongated drinking window. The 2007 Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cab has been given the extra special honor of the colored label reserved for only the very best vintages of this stunning wine.

Stunning views from up on Howell Mtn

Next after grabing some picnic supplies we headed up Howell Mountain to Ladera Vineyards. This was my first visit to the property after years of enjoying their wines. The winery is one of the oldest bonded wineries in Napa. The original structure is now just a shell within which the modern winery exists. This beautiful restored stone building set into the rugged terrain of the mountain is spectacular. Again we started with their rare 2010 Ladera Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps just a touch more generous than the Heitz, but with a firm bright acidity and tons of rocky minerality under the citrus fruit. A "go-to" domestic SB for sure.

The beautifully restored winery from 1886The modern all gravity winery inside

Next we rolled through their excellent range of estate cabs. Most of the fruit is grown on Howell Mountain but they also have property on the cooler Mount Veeder which interlaces the big burly dark fruit and concentration of Howell Mountain with some touches of tobacco leaf and cedar from the cooler Veeder fruit. These are wines of balance, power, and integrity that make me happy.  They prove that not all Napa Cab has gone over to the big, jammy, soft, manipulated style.

Back now to the valley floor and the Silverado Trail side of St. Helena to Duckhorn Vineyards. I was excited about this visit after a nice stop at Goldeneye in Anderson Valley the previous week. In my opinion, Duckhorn wines are the real deal when it comes to Napa. They make quintessential Napa wines. The world is now so Cab centric and yet their offerings of Merlot are some of the best examples of Bordeaux varietal reds you’ll find anywhere. We toured the facility and saw everything in full swing. The fruit looked great and plentiful!

Winemakers and cellar crews in California have now been working around the clock for months bringing in what many think will be one of the best vintages in years, if not decades. Having left that game myself, I would like to applaud those people surviving the ravages of harvest and 14-16-18 hour days to bring us great wines year after year! Cheers to you all!

The Famous Three Palms Vineyard

Anyway, the barrel rooms at Duckhorn are stacked neatly away, holding their precious treasures. It was great to have a good look around at this top-notch facility. We were treated to a very comprehensive seated tasting of many reserve and single vineyard wines. There was not one bad wine on the table. We started with another beautiful Napa SB,(2011 Duckhorn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc), this one with some notable barrel character and a dash of Semillion giving it a very Bordeaux Blanc like sensibility. My other favorites included the Cab Franc and the Carneros Merlot. Sadly these do not get into distribution.

Upon tasting the 2009 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot, I was once again wowed by how good and consistent this Merlot really is. Duckhorn's "workhorse" Merlot, it combines fruit from their many great sites sources and is consistently one of my top Napa wines every vintage. Sure, the 2008 Duckhorn “Discussion” is the premier Bordeaux-style blend and a great wine, and the 2009 Duckhorn “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot is the flashy, prestigious, sought after release (its concentration, richness, power and purity are also very impressive). However, I can’t help feeling enamored with the regular old Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot. It's an everyman's wine with the pedigree and class to cellar for decades, and delivers on every level at a very reasonable price point. For me, it is benchmark for the varietal and region.

2 miles of caves, 2 million bottles all under Spring Mtn at SchramsbergThe next day after some perusing of the shops in Calistoga and St. Helena, we headed up to Schramsberg on Spring Mountain. I had been told that the Cave tour was not to be missed so I thought this would be a good way to finish off the trip. The history surrounding this property is enthralling as is the atmosphere. You begin by entering the two miles of underground caves, much of which were hand-dug with pick and shovel by Chinese workers in the 1870s, after completing Transcontinental Rail Road. Inside the caves, the walls are lined with millions of hand-stacked bottles ageing on their lees. Schramsberg still riddles their wines by hand. Riddling is an incredibly laborious process of rotating and tilting the bottles over many weeks to move the yeast into the neck of the bottle for disgorgement.

Schramsberg's A-frame riddling racks deep underground in the caves.In the underground caves, everything is covered by a thick dust and mossy webs, a perfect pre-Halloween treat! The tasting deep in the caves was excellent and the wines showed fantastically. The 2009 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Blanc first was very fresh and zippy with bright acid and vivacious energy on the palate. The Brut Rose, good as always, was showing nice purity and weight in the mouth. If you like domestic sparklers this is the one for Thanksgiving, a very food friendly and versatile wine. The J.Schram (Blanc de Blanc) and Reserve (Pinot Noir) bottlings were a real treat. Both are very big rich wines with a minimum five years on the lees, sleeping deep beneath the Spring Mountain hillside. I sometimes find wines with this amount of lees contact bit much, preferring two to three years on lees over the late-disgorged versions. However, I must say that both of these wines showed excellent balance and brightness of character and I’m sure would be excellent cellaring candidates should you be lucky enough to get your hands on some. We normally get small allocations of both around the holidays so keep a look out or wait-list them if you are interested.

Tasting in the caves at Schramsberg

If you haven’t tried any of the wines we tasted on this trip, I highly recommend you do! This is not the glitzy, glam, “Disney Napa” that some people talk about. These are all wines of history and true substance. Every one of these properties deserves a few spots in the cellar or an outing to the dinner table. Enjoy!

Cheers,

-Ryan

Thursday
Oct182012

Napa Bootcamp 2012: A Visit to Oakville Ranch 

View of the Napa Valley from Oakville Ranch.

By: Melissa Smith | K&L Wine & Spirits Specialist

The longer I am in the wine industry, the more curious I become about wine. I read book after book on the subject - the history, the major players, the regions - but there is only so much that you can learn through someone else's experiences. The other day I finally got up the gall to ask one of those completely random (And I’m talking random) questions that struck me in the middle of the night. I wondered, “do they wash grapes before they make wine?” (Seriously, who thinks that at three in the morning?) But now, aren’t you wondering too?

None of my references had an answer, so when I was invited to join fifteen other industry professionals for Napa Bootcamp 2012, a day long excursion and educational intensive in the Napa Valley hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners Association, I jumped at the opportunity.

A few days before the trip a box arrived with pair of pruners, gloves, and sunscreen. Score! At sunrise we headed over the Golden Gate, through Sonoma, and arrived in Napa just as the coffee was kicking in. There we met up with our LA counterparts along with a handful of winemakers and winery managers. Tara McDonald of California Wine Merchant and I were "assigned' to the lovely Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch. Although Oakville Ranch makes their own wine, they are best known for selling three-quarters of their fruit to some of the biggest names in the industry: Harlan, Peter Michael, Vine Cliff, Joseph Phelps, Miner Family, Lewis Cellars...the list goes on. All of their grapes are organic and farmed according to biodynamic principles. Paula trucks us and her two dogs up the private drive well above the valley to an oasis of vines tucked into the hillside. The plantings are heavy with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, and Zinfandel, having been completely replanted over the last forty years. 

In the vineyard we meet Vineyard Manager Phillip Coturri. Phil has been working in vineyards since he was fourteen; he will be celebrating his 60th birthday this month. Heavily bearded in true Deadhead style (Phil cites longtime friends Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead as important sources of inspiration for his work on the winery's website) he may not look like someone responsible for $12,000 per ton grapes, but then again, grapes don't care what you look like. This man knows his stuff and thankfully doesn’t seem annoyed by the string of amateur questions we fire at him like first graders!

We hoist ourselves into the “gater,” a quad set to withstand climbing and descending the rocky hillsides. We are taught how to look at the vineyards with an artist’s eye. Subtle changes in green amongst the rows of vines, varying hues of red and orange in the soil, and even the size of rocks have an influence on the grapes. At one point we arrive at a block of Grenache and I am reminded of a picture I had seen of the 'galets' in the vineyards in Chateauneuf de Pape.

Looking good in 2012!By now it’s ten in the morning and we’ve shed our scarves and unbuttoned our coats. We stop first at a block of Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 169, known for its floral qualities. We can already tell that 2012 is going to be an extraordinary year - the grapes are plump, abundant, and still ripening in the warm September sun. Several bunches lay strewn on the ground, removed in order to concentrate all plant's energy on the remaining drapes. Phil can afford to be picky this year.

The vines are exquisite, trimmed and trained like bonsais. The clusters are firm and broad, showing very even ripening. We pluck a few and taste, careful to chew the skins but avoid the seeds. Phil explains that they are waiting for the grapes to achieve “Sexy Ripe” status, the perfect '10' of sugar and phenolic ripeness. Aromatic ripeness is difficult to achieve below 14% alcohol, but too much sugar produces too much alcohol and results in wines with a lack of nuance. We learn that the grapes can get fully ripe--full of sugar--but it’s the additional hang time that allows them to develop the subtleties in their flavor profiles. It is a continual struggle to manage the canopy, choose which clusters to keep and which to drop, and deciding the exact time to harvest the grapes. While a refractometer is used in the vineyard to measure sugar levels, it is not the tool used to determine when to pick. That decision is guided by a sixth sense, an intuition built over decades of experience. Phil spends the entire year preparing for that moment. When the winemakers tell him to pick, his job is done.

Evaluating samples of grapes in the preparation for harvest.We migrate to different areas of the vineyard, occasionally running into the apprentices who are busy gathering samples, weighing clusters, crushing grapes, measuring sugar levels, examining seeds and the gelatinous matter surrounding them. At this point the seeds are still green and chewy. Phil explains that they are waiting for the seeds to become brown and crunchy, which will minimize the presence of "green" (think bell pepper and green apple) aromas and flavors. The grapes taste delicious to me, but Phil equates the ripeness of a grape to that of a tomato or a fig. They are good when they are ripe and firm, but the flavors really come out the moment that they start to soften from the sugars. We move to different blocks, tasting different clones of the same varietal, different varietals from different sections, and I start to tally up how many hundreds of dollars worth of grapes I’m consuming that could have been turned into wine.    

And with that lingering thought we are whisked away to enjoy their wine over a delicious lunch of roasted lamb sandwiches and a quinoa salad on the terrace overlooking the valley. We absorb the information from the day with a much greater appreciation for what is in the glass!

Oh, and the answer is no, they don’t wash the grapes. Sulphur takes care of any bacteria that may be lingering.

 

---

Melissa Lavrinc Smith

Wine and Spirits Consultant

Sake Buyer

K&L Wine Merchants
http://www.klwines.com 
650.556.2712
 

 

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