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Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne $34.99One of our best non-vintage Champagnes, this organically grown blend of half each Chardonnay and Meunier comes entirely from Bruno Michel's estate. It has been aged for six years on the lees and shows wonderful natural toasty quality as well as incredible vibrance! This was the big hit of our most recent staff Champagne tasting and we think you will love it too.

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Entries in Cabernet Sauvignon (27)

Friday
Sep162011

Personal Sommelier Online: California Cabernet Gets Interesting

 

"Stay thirsty, my friends." What do Mexican beer ads have to do with California Cabernet?

Not much, except as the source of inspiration for my article in the September issue of the K&L Wine News, our monthly newsletter. The theme this month is California Cabernet. As I set about to write, I realized couldn't remember the last time I bought a California Cabernet to take home and drink myself. "I don't drink Cabernet that often," I said to my veteran coworker later that day in the tasting room, "but when I do, I prefer Bordeaux."

"Yes... I used to prefer California Cab," he responded, "but you know they don't make them like they used to." 

While I'm not nearly as interesting as actor Jonathan Goldsmith's character in the Dos Equis ad campaign that ran in the United States in 2006, this particular coworker could give him a run for the money.

What do you prefer?

With all due respect to the great winemaking traditions of my native state, I know for a fact that I'm not alone in this - let's call it frustration - with the opulent style that has come to characterize the wines made around here.  Many of my Personal Sommelier Service Wine Club customers, for example, enlist in the program with the same requests: "No fruit bombs," they ask. "Balanced, Old World-styled Cabernet or blends preferred." It is the very fact that they can subscribe to a wine club and have overly oaked Cabernets filtered out that motivates them to cancel their other clubs and stick with this one only. Some even go so far as to justify this request with an excuse similar to that of my coworker: "I used to drink a lot of California Cab," one customer explained. "But not any more - too oakey, too expensive, too much of the same." 

It's my job to find wines that suit my customers' tastes and preferences. When it comes to Cabernet, if a customer expresses and preference for a more restrained, Bordeaux-like style, I have often come up short at the local level and must look elsewhere - Bordeaux, South Africa, or even Spain - for wines to suit his or her tastes. This has been the case even if the customer wishes to source locally if possible, and despite my desire to support my local industry.  Wines with less attitude and more soul at fair price can be hard to come by around here. 

Which is why I am so excited to report in this issue that demand for unique, terroir-driven, and handmade wines, not just from California but from all over the world, seems to have finally reached the tipping point, and local industries are responding.

Even California.  Larger, established producers are diversifying their product mix, dialing back the oak and coming up with fun, new, balanced wines at the entry level. New boutique producers are popping up with small-production Cabs and blends meant for drinking tonight. And the guys that have been quietly making wines this way all along are making better wines than ever before.

This is no joke.  California Cabernet - and California wine in general - is getting interesting again.

Check these out, if you're interested:  

2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99) Ancient Peaks has flown under the radar as a producer of distinctive, value-driven wines from the Margarita Vineyard, its single estate vineyard, for some time. The wine from this family-run operation shows pure varietal Cabernet aromas and flavors, and it is defined by an earthy, mineral-driven quality that speaks to its unique terroir. It is structured without being heavy or overdone, and drinks well above its retail price.

2008 Broadside “Margarita Vineyard” Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99) Ancient Peaks had fruit to share in 2008, and the talented, up-and-coming young winemakers Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars) and Brian Terrizzi (Giornata) got their hands on some. The result is a refreshing, black currant-scented, mineral-accented, fine-boned and effortlessly clean Cabernet made (and priced) for drinking.

2009 Robert Craig “Mt. George Cuvée” Napa Valley Red Wine ($24.99) Former Hess Collection CEO Robert Craig has been making serious Cabernet and blends from top hillside sites under his own label since 1992. The new Mt. George Cuvée takes the best of the “leftovers” from the winery’s pricier “Affinity” bottling and crafts a softer, entry-level version for drinking tonight. This Left Bank inspired blend spent just six months in French oak before release. It’s medium-bodied, fragrant and forward, with a nose of dark fruits and rose petals accented by subtle hints of vanilla and spice. The palate is soft, round and generous, with moderate tannins adding a little grip at the finish.

2008 Obsidian Ridge “Obsidian Ridge Vineyard” Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon ($27.99) Lake County, Napa’s wily backwoods neighbor, is fast-becoming an exciting destination for affordable Cabernet. Named for the black obsidian boulders that mark the landscape and define the terroir, the nose is dark-fruited and deep, with a complex array of spicy, herbal aromas that morph into dark chocolate and barbecue smoke with some air. This is medium-bodied, but framed by firm tannins and acidity. It is a bit more serious, with a long, chewy, mineral-driven finish, and needs some time to open up, but it might be one of the most interesting California Cabernets I’ve tasted in a long time.

-Chiara Shannon

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Drink More Interesting Wine. K&L’s Personal Sommelier Service is our customizable wine club that allows you to set the price range, number of bottles, origin, style preference and be in direct communication with your chosen K&L sommelier to better tailor your “club” to suit your needs and tastes. Visit KLWines.com/Sommelier.asp to learn more or get started.

Thursday
Jul142011

Wine of the Week: 2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99)

Ancient Peaks is a small family-owned estate winery that produces wine from a single site, the Margarita Vineyard, which was first planted to vines by the Franciscan missionaries in 1774. Situated in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range near the San Luis Obispo border, 14 miles from the ocean, the Margarita Vineyard is the most southerly site within the Paso Robles appellation, where it enjoys a cooler climate and longer growing season than its neighbors to the north. The climate factor, combined with the unique and varying soil types of the Margarita Vineyard, result in the ability of Ancient Peaks to stand out in Paso as producers of terroir-drive wines wines with great balance and finesse...   

Read our recent interview with Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins of the Ancient Peaks Family here, or simply enjoy their incredibly affordable Cab, this week's Wine of the Week.

This Cab from the Margarita Vineyard in Santa Margarita, California belies its modest price, and is perfect for everyday drinking. Cocoa powder, black olives, graphite, cherry and currant aromas define the nose. On the palate, the black currant is spiked with vanilla bean and anise seed, all framed by supple tannins and good acidity.

Wednesday
Jul132011

Behind the Wine: The Ancient Peaks Family

Ancient Peaks is one of the featured wineries in the Paso Robles Wine Alliance Tastings coming up at K&L SF and RWC this week on Thursday 7/14 and Friday 7/15 respectively. 

Go to our event pages on Facebook and KLWines.com for more details!

    Above, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins is pictured with the rest of the Ancient Peaks "family", which is actually three families: the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms.

Ancient Peaks is a small family-owned estate winery that produces wine from a single site, the Margarita Vineyard, which was first planted to vines by the Franciscan missionaries in 1774. Situated in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range near the San Luis Obispo border, 14 miles from the ocean, the Margarita Vineyard is the most southerly site within the Paso Robles appellation, where it enjoys a cooler climate and longer growing season than its neighbors to the north. The climate factor, combined with the unique and varying soil types of the Margarita Vineyard, result in the ability of Ancient Peaks to stand out in Paso as producers of terroir-drive wines wines with great balance and finesse.   

In this interview below, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins of the Ancient Peaks family shares with us a little Ancient Peaks, as well as details regarding the unique terroir of the Margarita Vineyard and wine pairing advice. Read on: 


Q&A with Amada Wittstrom-Higgins of Ancient Peaks

How did Ancient Peaks get started? What is your role?

Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins (above). "We're a fairly small family winery, so we all wear a lot of hats." Image courtesy of Ancient Peaks.The winery is owned by three families-the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms. We are longtime friends, and we had owned Santa Margarita Ranch and Margarita Vineyard for more than five years prior to launching Ancient Peaks. We initially sold all of the fruit from Margarita Vineyard, and we could taste what other winemakers were accomplishing with it. It was pretty obvious that this was a special vineyard, and that is what inspired us to become vintners as well as winegrowers. We knew that we could cherry-pick our favorite blocks, take the fruit from ground to glass, and make some really distinctive wines with a strong sense of place.

My main role is to manage the national distribution and direct sales of Ancient Peaks wines. I also oversee our marketing initiatives, which include advertising, media relations and special events, as well as the Ancient Peaks tasting room. We're a fairly small family winery, so we all wear a lot of hats. 

Describe the Ancient Peaks winemaking philosophy.

For us, it comes down to three core winemaking values: ensuring that the unique character of the vineyard is vividly expressed in the wine; preserving and honoring true varietal character in each wine; and achieving natural quality without a reliance on heavy-handed winemaking techniques. 

"Our winemaker, Mike Sinor, takes great care to nurture the vineyard's pure fruit character throughout the winemaking process," says Amanda. "All of these things help us capture that strong sense of place and varietal character in the wines." Image courtesy of Ancient Peaks.Each of these values goes hand in hand. Because we grow our own fruit, we are able to control all facets of the winegrowing process, and that includes being dedicated to sustainable farming practices. Margarita Vineyard is also quite diverse, with five different soil zones and numerous microclimates. This enables us to mix and match different blocks to build natural dimension and complexity into the wine. Also, our winemaker, Mike Sinor, takes great care to nurture the vineyard's pure fruit character throughout the winemaking process. All of these things help us capture that strong sense of place and varietal character in the wines.

Where is the Margarita Vineyard situated and what makes the terroir unique?

Margarita Vineyard is tucked into the Santa Lucia Mountain Range outside the town of Santa Margarita, approximately 22 miles south of the City of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

When you come out to the vineyard, you immediately see why we chose the name Ancient Peaks for our winery. The mountain range towers over the vines along the western flank of the ranch. These mountains were created by the collision of the coastal plates, which also blessed us with a rare diversity of soils. There are five distinct soil zones at Margarita Vineyard-ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic. Each soil type brings its own nuance to the resulting wines. The most dramatic soil is found in a block that we call Oyster Ridge, where large white oyster fossils are literally spilling out of the ground.

Climate is another major factor that shapes our wines. The vineyard sits atop the Cuesta Grade, which is the natural border between the cooler conditions in San Luis Obispo to the south and the heart of Paso Robles to the north. We're right on the fogline. 

Margarita Vineyard encompasses five distinct geologic zones with varying soil types composed of the following profiles: granitic, volcanic, sedimentary, shale, and ancient sea bed. The most unique soil profile is found along the Oyster Ridge block, where the calcium-rich soil is full of petrified oyster shells (above). Image courtesy of Ancient Peaks. In the summer, it's not uncommon to see thick fog swirling along the top of the peaks, and that cooling effect extends the growing season, bringing added depth and balance to the fruit.

What are some of the challenges of producing wine in Paso Robles? Are there any special practices you employ at Ancient Peaks to overcome them?

If you travel around the entire Paso Robles AVA, you will discover a range of growing conditions. Margarita Vineyard occupies one of the coolest growing environments in the AVA. So our primary challenge is ensuring that our fruit gets sufficiently ripe-which is something you rarely hear in Paso Robles!

With later-ripening varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, we sometimes find ourselves on what we call "the edge of ripeness." That's actually right where we like to be, because it typically yields fruit with fine balance and varietal character.

During later harvests, however, it can be a bit stressful, especially if bad weather is looming. For this reason, in cooler years, we often take proactive measures, such as reducing crop loads and manipulating the vine canopies, all in an effort to make sure that the fruit that's left has the best chance to get sufficiently ripe. We are very meticulous in the vineyard, but sometimes we just have to go with our gut when it comes to deciding when to pick.

What's your position on wine-pairing and what do you like to pair Ancient Peaks wines with?

Amanda suggest The 2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99) with an herb-rubbed filet mignon. This incredible deal in California Cabernet is in stock now on KLWines.comI think it's more about "guidelines" than "rules." Yes, there are some tried-and-true combinations with certain dishes and specific varietals. But that shouldn't stop you from being adventurous and creative, either. We make a few blends that are non-traditional in composition. They break the rules. So there can't be any rules when it comes to pairing them with food, either.

I'm probably most partial to pairing our wines with a variety of beef dishes, since we are cattle ranchers as well as winemakers. A couple of favorites are Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon with herb-rubbed filet mignon, and Ancient Peaks Zinfandel with classic Santa Maria-style tri-tip.

What advice do you have to offer people interested in learning more about Ancient Peaks and the wines of Paso Robles?

Come on down! The best way to learn more about Paso Robles is to hit the road and visit the wineries, and taste why our wines are getting so much recognition. You'll also discover that Paso Robles can't be easily generalized or categorized. The terrain is diverse, and the local winemaking community is creative and unafraid to take chances. Most of our wineries are family owned, too. It may sound like a cliché, but it's also true, and it's a big part of the welcoming culture of our wine country.

Our tasting room is in Santa Margarita, a small historic town between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, right off Highway 101. Here, you can taste all of our current releases, including our limited-edition White Label bottlings. We also offer vineyard and ranch tours by appointment on the first and third Saturdays of the month-there's no better way to learn about our wines than to experience Margarita Vineyard and see the soils that make it so special.

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TASTE AND SHOP ANCIENT PEAKS WINES THIS WEEK AT K&L!

What: Paso Robles Wine Alliance Tastings at K&L

When: 5pm-6:30pm Thursday 7/14 in San Francisco and Friday 7/15 in Redwood City

Where: K&L SF and K&L RWC

Details:  on facebook  on KLWines.com

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SHOP

Buy Ancient Peaks Wines now on KLWines.com