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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 in Champagne (75)


A Shift to Even Drier Champagne, Officially

Ever since Champagne was first made to sparkle, the trend has gone in one direction- from sweeter to drier. This trend has caused a strange progression of names for the styles, since every time the Champenois brought a drier category of Champagne to market they thought that it would be the last and the driest. Starting in 2011, we may have indeed reached the end of the road for dry styles with the addition of Brut Nature to the list of officially regulated styles.

The first Champagnes were very, very sweet, and it was only the will of the export market, and mostly the English, that pushed the Champenois to make drier and drier wines. That is why the names of the styles are so confusing… When the market first asked for drier wines, the Champenois responded with Demi-Sec (translation- half dry), when they asked for drier than that, they offered sec (dry) which was still quite sweet, when the market asked for drier still they responded with Extra Dry… This occurred slowly over 150 years, and the Champenoise almost ran out of words, but the market did not run out of passion for even drier Champagne. When they asked for drier than extra dry, the Champenois created Brut. That last name has stuck quite well, and only recently has the trend pushed further forward, and extra brut was born. Here are the current legal definitions of the styles:

Extra Brut: 0-6 grams of sugar per liter. (all of the non dosage Champagnes are currently legally extra bruts)

Brut: 0 to15 grams per liter of sugar

Extra-Sec (extra dry): 12 to 20 grams per liter of sugar

Sec (dry): 17 to 35 grams per liter of sugar

Demi-Sec (half dry): 35 to 50 grams per liter of sugar

Doux (sweet): over 50 grams per liter of sugar

The trend is now pushing even further, and starting on the first of January 2011, the regulations will change for the drier for Brut Champagne. This is mostly the law conforming to existing reality, as very few Champagnes are labeled Brut with over 13 grams of sugar- but the new regulation has formalized the trend. There is also a new official category, Brut Nature, which has been around for quite a while in practice but is also now formal. Here are the ranges as of January 1st 2011:

Brut Nature: No added Dosage and less than 3 grams per liter of natural residual sugar.

Extra Brut: 0 to 6 grams per liter sugar

Brut: Less than 12 grams per liter sugar

Extra Sec (Extra Dry): 12 to 17 grams per liter sugar

Sec (Dry): 17 to 32 grams per liter sugar

Demi Sec (Half Dry): 32 to 50 grams per liter sugar

Doux (sweet): more than 50 grams per liter sugar

I hope that you will join me in finding many reasons to raise a glass of Brut, Extra Brut, Demi-Sec and Extra dry this holiday season!

Gary Westby


Champagne Trip, Day 2: Krug!

Krug has become one of the great wine monuments of France by making and delivering great Champagne in the bottle since 1843. The only other producer that I can think of in all of France with a longer track record for perfectionism is Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes. I love the vinous, powerful style of the Krug wines, which are all barrel fermented and aged for a long time. It was my father's and my choice for the millennium; I contributed a bottle of Grand Cuvée, and he generously contributed his last bottle of 1976, and the two of us had a private party.

I arrived at Krug a half an hour late because half of the roads in Reims were closed—some because of road construction and some because of a strike. If I could have found a place to park, I would have ridden my bike the rest of the way. (I was less than a mile away when the police turned me away!) When I finally arrived, I was welcomed by Julie-Amadine Michel, and we took a tour of the Krug caves, where they store a mind boggling amount of reserve wines for the Grand Cuvée.

This Pinot from Bouzy will likely be included in the 2009 bottling, for release in 2017!

At Krug they use 40% reserve wines in their Grand Cuvée, with some of them dating back 12 to15 years at the time of bottling. After bottling, they keep the wines on the lees from 7 to 10 years—so a completely fresh disgorgement of Krug Grand Cuvée will contain some wines of 19- to 25-years-old. Blending many vintages allows the wine to have a complexity that only age can bring, but with vigor from the younger elements in the blend.

Olivier Krug Joined us for the tasting

After the tour, we sat down to taste Grand Cuvée, and the 1998 and 1995 vintages with Olivier Krug. The Grand Cuvée delivered the complexity that the story promises; it was a Rubik’s Cube of terroir, grape variety and time when I studied it closely, and at once a disarmingly delicious drink when simply enjoyed. The 1998 is only the second Krug vintage (1981 being the other) to be dominated by Chardonnay in the blend. Because of a scorching August, much of their Pinot and Meunier were overripe. This Champagne is drinking very well already, with a golden color, an amazingly toasty nose of brioche, a buttery rich mid-palate and a powerful finish. The 1995 was also drinking well, and seemed to be even toastier still.

Olivier and I also talked about a tasting he next time he was in the US, and I am pleased to say we will have a small gathering in the Redwood City store on Wednesday June 10th at 5 p.m. It will be an honor to have him in the store. Please send me and email at if you would like to come. It will be very limited, so please do not wait to drop me a line.

—Gary Westby


First Stop: Ariston!

It is great to be back in Champagne, and even better to be welcomed by the Aristons for my first stop of the trip. I experimented with the TGV for the first time; Air France Flight 83 arrives at 11:15 and the train for Champagne-Ardennes leaves at 12:54. With the slow baggage delivery at CDG I am not ready to recommend this way of getting to Champagne! I made it by the skin of my teeth, but set a new personal record for arriving in the region: 1:24. Traveling at 300 kilometers per hour on the ground is a thrill for anyone who is into speed, but almost missing the train is a stressful way to start a business trip…

The Aristons, as usual, have been working very, very hard. Paul Vincent just took delivery of a new Coquard diagonal press, which promises to improve quality at his domain by allowing for far gentler pressing. Since these machines are also very quick to unload and clean, they also speed up the process, getting the grapes out of the bins and into the press, which will further increase quality.

Paul Vincent with the new diagonal press

They have also changed their labels; now the entire range will use the Aspasie name. They have an uncle in the village that has the same name, but trades his grapes for bottles at the local co-op, and then makes his labels look as much like theirs as possible. The quality of this 15 month old co-op wine is not anywhere close to the fantastic wine that they make here, so they are happy to have a name that they can protect: their great-great grandmother's!

Paul Vincent with the new Ariston Carte Blanche - now Aspasie!

We were joined at the tasting by the most serious Champagne journalist writing in the English language, Peter Liem. He has been uniformly impressed with the quality of the 2008 harvest, and the vin clair (Champagne that has not yet been made to have bubbles) from the Aristons certainly told that story well. We tasted seven, and they were all fantastic. The Aspasie Brut Prestige, made from 60-plus-year-old vines impressed me the most, with its butterscotch power, vinous weight and generous aromas—a big wine that came together with an effortless lift on the back palate, and a long, mineral finish.

We also tasted the entire range of current releases, starting with a new wine: the Cepages d’Agntan. This is from new plantings of ancient Champagne varietals and is composed of 40% Petite Meslier, 40% Arbanne and 20% Pinot Blanc. Paul Vincent dosed this at 9 grams per liter, though it tastes even drier, due to the extremely punchy, direct influence of the two native varieties. I think this is the most special wine that the Aristons have yet released and that it will take its place among the best Champagnes we have to offer. Like the vin clair of the Aspasie I mentioned above, the Cepages d’Agntan had very impressive breadth, lots of exotic (Peter called it pine sap- like) flavor and a completely dry, very long finish.

Paul Vincent pours the ancient varietal Champagne

He is also ready to release his 2002 now, and it too will be wearing the Aspasie label from now on. This wine was unlike any Ariston, or for that matter, any Champagne I have ever had. It is oeiul du perdrix-colored; like dark onion skin; almost rosé! Apparently some of the young vines, that had great flavor, also took on a lot of color. It has a huge nose of caramel apple and a super-rich, winey mid palate. Fans of a big style Champagne will love this; it is the fattest, richest 2002 I have had.

Caroline shows us the 2002

My next stop is Krug!

—Gary Westby, reporting from Champagne

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