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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 Italy (10)


Thinking on Drinking: Inexpensive Wines

Last Monday I kicked off the week with a question, and I so enjoyed reading all the responses posted here, on Facebook and Twitter that I wanted to start this week off in similar fashion. Still bleary-eyed and clinging to my cup of Cafecito I pulled a card from the stack of Tabletopics wine conversation starters on my desk.

"What's your favorite inexpensive wine?"

As a member of the K&L family, answering this question is harder than you might think. This is NOT because I drink a lot of expensive wine. Or because I think expensive wine always tastes better. On the contrary, it's because working here I've been exposed to so many incredible, affordable wines that I have favorites in almost every category. I know that wine doesn't have to be expensive to have the balance and complexity I seek. I rarely buy wine that costs more than $15 a bottle, and with my husband and I poised to buy our first house, I think this trend will continue for quite awhile. 

That said, I love discovering new inexpensive wines to add to my arsenal. Last week, K&L's Southern California Italian wine liaison Chris Miller poured a lot of great values for the staff (including the wonderful 2009 Marchese di Gresy "Martinenga" Nebbiolo, which drinks like a Barolo three or four times its price), but the wine that surprised us all the most was the 2007 Mezzacorona Cabernet Sauvingon at just $6.99! Let me start by saying that I'm not usually a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, especially at this price point, because it's usually overpowered by oak flavors and is flabby at best. I am also not usually a fan of French varietals grown in Italy, preferring instead the myriad of native grapes the country has to offer. But the Mezzacorona, from one of Italy's biggest producers, won me over with its varietal character. It displayed aromas and flavors of smoke, black pepper, cassis and anise that were wonderfully precise, buoyed by a soft structure and a juicy, drink-a-bottle acidity. It's exactly the Cab I'd want on hand if I were grilling burgers or making meatballs and spaghetti for dinner. 

What's your favorite inexpensive wine?

Leah Greenstein


Embrace the Chaos: Italy

K&L Personal Sommelier Online

May 2010

Adventures in Italy: If you’re interested in getting to know a variety of Italian wines, or if you have specific regions of interest, you can create your own personalized Italian wine club through the K&L Personal Sommelier ServiceGet started today!



Embrace the Chaos

Italy leads the world in wine production and consumption per capita, alongside France.  Yet the French make it relatively easy to know what to expect where, thanks to strict enforcement of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) laws, the system of wine quality regulation based on place that they invented and do a good job enforcing.  Italian wine, however, is anything but predictable.  With more than 800 grape varietals in production, from 20 regions ranging geographically from the foothills of the Alps to the southern end of Sicily, varying levels of quality and constantly changing laws, it's pretty much chaos.

But the chaos that is Italian wine is also what makes it so special...and addicting.  In a world where marketing dollars and high gloss media drive consumer taste, a world that is becoming increasingly populated by terroir-less Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, I appreciate the adventure and authenticity that Italian wine promises.  New discoveries - wines made from obscure regional grape varietals, in styles that range from the obvious to the bizarre - await the enthusiast at every turn. One must be prepared for disappointment (too much money + too young Barolo = too bad), frustration (Montepulciano is a place AND a grape BUT not the same grape or place at the same time, ok, now I'm confused) and even downright mad (is that Merlot in my Sangiovese?) but you are guaranteed to be wooed, seduced, and fall passionately in love at least once, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Northern Exposure

Riesling? Blaufrankisch? Petit Rouge?

The regions near the northern border of Italy (Piedmont, Valleée d'Aoste, Lombardy, Fruili) the cool climate, Alpine conditions, and Slavic, German, or French language and cultural influences result in lighter-bodied red and crisp, aromatic white wines that are stylistically more similar to the wines of neighboring countries than the Italy we think we know.  From traditional wines made from obscure, regional grapes to modern wines made from international varietals, this part of the boot has a lot to offer the adventurous palate. 

2008 Germano “Herzu” Riesling Located in the hills outside the city of Alba in the Langhe subregion of Piedmont, the Germano winery produces some outstanding Barolo. They also produce small amounts of razor-sharp, tangy Chardonnay and Riesling. Who knew?  Though Chardonnay has been in production in this region since the demand for international varietals began in the late 1980's, Riesling is not common here. And yet, it makes sense.  The steep, chalky, hillside vineyards suit the needs of this noble grape just fine. In the Herzu we have a classic style cool-climate dry Riesling with a nose of lime and minerals, high acidity, intense fruit concentration and a clean, stony finish. Pair this dry beauty with anything from fresh seafood dishes to the traditional Filetto Baciato (a special Piedmontese style of prosciutto) and you’ll wonder why they don't plant more Riesling in Italy.

2008 Blason Franconia In Friuli, just outside Trieste near the Slovenian border, Giovanni Blason produces excellent, crisp white wines and balanced, medium-bodied reds made from the varietals common to the region like Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch. The 2008 Franconia (100% Blaufränkisch) has a nose of juicy red berries spiced with anise and herbs. On the palate, meatier flavors come forward, adding complexity to the essence of just-ripe red and black berries. Young, lively and fresh, this red has slightly higher acidity and is lower in alcohol, making it ideal with the famous regional prosciuttos, salumi and cheeses. This wine also complements the traditional Fruilian dish of seasoned boiled pork sausage and turnips known as musetto with brovada.

2008 Di Barro Vallée d’Aoste Petit Rouge The influence of French language and culture is strong in this Alpine region, where Europe’s highest elevated vineyards are planted primarily to Pinot Noir, Gamay and the light-bodied, fruity “Petit Rouge.” Softer and more generous than Pinot Noir, but with more structure and complexity than Gamay, this is the little red that can—and does—make a delightful divergence from the full-bodied tannic monsters farther south. Meant to be drunk young and fresh, the classic pairing is fondue made from local Fontina cheese, but this soft, red-fruited wine has just enough earth and smoky spice nuance (without the high tannins) to also complement vegetarian, pork or poultry dishes that feature heat and exotic seasonings

So what's stopping you? With a corkscrew and a sense of adventure, you can embrace the chaos in the comfort of your own dining room.  Grab a glass, dim the lights, and it's on.


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Winemaker Interview: Pablo Härri

Pablo Harri

Name: Pablo Härri Winery: Col d'Orcia and Ferrero, Montalcino Number of years in business: >25 How would you describe your winemaking philosophy? 1) Total respect of the local influence. The soil conditions and the microclimate of a certain growing area has to be transmitted to the bottle. I hate global wines. If in a wine you don't detect a link to the territory it comes from, it is an anonymous wine without any interest. 2) The humility to admit that winemakers can't improve the quality, just maintain. Especially on premium red wines the quality is made in the vineyard. If a grape is picked at 100 points, a good winemaker can make a 95-point wine, but never 110. What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy? See above. The ones that show deep and interesting characters of a variety combined with the territory. Good examples are Burgundy, Barolo and, obviously, Brunello di Montalcino. No names in general for winemakers, but I don't like the colleagues that give a personal impression to whatever wine they make, sort of standardizing them. How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard that wows you? I obviously love to go out to the vineyards and check the condition of the grapes. It is mandatory during harvest time, because chemical analysis can give you a help, but the taste of the grapes can only be monitored by our palate. The quality of the fruit and of the tannins is really crucial for the wine quality later on, and there is no lab analysis that can substitute for our palate. A vineyard that definitely fascinates me is our Poggio al Vento, it has something mystical/ magical. How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year? I obviously love to go out to the vineyards and check the condition of the grapes. It is mandatory during harvest time, because chemical analysis can give you a help, but the taste of the grapes can only be monitored by our palate. Especially the quality of the fruit and of the tannins is really crucial for the wine quality later on, and there is no lab analysis that can substitute our palate. A vineyard that definitely fascinates me is our Poggio al Vento, it has something mystical/ magical. How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? I don't know if it is my personal story or if it is the general evolution, but I would definitely say that over the years I learned to appreciate the finesse and the elegance of the wines. Years ago I was impressed by big, jammy, heavy wines. Today I'm looking more after a balance that marries power and elegance. What kinds of food do you like to pair your wines with? Difficult question for me, being a vegetarian! With our Tuscan wines that tend to have a slightly tannic/acidic balance I tend to suggest the historical Bisteca Fiorentina, but I know it from what I'm told, it's not a personal experience! Personally I'm quite happy with good cheese or with Porcini mushrooms for example. What changes are planned for coming vintages? Any new (top secret) varietals, blends or propriety wines on the horizon? It definitely is not the moment to make great changes, but rather to consolidate. The only minor adjustment that we plan is to include a small percentage of Petit Verdot in our Nearco blend (that now is Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah). For the traditional Brunello di Montalcino, future vintages will profit from the newer vineyards that have been planted with our clonal selections, with very promising first results. Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it? As above. Often critics, instead of making qualitative tastings, make quantitative tastings: more color more points, more tannins more points, more body more points, completely lacking to evaluate balance, finesse and elegance. In the end you have a 99-point wine that is close to being undrinkable, at least you need a glass of water after to osmotically balance your palate! What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine? I appreciate good very dry bubbles, green Sauvignon Blanc and Vermentino, especially from Gallura. Do you collect wine? If so, what's in your cellar? Unfortunately yes, though I'm getting better ultimately. The result is to have a few 100 bottles of wine that for sure were very good many years ago... This is a dangerous disease: you touch and look at your jewels many times, but every time it is a pity to open it, so you leave it until it's over-aged... What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today? Broad question, more about economics than winemaking! I think that we are definitely fortunate to produce a rare and appreciated wine like the Brunello di Montalcino. It is unique, can't be imitated, and has strong appeal. Wines that have to fight with market and marketing strategies are facing a difficult time.

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