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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 Pinot Noir (79)

Friday
Mar292013

Champagne Friday: 2004 Moet Grand Vintage has arrived!

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Moet Grand Vintage- the 2004 has arrived!

2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) "Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar!" This past Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to Tamarine Restaurant in Palo Alto for the debut of the 2004 Moet Grand Vintage. The group was hosted by Moet winemaker Elise Losfelt who is part of the ten person team that oversees Champagne's largest producer. Elise comes from a long line of female winemakers, from the other side of France near Montpellier. She also has experience in Bordeaux, having worked at Chateau Beychevelle in St. Julien and was extremely qualified to speak on the subject of Champagne- not just as an insider, but also with great perspective.

Moet is a giant landholder in Champagne and owns more land than anyone else in the region by a long shot. They currently own just under 3000 acres of vineyard - easily over a billion dollars worth of land under vine. In addition, they have many long-term contracts with growers to supply the house more fruit for their very large production. If you take a look at the Larmat Maps that are available on this blog for free download, you can see the spots in red that they owned back in 1943. These have changed some in the past 70 years and their holdings have expanded, but the amount of vineyard marked red as belonging to Moet is simply amazing.

Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) "This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening."We started off with an aperitif of Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) which I learned got its name from Napoleon, who was close friends with the Moet family. This wine replaced the White Star in the US market in the fall of 2009, due to the fact that American Champagne lovers were demanding a drier style. The White Star was an Extra Dry, and curiously the first Imperial to arrive on these shores was as well - but not labeled with any style statement. If you see a bottle of the Imperial that does not say 'Brut' on it, snap it up… One day it will be a collector's item!

These first bottles were dosed at 13 grams per liter for the US market only. At the same time they were selling bottles to the Asian market at 11 grams per liter and the rest of the world at 9. Starting in the summer of 2012, all the Imperial began to be labeled 'Brut' with the dosage the same worldwide at 9 grams per liter. It is composed of what Elise describes as a “big third” of Pinot Noir a third of Meunier and a “small third” of Chardonnay. I thought this was a great way to describe the moving target- since they blend four batches of the Imperial a year, keeping the winemaking team and bottling lines busy. She also mentioned that since they use the produce of over 200 villages in the bottle, the blend of Imperial closely matches the percentages of plantings in Champagne as a whole. Elise explained that the first blend in January following the harvest uses the most reserve wines- around 30%, while the last blend of the year will use around 20% because of the better maturity of the base wine. Since they want a fresh style of wine at Moet, they only use one to two year old reserve wines. All Imperial produced is aged for 30 months on the lees before release.

This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening.

We sat down to dinner and the 2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) was served with lime coconut scallops. This wine, although significantly older than the Imperial that preceded it, smelled and tasted much younger. It is composed of 38% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 29% Meunier and dosed at just 5 grams per liter- making it eligible to be called an 'Extra Brut'. It has a very fresh, chalky aroma and the classic drive of this very good 2004 vintage.

Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar! The cut of the wine was perfect with the rich scallop, and those of you who would like to open some now will be thrilled with how well this 2004 goes with shellfish.

Next we were served a fantastic plate of spiced honey seared duck to accompany the 1993 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne. This wine showed wonderful maturity at 20 years old and a great aroma of toast and oyster shells. This bottle was disgorged in October of 2011 as part of a special batch set aside for the future and aged on corks rather than the crown caps that they used for the initial vintage release in 1998. This was the first vintage that Moet started this program with, and Elise said that they have been thrilled with the results. The wine is dosed at 7 grams per liter of sugar and has plenty of toast and butter on the palate, flavors that the duck amplified. I loved the refreshing finish of this wine and loved the pairing with the duck.

The main course of the night was Lemon Grass Sea Bass served with both the 1983 and 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagnes. The 1983 was never released commercially and only bottled in magnums for the wine making team (and luckily for a dinner or two). It is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and a small part of the wine was barrel fermented. This 1983 was very bright for a 30 year old with a white gold color. On the nose, the crushed oyster elements of the 1993 were here in even great quantity and the wine was a real belemnita fossil experience. In the mouth the wine is very rich and buttery and yet has the lift to clean up on the long, driven finish. What a treat!

I was very excited to taste the 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" since it is a great vintage in Champagne, and also my birth year. The records of the blend were destroyed in a fire at Moet, so Elise said the best we could do was guess. I was pleased that it was just the records that burned up and not the wine! She did note that at this time a portion of the wine would have been barrel fermented. This was a great bottle, and I loved the truffle infused, baked apple aroma that offered so much depth and complexity. On the palate this wine is so rich and intense and the sea bass brought out great sweet, clean fruit from this forty year old. This incredible Champagne had a very long finish that had hints of prosciutto to go along with its mineral drive. I hope I’ll get a chance to taste this again!

K&L’s great friend Wilf Jaeger, who is a partner in the RN74 restaurants, was kind enough to bring a bottle of the 1966 Moet & Chandon "Dom Pérignon" Brut Champagne to share with us at the dinner, and it was a huge treat for everyone in attendance. This bottle had no signs of slowing down at 47 years of age, and the hazelnut aroma that I always associate with grand cru of Verzenay jumped from the glass. On the palate the wine was seamless, nougaty, and had plenty of citric refreshment. This bottle had it all- savor, fruit and velvet like ease. No wonder Dom Perignon has earned such a big reputation!

This great evening reinforced how much ageing potential the wines of Champagne have- and Moet in particular. I have tasted Moet as old as 1914, and have never tasted a properly stored bottle that was over the hill. These wines are worth keeping!

A toast to you!

–Gary

Wednesday
Mar202013

Blasting Through Sonoma: Iron Horse Vineyards

Iron Vineyards in Green Valley, Sonoma County.

A team of K&L staff from the San Francisco store recently headed up north for a jam-packed jaunt through Sonoma. Intensive tastings at twelve wineries in two days is exciting, but it is hard work! Stay tuned for pics and posts over the next couple weeks as we chronicle their visit on Uncorked...

Iron Horse Vineyards

By: Scott Beckerley | K&L Staff Member

Our first stop on our whirlwind visit to Sonoma was Iron Horse Vineyards, located in the foggy Green Valley AVA of Sonoma County. We we were greeted and introduced to the winery by the lovely and engaging Barrie Sterling. Shortly thereafter, her father, Laurence Sterling, took us on a tour of the winery and vineyards. 

Iron Horse's first release was in 1980 and the vineyards sit on sandy loam soil in the Green Valley, which has a cooler climate perfectly suited to the needs of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They use precision viticulture in determing where to plant vines and what vines to plant taking into account factors of irrigation zones, sun protection and rate of steepness of the land. For example, Pinot clones are situated according to sand content and irrigation runs according to this principal. Certain vineyard blocks are more suited to sparkling than to still wines. The winery is very happy with the Martini B clone, the Dijon clones and the Chard-Clone 4. Pressing of the grapes is done gently by the weight of the fruit. Riddling is done by hand and by machine for the sparkling wines.

2008 Iron Horse Sonoma County Classic Vintage Brut ($29.99) We tasted a number of the sparkling and still wines. Among the sparkling, we sampled the 2008 Classic Cuvee, a blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay. It had a pear, vanilla and apple nose which opened up with some bread dough notes. The palate was clean, with pear, stone fruit and cream notes. This was followed by the 2008 2008 Iron Horse "Wedding Cuvée" Green Valley Brut ($24.99)Russian Cuvee, the same blend, which revealed a light creamy nose with tropical scents and nectarine on the palate. It had a long, clean finish and fine, small bubbles. Then came the most well-known of the group, the 2008 Wedding Cuvee. This sparkler is a blend of 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay with a big, rich nose. Strawberries and cherries on the palate with a clean finish containing some minerality.

After that came the 2007 “I am Giving” Ocean Reserve, composed of 100% Chardonnay, had a clean nose with hints of brioche. On the first sip, it is mineral driven and it opens up to citrus lemon flavors with bright nectarine fruit. Four dollars from every bottle goes to the National Geographic Foundation!

Lastly, the 2003 Brut LD, an even blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, had a bigger nose of toasted nuts and more evident oak than the other bottlings. On the palate, yeast and brioche notes with a lemon/lime and tangerine finish.

Iron Horse winemaking facility.

Riddling in action at Iron Horse.

Four dollars from every bottle of Iron Horse sold goes to the National Geographic Foundation!

After the flight of sparklings it was onto the still wines, the first of which was the 2009 Un-Oaked Chardonnay. Loads of tropical fruit here with pineapple and orange fruit. It was medium in weight with some acidity on the finish. No malolactic fermentation. A perfect alternative to heavy, buttery Chardonnay!The 2010 Native Yeast Chardonnay showed more classic "California" style with its oaky nose and crisp apple fruit. Richer on the palate with yellow apple, honey and light oak notes.

Scott's Favorite: 2011 Iron Horse Green Valley of RRV Pinot Noir ($39.99) Now, for the reds...the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir had a lovely nose of ripe cherries, spice and herbs. Just a hint of earth. Initially, soft on the palate but, it ended with spicy fruit and a bright finish. This was followed by the 2010 Thomas Road Pinot Noir, which showed bright cherry fruit, tobacco and spice, and a long, pretty, big finish which fleshed out nicely. This was made from the Martini 13 clone. Our last red was the 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir, all raspberry, oak and earth. More delicate and bright in 2011, with fresh raspberry and cherry fruit and tobacco nuances. Excellent! My favorite. Now that spring is here, it was time for the 2011 Rose de Pinot Noir, a little beauty with a raspberry nose. Lively and bright, with clean minerality and acidity.

What a way to start the day!

-Scott

 

Monday
Mar182013

{Terra Ignota} 100 Years in the Making: The Voice of Rippon

This week I was lucky enough to attend one of the most interesting and inspiring tastings I have ever been to. A "20 Year Vertical of Rippon Pinot Noir" the invite read. On the surface a 20-year vertical of any wine is a great accomplishment, (if the wines have held up anyways) but the thing with Rippon is that the story runs so much deeper than your basic chronology of vintages. This is a story about four generations of passionate farmers, a strong affinity to a place, the toils of a father, son and many others to bring forth the “voice of the farm,” the true expression of a special terroir.

Nick's father Rolfe looking out over the land that would become Rippon Estate.For those of you that don't know the wines of Rippon, it is an estate in Central Otago on the south island of New Zealand. This is an area famed for its Pinot Noir and much of Rippon's success can be attributed to this wonderful, fickle variety. The vineyard occupies a very unique and special site. The majestic Lake Wanaka lies to the east, and to the west are looming snow capped mountains of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. Current viticulturalist / winemaker Nick Mills who hosted the tasting at RN74 in San Francisco, is part of the fourth generation to call this place home.

Whilst the land has been owned by the family for more than 100 years, the first thoughts of vines began when Nick’s Father discovered the intricate and special relationship between Vitis vinifera and schist soils in Portugal sometime after his tours of service World War II.

(Schist is probably the most important feature that gives Rippon its character, texture and detailed nature. In a later video we will hear Nick talk a little more  about the complex geology that makes this site so special.)

Nick’s father planted experimental vines on the property in the 1970s, and the first “commercial” plantings were established in 1982. Here you can watch Nick talking about his family’s history linving on the land and the establishment of the vines there.

Wanaka’s climate is also very important to the character of the wines produced. Nick believes the growing season is characterized mostly by “gross climactic events at either end of the season”. Indeed with this kind of elevation and the southerly latitude of Central Otago, frost danger looms both at the beginning and end of the vine’s cycle. Despite this Nick describes the mid growing season as “clear and sanitary”, with very little pest or disease pressure on the vines to prevent them from producing clean fruit of the highest quality.


View Larger Map

He describes the site in Wanaka as having more “temperance” than the rest of Central Otago. Temperance from heat and cold accorded to it by the air flow off the Mountains, the thermal mass of the lake and the clouds that make it over the towering ranges to the west before dissipating over the high desert of Central Otago. This temperance produces a long and consistent growing season for the development of depth and flavor.

With high hopes and tangiable anticipation in the air, the first flight of the day was poured consisting of:

1990 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1991 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1992 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1995 Rippon Pinot Noir

1998 Rippon Pinot Noir

2000 Rippon Pinot Noir

The 1990 bottling was the first indication of how great this line up was going to be. Still bright, fresh, pure and with great balance. The wine showed the ripeness of the vintage all these years on with soft sweet fruits, silky and saturated. Notes of leather and hint of coffee emerged with air.

1991 was quite different but equally intriguing. Much less ripe fruit and some more dried herb qualities. Characters of cherry skin and more savory notes of mushroom and moss. The wine had notably higher acidity and a remarkable "grapey" quality that defied the wines age.

1992 was different again. Dense, rich and more concentrated. Dark earthy aromas, sandalwood and spice. A youthful, dynamic mid-palate makes me think that this wine has years ahead of it.

These three wines were all made by the esteemed Rudi Bauer, now of Quartz Reef winery in Bendigo, Central Otago while current winemaker Nick was living life as a transient "Ski Bum".

The 1995 was interesting in that it was much more herbal and less ripe than any that had come before it. I got notes of underbrush, fresh tobacco, even mint, a real green vegetative character. Nick then brought everything into perspective explaining that the volcanic eruption of Mount Ruapehu that year threw ash into the atmosphere starving the south island of vital sunlight luminosity. Quite fascinating I thought.

2000, the last wine of the flight, joined 1990 as my two favorites thus far. It was starting to show the detailed layers of complexity that I know and love about the Rippon wines. The palate was more layered and complex with a real textural elegance and ethereal qualities.

While we enjoyed the wines Nick continued to speak about how he felt these wines, despite tasting great, were “more defined by cultivar than the by place,” more “Pinot Noir than Rippon”.

Here he is talking about the development of the vine age and how he likens their early expressions to a young child’s artwork.

I found the analogy of a crayon drawing very intriguing. Yet another of Nick’s adept illustrations of how he understands wine and the ultimate goal of how to capture the sense of place.

I had heard Nick speak about his wines before at a small staff tasting at K&L and one concept he spoke about that day has always stuck with me. This is the idea that the flesh of the grape is all about attraction and getting the bird / animal to eat it in order to (eventually) propagate the seed within. The color, sweetness and flavor are all simply to get the fruit eaten by something. However a plant’s real focus is to thrive in its environment. To pass on what it has learned about its specific surroundings to its offspring so they too may flourish. The genetic material, everything the plant has learned, the instinct if you will, is contained within the seed. This data of ecological analysis gathered by the plant, is basically terroir encapsulated. Nick believes that allowing the seed to reach full and natural maturity is how wines convey textural and sensual markers that reflect their origin.

Here he is at the tasting explaining his thoughts on this:

As we moved into the next flight (2001 - 2008) the theme turned to the "adolesent" period of the vineyard and perhaps more importantly to the era when Nick returned home to take the helm as winemaker. Nick’s many years of experience making wine in Burgundy and beyond allowed him to return to the family estate better equipped to seek the true expression of Rippon. Whilst working at many esteemed Domaines in Burgundy, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (yes that’s DRC for short), Nick learnt what he describes as a “humility and deference to the land.” On his return the vineyard that had been farmed organically since the beginning, was converted immediately to Biodynamic farming. Nick believes that “vines must be in complete symbiosis with the land or they cannot produce a true vin de terroir.”  In his own words the journey from here on out was about one thing only, his quest to “deliver the land.”

Dry farming is another decision that Nick is adamant about. He describes how not watering the vines forces them to search the soil for their own sustenance. Micro root hairs penetrate the compacted schist searching for water. That water is often found in the form of algae and other micro-biological formations within the soil and rock all adding, he believes, to the complexity, depth and detailed nature of the resulting wines.

Nick’s first vintage back at Rippon 2003, produced a magnificent wine. One that I have tasted on numerous occasions and have always been impressed with. The ‘03 has the compact layers and precision that Nick talks about being the real textural markers that define the site. The wine has an incredible brightness and vibrancy.

The 2004 was the first wine to go from conventional cork to DIAM cork closures (which remain his closure of choice till this day). This technology combined with biodynamics and the vines gathering maturity has resulted in a quite remarkable consistency of quality throughout the wines from this point forward. Nick again modestly equates this to the symbiosis of the vines with the land and the climactic temperance that the site allows, however, I feel I must add that the guidance of his steady hand at the helm probably helps too. He concludes that schist is really the linear thread that gives precision and consistency to the wines.

Here is nick talking about the complex soil composition of the Rippon estate that is a combination of pure schist, moraines (glacial deposits) and schist laced with lateral clay lenses:

After six years back growing grapes and making the wines, Nick decided that he finally had the “courage” to bottle some single block wines to illustrate some of the unique geographic units within the larger farm. These single block wines in comparison to the “whole farm voice of “Rippon”” made up the final flight of the tasting.

2009 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2009 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2009 Rippon “Tinkers Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Tinkers Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

Here is Nick talking about his decision to make these very limited production (100 case) single block wines.

 

The Emma’s block wines are from a parcel of vines directly on the lakeshore. The schist here is laced with clay deposited over many thousands of years as the lake setted. The wines have a remarkable supple character and silky texture. The palate is not as dense and layered as the “Rippon” bottling, yet it has more exuberance and a malleable texture and softness that makes it instantly gratifying. The Tinkers Field bottling by comparison comes from a pure schist parcel and really illustrates the detailed, compacted and indeed quite structural element of the estate. The flavors are not as obvious as Emma’s and yet the wine unfolds in an intriguing fashion with each sip revealing a new element. The Tinker's Field wines to me were quite grippy and spicy showing a lot of pent-up energy and power and I imagine are the component that gives "Rippon" its longevity.

Only at this late stage of the tasting did any details of cellar methodology emerge. To sum up: "it’s not a sorting table, it’s a tasting table; anything you don’t want in the wine stays in the vineyard!" In the cellar nothing is added or taken away, all wild yeast and enzymes. The wines spend two winters in barrel, the first in 25% new French oak, the second winter, after one racking and blending, is spent in entirely neutral wood for "slow repose and natural clarification". The wines are completely un-sulphured for the first year. His policy on whole cluster stem inclusion (quite the buzz concept right now) is that if its digestible it can stay in, if the stems aren’t right they stay out. This is about digestible material giving something to the wine, not making a stylistic statement. All in all you can see here that the expertise and skill is in the lack of manipulation and the absence of formulaic winemaking.

All that remained to do now was drink a little Rippon Riesling (2011 and 1991 side by side) and enjoy the charcuterie. (Riesling by the way is another thing that Rippon does exceptionally well but that’s another story!)

All day the wines spoke for themselves and illustrated what a special place Rippon is. Nick’s self confessed humility and deference to the land has gifted us some pretty special wines that I urge you all to experience at some point.

We have current vintages of 2008 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vines Pinot Noir and a library release of 2003 Rippon Pinot Noir available on the shelves and online, as well and the Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Some of the older vintages featured in this tasting are available as library releases. The 2009 single block wines (Emma’s Block and Tinker’s Field) are also available in very limited quantities. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly via email if you are interested in any of the Rippon wines.

Cheers!

Ryan Woodhouse, NZ / Aussie Specialist

***

 Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!

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