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With the James Bond movie Spectre being released today, no time could be better to drink Bollinger. The most suave spy in the world has been sipping on Bollinger since Moonraker in 1979. While we can’t all drive a fully loaded, customized machine gun having Aston Martin, we certainly can chill down a bottle of Bolli! The 2004 Bollinger "Grande Année" Brut Champagne ($109) is as good as Champagne gets; all barrel fermented and full of masculine, Pinot Noir power and high class elegance. We even have a few bottles of the limited 2009 Bollinger "James Bond 007" Brut Champagne ($195) in stock for the diehard fan of Bond & Champagne!

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Entries in Pinot Noir (80)


Champagne Friday: Lanson Opens Their Wine Library!

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

On Wednesday Scott Beckerley and I were invited to lunch at Spruce Restaurant in San Francisco by Enguerrand Bajiot, the managing director of Lanson Americas. The occasion was the launch of their Lanson Vintage collection- a magnum only program that offers the Champagne fan the unique opportunity to buy disgorged-to-order bottles straight from their deep cellars in Reims. The bottles that we tasted were so fresh that our Lanson sales rep, the charming and knowledgeable Jennifer Guptill had to drive to Sacramento to get them out of customs! They had all been disgorged in April and come by air directly from the cellars of Lanson.

Just cleared from customs!All of these wines have been made available to K&L and to you on a special order basis and they are extremely limited- only six magnums of each vintage. They don’t disgorge it until you order it… Provenance does not get any more perfect than this. It will take two or three months to get the bottles as they need time to label them and then ship them from France, and of course they must clear customs! I would recommend not ordering these if you need them for a specific occasion as they are currently 20 feet underground half way around the world and still on their lees.

Lanson was founded in 1760, making it one of the oldest Champagne houses and Bruno Paillard who now owns the group has a huge amount of respect for that history. Cellar master Jean Paul Gandon has been working at Lanson since 1972, and managed the vineyards before taking over the cellar in 1982. No cellar master of any big house has been running a house for as long.

Didier Elena and Gary.The wines showed spectacularly and had the sparkle and freshness that one rarely experiences in old Champagne, except for in the caves where they were born. Part of this has to do with the magnum format but the majority of the reason for the excellent vigor of these wines is Lansons non-malolactic policy and the excellent estate vineyards they had up until 1991. All of the wines that predate 1991 in this offering are entirely estate grown- only the 1996 and 2002 use any purchased fruit. All of the vintage wines are approximately 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and fermented in stainless steel without malolactic.

We started off our lunch with the 2002 Lanson Gold Label Vintage Brut Champagne ($74.99), the only wine in 750ml of the lunch and the only one currently in stock. This Champagne is composed of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay entirely from grand cru sites. Because Lanson never allows the wines to go through malo, this is a spectacularly fresh 11 year old that has lots of flowery Chardonnay character as the savory Pinot Noir side has yet to fully develop. This will be a spectacular bottle for the future if you can resist its ample charms right now. Chef Mark Sullivan had prepared a fabulous Big Eye Tuna crudo with avocado and olive oil to pair with the 2002 Lanson and it brought out the Pinot Noir character that had been hiding in the wine. It was a fabulous wine, and Lanson’s patience with their vintage program has given the Champagne lover a big reward.

Tuna crudo.For the next course, we had the 1996 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($499- disgorged to order, due in August). I first tasted this wine at Lanson in Reims in 2002 when this was a current release. This Champagne is also composed of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay and also all Grand Cru. They use four Mountain of Reims villages for the Pinot and Chouilly, Cramant and Avize for the Chardonnay. It is dosed at only three grams per liter of sugar, but labeled as brut- not extra brut. The producers in Champagne call 1996 the 10/10 vintage, because it was so unusually ripe (10% potential alcohol) but also still very high in acid (10 grams per liter of total acidity) and the Lanson is a great example of the vintage. I am positive that I would guess this was 10 years younger in a blind tasting! I found this 1996 completely fresh and transparent. This is electric, high toned, Champagne that almost seems like a blanc de blancs! Chef Sullivan paired this with roasted diver scallops, brassicas and caramelized shellfish nage. It was an inspired pairing, as the rich, buttery scallops needed a wine that could cut them, and this 1996 is like a razor!

Scallop course.

Our main course arrived and we were treated to two vintages side by side, both from magnum! The 1988 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($749) is a spectacular bottle, from one of my very favorite vintages for drinking right now. This is one of the last “classic” Champagne vintages with a nice, long, even growing season. This wine only showed the slightest tinge of gold in its straw color after 25 years. The nose is developing the white truffle aromas that only time can bring, framed by the savory Pinot Noir character that this house is rightly famous for. This Champagne had a little nutella and smoke on the deep powerful palate. The finish is vibrant and chalk- this wine still has time in hand! Chef Sullivan’s  pan roasted salmon brought out the youthful side of this wine, and it would have been very hard to guess that it was a quarter of a century old! I just drank the 1988 Krug on Sunday, and I have to say, this Lanson is fresher. A showstopper!

Also with the salmon, the 1983 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($849) was a huge treat. The color of this Champagne was amazing- white gold with even a touch of green- from looking it would be easy to guess that it was a 2007! This toasty Champagne has great aromas of chestnuts and buttery chanterelles. On the palate it is full and rich with a surprising amount of viscosity. Flavors of exotic pear and ripe apple fruit resolve into a clean, dry, mineral laden finish with this 30 year old bottle of Champagne.

Salmon course.

Before the dessert the real treat of the lunch was served, the 1976 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($999). This was a wine that I had tasted once before- more than 10 years ago when I visited Lanson in Reims. Amazingly, this freshly disgorged bottle tasted far younger than the old disgorgement that I had back then! This vintage was the hottest of the 20th century and a rare (at the time!) August harvest in Champagne. The wine had a light gold color and a super bright nose of wild raspberries- it was so generous that it was hard to believe! On the palate it had tense Pinot Noir fruit that reminded me of Volnay.

This is definitely a bottle for the connoisseur! They saved the best for last with this one, and I won’t ever forget having tasted it.

A toast to you,




Champagne Friday: Thienot - A Different Kind of Negociant

Garance and Alain Thienot in their winery in Taissy.


By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Thienot- A Different Kind of Negociant

Visiting Champagne Thienot in Taissy just outside of Reims is a completely different experience from visiting other negociants and a refreshing change. I was shown around by Garance Thienot and later met Alain Thienot for the tasting along with chef de cave Laurent Fedou this month and I was very impressed. The facility is brand new, built in 1992- above ground with humidity control and air conditioning. It is the only negociant I have ever visited in Champagne that I did not have to worry about destroying my rental car when I pulled in…Most have ancient gates that don't look like they would accommodate a car! This new facility, with all the convenience of an open warehouse space is just a small detail compared to the impact the genesis of the business has had on the wines.

Most of the big name (and the unknown for that matter!) negociants in Champagne are very old operations. In contrast, Alain Thienot started his company in 1985, after working for decades as a grape broker for other houses. This is the perfect background for starting a Champagne house, as Mr. Thienot knew all of the vineyards and growers intimately. When he started, the prices for grapes were completely fixed by the cru rating of the vineyard sites each year - as he said, the price for the poor, the OK, the good and the great was all the same - and he was in the best position to know who was doing a great job in the vineyard. The prices are no longer fixed in Champagne, but this basic structure of pricing, by cru, is still very much the way business is done. So Mr. Thienot started small, buying the best of what was available, and shopping for vineyards of his own.

By the beginning 90s Alain Thienot had managed to collect up a number of gem vineyards, including a large parcel of Grand Cru Ay that belonged to Krug but was sold off when they were acquired by Remy. Now they have a little over 67 acres of their own estate and contract a further 32 acres from other growers. This large amount of prime estate fruit, and small amount of truly excellent contracts explains their very high quality in the bottle. Thienot also owns Canard-Duchenne, and this allows further flexibility in sourcing high quality grapes since it enhances their buying power.

The style at Thienot is very clean and fresh, and they use small stainless steel tanks for the fermentations to keep the various parcels separate. Alain Thienot is a huge believer in traditional assembelage and said that he is not wedded to using certain parcels in certain wines, but rather uses what nature gives him each vintage to create the style that he is after in each individual wine. The exception to this is the single vineyard “La Vigne aux Gamins”. This is a house making Champagne on the level of greats like Roederer and Bollinger, and very worth your attention. I hope that you will try some of these Champagnes! I brought in everything they have available and think the world of the wines- here is what we have got:

Thienot Brut Champagne ($39.99) This is a great way to check out the style of Thienot at a very fair price. It was the surprise of the Oscars- the small upstart house that kicked out Moet! It is composed of 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier. The light gold color and big brioche, cream and baked apple nose gives way to a wine that is packed with power and complexity on the palate. This full bodied Champagne has a luscious finish that is very impressive.

Thienot Brut Rosé Champagne ($64.99) This brassy pink Champagne is composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier. The color comes from 7% red wine from old vines in the grand cru of Ay-one of the plots purchased from Krug in the 1980’s. The Champagne has a very creamy nose and absolutely outstanding Ay black cherry fruit. This rose is one of the best we have in the blended style with both clean, abundant fruit and chalky drive. If you love rose, don’t miss this one!

All of the vintage dated Champagne from Thienot are entirely estate grown, and exceptionally good:

2006 Thienot "Cuvee Garance" Blanc de Rouges Brut Champagne ($99) This bottling is named after Garance Thienot, who handles the communications and marketing for the family firm. They have chosen to call this Champagne “blanc de rouges” instead of “blanc de noirs” because of the effort that they put into keeping the wine feminine. This is 100% Pinot Noir and a large proportion of the fruit comes from the grand cru Ay that the family purchased from Krug as well as from Garance’s own personal vines in the village of Tauxieres, on the border with Bouzy. This is one of the most intriguing, delicate examples of pure Pinot Champagne that I have tasted, and the quality of the fruit reminded me very much of Volnay even if the wine was straw golden in color. This very elegant, lifted wine won’t make you doubt it’s all Pinot Noir composition and the long chalky finish will leave you wanting more. This was one of the discoveries of my 2013 trip!

2005 Thienot "Cuvee Stanislas" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($99) The "Cuvee Stanislas" Blanc de Blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay from the Cotes de Blancs, all of them grand cru except for a little bit of premier cru from Vertus. This high toned, smoky Champagne has great focus and precision and superior, long, mineral finish.

1999 Thienot "Cuvee Alain Thienot" Brut Champagne ($99) This classy vintage Champagne is composed of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The Alain Thienot has so much aroma that I thought it would be giant Champagne from smelling the walnut bread and dark cherry fruit that was jumping from the glass. On the palate this is a very balanced wine with great clarity of flavor and a light bead. The long ageing of this Champagne has done so much for it- to think that the most famous names in Champagne are selling wine that is four or even 6 years younger shows the Thienot’s commitment to quality in the bottle. It is extremely focused and long on the finish and a must try for anyone who loves luxury cuvees!

2002 Thienot "La Vigne aux Gamins" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($149) This rarity comes from a miniscule one and a quarter acre plot of the Thienot estate in the Grand Cru of Avize called the Vigne aux Gamins near the border with Oger. The vines were planted in the 1950s and are massal selected rather than clones. This wine blew me away with its fantastic combination of white flowers and candied fruit. If you are looking for a toasty Champagne, this is not it- the Gamins is completely fresh and chalky style for Champagne fans that like it live and direct. It is also a great cellar candidate and will be even more fabulous as a twenty or thirty year old bottle. This great vintage is going for a low price for what it is…future vintages are bound to be more expensive! Use the link above to add this to your wait list so you can be notified when inventory is available.

I hope you'll try some of these great bottles from Thienot!

A toast to you,



{Terra Ignota} The Exceptional Wines of Fromm Winery

We are pleased to announce the next wave of releases is here from the brilliant Fromm Winery in Marlborough, New Zealand. We have cultured a great direct relationship with winemaker Willy Hoare at Fromm and are very excited to offer these wines exclusively in the USA.

I visited Fromm estate back in April of 2011 and knew that these wines were something special. I had previously experienced the wines in the UK selling wine in London. The wines have always been very pure, balanced and structured for great longevity. In fact I have had many great experiences drinking wines from this property at 10+ years of age, including Pinot Noir and their phenomenal Rieslings. The most recent Fromm releases from the excellent quality 2009 and 2010 vintages have struck me as even more exciting than the wines of old. The winemaking seems to be finding a way of combining a little more youthful exuberance and richness with the same classic underlying structure for extended cellaring. This means great wines for now…and the potential to lay some down if you can keep your hands off them long enough!

Fromm farms several estate vineyards in Marlborough’s various sub-regions. The vineyards are well down the road in conversion to organic and Biodynamic viticulture. Total production for the winery was around 5000 cases when I last checked. Winemaker Willy amazingly got his start in wine at the tender age of nine “helping out” at the world famous Cloudy Bay. You could say his Marlborough roots run as deep as some of Fromm’s old vine plantings in the gravel soils of the Wairau Valley. He, along with winemaking partner Hätsch Kalberer, certainly craft what I think are some of the best examples of truly inspiring Marlborough Pinot Noir I have tasted.

Thankfully I am not the only person waxing poetic about these wines of late. James Suckling’s recent visit and tasting of the wines brought a flood of 94-95 point ratings and comparisons to Grand Cru Burgundy! This high praise was a very welcome development for us as long time believers in the wines and was a great reinforcement for our direct relationship that had just recently been forged. We have just emailed the latest Fromm wines to our mailing list and they are probably going to snapped up quickly so grab some asap if you are interested. Below is a list and notes on the current Fromm offerings:

2010 Fromm Winery "La Strada" Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand $21.99

94-95 points James Suckling “A seamless red that starts off with pure strawberry and berry aromas and flavors. Full with beautiful tannins and natural beauty. It goes on for so, so long. Yes!” (12/ 2012)

This Pinot has a phenomenal bright, perfumed nose of crushed spicy red fruits and dark rose petals complicated by rich soil tones and a subtle Thyme note. This is a layered wine of real depth and intrigue. On the palate beyond its pure dark red fruit character lays an array of subtle complexities that really take it to another level of distinction. The wine has an effortless balance and silky elegant texture. This is wonderfully complete and stylish Pinot Noir at an everyday price thanks to our direct purchase from the winery. An exceptional value that will continue to develop and impress for another 8-10 years without a doubt.

Comments from the Winemaker: "Dense with nice clarity. A bright and lively wine offering ripe plums, black cherries and a hint of blueberries. Adding to the mix are spicy aromas (cloves, liquorice) and violet florals which combine with an earthy complexity to round off the nose. The palate opens with ripe, sweet fruit and shows good depth and concentration with ripe tannins providing structure. Quite a powerful wine yet one of refinement."

2009 Fromm Winery "Brancott Valley" Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand $29.99

95 points James Suckling “This is so powerful and rich with a dense structure and lightly chew tannins. So long and structured. Grand crus Burgundy character. Muscular. Better in 2015.”

A powerful nose of dark red fruits, black cherry and bramble. This wine is rich, dense and fleshy. A subtle whole cluster stem character adds structure and complexity and brings brightness to a fairly saturated mid palate. This wine is currently exuberant and youthful, brimming with fruit and has a plush texture. Despite this obvious density and power, the wine retains elegance throughout finishing with exotic warm spices and a tickle of fine tannins that suggest this wine will be a fantastic prospect for the cellar, as well as immediately rewarding. I have had many releases from this estate with 10 years of bottle age and can attest that they develop beautifully.

Comments from the Winemaker :"The 2009 Fromm "Brancott Valley" Pinot Noir shows intense, bright black plums and dark cherries with subtle mocha aromas and an underlying savouriness. On the palate, again generous cherry/plum fruit with trademark Brancott Valley spice. Ripe fine tannins contribute to a lovely silky texture. An expansive wine of refined structure and elegance - a juxtaposition of power and finesse."

2010 Fromm "Clayvin Vineyard" Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand $40.99

92+ points Robert Parker  “Medium deep ruby-purple in color, the 2010 Clayvin Vineyard Pinot Noir is slightly closed, revealing subtle hints of cranberries, black raspberries and red cherries plus suggestions of lavender, cardamom and pepper. Medium-bodied and crisp with a medium level of grainy tannins, the fruit is taut and it finishes long and layered. It needs 6-12 months more in bottle and should drink to 2019+”. (92+)

Comments from the Winemaker: Dense, deep plum-cherry colour. Intense, vibrant wild berry aromas with dark, lightly toasty mocha notes. Concentrated, spicy fruit with lots of underlying power and richness; well structured and supported by fine, ripe tannins. Dense and silky textured with great presence and harmony, resulting from pristine fruit in a top year. A classic Clayvin Pinot Noir.

2010 Fromm "La Strada" Syrah, Marlborough, New Zealand $21.99

James Suckling “Blackberry and tar and asphalt undertones with hints of black peppers. Full and rich with lots of fruit, yet balanced and delicious now.”

Comments from the Winemaker: "Deep crimson in colour. This Syrah shows dense but bright blue fruit with lifted sweet aromatics of juniperberries and five spice, all combining with florals of dark violets. The palate is concentrated and mouth filling but retains an elegant, easy drinking quality thanks to balancing acidity. Ample flavour and fine, well layered tannin support provide for lovely length. An expressive young Syrah, drinking well now but will happily develop for another 2-3 years."

2012 Fromm Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand $18.99

Fromm is well known for their spectacular Rieslings. This wine is made in a Spätlese style at 7.5% Alc and 94g/L of Residual Sugar. The wine is so concentrated and powerful. Tons of honeyed apricot and tangy preserved lemon is punctuated by lime zest acidity. Some subtle river stone mineral notes and citrus peel linger on the very long finish. This wine is very young, forward and primary right now, despite it being super moreish and drinkable at present, experience with older bottles from this great estate tells me this wine will continue to develop as only great Riesling does for another 10yrs+. This is a spectacular value and a must try for all Riesling lovers!

Comments from the Winemaker: "Clean ripe fruit on the nose of limes, nectarines, pristine red apples and subtle mandarin. Also offered are lifting florals of orange blossom and honeysuckle all combining with focussing minerals. The palate is one of rich concentration, bright fruit and alluring sweetness - refreshed by cleansing acid. This is a Riesling of purity, free of botrytis and low in alcohol. Drink well chilled. Alcohol 7.5 % Total acidity 9.4 g/l pH 2.76 Residual sugar 94 g/l


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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