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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 sparkling wine (39)


Champagne Friday: Previewing 2004 Dom Perignon Brut Champagne

2004 Dom Perignon Brut ChampagneBy: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

I was lucky enough to get a pre-release bottle of 2004 Dom Perignon to taste this week, even though the wine will not be available for sale until late this fall. I have been very happy with this vintage in Champagne (which has run almost completely under the radar in the press) ever since tasting it as vin clair (the still wine that is destined to become Champagne before it is bottled) in the spring of 2005. This cool, even vintage produced a healthy yield, three times that of the short 2003 and had more than normal sun shine despite a very wet August. The harvest was late in September, and great weather in the final three weeks produced nice quality.

When Champagne lovers ask me about what vintage they should think about collecting, I always bring up 2004 first. While many other vintages such as 2002, 2006 and 2007 have produced fabulous wines, they have all been crazy in one way or another. Because of climate change, the only two harvests that could be counted as typical, “classic” Champagne vintages in the last 25 years are 1988 and 2004. Of course, many vintages in the past 25 years have been great; 1989, 1990, 1996, 2002 and almost certainly 2008 and 2012. All of these vintages have a story, and all of them are odd. Even vintages with plenty of water and slow ripening, which over the last 200 years would be considered typical and classic, are an endangered species.

The character of the 2004’s is very transparent, revealing of terroir (especially in single vineyard wines), long and light on its feet. The wines do not have the weight and authority of the 2002’s or the crazy concentration of the 1996’s. What they have is deft, elegant balance and I believe that they will, like the 1988’s, prove to be great. The Dom is a great indicator and example of the strength of this vintage. I can’t remember liking a vintage of Dom when it was first released as much as this since the 1990, or finding one of such good potential since the 1996.

I wanted to make the most out of this chance to drink the 2004 as a preview and decided to prepare a special dinner for Cinnamon and I. I picked up an ounce of Osetra and we started out enjoying the bottle with blini and creme fraiche. For the main course I cooked some local wild king salmon on an alder plank on the grill after giving it a light brine. I topped it with some fleur de sel, pepper and paddlefish roe.

The 2004 is certainly the driest non-Oenotheque release I have ever tasted from DP and the white gold color has a real flash of green to it. On the nose, the signature Dom Perignon yeastiness is front and center framed by some delicate Chardonnay fruit. The Osetra blini brought out the nuttiness of the Pinot Noir very nicely on the palate. It was too bad that there was only one ounce! One of the things that I learned from the DP seminar that I wrote about in April was that the wine is always close to 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, and this 2004 certainly tasted that way. When we had the salmon, which was very rich, the Dom showed more of its cutting, mineral driven Chardonnay side.

This elegant bottle of Champagne went down very easily, and showed the strength of Moet’s massive vineyard resources and incredible store of knowledge. These wines age very well, and the 2004 has the balance to go the distance. I was very impressed! It should be on the shelf sometime late this fall.

-Gary Westby


Champagne Friday: Tasting the Varietals

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Champagne Friday: Tasting the Varietals

One of the best and easiest ways to get more enjoyment out of Champagne is by getting an understanding of the grape varieties used in the region. A simple tasting of three wines (or four if you want to be a complete imbiber!) over dinner is all that is needed to get a pretty firm handle on these grape varieties. I promise this won't just be educational- it will also be fun!

The most planted grape in all of Champagne is Meunier, a variety that used to be thought of as a relative of Pinot Noir but is now recognized as completely indigenous to Champagne. The second most planted variety in the region is Pinot Noir and like the third- Chardonnay- is an import from Burgundy just a few hundred kilometers away. These three grapes make up more than 99.9% of the vineyard in Champagne, but they are not the only varieties in the region. Before phyloxera struck the region in the late 1800’s, Gamay, Pinot Blanc and local grapes Arbanne and Petite Meslier were widely planted. Now, these grapes are making a comeback among some of the best and most adventurous growers. Arbanne and Meslier are especially prized for being late ripening and high acid- two great properties in a warming environment.

To start off the tasting, I would recommend a blanc de blancs to cover Chardonnay. These bracing wines are perfect for the aperitif, and if you plan on doing the tasting over a dinner make a fine wine for the welcome of guests. You can easily transition from the aperitif into oysters, scallops or crab salad with this wine, since its lively acid and chalky character flatter shellfish like nothing else. I would recommend using the Launois "Cuvée Reserve" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($34.99) for this as it is round enough to be friendly on its own, but packs enough cut to pair with the richest of crustaceans.

In this bottle you will find classic Champagne Chardonnay aromas and flavors like white flowers and strong minerality. You can learn more about Launois here.

I would follow up with Meunier, which is often dismissed as simple and fruity by the big houses, but is capable of gorgeous purity and deep savor when handled by a contentious grower and made by a talented wine maker. If you are pairing the wines with food, nothing brings out the best in Meunier like pate or mushrooms. Cinnamon and I have treated ourselves many times to old vintages from the master Rene Collard paired with foie gras, but the wines shine just as brightly with a mushroom tart. I would recommend the Michel Dervin Brut Champagne ($32.99) for the representative of this varietal- the blend is 80% Meunier and 20% Pinot Noir, but the Meunier takes command.

By tasting this you will get plenty of the apple and pear fruit that this variety is known for, as well as a hint of the chantrele and truffle components that makes Krug prize this grape so much.

After the Meunier move on to Pinot Noir and taste the Elisabeth Goutorbe "Cuvée Eclatante" Brut Champagne ($34.99). While this wine is only 70% Pinot, the power of this variety, in this case primarily from the top village of Ay, is firmly in control of this Champagne. Pinot dominated Champagne loves a piece of salmon, and if it is warm enough my favorite preparation in on a cedar plank on the grill. Pinot Noir is hard to ripen in Champagne, and the last variety to be harvested, and even though the wines have no color, they still have the cherry aroma and flavor that one expects in the reds.

This is the most structured variety in Champagne, and you will feel the difference in concentration and power in the Goutorbe.

If you want to go for a bonus round, we have a very special bottle for you that is composed of 40% Meslier, 40% Arbanne and 20% Pinot Blanc. If you taste it, you will be among very few in the world to ever have had these ancient varieties. The Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne ($99) is worth every penny, and is high toned, incisive, exotic and long finishing. This would be excellent to open alongside the Goutorbe with the main course! You can learn more about this wine from the winemaker here.

Feel free to reach out to me at if you would like to talk about Champagne tastings! A toast to you!





Food & Wine: Pass the Cheese, Please!

By: Scott Beckerly | K&L Staff Member

Pass the cheese, please!

Last Wednesday, the first of May, co-worker Kerri Conlon and I had the chance to attend a class at the Cheese School of San Francisco. We have done wine and cheese pairings for customers in our San Francisco store with them and I thought that I should probably know something about cheese...other than loving it!

The theme of our class was 'Spring Cheese and Wine' and it not only addressed cheese and wine pairings, as instructor and author Laura Werlin says (versus 'WINE and cheese', as we say here at K&L) but, also introduced us to cheeses that are released in the spring. We sampled sheep's milk, goat’s milk, cow’s milk and even raw buffalo milk cheese. These cheeses came from Missouri, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Tennessee. They had exotic names like “Dirt Lover”, which was silky and soft, creamy and buttery (despite the name), “Moonflower”, which was nutty, grainy and pungent with some black pepper notes, and “Dancing Fern”, one of my favorites, which was smooth and rich with cream, butter and some earthy notes. It was awesome with 2011 Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese, by the way.

The earthy profile of the 2009 Fort Ross "Fort Ross Vineyard" Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is well-matched to buffalo milk cheese. Did you know that buffalo milk cheese is high in solids and butterfat? I didn't! Earthy, mushroomy cool climate Pinot is the way to go with this buffalo's milk cheese. The 2011 Landmark Grand Detour Pinot Noir in the tasting complemented this cheese very well. I also think this cheese would be spectacular with the 2009 Fort Ross "Fort Ross Vineyard" Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($34.99).

Scharffenberger Brut California with 'Petit Marcel' cheese from Pug's Leap Farm in California - match made in heaven! In addition, we learned about washed rind cheeses in which the rind is washed in saltwater and in one case, beer...the one from Minnesota, of course! For those of you who have wine and cheese (or, as Laura would want me to say, 'cheese and wine') on a regular basis, it is best to have a sip of wine first and then to have a bit of cheese. Apparently, many types of cheese can change the flavor of some wines, making them bitter or giving them an 'off' taste.

Another interesting bit of information I learned is that it was recommended that one cheese, called “Petit Marcel”, from Pug's Leap Farm in California (this was my absolute favorite) be aged a few months after release so that it ripens a little more. Kind of like bottle shock with wines when they are first shipped in! Well, a little like that anyway. I loved this one with the NV Scharffenberger Brut from California ($14.99). This would be a top choice for Champagn, too.

Speaking of bubbles, be on the lookout for either a Champagne and cheese pairing consumer tasting in the SF store or a sparkling wine tasting and cheese pairing in the future. I’m planning for one either in June or July on a Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned...

Cheese School is in session!

If you are interested in these type of classes, the Cheese School of San Francisco is located at 2155 Powell Street (2nd Floor). Their phone number is (415) 346-7530 and the web address is BTW-I bought an absolutely killer set of laguiole cheese knives to go with my Champagne sword and steak knives. Thanks, Cheese School of SF!


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