On the Trail

Overcoming Beaujolais's Nouveau Stigma

David Driscoll

The problem in talking seriously about Beaujolais to a curious wine consumer is the lurking presumption they've probably tasted Beaujolais "Nouveau" before and it might have left a false impression of what the Burgundian region has to offer. Much like many people wince when they hear the words "riesling" or "moscato," believing all such iterations are sweet and syrupy, the flavors of carbonic maceration are still lingering on many a budding palate. You see, on the third Thursday of each November wine retailers around the world put out signs that say "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" and begin celebrating the end of another harvest. That's the day the marketing campaign begins for the young, fresh, overtly fruity version of gamay—one that's made using whole cluster or carbonic maceration which allows the juice to start fermenting while inside the grape, preventing the inclusion of tannic elements or heavy coloring from the kinds. While Beaujolais Nouveau can be delicious and enjoyable, it's not an accurate representation of what gamay can become when vilified like any other red wine. It's a juicier, fruitier expression of gamay, that—at it's worst—can taste like fruit punch. At it's best, however, gamay can mimic the best aspects of pinot noir without the heavy price tag. That's why more and more people are exploring Beaujolais's true potential.

The first time I went to Beaujolais was in 2014. I was with my friend Charles Neal, an importer we work with, and we were heading down to the south of France for some Armagnac tasting. Charles wanted to pop in and visit one of the Beaujolais producers he works with, however, so I wasn't about to argue against a night in Burgundy. We arrived in the region right as the sun was going down and I managed to snap a few photos of the vineyards before we lost the light completely. That night we had dinner with a few winemakers and opened numerous bottles of "cru" Beaujolais—meaning that, much like in the Côte d'Or, the wines are named by the commune in which the grapes are grown. I was completely blown away by the experience. The wines were unlike anything I had ever tasted in my time at K&L. Even though each was made entirely from gamay, the flavors were all over the map. Some were dark and brooding, earthy and powerful. Others were floral and mineral, crunchy with tart fruit. Older vintages held up beautifully despite the lower amount of tannic structure. Others were quite tannic, contrary to what you read about "low tannin" gamay in wine books.  The point I'm getting at here is that village-labed, cru Beaujolais is a serious wine! Yet, many folks think Beaujolais is that juicy Welch's-like beverage they bought from the supermarket stack around Thanksgiving last year. We need to fix that perception.

You may have noticed Trey's post from a few weeks back about the arrival of new K&L direct import Beaujolais expressions. Rather than simply tell you about the new wines we've just purchased directly, I thought maybe we should go a step further and actually present them to you. That's why on November 10th at 7 PM we're going to book a big table in the back room at Mathilde in San Francisco, right near our Harrison Street store. We're going to get a bunch of these cru Beaujolais bottles, pair them with a three course French meal, and start talking seriously about Beaujolais and it's potential for greatness. I've put twenty-eight tickets on sale on our website for those of you who want to join in. There's going to be a live band playing French music and a whole lotta gamay to taste. We've got food options for carnivores and veggie eaters and a very interesting line up in store. I'll be there with my colleague Alex Pross to walk you through the wines, and we hope to completely open your mind about Beaujolais and it's wines. You're going to taste at least eight different bottles, choose from an outstanding prix-fixe menu, and drink incredibly well for a Thursday night, all for just sixty-five bucks. I hope you'll join us and help us in our mission to move past the limitations of Nouveau and into the connoisseurship of the cru!

-David Driscoll

Dining with Leoville Las Cases

David Driscoll

Last night we hosted our first ever dinner event with the esteemed Léoville Las Cases at nearby Mathilde in San Francisco, and—let me tell you—it was quite the affair. Not only is the St. Julien château one of the most prestigious and elegant wines of Bordeaux, it's also one of the oldest. The property dates back to the 17th century when it was owned by a group of wealthy French nobles, before eventually passing into the Las Cases family stewardship. It's also arguably the finest three-fifths of the original Léoville estate that once included Léoville-Barton and Léoville-Poyferré before it was divided due to the French Revolution. Depending on who you ask, some folks (like us) might even go so far as to say Léoville Las Cases would be the one property that could argue for first growth status should the wines of the Médoc ever be reclassified. The vineyards of Las Cases run right up to those of Château Latour and are separated only by a small estuary, the Ruisseau de Juillac that runs from the nearby Gironde River. There are even sections where the vineyards from both châteaux meet and the vines overlap. In the past, both properties have traded parcels back and forth from these vines, further adding to the perceived value of the Las Cases fruit. Given the terroir and the proximity to greatness, the wines of Léoville Las Cases are therefore expensive, but perhaps not as expensive as they could (or should) be. To get a three course meal at Mathilde along with nine wines from the Domaines Delon for a buck-thirty was an absolute steal. Luckily, I was working the event, so I brought my camera along for the ride.

Our distinguished owner Clyde Beffa Jr. oversaw the evening's events and welcomed everyone to the intimate affair. We were joined by Léoville Las Cases director Pierre Graffeuille, who walked us through the line up and explained the differences between the selections. Domaines Delon, the group that owns Las Cases today, also manages Château Nenin on the Right Bank in Pomerol, as well as one of our favorite estates here at K&L: Château Potensac (I think I've drunk at least five cases of Potensac myself over the last five years). We were beginning the night with a few selections from these properties before breaking out the big guns. While Potensac has always been part of the family business, Jean-Hubert Delon, head of the domaines, purchased Château Nenin from his cousins back in 1997—the family that had owned the estate since 1847. He revamped the entire operation and today the wines are entirely improved. I was excited to taste some of the more recent vintages, having only tasted older expressions in the past.

I was also excited to try them with a proper meal. If you haven't been to Mathilde, I can't recommend it highly enough. Not only is the atmosphere utterly charming, the food is exquisite, traditionally French, and well-priced. It's the absolute perfect spot to do a French wine event in the city. We started with a roasted quail with white truffle, paired along side the 2009 Fugue de Nenin, the 2012 Nenin proper, and the 2009 Potensac. My co-worker Alex Schroeder was quite pleased with both the wines and the cuisine, as you can see in the above photo. What was great about the 2012 Nenin was how well it represented what is in my opinion an underrated and underpriced vintage in Bordeaux, especially on the Right Bank. That wine was singing after an hour in the decanter, full of pretty fruit and a juicy core of structured merlot. 

As we moved to round two, Pierre talked with us about the transition of Las Cases's second wine to the Petit Lion label and away from the Clos du Marquis. For years and years, the Clos du Marquis was thought of as the second wine of Las Cases, but the cuvée is made from a completely separate parcel of fruit across the street from the château on the western side of the main road away from the river. Today the goal is to distinguish Marquis as its own unique wine from its own separate property, since the vines from which it is made were never part of the original Leoville estate. The official second wine of Las Cases is now le Petit Lion, a blend of younger cabernet vines that have been replanted over the last twenty years and a parcel of older merlot that are from the same terroir as the grand vin. We tasted the 2009 Clos du Marquis along side the 2009 Petit Lion and both wines were absolutely stellar, albeit completely unique. The Marquis had a lovely fleshiness with pretty fruit and faint hints of earth, while the Petit Lion was juicier with a chewiness that you could sink your teeth into.

Speaking of sinking your teeth into something, by the time the second course came around I was famished! The filet mignon with seared foie gras was just what I need to pair with the aforementioned wines. In our third glass was the 2012 Leoville Las Cases, a wine I bought a half-case of earlier this year, but had no desire to touch for another decade. I was excited to check in on its progress without relinquishing one of my own precious bottles. Repeating what I mentioned before about 2012, not only is the vintage completely underrated, the Las Cases might be the best wine I've tasted from that little gem of a millesime. The wine had grace and presence, subtle tannins that melded beautifully with the soft fruit and hint of crushed violets. If you're in the market for some high-end cellar additions, I can't say enough good things about the Las Cases 2012—especially considering the price in comparison to other more heralded vintages.

We were prepping the two older Las Cases vintages for last—the 100 point 2005 edition and a lovely '83 from magnum—when Clyde decided to present us with a little surprise. He had dug deep into his cellar and located a five liter bottle of Las Cases 1985, a gift that had been bestowed to him by Jean-Hubert some time back in memoriam of the year Clyde first visited the château. With a plate full of stewed figs and earthy cheeses, we washed down that thirty year old elixir in complete bliss. If you're interested in dipping into the wines of Domaines Delon and Leoville Las Cases at home, we've got a number of different selections currently in stock. If you're new to the château and have never tasted its wines, I might start with the Petit Lion to get a sense of the style. But I also highly recommend grabbing a ticket the next time Clyde decides to hold an event at Mathilde. Not only do you get more than your money's worth, you get a first class education in fine claret. Many thanks to Pierre for taking the time to join us! Look for more K&L wine events at Mathilde in the near future.

-David Driscoll

Beautifully, Confusing Amontillado

Olivia Ragni

Lately, it seems Sherry drinkers have been so wrapped up in the mystery of palo cortado, they have forgotten about the style that can be even more interesting and diverse—amontillado.  The ambiguity of palo cortado has left people enamored with learning about the style, leaving possibly the most varied and mysterious style of Sherry off consumers' radar. Sherry is known for having distinct styles— fino, manzanilla, oloroso, cream, Pedro Ximenez— but lesser known is the amount of variety within each style. Ask Jerezanos what their favorite style of Sherry is, and the resounding majority of them will tell you amontillado. The wine’s versatility means that you can find an amontillado to pair perfectly with virtually any dish put in front of you. Since sherry is almost always consumed with food in Jerez, this may explain Jerezanos infatuation with amontillado.

So, what exactly is amontillado? Amontillado has the rare ability to take on characteristics of a fino and an oloroso, while at the same time being neither of those wines. As a fino ages, the amount of nutrients necessary to sustain flor (surface yeast) decreases. When the flor dies, the wine begins to age oxidatively, like an oloroso. It is at this point that the wine becomes an amontillado, having gone through both biological and oxidative aging. Each bodegas has their own secret to making Amontillado that's why Amontillados vary widely from producer to producer. Some amontillados show closer to finos (ones that have had many years of biological aging), others show closer to olorosos (ones that have had less time aged biologically and much more time aged oxidatively) and the rest fall everywhere in between. This is the beauty of amontillado, having bright, floral, briny flavors from biological aging and nutty flavors from oxidative aging. It is both fino and oloroso and neither fino nor oloroso at the same time. And you thought palo cortado was confusing.

The name amontillado comes from the wine’s resemblance to the wines from Montilla (“a Montilla,” or “from Montilla” meaning in the style of Montilla, becoming “amontillado”). Montilla is an area outside of the Sherry denomination with a more continental climate than Jerez. While they make great finos in Montilla, the climatic conditions make it a bit more difficult for flor to survive, resulting in wines similar to amontillados.  People from Montilla never let their friends from Jerez forget the style originated in Montilla.  Regardless of the origins of the name amontillado, Jerezanos have adopted amontillado as their own. Amontillados made in Jerez are complex and layered wines that span a spectrum of flavors, textures and ages. 

Manzanilla was the first Sherry I fell in love with years ago, but it was amontillado that stole my heart during this trip to Jerez. I finally understand why an old cask of amontillado was the Achilles Heel of Edgar Allen Poe’s character Fortunato. An old amontillado is like nothing else you will experience in the world of wine.  When I think about my favorite experiences of this trip, they all seem to involve an amontillado: a cask of old VORS Coliseo amontillado from Valdespino left me speechless (and tipsy), an ancient, exquisite cask of amontillado from Bodegas Baron in Sanlucar that opened my eyes to just how incredible the seaside amontillados from Sanlucar can be, and ultimately my favorite cask, a family-only (not for sale) amontillado from Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez that dates back to 1890 left my pensive. I was absolutely fascinated by the possibilities of this cask’s contents. Each time I had the pleasure of drinking from it, my mind would wonder about the history of the amber liquid in my glass.  How were the wines made 100-200 years ago? Surely very different than today. What varietals were they using? Possibly varietals that are no longer in use today. How many different vineyards supplied grapes to this cask over the years? Too many acres to count. And how many different winemakers and different winemaking techniques had a hand in creating this delicate Amontillado? It’s probably impossible to research in entirety, since the wine in the cask predates the Consejo Regulador.  Sherry is a complex wine with infinite possibilities, but one thing that holds true for all vinos de jerez is that every solera of Sherry contains a unique story. Like fingerprints, no two casks are the alike. Each time you have a sip of wine from an old solera, you are drinking a little bit of history.

I’m not trying to discourage you from drinking palo cortado, or any Sherry for that matter, but don’t forget about the versatility of amontillado.  The next time you’re eating something tricky to pair, like artichokes, cold Japanese acorn noodles, anchovies, tuna, mushrooms, game birds, or any other unique flavor, ask your local wine shop specialist for an amontillado. You’ll be pleased with the results and drinking like a true Jerezano. 

~Olivia Ragni

Harvest Time in Sonoma

David Driscoll

Last week I spent the day in Sonoma with our owner and domestic buyer Trey Beffa visiting some of our favorite wineries and shaking hands with old friends. While it would be difficult (and likely unprofessional) to say I have a favorite California producer or declare one property to be the absolute best of the best, our stop at Gundlach Bundschu confirmed what I have always thought about the storied winemaker: they are about as real as it gets. There's no pageantry or cultivated wine country aesthetic at the family-owned estate, nor is there a costly line-up of weighty bottles waiting for you behind the tasting bar. There is no snobbery or snootiness, nor are there any snarky sommelier types either. What you do get at Gundlach Bundschu are high-quality, old school, and reasonably-priced California wines that taste the way they should. You also get the chance to visit one of the most historic and traditional wineries in the state, as Gun Bun (as it's known on the street) is also the oldest family-run winery we have here in CA. The company was established back in 1858 and now sits just a stone's throw from the top of the San Pablo Bay. The Rhinefarm is 256 acres of prime winemaking real estate; but while it's indeed a gorgeous piece of land, it's the mood and the atmosphere at Gundlach Bundschu that really strikes you. The staff is young and laid-back. The winery-related trinkets in the tasting bar are modern and hip to today's pop culture scene. We caught the gang just as they were finishing their 2016 harvest and the fun was definitely flowing.

As I mentioned above, Gun Bun is the oldest family-run winery in California and you get a sense of the family's history the moment you walk in and see the array of old bottles on display. The company was originally established by German-born Joseph Gundlach (who eventually partnered with his son-in-law Charles Bundschu) and for forty-eight years he sold his wine from their San Francisco office on downtown Bryant Street. There they prospered for decades until the big one struck in 1906 and gutted the entire operation. The family's third generation moved the business to Sonoma, but was ultimately stymied again by Prohibition. During that time the Gundlach-Bundschu company supplemented the lack of wine sales with agriculture and cattle, until 1969 when Jim Bundschu and his father Towle decided to replant the family vineyard and get back into the wine game. Over forty years later, the estate is thriving like never before and has made huge commitments to sustainable farming practices that have the fruit tasting better than ever. We had a glass of the 2012 Mountain Cuvée right when we walked in and I couldn't help but smile. Here was an estate wine, made from all-estate fruit, that was utterly charming and perfectly balanced for less than twenty bucks! It had gusto and integrity. It's local and well-priced. It's everything California does well. So why aren't we selling cases and cases of this wine again?

Not only should you check out the wines of Gundlach Bundschu at K&L next time you come by, you should most definitely take a drive up north and visit the estate yourself. You can tour the gigantic cave, have a picnic, hike through the property, check out the amphitheater where they host serious rock and roll concerts, and make a day of it. Not only is it an easy drive from San Francisco, it's a beautiful one. Having put up with my career and its many wine-related duties for ten years now, the last thing my wife wants to do on our day off is visit a winery, but even she was game after I showed her the photos from our visit and had her taste the wines I brought home. Gundlach Bundschu truly has something for everyone: they make a hearty cabernet, a soft and supple pinot noir, a heady chardonnay, and even a bone-dry gewürztraminer that should please even the most serious of wine drinkers. The Rhinefarm has a low-elevation site where the coastal fog settles and helps maintain the winery's cool-climate varietals, allowing them to maintain their acidity. It's a truly remarkable property in that so many of California's regional strengths are flourishing on one single Sonoma estate.

It's a testament to the diverse and unique geographic elements of the estate that Gundlach Bundschu is able to make a ripe, robust, and varietally-correct merlot, but it also has to do with their restraint in the cellar. The wines are not overly oaky, or overly-ripe, or overdone—period.  I couldn't decide which wine was my favorite by the end of the day. Their estate cabernet is a reasonable thirty-five bucks and delivers every dollar's worth with layers of dark fruits balanced by savory spice and earth. Contrast that with the over-extracted $100+ luxury bottles we're seeing from Napa these days and breath a sigh as you take your next sip of real California goodness. This isn't anything new, however. It's not like Gundlach Bundschu hasn't been making honest wines like this for decades and we just discovered them now (I've been selling the Mountain Cuvée since my earliest days on the K&L sales floor). It's just that I had never taken the time to actually visit the property and put two and two together—to meet the super cool staff, to take a walk through the vineyards and take in the sights.

Drinking a glass of Gundlach Bundschu at the Rhinefarm is an entirely different experience. Rather than send you into one of our three locations to buy a bottle, I'd recommend taking the weekend to drive up there yourself. It's harvest time in Sonoma right now. The temperature couldn't be more perfect. The Fall weather is gorgeous and an afternoon on the Rhinefarm estate is just the thing to get you into the spirit of the season. Grab some food, a few bottles of wine, and take advantage of the fact that this little slice of heaven is just a short jaunt away. I'm seriously considering jumping in the car again next week and heading back for more and I'm not really the outdoor guy or likes to hike or go fishing. There's just something about this place that really moved me—the lack of pretense, perhaps. Plus, it's less than an hour from downtown San Francisco, so that's no different than driving to San Jose or over to the Livermore outlets for a day of shopping. 

-David Driscoll

Napa's Majestic Eisele Vineyard

Trey Beffa

Just off the Silverado Trail, steeping its way northeast into the Vaca mountain range, sits one of California's most majestic and magical vineyards. Deep in the heart of Napa, in a region specifically known for its hearty and full-bodied reds, the cabernet sauvignon ripens just a bit differently here. The wines from Eisele Vineyard are always more finessed and elegant than their nearby Howell Mountain neighbors, and they have a long track record of being that way. The site is one of those rare cases in California where we have a bit of history to compare it by. Although difficult, it is possible to source an older vintage made from Eisele fruit. Those of you who have had the chance to enjoy one likely know that these are truly exceptional wines with incredible longevity. Ridge Vineyards bottled a cabernet from here in 1971, Conn Creek did the same in 1974, and Joseph Phelps made wine from Eisele between 1975-1991. The property was then purchased by Bart Araujo, who made wine here from 1991 to 2012. Many of the wines from those previous eras have become hot commodities. 2013 marked the latest turn of stewardship in the vineyard's history when it was purchased by the Pinault family—the folks behind Bordeaux's Château Latour. Run through their Artemis Domaines, they now manage the Eisele Vineyard along with Chateau-Grillet in the Rhone Valley, Chateau d’Eugenie in Burgundy, and of course Latour.

The longer and more detailed history of the Eisele vineyard site dates back to an 18,000 acre Mexican land grant originally awarded to General Mariano Vallejo in 1841, who grazed cattle there before a new generation of viticulturists planted vines in the early 1880s. While the fruit has long been cherished by winemakers, it wasn't until the Araujo years that wine was actually made on the estate. Bart Araujo not only built the property's first winery and cave, he also developed a a serious syrah program within the vineyard, adding sauvignon blanc as well to the property's eastern-facing slopes. I stopped by Eisele on a recent trip to Napa to check in with the Pinault transition group and taste some of the recent vintages. The first noticeable change, if you look closely, is the label. Araujo has been gently removed and the focus is now on the name “Eisele Vineyard." 2013 marks the first vintage where the new ownership controlled everything from harvest to bottling. As I noted before, Eisele fruit does not generally make a monster wine. Since 2000 the vineyard has been farmed biodynamically and the wines are known for their purity, elegance, and balance. The new ownership recognizes this historic character and is not out to revolutionize or redefine that tradition by looking to extract as much as they can out of the fruit. Their goal is to bottle the truest expression of the vineyard.

As part of my visit I had the chance to taste the 2012 and 2013 Eisele cabernets and the Altagrcias side-by-side, along with the syrah and sauvignon blanc wines, respectively. They were very impressive to say the least. We're currently stocking the 2013 releases at K&L. The 2013 Altagracia Napa Cabernet Sauvingon $119.99 is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. The Altagracia is essentially a Bordeaux-style blend vinified in the same manner as the Eisele Vineyard cabernet sauvignon. The majority of the fruit comes from the eastern parcels of the vineyard. The new owners have cut back a bit on the heavy toasted barrels and have switched to a lighter toast. It's a fantastic wine! The fruit is dark, spicy and rich and maintains a round, velvety texture with hints of cedar and minerals. It finishes with great freshness and focus. The 2013 Eisele Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon $499.99 was a tad closed on the nose when we tasted it, but this wine is obviously still a baby and has a long life ahead of it. While remaining a subtle power and dense core, the wine shows amazing purity and freshness. Flavors of blackberries, black cherry, and plums are mixed in with hints of cedar and spice. This is serious wine that I would keep in my cellar and wouldn't conceive of opening for at least ten years. It should last for many more. 

While the wines were impressive, the views from the property were equally so. I happened to hit it on a beautiful Fall afternoon with the shadows streaking their way through the vines and into the mountains behind them. It's clear that Eisele vineyard is a pretty special place. It's also nice to know that the Pinault team understands that potential fully and is continuing to make great wine from one of California's most historic properties.

-Trey Beffa

Les K&L Beaujolais Imports sont arrivées!

Trey Beffa

You may not be aware of what's been quietly happening in Beaujolais over the last few years, but to put it plainly: there's been a string of great vintages, at great prices, made by an enthusiastic, up-and-coming generation of talented young winemakers. While the region routinely plays second fiddle to the coveted pinot noirs from the nearby Côte d'Or, the cru gamay expressions and village-labelled wines have recently begun to register on a much larger radar within the wine community. Needless to say, as a wine retailer with a taste for Beaujolais we wanted to get more involved. This past May, Alex Pross and I took a drive down to Beaujolais from Beaune to meet with several exciting winemakers at Chateau de Javernand, looking to potentially purchase straight from the source. Here we tasted over fifty wines from a handful of regional producers in an attempt to expand our horizons and our selection at K&L. Most were 2014 and 2015’s, both outstanding years in general. Having spent the prior month in Bordeaux it was a refreshing change of pace to look at the price lists in Beaujolais where value is definitely the name of the game. Since taking over the Burgundy department, Alex and I have made value and drinkability part of our main focus, hoping to add balance to our fine selection of grand and premier cru Côte d'Or selections. We felt searching out small producers from Beaujolais, from whom we could import directly, might be the best way to add more depth. Many of the wines are fresh, exciting, rustic in style, and genuine; made by small farmers with a serious commitment to quality. We were very happy with what we tasted and we made a number of purchases during our trip. Those wines have now landed just in time for Fall, so it's time to share with you what we purchased, from whom, and why. 

Jean-Michel Dupre

Jean-Michel Dupre started with next to nothing: only a farm and a two hectare vineyard left by his father.  When the question of succession arose, Jean-Michel could not pass on the opportunity to continue the tradition. He converted an old farm building into a winery and went in search of additional well-located plots in Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, Morgon, and Régnié. What sets him apart from many other winemakers in the region is the age of his vineyard, which has vines on it that are around 100 years old.

2015 Jean-Michel Dupre "Terre Noire" VV Beaujolais - $10.99 - Located on the Northwest edge of the Beaujolais region, very high in altitude (500 meters), this Beaujolais-Villages has been declassified as a Beaujolais. The vines are around 65 years old and all farming is done sustainable. Talk about a wine that over delivers for the price point, the Terre Noire is loaded with red and dark purple fruits, spice and a fresh lively finish. 

2013 Jean-Michel Dupre "1935" Morgon - $14.99 - This a single vineyard wine that was planted in 1935 (obviously), this wine shows lots of classic Gamay flavors of black currant, violets and raspberry. Fairly substantial, this wine should actually age quite well over the next five years and develop some nice complexity. 

Les Freres Perroud

Run by two brothers, Michael and Robert Perroud, this estate began as a four acre vineyard in Brouilly. The brothers continued with the replanting of family plots where their grandfather grew grapes. Michel, is the eldest of the duo and after years of working as a civil engineer he joined Robert, the youngest of four siblings, who had taken the over family estate. Perroud practices sustainable farming and organic certified techniques.

2015 Les Freres Perroud "Vieilles Vignes" Brouilly - $14.99 - This 100% Gamay Noir wine comes from a 4 acre vineyard where the average age of the vines are 65 years old. Soil type is clay and red granite sand. This is really a serious Brouilly which shows wonderful fruit, a juicy, lush texture and finishes with spicy ruby red fruits and mineral hints. A nice peak into the quality of the 2015’s! 

2014 Les Freres Perroud "Amethyste" Brouilly - $16.99 - The Amethyste from Perroud comes from a 2 acre vineyard which features 75 year old vines that are planted on granite and sandy soils. This wine sees 12 months of aging in neutral barrels. In the mouth the Amethyste shows a rich, broad texture with plenty of deep red and blue fruits. Similar to the Vieilles Vignes, this wine shows a wonderful purity of fruit and freshness that is a pleasure to drink. 

2014 Les Freres Perroud Bourgogne Pinot Noir (organic) - $16.99 - Perroud’s straight Bourgogne Pinot Noir over delivers for the price point for sure! The 2014 is made organic, shows lots of upfront fruit with hints of earthy and minerals underneath. A Burgundy quality wine with Beaujolais pricing is a great combination!

Chateau Javernand

Our tastings in Beaujolais were set up here at Chateau Javernand, a small estate that has been family run for five generations dating back to 1917. The château itself dates back to the end of the 18th century. Today it's run by Arthur Fourneau and his cousin Mathilde Pénicaud who care for the sixty hectares of fruit in Chiroubles; Mathilde's husband Pierre Prost also helps with the winemaking. Their goal is to remain faithful to the unique terroir of Chiroubles and continue to preserve that purity for subsequent generations. 

2014 Chateau de Javernand "Indigene" Chiroubles - $16.99Beautiful and delicate, the 2014 Chateau Javernand Chiroubles “Indigene" is a pretty wine with aromas of violet and candied cherries. The palate is crisp and energetic with flavors of macerated cherries, fresh pomegranate and red licorice nicely buffered by spice and mineral notes. A wine that feels feminine with great structure and surprising depth for a simple Chiroubles.

2014 Chateau de Javernand "Vieilles Vignes" Chiroubles - $14.99 - The 2014 Vieilles Vignes comes from 40 year old plus vines. Half of the fruit is de-stemmed and the other half is whole cluster pressed. This wine shows hints of leather and spice.

Pascal Berthier

Pascal Berthier was unable to attend out tasting but we did run through his wines. Pascal has been working as a winemaker in the region for more than twenty-five years and views his vineyards as an extension of himself. His motto is to never stop listening to the land, as it still holds the legacy of those who worked and cared for it previously. We were unable to pass up his delicious Saint-Amour. 

2015 Pascal Berthier "Spirit of Seduction" Saint-Amour - $14.99 - Here is another chance to taste a wine from the tremendous 2015 vintage! The “Spirit of Seduction” is just that. The fruit comes from a 12 acre vineyard where the vines average 50 years old. This wine sees no oak and is aged in concrete vats. The purity of fruit here really shines. It is ripe, fresh and loaded with crunchy red cherry and raspberry fruit that is spicy and bright. If you are a fan of California Pinot Noir and what to jump into a Beaujolais then this would be a great wine to start with.

For those looking for pure, expressive, terroir-driven wines made by real people for reasonable prices, we hope you'll be as thrilled as we are with these fine selections. There's a real youth movement happening in Burgundy's Beaujolais region right now and we're just getting started. The region's many villages hold a number of secrets just waiting to be discovered. Hopefully we can get back soon to find more of them.

-Trey Beffa

Bruichladdich's New Terroir-Driven Focus

David Driscoll

I've seen, smelled, and tasted enough evidence over the last year to finally understand the importance of barley's role in creating the flavor of a single malt whisky. Since sampling ten different "SMASH" beers at Skagit Valley Malting in Washington this past July (made from ten different types of barley), I've got all the proof I need to know that barley-specific malts are clearly the next step in Scotch whisky's evolution as a beverage. But while most of us are just coming around to this realization, one particular distillery on Islay has been exploring the capacity of barley flavor variants for more than a decade. Bruichladdich has not only been testing whiskies made from different species of barley, they've also experimented with various growing locations in Scotland as well as the dynamic of specific vintages. In fact, I can clearly remember the first time I tasted one such whisky from this progressive Hebridian producer: it was Bruichladdich's 2006 Bere barley release, a whisky that absolutely blew me away with its creamy texture and inherently individual character. That eye-opening experience came to market in 2013, but the whisky had originally been distilled seven years prior, clearly indicating that the production team had been keen on exploring barley's capacity for flavor for some time. While a few distilleries like Springbank and Kilchoman have traditionally released local barley editions, none have been as detailed or as dedicated as Bruichladdich in their transparency. Over the last few years, the company has distinctly transitioned from a traditional malt distillery into a serious advocate for more terroir-centric whisky. Part of this metamorphosis has to do with a transition in leadership. This past week I made the trek out to Bruichladdich, both to formally meet the facility's two new directors and take a serious look at their unique vision for the future.

I'm not sure how many folks are aware of the long and intimate relationship between Bruichladdich and K&L, but there's been a deep connection between the two businesses that started well before I took over the spirits department. Not only was K&L the first retailer in the world to bottle and sell a whisky from the post-2001 resurrection distillates, our former whisky expert Susan Purnell actually had her wedding at the distillery and the service was performed by former master distiller and whisky icon Jim McEwan. Susan sent dozens of K&L customers during her tenure over to Islay to learn and work at Bruichladdich's whisky school, and she made damn sure that the first single malts I tasted upon my hiring were from her favorite distillery. I inherited her love of Bruichladdich and tried to continue where Susan left off, visiting Jim on Islay during my first trip to Scotland back in 2011. However, when Bruichladdich sold to Remy Cointreau the following year, I wasn't sure of what to expect. While the immediacy of dealing with an independent distillery changed a bit, I remained close with the company's CEO Simon Coughlin and kept myself abreast of the whisky's evolution through our contact. Over the last four years, Simon's push for more transparency has become the distillery's main focus. Dealing with the adversity of larger distribution and limited stocks, he moved the core range of whiskies from an age statement model over to regionally specific expressions because—like I do now—he believed early on that terroir matters when it comes to whisky. "You've got to come out and visit, David," Simon said to me on the phone a few weeks back. "I really want you to spend some time with Adam, our new distiller, and see how our work is progressing."

Being a fan of Simon, Bruichladdich, and the idea of terroir in anything, I obliged.

Whereas Bruichladdich began as the career culmination of whisky veterans like Coughlin and McEwan, today it's being lead by two forward-thinking youngsters; who better to lead the distillery into the next generation of whisky production than fresh Islay blood? Allan Logan is a fourth generation Islay distillery worker who has been involved in Bruichladdich's production since day one. I spent the first part of my visit with him tasting both aged and unaged distillates from single origin regionally-specific barleys, joking that one indeed smelled "more northern" than the other (as if anyone knew the distinctions between Scottish regional barley flavors). While we shared a few laughs over the feigned pretense, we both agreed there were clear differences in the whiskies—in their infant stage as well as after a few years in wood. There were distinct floral notes and a lighter profile in one malt, while another had a much heavier character and supple richness. I was then introduced to Adam Hannett: a thirty-three year old Islay native who started as an attendant in Bruichladdich's gift shop almost fifteen years ago before becoming the company's current "head" distiller. Two things I loved right off the bat: 1) Adam doesn't refer himself a "master" distiller yet, unlike many craft venturists with far less experience than him; 2) Adam looks almost exactly like my childhood friend Jeff Meanza, so much so in fact that I almost referred to him as Jeff numerous times during our visit. I felt at ease from the moment I met him because of his down-to-earth demeanor and his unpretentious character. "I grew up around here with my friends kicking a soccer ball in the street when there was nothing," Adam said to me as we talked about the changes at Bruichladdich over the years; "Now you have to watch yourself in the road with all the tourists driving around," he added as we headed to the warehouse to sample a few new projects.

I mentioned to Adam that I was impressed with Allan's presentation of Bruichladdich's regionally-specific whiskies and the clear distinctions he was able to make vis-à-vis their origins. "When people talk about terroir today it often feels as if they're looking to prove what they know rather than clarify why exactly something tastes the way it does," I said, as he proceeded to climb a large rack in search of a specific cask;"It's as if they're searching for the secret no one else knows, but they can't really explain why it's important." Bruichladdich has gone far beyond simply labeling their whiskies as simply "local," choosing to add the vintage, as well as the name and location of the farm where the barley was grown on some of their Islay releases. But while all of of those details definitely play a role in the whisky's inherent flavor, they're not meant to literally explain why it tastes the way it does. No one, as far as I know, has connected the dots at this point yet. "It's not about saying we know something you don't," Adam explained as we continued to discuss the phenomenon; "It's simply about celebrating the community. We're in a position to help the island by way of using local barley. Now the young kids are getting involved in farming, whereas before it was for an older generation." Considering we're approaching a transitional period when the Scotch whisky industry will look to continue its current popularity with a younger generation, creating an early bond with that group's values and interests has never been more important. While the current era of serious whisky connoisseurs may lament the necessary changes that have recently occurred, such as the loss of standard age statements on the label, it could very well be that the next era of drinkers defines its desires by something other than a number.

But that's not to say that Bruichladdich is moving away from age statements; on the contrary! After discontinuing their initial new era ten year old shortly after its unveiling, the boys are back with a new version, as well as ten year old Port Charlotte and ten year old Octomore. After sampling the new and improved Bruichladdich 10—a delicious malt that focuses far more on the grain this time around with minimal sherry influence—we took a drive over to the old Lochindaal distillery warehouses where the company keeps its Port Charlotte and Octomore barrels. The improvement that more time in wood displays in the peated whisky's flavor is clear from the initial sip. The profile is rounder, sweeter, and more evolved. In the case of the Octomore, the extra cask time has completely changed the nature of the heavy smoke, moving it more towards an ashy and earthy element on the finish. I was utterly captivated. While Bruichladdich was forced to move away from age statements due to an intermittent supply of mature whisky, purists will be happy to hear the distillery has put that Remy money to good use. While strategically holding back most of their oldest barrels, Bruichladdich simultaneously increased production and will now be in strong supply once the new editions are launched. Keeping their releases at ten years of age is a top priority for the brand, but—if you ask me—numbers won't continue define the distillery's whisky moving forward. Age statements have become security blankets for the old guard. They're a part of whisky's past, a remnant of its former classication, not its immenent future. While I drooled over the twelve year old cask of Port Charlotte available in the gift shop, I have to admit that I was much more interested in the younger 2009 Bere barley vintage release they had on the shelf. It's their improvement and enhancement of distinct barley-driven malts that has me most inspired as of late.

While an adherence to age statements, cask types, and gimmicky marketing stories from old Scottish lore still dominates most Scotch whisky marketing, Bruichladdich has chosen to center its message around the far more difficult discussion of terroir. When you think about it, a sense of place has always been important to the prestige of a product, even in the cases where the place itself had little to do with a unique quality or flavor. It’s the reason why people still continue to buy touristic momentos on vacation, or Bud Light cans with their city’s sports franchise plastered on the side (even though the beer inside each can is exactly the same). It’s the reason people wore Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts back in the eighties—each one identical except for the location of origin. When it comes to marketing and a general consumer interest, the sale of locality has often been more about public proof of experience than genuine individuality ("I was there and I can prove it!"). However, if you can show that terroir isn’t just about showing off, owning bragging rights, or generating a quick ten seconds of Instagram attention—if you can actually present people with a flavor that clearly originates and emirates from one particular spot on this earth—then you’ve really got something. While I’ll continue to enjoy blended whisky and blends of different single malt whiskies, I don’t think there’s a renaissance in the cards for nondescript blends, no matter how much we continue to glamorize the throwback genre. I just don’t see it. As far as I'm concerned, there’s no going back from the new age of transparency. Consumers today want details as to the ingredients and the location of origin from their food, their beer, their wine, and their whisky. Now that the cat is out of the bag there’s no way you’re getting him back inside. The current generation of eaters and drinkers has long spoken about what its willing to embrace: travel, tradition, locality, purity, authenticity, and a sense of place. Nebulous blends with clever marketing need not apply.

Whisky as an ideal has come to epitomize an enthusiasm for exploration and new experiences. The amount of whisky tourism in Scotland alone these days is unparalleled, but no one drives all the way to Islay to drink a blended whisky or some basic Highland offering. You make the pilgrimage to Islay because you love Islay whisky—the peat, the salt, the earth, and the sea. Whomever can provide the most memorable and moving picture of that wonderful place is going to shape the future of the category. Whomever can speak to the next generation of whisky drinkers in their terms, their language, and within their range of core values, will dominate that genre. I’m betting on Bruichladdich. Almost all of their distillery staff is under the age of thirty-five, the atmosphere is fun and forward-thinking, and the company has a fresh and modern take on whisky. Most importantly, they're continuing to create and inspire.

I've been enamored with Bruichladdich since my first day working at K&L, but I don't think I've ever been as excited about their whisky as I was this week. The future is bright.

-David Driscoll

Pick, Press, Pour in Jerez

Olivia Ragni

It seems the more I learn about Sherry, the more confusing it becomes and the more I realize I know nothing. It can be a complex and difficult wine to understand: the vineyards, the aging systems, the different styles, the bottling and shipping regulations, even the fact that it’s called vino de Jerez in Spain and Sherry elsewhere. Luckily, there is no better cure to fix this feeling of hopelessness than una copa de vino de jerez

For years, I have been learning everything I can about Sherry bodegas—the warehouses where the wines are stored, blended and aged. The more I learned about the bodegas, the more curious I became about an often overlooked aspect of Sherry production; the vineyards. Sherry is always included in wine reference books and wine certification course, but other than a quick reference to the famous albariza soil, there is never any focus on the vineyards. Part of this is because the mystique of Sherry is connected to the mysterious bodegas, but what about the vineyards? All wine starts in the vineyard, so it must be somewhat important. This desire to understand the Sherry vineyard is what spurred me to work a harvest in Jerez, rather than in some other area of the world.  

Due to antiquated regulations which were only recently lifted, if a bodega wanted to bottle their own wine for sale, they needed to continually have 250,000 liters of wine in barrels. Many small Sherry producers couldn’t meet this demand and needed a third party to sell their product, which led to the industry being divided. There were and still are people who only own vineyards, as well as those who only own bodegas, and those few large producers who have the capital to purchase from those who do not bottle and label their wine as their own. Although the new regulations have now reduced minimum amount of wine to 25,000 liters, the industry is still quite divided. That division presented an obstacle to my goal of seeing the whole process of Sherry production, from vine to bodega. I needed to find one of the rare producers who does everything themselves, from beginning to end. My best bet was to find a small producer that would have once been an almacenista; producers that have their own bodegas but don’t meet the production requirements to have their own label, so their wine is sold to other producers for sale and export. With the help of friends in the Sherry industry, I was able to secure a sort of internship with a longtime almacenista that has just recently begun bottling their own Sherry under the label Cruz Vieja, named after the neighborhood in which the bodega resides. 

Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez is potentially the smallest producer in Jerez that has its own label. Beginning in 2014, they’ve bottled their own very tiny production of incredibly high quality Sherry. This is a family owned bodega that began this passion project in 1971 after acquiring an old solera dating back to 1789. Now run by the second generation, mainly by Jaime Gonzalez with the help of his brothers and sisters, the bodega cares for seven hectares of vines, two of which they use to produce the very traditional Cruz Vieja wines. They are one of only a few producers who controls every step of the process from vine to bottle, and I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them. 

For years, the important role vineyards play in Sherry production has been overlooked. Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez produces single vineyard Sherry, something that very few producers do these days. I only wish they included this information on the label so people could know how special this is! There are a few producers that will sometimes identify the pago, or designated vineyard zone, on the label, such as Valdespino and Equips Navazos. While I can’t tell you for certain if a single vineyard or single pago Sherry is necessarily better than one that is a blend of vineyards or pagos, I can definitely say quality Sherry does begin in the vineyard. Even those great producers who do not own their own vines do all they can to know where their juice is coming from and how the vineyards are cared for. Bodegas Urium is an example of this. They are another phenomenal small producer, one who does not have their own vineyards, but has a business partnership with a vineyard owner whom they trust and who gives them the ability to control how the vineyards are being managed. This points towards growing interest amongst the new generation of winemakers to put an emphasis on the vineyards. I met three young oenologists who were excited to tell me about their project that focused on the terroir of different pagos. The idea is to create unfortified white wine from palomino grapes, with each bottling containing a single pago, in order to express the terroir of each pago. Hopefully more projects like this one will help bring attention to the importance of the vineyards and the terroir of the different pagos.  

I was lucky enough to see the process of winemaking at Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez from pick to press to fermentation. The 2016 vintage had been difficult, with excessive rainfall in May, followed by too much of the levante (the southern, hot, dry winds), which led to grapes maturing unevenly and low yields, but ultimately the harvest resulted in fruit of a high quality and concentrated sugar. The harvest started early this year in many places. By the beginning of my second week in Jerez we were ready to harvest the grapes (see this post to learn little more about the preparation for harvest). Harvest work is some of the most difficult work I have ever done in my life—sweating, bending, crouching, and getting bit by ants and wasps. It is certainly less then glamorous. This year there was a heat wave during harvest, meaning at times temperatures reached 116 degrees fahrenheit. My first day, I thought there would be a master class in how to cut the grapes properly off the vine, but I was simply given a ten second demonstration and a pair of clippers and told to cut everything off the vine. There were a few things I was to watch out for, such as grapes overly dried on the vine, rot, or infestations. These were to be cut off the vine and discarded, but the majority of sorting and cleaning is done after the picking. I was always given only one row of vines to work at a time. I would work as quickly and as carefully as I possibly could, but I always finished much later than the professionals. Later, I learned that they were actually taking two rows at once, and I was still finishing a half hour later than them with my single row.  

The professional harvesters are some of the sweetest people I’ve met and they had a wealth of knowledge to share with me about the vines, the grapes, and the critters in the vineyards.  Working in a vineyard like Jaime’s was an incredible lesson in biodiversity. They use only organic compost and very little, if any, insecticide or pesticides, so the vineyard is crawling with critters. Each morning as we pulled into the vineyard before sunrise we would see rabbits scurry into the bushes at the sound of our steps. We found loads of chameleons, many wild partridges, and various types of insects and lizards I had never seen before. We even found a few bird nests nestled in-between the vines when we were cutting. 

All the grapes at Jaime’s vineyard are hand-picked, but I had the opportunity to watch how machine harvesting works. It is quite a site to see—fast, efficient, and accurate; but it also seems a bit harsh on the vines. Hand picking is certainly more delicate. We mainly picked palomino and Pedro Ximenez grapes, while also picking a little moscatel and a few grapes primarily for eating. The palomino and Pedro Ximenez look almost identical, but taste incredibly different.  While harvesting you can even smell the difference; the PX has a sweet, aromatic smell while the palomino is neutral.

One of the cooler experiences was being able to harvest PX grapes for soleo, or more well-know by its french term, passerillage, a process by which the grapes are picked and then lain on a mat in-between rows to dry out in the sun for a week or two in order to concentrate the sugars. 

The day after we picked the Palomino grapes, Jaime took me to see exactly what happens next.  A truck comes to the vineyard to pick up the grapes and then drives them to the press site. We hopped in Jaime’s car and followed closely behind. We were greeted at the press facility by a jolly, plump man and a table full of food and wine. Like any social interaction in Jerez, nothing could take place until everyone was sufficiently fed. After several copas de vino de jerez and a plate of chicken and rice, the grapes are dumped into the sorter and then filtered into the press.

Once pressed, the juice is separated into the first press juice, which is reserved for fino, and second press juice, which is reserved for oloroso. The following day, the juices are pumped into a truck and transported to the bodega. Jaime still does fermentation in barrel, an old technique that has mostly been eradicated because it requires a lot of attention. 

At the bodega, the truck closes down the entire street for hours in order to pump the juice directly into the fermentation barrels. I was able to assist Jaime in filling the barrels, which he does single handedly each year. This process takes hours, and when we were finished, there were twenty-five barrels of must waiting to ferment. This is a tiny production. Jaime only bottles about 4,000-6,000 bottles per year. Once the juice hits the inside of the barrels, fermentation begins almost immediately. It's a testament to the ideal climatic conditions in the bodega that allow wild yeast to thrive. By the time we were finished pumping the must into the barrels, we could hear the sizzling and smell the funk of fermentation. The sound and smells are captivating and indicate the end of a successful harvest, so we decided to celebrate with a little venencia lesson, from venenciadora, Momoko, jamon y queso, and some of the old, family-only Amontillado, which Jaime let me saca, or pull out of the barrel and pour myself—a nerve-racking task when you know you are drinking wine that dates back to 1890. 

The wine will finish fermenting to complete dryness in about a week, then it will be fortified with grape spirit and sit and wait for its classification. But what is next for the vineyards? Now comes the important task of preparing the vineyards for the rainy season, which is in the autumn and winter. As I briefly mentioned before, the vineyards in Jerez have this beautiful, chalky, albariza soil. Before the rainy season hits, the soft albariza soil is pressed into rectangular pits between the rows of vines, helping to trap the water and reduce run off—a process called aserpiado. In the summer heat, the soil will then harden and protect the water from evaporating. In the hot July and August months, the roots will reach deep into the soil for water, sometimes as far as thirty meters down.

If you should visit the Sherry region, take the rare experience to visit not only the bodegas, but the vineyards of the region. Sink your feel in the soil, feel the soft, calcareous albariza soil in your hands, keep your eyes open for the creatures of the vineyards and taste the grapes off the vine, most importantly appreciate that the vineyard is the place where painstaking work, year-round, goes into in order to produce the incredible vinos de jerez

~Olivia Ragni

Scotland's Whisky Mecca Set For New Distillery

David Driscoll

We were having lunch at the Ardbeg cafe when Andrew Laing got the call from his dad Stewart. I watched his face for a reaction—good or bad—but I couldn’t read anything from his expression. We’d been waiting all day for this moment; the decision from the Argyll & Bute Planning Committee concerning the future of Ardnahoe distillery on Islay. For more than a year, Stewart and his two sons, Scott and Andrew, have been working to approve what would become the island’s ninth distillery. They’d purchased a piece of land just south of Bunnahabhain and north of Caol Ila, between the two stalwarts along the northeast coast across from Jura. They’d created a design, gathered a list of necessary equipment, and submitted the plans to the council back in January. Since then they’d been working to troubleshoot and tweak the plans to fit with the department’s feedback before the final hearing was scheduled. A yes or no vote was set for 11 AM this morning in Lochgilphead, and we were past midday at this point. While no one was expecting any conflict or issues, the boys were still a bit on edge because the reality of an Ardnahoe distillery would not be (and could not be) official until permission was granted. It was still possible for any potential protesters to file a grievance or air a complaint and now Stewart was calling from the main office with the news. “Hello? Hello?!” Andrew began saying repeatedly after only a few seconds of conversation. His phone had cut out. “The signal on Islay is terrible!” he exclaimed. Apparently the message had not been transmitted. Both Andrew and Scott tried calling back, but there was no service. “We’ll go to Iain’s,” Andrew said. “My dad’s surely called him already.” We paid our tab, rushed to the parking lot, and headed north back towards Port Ellen.

We drove hastily past the former distillery site and along the coast to the home of Iain Hepburn, the architect and designer for the Laing’s Ardnahoe distillery, who coincidentally shares the same last name as the boys’ maternal grandfather. “His car is here,” Scott said as we approached. After a few knocks, Iain answered the door with a huge grin.

“Is it a yes?” Andrew asked half with excitement and the other half shattered nerves.

“It’s a yes!” Iain exulted and with that announcement cheers were immediately shouted, hands were shaken, hugs were given freely, and a bottle of Champagne was quickly produced. We gathered in Iain’s conservatory overlooking the Islay countryside towards the Mull of Oa to celebrate. Andrew popped the Veuve Cliquot, handed us each a glass, and together we toasted the future of Ardnahoe: the first distillery for a historic whisky family, but not the Laing's first thought of ownership. Stewart’s father started the family’s first whisky business in 1949, a blending house that purchased and matured both single malt and grain whiskies from other producers, but the family’s current operation—the Hunter Laing Company—had been considering the purchase of a working site for years. “We realized about eighteen months ago that we were going to have build if we wanted to own a distillery,” Andrew told me as rode the ferry from Kennacraig. “For several reasons, Islay was the clear choice. We have family connections to the island. Our father worked and trained at Bruichladdich in the sixties, and we had relatives living in Bowmore in the 1800s. We vacationed there as kids. It's the only location we ever considered.” Andrew and Scott are also partial to the island’s peated whiskies, which made building on Islay that much more romantic.

After an exhaustive search for the perfect site, the Laings teamed with acclaimed Islay engineer Iain Hepburn to create a vision for the family’s long-held dream. Having designed projects at both Ardbeg and Laphroaig, as well as the beloved pedestrian path from Port Ellen down to the southern distilleries, Iain’s reputation on the island is that of someone who can get things done, and get them done well. “As far as the aesthetic design, we took our lead from him,” Scott told me. “He’s the expert and the one with the experience.” The boys knew they wanted a classic pagoda roof as part of the appearance, but beyond that their goal was to find a design that fit the atmosphere—one that would blend in with and enhance the scenic property. Iain not only provided the design for the distillery, he also engineered it to be as efficient as possible in terms of production. While the logistics were important, his goal from day one was to enhance the visitor experience at Ardnahoe. In spite of the slope on to which the facility would be built, Iain's intent was to put as much of the experience on one main floor so that the vistors wouldn't have to continually walk up and down various flights of stairs, or meander their way through multiple levels. "I wanted it to face northeast and look out on to both Jura and Mull, and beyond towards Skye,” Iain told us when we met him at the group’s planning office yesterday. “It’s an absolutely beautiful location, and it’s a rather dramatic view as you come down over the hill and see the water for the first time.” He walked us through the blueprints and outlined the inner workings of the facility before we made our way out to visit the estate.

The name Ardnahoe comes from the name of the adjacent loch, which will serve as the water source for the distillery. In Gaelic, the name means “height of the hollow,” referring to the site’s dramatic topography. Having access to a natural water source is perhaps the most important aspect of choosing a distillery site, and Ardnahoe will be built directly across from an immensely deep lake of clean, fresh, pure Islay water. Due to the important role that water plays in a whisky’s ultimate flavor, there’s a rich tradition in Scotland of naming a distillery after that vital resource. “The name was an obvious choice,” Scott said as we gazed out over the grey expanse. “We didn’t spend too much time deciding on that.” As I continued to think about Scotland's tradition and heritage of distillation, I realized that—once built—Ardnahoe will become the only Scottish-owned distillery on the island. "We didn't take any outside investors," Andrew said, "because we didn't want anyone else telling us how to do this." A major new distillery free from venture capitalism, a lengthy Kickstarter campaign, or any other attempt to solicit donations from potential whisky drinkers before actual producing a drop of whisky? What a concept in this day and age where monetary investment is considered the burden of others!

Between the main distillery site and the loch of Ardnahoe is an old farmhouse that dates back hundreds of years and currently serves as a makeshift office for the project. While the distillery won’t be open until 2018, the rustic edifice has tasting room written all over it. We all thought it would make a great event destination for Ardnahoe promotional parties in the meantime, imagining a candlelit hall crowded with whisky fans at next year's Feis Ile festival. While the official distillery buildings are still being finalized, the Laings have announced that they intend to make both peated and unseated styles of whisky like their neighbors at Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila respectively. Perhaps the addition of a third distillery on the northeast coast will finally give Islay's heralded south beach a run for its money! I can sense a new rivalry in the making.

After going over the details and the design of the visitor’s center, we waded through the weeds and made our way down to the future home of the distillery. The view from the hill is simply majestic; the mountains of Jura standing stark across the Straight of Islay with the current moving quickly north out to sea. Iain’s design will be classically styled, but with a modern approach in terms of an aesthetic. “We want to honor tradition, but we also want to give people a reason to come out here and see us,” he said as he outlined the vision for us. After almost ten years in this business, I can't say if I've ever been as excited for a new whisky distillery as I am for Ardnahoe, mainly because of the philosophy that the Laings are approaching the project with. As longtime fans and bottlers of whisky, all three men know full well what constitutes a great dram. As veterans of the whisky blending business, they're tailoring that vision from the perspective of the consumer. Plus, I don't believe I've ever met three more level-headed and kind people from one family before. I've known the Laings for about five years at this point, but after spending the last three days with them I can safely say that this is one of the first distillery projects I've witnessed completely free of vanity, ego, or delusion. The Laings don't envision Ardnahoe as an investment to be flipped, or a last ditch attempt to capitalize on a hot whisky market. It's simply the logical next step for a Scotch whisky family that's been part of the industry for over six decades. They've devoted themselves to the single malt community because they believe in its necessity.

As Andrew poured the Champagne and Scott finally began to smile, we all took a deep breath and relaxed into our seats. You could sense that a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders, despite the encouragement and support that the Islay community had emitted over the last few days. Everyone from the Scotch whisky community has been rooting for the Laings since day one, as have consumers in the know. As we rode the ferry back to the mainland, we continued to discuss potential strategies and ideas in the ship's main lounge. A group of Scottish men sitting nearby, who were clearly dedicated whisky fans, happened to overhear our conversation and asked about the progress. Since I knew Andrew and Scott were both too modest to brag a bit on their own behalf, I informed the group that the plans for Ardnahoe had just been approved and that a celebration was in order. Within seconds the men had produced a hip flask and poured a dram for everyone in the group, wishing the boys their very best and promising to stop by the site on their next visit. You could sense the men were just as excited by the idea as the Laings themselves, and why wouldn't they be? A new distillery on Islay is a big deal. It's the spiritual home of single malt whisky, a veritable Mecca for Scotch drinkers. Everywhere we went, the news about Ardnahoe was met with a reaction and congratulatory bliss normally reserved for pregnancy announcements.

In a sense, the Laings are indeed adding on to the family. They've got a few more exciting announcements up their sleeve, to boot. Buckle up, everyone. There's still more to come.

-David Driscoll

The Jerez Way of Life: Tabancos, Tapas, & Sherry

Olivia Ragni

In Jerez, life moves a little bit slower. In the summer, between the hours of 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM, the city is desolate. The majority of Jerezanos are in their homes, hiding from the oppressive sun, eating a decadent lunch and taking their siesta. The only people left wandering the city streets are los guiris; the tourists. These newcomers to the city are left to fend for themselves if they want a bite to eat or a refreshing drink. Any attempt at either will be met with shuttered windows and locked doors. Dinner begins late here in Jerez—around 9:00 PM is when you see the city come alive with people taking up every part of the street, cars struggle to drive through the sea of people hopping to and from their favorite tabancos. A tabanco is a type of tavern indigenous to Jerez. These local joints are focused around selling Sherry straight from the barrel while also serving simple, traditional food. In addition to the food and drink, tabancos serve the community with a place to socialize and mingle. At every tabanco you will find a Sherry menu on the wall, but don’t expect to see a detailed listing of various producers. You will simply see a listing of each style accompanied by a price per glass. Make your selection and watch the bartender pour you una copita from the barrel. 

Each one usually sells for well under 1.50 Euros per glass. The lack of an identifiable producer is commonplace. There’s a house Sherry for each style, and the public is rarely, if ever, privy to such information. It is only important to pick the style you would like to pair with your tapas. This is because dinner in Jerez is a much smaller affair than in the United States. It’s more a time to socialize with friends while picking on tapas and having una copa de vino de jerez (a glass of sherry) or small beer called una caña. The tabanco is small, the glasses are small, and the plates are small. While you can find larger restaurants with more in-depth Sherry lists and more fancily crafted food, the dinner pairing remains the same: Sherry is an accompaniment to food and food is an accompaniment to Sherry. Never one without the other.

I quickly learned after a few nights in Jerez that it is impossible to drink and eat separately.  The first few times I was invited out for a drink, I declined food.  This was met with strong backlash and several orders of tapas anyway. I’ve also learned to tread lightly when I’m hungry, because the first stop for food and drink is never the last stop.

It seems Jerezanos never stop eating or drinking throughout the day, yet somehow are never too drunk nor too full. I’ve heard this phenomenon referred to as el puntito. For every glass of fino, manzanilla, amontillado, and oloroso, there are equal plates of carne mechada, coquinas, queso payoyo, chicharronesjamon iberico de bellota. As the Sherry continues to flow, so too does the food in order to balance the Sherry.

This inseparable pairing is in contrast to the United States where food and drink are often consumed separately, often to the point of being either stuffed or drunk. It's beginning to change as people are returning to the pre-Prohibition days of drinking with their food.  Maybe this is why only recently Sherry has begun gaining popularity in the U.S. Sherry was born from a culture where eating and drinking together are important, and moreover, eating and drinking well.  There’s an apocryphal story in Jerez that says there was once a McDonald’s in the center of the city, but it quickly closed down—the only McDonald’s in Spain to do so. You’d be hard pressed to find a Jerezano who would choose a McDouble over a succulent plate of chicharrones. 

Sherry should not be thought of as an aperitif or after dinner drink, but a drink to be paired with your lunch or dinner, (or breakfast for that matter). It deserves a place on our dinner tables alongside the French and Italian table wines we think of as more food-friendly. Sherry is extremely versatile, pairing well with things that are notoriously difficult, like asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, and anything with umami flavors. But perhaps the best pairing for Sherry is the combination found in every tabanco all over Jerez; good conversation with good friends. So grab a plate of jamon iberico, a few friends, and a bottle of Sherry to recreate a traditional Jerezano experience.

-Olivia Ragni