On the Trail

sparkling wine

Jean-Louis Denois: Excellent Bubbles, Excellent Price

sparkling wineKate Soto

Our Direct Import program is really the backbone of K&L. It’s one of the most significant ways that we are able to bring you wines that we believe in at such great value. Our buyers build relationships with producers all over the wine-growing, wine-loving world. Most of these are small producers whom we only find out about because we have feet on the ground. Our buyers travel and make relationships that connect them to that friend of a friend of a friend who turns out to be making astonishing wine.

We’ve been working with Jean-Louis Denois for about 15 years, and there’s one easy reason—his wines are fantastic. He found his way to Languedoc’s Limoux region from Champagne, after adventuring all over to learn the winemaking craft. He studied in Burgundy then South Africa, but was drawn to Limoux for its sparkling wine potential. This cool region along the Aude River in the foothills of the Pyrenees is Languedoc’s answer to Champagne. Despite its southerly position, it has a unique microclimate that keeps temps cool (the nearby Atlantic Ocean plays a big part) and allows vineyards to grow at the highest elevations in the Languedoc, making it ideal for racy bubbles. Temps rise in the summer, but strong winds keep it moderate. Wine historians (and locals) say this may even be the home of the world’s first sparkling wine. Records have sparkling wine from here dating back to 1531 at the Abbey of St-Hilaire.

Sparkling Limoux is often made from the Mauzac grape, but Denois chooses to focus on Pinot and Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Meunier. He is, after all, a sixth-generation Champenois (You can take the man out of Champagne but can’t take the Champagne out of the man…right?) He is committed to farming organically and biodynamically, using techniques such as higher vine trellising to increase canopy exposure and wild ground cover. His sparklers are complex and ultra high-acid, but they won’t break the bank—perfect refreshment for this heat wave. We carry five of his wines, all coming in under $20.

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Jean-Louis Denois "Tradition" Extra Brut Reserve $17.99
Pinot and Chardonnay grown on estate vineyards then aged on the lees for three years. This is marked by a sense of precision, with fine bubbles. A touch smoky, but also floral and appley. It has a luscious palate.

Jean-Louis Denois Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine $15.99
100% Pinot Noir grown at St-Pierre and Borde-Longue vineyards in the town of Roquetaillade. It’s very pretty and aromatic, redolent of strawberry and white flower. High acid and robust mousse.

Jean-Louis Denois Syrah "Rose d'Une Unit" Brut Rosé $14.99
All Syrah grown in Fenouilledes. Ripe strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, pepper, savory and a bit herbal on finish.

Jean-Louis Denois "Bulles d'Argile" Extra Brut (Sans Soufre) 19.99
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown in Roquetaillade and Magrie on calcareous clay soil. Denois keeps the yield small and uses no sulfites. This is round and complex with ripe pear fruits, almonds, and pepper, a touch of toastiness.

Jean-Louis Denois "Eclipse" Extra Brut $19.99
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier. Extra brut, made in very small quantities. Grown in Roquetaillade. Aged in barrels for a minimum of 10 years. Super high acid and crunchy, toasty sweet nuts aromas, ripe apples and a round palate.

- Kate Soto

Sipping Bubbles, Saving Bees

hollywood, sparkling wineKate Soto

With a light, zesty texture and just a hint of sweetness, Honey Bubbles is easy to like. It’s a new sparkling Moscato on our shelves, and it’s an incredibly amiable wine with an elegant hold on its sweetness--citrusy and floral notes with enough acid to balance its residual sugar. When Greg St. Clair poured it for the staff a few weeks ago, it was a hit all around.

But it’s also a brand that’s very easy to support. Honey Bubbles is the pet project of two WSET-trained wine geeks who fell in love with the Moscato grape, but also had a yearning to do good. Scott Roughgarden and Christiana Gifford care about wine and wanted to make a good product, but they also wanted to give back. When they settled on the name Honey Bubbles for their wine, the light bulb went on: this project would be about making good wine while supporting the bees that make it—and about 80% of the food we eat—possible.

The two started the project about four years ago, but they’d met much earlier in a serendipitous tangle of turns that led them both to Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. Christiana was visiting from Las Vegas, and, while sitting on the beach, her BFF asked her to help decide between two beachfront restaurants for her wedding. Christiana was drawn to Shutters, so they went up and had a glass of Champagne. And guess who was their server--none other than Scott. Two years later, when Christiana decided to move to LA, she knew that if she was going to work as a server to support herself (and her then-dream of being a makeup artist), she wanted to do it at Shutters. When she got hired and showed up in uniform, Scott remembered her! He trained her on the job, and they became fast friends. Years later, they both took the WSET courses together.

It was during these courses that they hatched their plan. One of their instructors waxed poetic about the Moscato grape--its ancient roots, its flavor profile--and the two decided that the U.S. market needed a wine that highlighted the beauty of the grape without the often-cloying sweetness. “We bought every bottle of Moscato on the U.S. market that we could,” Scott said. “We felt like it had become the Coca Cola of wine in the U.S. because what we were getting was so sweet. It’s a noble grape varietal, one of the most produced grapes on earth. We said to each other, ‘let’s do a fresh take on it.’” They raised money and drove the first cases around in their car. But all it took was a foot in the door: once they could pour the wine for people, buyers started picking it up.

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From the start, they wanted to be cause driven. They give part of their proceeds to organizations that lobby for less strict beekeeping regulations, to beekeepers themselves, and to programs that promote education on Colony Collapse Disorder. They also support an organization called Honey Love that does non-harmful removal of bees without fumigation in Los Angeles, relocating instead of killing the unwanted bees. “Some people don’t even know about what’s going on with the honey bee, how quickly they are disappearing,” said Christiana. “They are essential to our ecosystem. We try to let the people we work with know how vital bees are, for instance, in any farm to table menu. We work with Honey Love to try to breakdown the barriers of fear around honey bees, especially in children, and to host events for National Honey Bee Day (August 18th).”

While doing good, they’re making good wine. They source their grapes directly from the Asti and Veneto regions in Italy, and work very closely with the winemaker. Because they are not trying to give their wine the Moscato d’Asti DOCG status, they are not beholden to Italian regulations—meaning that they can make their wine higher in alcohol (about 11% vs the max 6% of the DOCG), and they can hold back the residual sugar. These two factors make for a more balanced, food-friendly expression of the grape—it’s good with dessert but also with cheeses or spicy food. They make it in the traditional Charmat method, which allows this aromatic varietal to really express its personality. The basic motto behind the whole operation? Quality at a good price.

This motto seems to be paying off. They’re new to the market, but all they need to do is pour a glass for people—then the line starts to form. This is what happened at an Italian wine competition in Florida recently, where they truly had a line all the way around the event of people waiting to try their wine, and where they ended up winning the People’s Choice Award. They’re humbled by this, and expressed a lot of gratitude for how people have embraced the brand so far. Christiana will be pouring this lively wine on Thursday in our Hollywood tasting bar, so you’ll have a chance to try it for yourself! 5:30-7 $20. Come check out the buzz!

- Kate Soto