On the Trail

Vom Boden's Enticing German Collection

Ryan Woodhouse

As a wine buyer, many of my friends and family think I have a dream job: “You get paid to drink wine all day!” But as I’m constantly reminding them, it ain’t all glory. Tasting hundreds of wines a week isn’t always fun—trust me! Among the K&L buying team, one expression that we frequently use is “kissing frogs.” This refers to the amount of frogs we have to kiss before we find a “princess.” I’ve never actually made notes on how many wines audition for a spot on our shelves versus how many actually get a placement, but I would guess one in twenty. 

Once in a long while, a diligent, extremely quality-oriented supplier makes our jobs so much easier. Such has been my experience with the wines of Vom Boden. This small wine importer and distributor, founded by Stephen Bitterolf, specializes in family-grown wines predominantly from Germany. Just about every wine I have tasted has impressed me. They are distinctive, but not weird. They are thought-provoking, but quaffable. They are world-class, but not overpriced. The Vom Boden portfolio has incredible diversity all sewn together by a common thread—Stephen himself sums up the founding concept perfectly: 

“They are all human-scaled wineries. They are small. It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance to us of this ‘human scale.’ Economies of scale make economic sense, but they also seem to neutralize the detail, the personality, the very thing we are searching for in wine.” 

If I had to pick one wine from our German selections right now that encapsulates what I love about Riesling, I think this would be it their 2015 Vollenweider Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett Mosel. From a historic vineyard of own-rooted vines that are up to 100 years old, this wine is a crystal-clear rendition of how the Riesling grape can so faithfully convey sense of place. The wine is loaded with wet slate, minerals, and salt, beautifully contrasted with ripe fruit, dense extract and a mellifluous texture that pervades the palate. I could geek out over this wine for hours or I could pound a bottle of it in fifteen minutes—both would be immensely enjoyable. 

Another Vom Boden winner is the 2015 Peter Lauer “Fass 8” Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett Saar. Lauer under the guidance of Florian Lauer has become a star of the Saar! He farms ridiculously steep hillside vineyards like Ayler Kupp and jokes that “steep mountain winemakers are heroes!” The wine perfectly captures what is so special about the Saar: a fierce battle between intensity and restraint. Grey slate mineral, citrus cut, jasmine, preserved ginger and spice; lees-derived texture and phenolic weight balance the structural acidity; the dash of residual sugar caresses the sharp edges but never dulls them. This is an awesome wine with so much character. 

Before this wine I don’t believe I had ever heard of Elbling or its Hild Elbling Sekt Flaschengärung, but now I have a serious crush on this much-maligned varietal—once the workhorse grape of Germany, now reduced to a few small plantings. However, some producers are dedicated to preserving the grape’s heritage and are making remarkable wines from it. Matthias Hild farms tiny ancient, walled terraces planted to Elbling in the village of Wincheringen. The soil here is the same vein of chalk and limestone you find in Chablis and Champagne. The cool climate and Elbling’s racy acidity make perfect sense for producing Sekt. The “Flaschengärung,” meaning bottle fermented, is dry, intensely mineral and has the acidity to use as an aperitif or with shellfish, crab or crudité.

If there’s such as thing as a “cult” German Pinot Noir producer, Enderle & Moll would be it. Their 2015 Enderle & Moll “Liaison” Pinot Noir Pfalz is a true labor of love (and experimentation) from friends Sven Enderle and Florian Moll. After winemaking school and stints at other wineries, they managed to procure some of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in Baden, planted in the 1950s. Biodynamic farming methods are used. Winemaking is very minimalist: wild ferments, no fining, only used French oak. The “Liaison” bottling has a beautiful interplay between the softer more exotic, seductive elements of the grape but also carries plenty of savory, gamy, animal and soil-derived characters. The light touch in the cellar is evidenced by the wine’s authentic aromas, flavors and feel. It's a beautiful Pinot Noir.

-Ryan Woodhouse

More Stories from the Central Coast

Sal Rodriguez

It was mid-morning when we stepped inside the tasting room at Claiborne & Churchill and the smell of bacon filled the room like only bacon can. There, waiting for us, was a bacon, egg, and cheese quiche and a fruit plate. Just perfect to hold us over until lunch! Did I mention bacon? 

One of my favorite things about the wine industry is how hospitable so many of the winemakers are. Even on a first visit, it can feel like you’re hanging out with old friends. This is exactly how the wonderful folks, Clay and Elizabeth, made us feel on our recent visit to Claiborne & Churchill. You can always tell the people who love what they’re doing and they most certainly do. Something I’ve done, after other trips, is purchase products for personal consumption from a winery or two, once I return to work. Upon my return to work, I immediately checked our inventory levels of all of our C&C products. When we didn’t have everything I wanted, I even went so far as to purchase a couple of bottles directly from the winery because I was impatient. I really had to have some bottles in hand to share with my family. I too am a fan of instant gratification. Elizabeth was all too happy to oblige

Everywhere we travelled on our Central Coast trip, amazing Pinot Noir was quite prevalent. C&C was no exception. A serious stand-out was their 2015 “Classic Estate” Edna Valley Pinot Noir. Never-ending perfumed aromas of fruit and flowers came out in layers from the glass. Cranberry, and brambly wild-berries on the palate were in high concentration. Noticeable tannins are right in line with all of the aromas and the bright acidity of a classic Pinot from the region. At the time I’m writing this there is even a tiny handful of the 2014 “Classic Estate” Pinot and it too was amazing! A slightly darker fruited wine, with a little more noticeable oak, and with just the right hint of smoked meats, and it’s a pleasure too! It’s incredible how we can offer this much wine for this low of a price! Just outstanding! 

I could not forget feeling entertained by a shirt that had “Gewurtz ‘til it hurts” ironed on it and was for sale in their tasting room. Although we all thought it was quite cool, there’s a darn good reason it was for sale there. Claiborne & Churchill is quite well-known for their Gewurtztraminer, and who wouldn’t want to drink bottle after bottle of it. Consistent quality and persistence no matter the vintage is what can be expected from C&C.  The 2016 is the one we were able to taste with Elizabeth and Clay; I found it to be fresh, tropical, high-toned acid and zippy crispness of fruit. There is plenty of minerality and texture that keep things in balance while intensity accurately describes the flavorful finish. So much going on and again, what incredible pricing!

I don’t think it would be right not to mention their Riesling as well. The 2015 Central Coast Riesling showed tons of lift from the aromas of stone fruit and orange blossom as well as crispness and precision. There’s no way this won’t be getting better with a little more age. Like my colleague Anthony made some mention of in a previous blog post, the Central Coast is making “serious” wines. I'm pretty sure the producers here have always taken themselves seriously, but as of late their wines are showing off a tremendous amount of style, finesse, and precision that maybe we would have only expected from regions that command much more money per bottle. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be seeing the region really begin to take an even stronger-hold in the wine market and start representing California in quite an impressive way and no doubt Claiborne & Churchill will be smack in the middle of it all!

-Sal Rodriguez

The 2016 Winners from the Northern Médoc

Jeff Garneau
  The entrance to Cos d'Estournel in St. Estèphe

The entrance to Cos d'Estournel in St. Estèphe

The 2016 vintage in Bordeaux is remarkably consistent; there are wines of the highest quality in every part of the region and at every price point. That being said, 2016 is a vintage in which the wines of the northern Médoc truly shine. A few reasons why: 

The quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon in 2016 was especially good. Small, thick-skinned berries grown under drought conditions meant high tannin and anthocyanin levels, producing deeply colored, structured wines. Pronounced temperature differences between daytime highs and nighttime lows throughout the late summer and early autumn gave the wines great freshness and aromatic intensity. Most producers noted that the harvest was extended over a longer period and completed later than average. Ideal harvest conditions meant that each parcel could be picked at the peak of ripeness, favoring later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. You can see that in the composition of the wines with the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon ranging from 65% to 95%. 

The 2016 vintage seems to have brought out the very best in the wines of the northern Médoc, reducing them to their quintessential character by some alchemical miracle, stripping them of all excess and revealing the true nature within, resulting in terroir-driven wines of astonishing typicity. The vintage of 2016 has produced wines of immense power and grace, very elegant and precise. They are not bold and assertive, but rather self-assured and full of quiet authority. It is a style that seems expressly designed to showcase the wines of the northern Médoc. 

  Tasting with the team at Cos

Tasting with the team at Cos

I cannot recall a vintage in which I have rated the wines of St-Estèphe more highly. The 2016 Montrose is a marvel—intense, concentrated and brooding. The 2016 Calon Ségur by contrast is understated and reserved, the epitome of minimalist restraint. The 2016 Cos d’Estournel brought tears to my eyes, a return to form that recalled the many great, classic vintages of the 1980’s. Tasting the 2016 vintage was like meeting an old friend—mon vieux!—whom you never expected to see again this side of heaven. Deuxiéme Cru Cos d’Estournel may give the Premier Crus a run for their money in 2016. Speaking of which... 

Like a trio of dowager countesses quietly establishing the standards for High Society, the three First Growths set the tone in 2016 for all of Pauillac with wines of incomparable quality. The 2016 Mouton Rothschild—grand and magisterial —eschews ostentation. The 2016 La te Rothschild is weighty and opulent, the 2016 Latour lush and convivial. With these wines, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up an astonishing 80% to 90% of the blends. 

With 85% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, the 2016 Pichon Baron is the very definition of Pauillac, a classic in the making. Though 2016 was one of the latest harvests ever here, across the road at Pichon Lalande they finished picking one day later still, ultimately deciding on a blend that is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. Polished, elegant, and re ned this has the potential to compete with some of the great vintages of the past. Comparable perhaps to 1982, 1989, or 1996? 

  Tasting with Jean-Michel Cazes at Lynch-Bages

Tasting with Jean-Michel Cazes at Lynch-Bages

The 2016 Duhart Milon is ripe and concentrated, dense, dark and black-fruited. Plays to the strengths of the vintage with a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon to one-third Merlot. Tannins quite fine here. Deceptively easy to taste. 

The 2016 d’Armailhac may be the best I have yet tasted – big, brash, self-assured – but with a warm and friendly manner that puts you immediately at ease. The wine makes an immediate impression in the mouth, demonstrating obvious class and character. The 2016 Clerc Milon, too is a supremely polished effort with great presence and weight. Generous. Expansive. Dense and rich. Superb. 

Perennial ingenue Pontet-Canet is poised to please many a palate with this 2016 offering. It hits all the highlights of the vintage – intense color, aromatic nose, ne tannins – and adds to that a lush texture and plenty of ripe, sweet fruit. Sensuous and seductive. 

The 2016 Lynch-Bages was a study in quiet power, confident and self-assured. “Perhaps the best we have ever made from a technical perspective,” noted owner Jean-Michel Cazes. A wine of extraordinary concentration, it is, for me, one of the wines of the vintage. Transformative. An epiphany in a glass. Truly awe-inspiring.

-Jeff Garneau

Value in Bordeaux's 2016 Bonanza

Jason Marwedel

Learning I was to join Team K&L for the annual En Primeur tasting in Bordeaux this year was a great thrill. Little did I know what a truly magical experience it would be. Simply put: it was the trip of a lifetime—perfect weather conditions, tremendous hospitality, and what looks to be one of the great vintages in the region's history. In general, 2016 is the type of vintage we all crave. The wines are expressive, approachable, and showcase terroir above all else. This was a common thread across both banks and at all price points with the wines we tasted during our visit. 2016 displays all the hallmarks of a successful vintage, one I am confident will be well received by our customers and should provide quality and value across the board if you know where to look. As I'm prone to value selections, here were some of the highlights I felt were not to be missed:

St-Estèphe really shines in this vintage with the 2016 Lilian Ladouys, St-Estèphe (Pre-Arrival) $20.99 standing out as a top value. Lifted aromatics lead to a lively palate of black fruit, cinnamon, and sweet herbs. I love how the intensity and silky mouth-feel persist throughout. Traveling southwest to the Haut-Médoc, another great value is the 2016 Château Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc (Pre-Arrival) $14.99. This wine has quietly become a customer (and staff) favorite in recent years with lovely aromatics of red and black fruits that are entwined with notes of flowers and exotic spice. This fragrant nose leads to a dense palate of sweet and savory currant fruit and perfectly placed tannins. Heading further south, one of the great surprises of the Left Bank is the 2016 Château Senejac, Haut-Médoc (Pre-Arrival) $14.99. This wine is so elegant especially for the price! Bright red fruit, flowers, and spice grace this stylish nose. The palate offers purity and depth while maintaining perfectly polished edges. Not to be forgotten, the Right Bank offers a host of amazing wines in 2016. My top value has to be the 2016 Château Puy-Blanquet, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (Pre-Arrival) $23.99Deep dark color with notes of cherry, vanilla, bay leaf and black olive fill the glass. The palate is decadent, sweet and round with supple tannins and mouth-watering acidity.

I highly encourage everyone to explore the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux, especially some of the lesser-known properties because the value is here in almost every expression. The wines will be incredibly enjoyable upon release, but also offer enormous pleasure to those who can wait. And, of course, ordering in advance will get you the best possible price!

-Jason Marwedel

Exploring California's Central Coast

Anthony Gittings

Don’t let the laid back attitude fool you; the wines from the Central Coast are serious. The region as a whole has stepped up its game, and I would go as far as to say that they are making as good a wine as any other wine-growing region in the country. Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir will always be the kings of the region, but varietals like Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon have begun to infiltrate the vineyards and are making a real case for themselves. In addition, aromatic white wine varietals like Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, and Gewürztraminer are being made with exception quality.  Our domestic team recently took a trip down the Central Coast to visit some new producers where this high level of quality was consistently on display.

The level of exploration and willingness to take risks give the Central Coast a more fun-focused and playful feel than California's more famous regions that have higher expectations of quality, price, and focused flavor profiles. At one vineyard site, you can have whole blocks devoted to varietals of France's Jura region. At another, you'll find farmers who are committed to organic practices and using dry farming techniques in order to capture the truest examples of the terroir. The soils and microclimates of the region can vary so drastically that simply blanketing the region as the "Central Coast" does not do it justice. It's for this reason that the Paso Robles region has now been split into eleven micro-AVA’s, in order to give focus and clarity to exactly what you should expect from each unique locale—yet another example of the devotion to excellence here. Limestone, sand, mountains, and the ocean all play an important role in defining this awe inspiring and beautiful landscape.

There were many highlights from our trip, but I would have to say Stolpman Vineyards was one visit that left a lasting impression on me. Not only does the winery have some of the nicest people in the industry, they are some of the most progressive and experimental. Peter and Jessica Stolpman were nice enough to welcome us into their home, treat us as family and feed us an amazing meal. With Peter leading the way, we toured the vineyards along with Ruben Solorzano, the Vineyard Manger and famed Grape Whisperer, Kyle Knapp, the Winemaker, and special friend Earl, the vineyards best friend and watch dog.

Stolpman Vineyards are located in the Ballard Canyon AVA, just a short drive outside of Los Olivos, and is one of the most beautiful valleys that I have had the privilege to visit. The winding roads that hug the creek beds and climb up and down and everywhere around create an adventurous and explorative experience. The thoughtfully placed vineyard sites seem to harmoniously blend with the landscape, adding a touch of wonder and intrigue. In the middle of their vineyard is a giant rope swing, a human slide (that was carved out by hand), and a bike jump that have all been aimed at the reservoir that helps feed the grapes. They're a  simple reminder that enjoying the little things and embracing the fun of life is as important as the work that gets us there. They are strong believers in using natural and dry farming techniques in order to help preserve the land for generations to come.

The wines we tasted that day were not only fantastic and unique, but really made me feel there was something different to this area and the people behind the products. The Central Coast makes rosé that sings for summer nights, like the Stolpman estate-grown expression made from 100% Grenache—a fresh and elegant approach that is one of the best examples I have had in recent memory. Fresh watermelon and strawberries enlighten the senses, while juicy acid and a touch of slate give the wine a nice mouth feel. Their Sauvignon Blanc is the epitome of bright and fresh. Meyer lemons, honey and beautiful minerality give it all the talking points you could ask for. They also make a wine called L' Avion that is comprised of 100% Roussanne and is 100% spectacular. An elegant vanilla and brioche tone flows through the wine seamlessly from nose to finish. Golden raisin and pineapple are accentuated by elegant white flowers, a touch of green fig and delicate poached pear.

In that fun-oriented spirit I mentioned earlier, Stolpman makes a carbonically-fermented Sangiovese with the playful name of 'Love You Bunches'. Carbonic Fermentation (in short) is a process that ferments the majority of the juice within the grapes own skin, the bottom fruit is crushed by gravity and then ferments naturally. The resulting product from using this method is a low tannin, light, and fruity wine. ‘Love you Bunches’ is exactly that, a fun wine that offers loads of bright tart cherry acid, a light but complex body and a long fresh finish. Chilling it for twenty minutes creates the perfect aperitif on a hot day. Stolpman's 'Originals' Syrah is made from their oldest plantings, which also happen to be the oldest in the Ballard Canyon. Because of the age of the vines and use of dry farming, the yield is less than other blocks on the property. The small clusters of fruit they do produce are therefore rich and concentrated. They sort the fruit, using mostly whole clusters and ferment in cement, relying on the stem influence to add wood texture and tannin. The wine is elegant, powerful, and focused, allowing the limestone soil to fully show its influence on the vineyards. Blackberries and blueberries are in the forefront while undertones of pretty red flowers, smoke, and just the right amount of black pepper give the wine complexity and richness. The soft silky tannins and perfectly balanced acid give way to a beautiful and long finish. These are just a couple examples of what they are doing and only scratch the surface, but I would encourage anyone interested to explore their entire portfolio. 

The Central Coast wine region is an exciting frontier, full of experimental techniques and varietals. The focus on terrior and devotion to quality is testament to the hard work of so many men and women. The people, the wines, and the all encompassing beauty has set this region apart and has solidified itself as a truly magical experience full of wonder and incredible wines.

-Anthony Gittings

On the Trail in Portland

David Driscoll

I flew up to Portland last Thursday to host a private wine event for some of our budding out-of-state customers, hoping to tickle their fancy with a few new K&L direct imports. I caught a cab directly to the "Old Portland," a wine bar owned by my friend Courtney Taylor, ironically situated in what has become new Portland. All the up and coming hip spots are situated in the Northwest sector with new restaurants, bars, and cafes opening every month. Courtney, who was born and raised in the Oregon city, is nostalgic for the way things used to be (aren't we all?), so he named his bar accordingly. Within those walls he curates and celebrates Portland's quirky past, pouring old school wines at great prices to help lighten the mood.

I arrived to find my friend straightening up the space and getting the bottles ready for our afternoon's festivities. As a long time K&L customer, Courtney has been a big supporter of our Bordeaux program and many of the other great wine deals we're able to import from all over the world. I had shipped up some of our best bang-for-your-buck bottles and we were preparing to host about forty of his drinking buddies—guys who eat, breath, and sleep all things wine. As we ship a lot of wine into Oregon, I was hoping to tap into that group of Portland diehards. Courtney was stoked, too—mainly because he would get to drink everything in the process!

oldportland6 (1 of 1).jpg

Courtney is, for those of you who don't know him, quite the draw in Portland. He's the world-famous lead singer of the Dandy Warhols, one of the most beloved rock acts to come out of the Pacific Northwest in the late mid-to-late nineties. You can catch my old D2D interview with him in the archives for a more detailed story on how he caught the wine bug, but let's just say the guy loves his grape juice. It's funny because our roles as friends are totally reversed. In theory, I should be the one fawning over him and his rock star status, but in all honesty I think he's more excited to hang out with me. Courtney loves sipping, swirling, nosing, and tasting good wine and—obviously—that's a beloved activity we share a passion for. I think he greatly appreciates people who appreciate it. He was giddy from the moment I got there and I tried to stay humble as he introduced people to me using an arsenal of various accolades.

After the Dandies hit it big, Courtney took some of that money and invested it into an entire city block, creating a warehouse space that would house the band's studio and recording facilities, an art space, a stage and performance area, and now an old world wine bar. Tastefully decorated with dark wood and classic rock paraphernalia, the mood was perfect for an eclectic and music-oriented wine tasting extravaganza. 

The crowd was dynamite and full of serious personalities, many of whom had some sort of artistic background. The shocker (and high point) for me was getting the chance to meet Paige Powell who—if you're not familiar—worked as Andy Warhol's assistant at Interview for many years. She was also dating a guy named Jean-Michel Basquiat before he passed away tragically. No big deal. Maybe you heard the news this morning, about how one of his paintings just sold for $110 million at auction? I spent almost an hour listening to her tell stories about New York during the eighties and what it was like to work for Andy. She and I have a lot in common in that we like to take pictures and talk to people while drinking wine. In this instance, she's taking a photo of me while I take a photo of her. What an experience!

We drank from about one in the afternoon until about eleven in the evening, telling stories and jokes, eating snacks, exploring Courtney's studio, and drinking the selection of K&L imports. We ended up down the street at Besaw's late night, drinking a bottle of 1989 Lilian Ladouys and eating duck confit with Courtney and I pounding a huge plate of french fries, hoping to soak up all that wine with some fried starch. We did our best to walk it off afterward, but in the end we were both too exhausted.

What a night! What a party! I can't wait to do it again.

-David Driscoll

On the Trail at Loxarel

Joe Manekin

Josep Mitjans and his wife Teresa are the team behind Can Mayol and their registered Loxarel (say "lokes-ah-rel," or "Loe-sha-rel," both are correct) brand. Based in Vilobi del Penedes, an area a bit further south from where the most famous cava houses are based, Loxarel has quickly established itself not merely as a top producer (The Wine Advocate lists them amongst the top three in the zone), but also as a company doing some particularly interesting things with a wide array of products: we think twenty-two wines in all, but even Josep was not quite sure and laughed when I asked him exactly how many wines he makes these days. Josep is a well known tinkerer, someone whose innate creativity and curiosity compel him to do things like recovering his father's antique tractor, which he will use to spray biodynamic preparations in the vineyards. He also has gone fairly deep into the rabbit hole of amphora aged wine, increasing his stable to more than a dozen 1000 liter-capacity, Spanish-made amphorae. Having attended the symposium on amphora-aged wine in Georgia, Josep continues to be a devoted user of these vessels, adapting their usage according to the particular wine he is making.

While I have always been intrigued by Josep's creative whims and his underground, civil war-era cellar (or "Refugi," which is also the name of one of their wines), for this visit I wanted to see more of the vineyards. Though I know their home vineyard they have extensive holdings which were inherited through his wife Teresa's family. These numerous parcels start around 400m above sea level and go up to nearly 800m. That is in fact where we started, driving up in Josep’s Mitsubishi jeep over what seemed to be nothing but rocks and small boulders covering a nearly 30% incline towards the end, which lead us to a vineyard known as El Campo de Futbol. There was in fact a soccer stadium here over a century ago; even small mountain villages need a soccer stadium, right?

Protected by forest all around, this serene, scenic spot is where we enjoyed a mini vertical of MM, a blend of Pinot Noir and Xarel-lo Vermell, a red skinned mutation of Xarel-lo. While the 2009 was richer and creamier, it also showed a chalky austerity at the back end which reminded me a bit of my favorite low to no dosage Champagnes. By way of reminder, Loxarel never adds dosage to their wines; they are all Brut Nature. The 2011, due to the drier vintage conditions, showed a bit more color, a very light coppery pink to partridge eye hue. It had subtle, tangy red fruit flavors as well as the Mediterranean notes of herbs, forest and fennel. To me these are the notes of xarel-lo in the Penedes, subtleties which become all the more striking and apparent when appreciated in situ up in the local mountains: Penedes profundo, te digo!

Over the next hour or so, we headed to various smaller vineyard plots, one for Syrah, some for Merlot and notably a particularly beautiful, narrow, extremely protected north-south facing Pinot Noir vineyard. Given the tree cover all around, the orientation and the 500m elevation, this is a spot that gently ripens Pinot Noir for the MM (and quite possibly for the '999' rose as well). All the parcels we visit have some tree cover adjacent to the vineyard, some have olive trees, another a well-established fig tree. 

We returned to the winery to quickly taste and enjoy some steaks which Josep was cooking over vine trunk embers. Teresa put out a cheeseboard which, as usual, had one of my French favorites, Mimolette. Though I was fairly exhausted at this point in the trip, I found it easy to rally again in the comfortable environment, with wines so representative of place and so full of personality. One new standout was a Methode Ancestrale wine, made from Xarel-lo fermented and aged in amphora and then racked into bottles with its un-fermented sugar still present to naturally ferment and create bubbles in the bottle. Delicious stuff! We ended the night with the new 2005 release of the Loxarel "109 Mesos," which is a long (109 months long!) lees aged, non-disgorged bubbly. We have had the 2002 and 2004 in the shop and will certainly have this as well; it's a great wine, full of subtle complexities but so easy to drink as well. Finally, a night cap: 20 year old fortified Garnacha, allowed to reduce and concentrate in a single barrel. This is a sweet wine that Josep keeps around just for family and friends.

Of our Spanish DI's, Loxarel is perhaps the most intriguing in terms of the quality and range of products they produce and the story behind the wines. After several visits here over the years, I feel it is only just now that I am beginning to finally put all the pieces together and realize just how exciting, sprawling, and dynamic a family project this is.

-Joe Manekin

Mas Cava from Mas Codina

Joe Manekin

Cava, the famed sparkling wine of Spain, is a D.O. brand not restricted by location. It can be made along the Mediterranean coast in Valencia or Alicante, near the Portuguese border in Extremadura, even in Rioja (though it cannot be called Rioja cava - simply cava). That said, the most famous producers of cava, and the heart of the production zone, has indeed always been in one place: Penedes. It is a region of gently sloping valleys, surrounded by mountains and forest, whose soils bear a combination of calcareous clay, sand, fossilized marine creatures (like Champagne) and, in the more fertile areas, a richness of nutrients which make the land ideal for other types of cultivation. Given its proximity to the city of Barcelona, it is no surprise that Penedes historically is the most important producer of wines in the region. 

The history of Mas Codina mirrors that of the Penedes, an area of extensive farm land where the most dedicated and ambitious landowners have figured out they need to do more than grow and sell grapes; they must also produce their own distinctive line of wines. The forty hectare Mas Codina estate has been in the Garriga family since the late 1600’s. Current proprietors Toni and Jordi Garriga handle most of the work these days, with their father helping out from time to time, as well as a staff that generally hovers around three to five employees, up to ten during busier times such as harvest when it's all hands on deck. In the mid 1980's, Toni and Jordi's father became the first in the family to begin bottling his own production, recognizing that the future did not lie in producing large yields to sell for mere pesetas to one of the region's dominant producers (Codorniu and Freixenet being the largest ones), but instead in producing their own quality products. Over time, the Garriga family began increasing their own production and—these days—they bottle nearly 70% of what they produce. The other 30% is fermented into base wine that they sell to larger cava houses.

Walking the vineyards with Toni, I was told that Mas Codina is towards the end of its organic certification process - very good news indeed for what is already such a great product. And what makes it so good? They are 100% self sufficient in terms of vineyards, they do much of the farming themselves, they carefully harvest and then use temperature control to retain freshness, and finally—perhaps most impressively—everything is done by hand. That's including the riddling and disgorgements! It is no wonder that Toni and his brother work six day weeks. I hope that all the dedication and craft that goes into this $12.99 cava is appreciated; I know that I certainly have a regained sense of appreciation for this wonder of a bottle of bubbles.

Toni and I followed the visit with a delicious lunch nearby, where we tasted current bottlings of Cava and rose cava, as well as an overachieving Cabernet and a fantastic new white wine based on Xarel-lo grapes. Also in the pipeline for Fall: Mas Codina magnums, bottled by hand by Toni himself! For those of you who know how good these sparklers are, I hope you now have a better picture of this hard working family and their delicious wines. And for the few of you who have not yet tried Mas Codina's wines, I think you now have an appropriate excuse to crack some bubbles tonight.

-Joe Manekin

Post-2010 Brunello Value

Greg St. Clair

2010 was the greatest vintage ever for Brunello di Montalcino and since we sold almost 1% of the DOCG’s entire production here at K&L alone, there isn’t much left to be had, nor would you want to open many of those bottles now anyway. Don't worry, though: 2011 is a really good vintage, especially if you want to drink some Brunello now while your 2010’s age to perfection. There is only one major problem with 2011 from our perspective: it came after 2010. We bought a bunch of 2011’s because the wines are really delicious, but eventually you have to sell it and with the market still submerged in a hunt for the remaining bottles of 2010, we can't sit on inventory. Due to those market forces, I'm here to show you two really good Brunello di Montalcino wines for $25 that are stunning values, especially given their reputation for quality. Previously vintages from both Poggiarellino and Baccinetti—the two properties here—have sold from $35-$40, so the 2010 hangover is really delivering quite a stupendous deal here. Let me tell you a bit more about the wineries, both of which are direct imports to K&L.

Passione senile, or "senile passion," is how Anna and Lodovico Ginotti describe themselves at Poggiarellino. They are a real life Italian version of “Green Acres," and they inherited the Poggiarellino property about twenty years ago just as they were about to retire. Up until that point, the confirmed city dwellers had never put a spade in the earth! Now they are bonafide Brunello producers and watching Lodovico moving from barrel to barrel a is wonderful thing. This is a man who knew nothing going in and now is a veritable fountain of knowledge about growing Sangiovese. The Ginotti’s were fortunate that when they inherited this estate the vineyards were already 25-40 years old, and in a wonderful location in the northern portion of Montalcino with vineyards facing to the southwest. Their tiny estate is located across the street and a little over a mile away from the famous Altesino winery.

Did I mention they are tiny? They make 6,600 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino a year—that’s 550 cases for the world! The 2011 vintage shows what Sangiovese is like in a ripe vintage—the nose is full of ripe plum, chocolate, and tobacco followed by a plump and meaty character. On the palate the wine shows lots of fleshy warmth with chocolate highlights, vibrant marasca cherry flavors, and bits of tobacco. Sangiovese is an acidic grape by nature and, although there is very good acidity in this wine, the richness of the vintage fleshes it out and makes it fuller, longer, and more complete. This is the perfect Brunello to open and drink right now; but I always like to decant Sangiovese for an hour or so because it just tastes better. Or you can let it continue to evolve for another four to five years, as it will mature gracefully for at least another decade.

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned in the wine world and our association with Mieke and Giovanni from Baccinetti is a prime example. Mike “Guido” Parres and I were planning on visiting our usual blitz of producers in Montalcino and six months or so before leaving I received an unsolicited e-mail from one of our loyal customers who had just been to this wonderful estate with "absolutely fabulous" Brunello exclaiming: "we should really import them because they were so good!" I wrote the appropriate thank you e-mail and told him we’ll see what we can do. I had almost forgotten about it until pouring over a map of Montalcino I realized the Baccinetti “La Saporoia” estate was right between two of our existing direct import producers. I didn’t really think too much of it again until making out our schedule a week later when one of our normal stops asked us to come back at another time. That left a gap in the schedule right between Sesta di Sopra and Tenuta di Sesta, two of our stops not more than a kilometer away from Baccinetti. So I booked a visit to meet Mieke (she’s Dutch) and Giovanni, and while exiting the car I told Guido: “No matter how good these guys are the last thing we need is another Brunello producer in our portfolio, so don’t let me buy anything; this is just a reconnaissance mission." We met, tasted the wines, and asked about the prices; it was almost too good to be true! Guido turned, looked at me, and said “Sorry dude, I guess we’ll have to get this one too!”

La Saporoia is a very small estate and rather new to the game, except that Giovanni’s family has owned the property since 1935! It wasn’t until 1999 when they planted the vineyards and then released their first Brunello (vintage 2004) in 2009. This tiny estate has about 8.5 acres of Sangiovese planted along the road from Sant’Angelo in Colle to Castelunovo dell’Abate planted in terre rosse, an iron rich soil that produces wine with prodigious amounts of fruit character. Their wines are pure, unadulterated, and natural; the initial textural smoothness belies its complexity, and the nose is racy, deep red fruit, gamey, filled with sauvage overtones brimming with rich strawberry fruit and layers of spice. Earth and leathery components back up the fruit and spice elements and finish the richly textured body with a subtle grip. The 2011 vintage is ripe, full, and lush, which makes it easier to drink now. Try it with your favorite meat off the grill or American style lasagna!

Living in the shadow of greatness isn't easy, but it can result in a few remarkable deals. In the case of 2011, it's a fantastic vintage still trying to get out from the image of it's bigger, badder brother in 2010. That being said, the value of 2011 Brunello is found not only in its subsequent prices, but also it's earlier drinkability. As K&L's longtime Italian wine buyer, I can't recommend these two wines highly enough.

-Greg St. Clair

Montrose's Quality Runs Deep

David Driscoll

Tasting at Château Montrose last year was one of the great moments of my trip to Bordeaux, mainly because I'd been curious about the second-growth property since my initial foray into Bordeaux began. Years ago, as a budding wine professional, I decided to breakdown my understanding of the Médoc using the original 1855 classification that still remains in use today, despite the many changes that have occurred at the various châteaux over the last 160 years. In that original decree, Montrose was given the lofty status of a "second growth," along side stalwarts like Cos d'Estournel, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Lalande, and Ducru-Beaucaillou—wines that have proven vintage after vintage that they belong among the very best. Whether I should have used such an archaic system of rank for my foundational learning is debatable, but what's not up for debate is how powerful that classification remains today in determining pricing for the region's wines. Since starting at K&L back in 2007, I've been lucky enough to taste the top wines from each subsequent vintage and—I have to admit—the majority of the time the first and second growths lead the way in terms of quality. Back in the mid-2000s, however, Montrose was a bit of an outlier at K&L. It seemed to slightly underperform in comparison to its peers, not only in terms of flavor and complexity, but also value. The 2005 vintage—the first I tasted from the property—was a fine specimen, but it wasn't a superstar; it wasn't being lauded as one of the top wines in all of Bordeaux as it was in 2014 and again in 2016. What had changed between then and now? Again, I was curious.

Montrose's road back to super-second status began in 2006 when it was purchased by Martin Bouygues, a construction mogul in France who put a serious amount of reinvestment in the vineyards. I sat down to talk about these changes with Montrose's sales manager Lorraine Watrin (pictured above) in January of last year, hoping to show some of our customers how a regime change can completely reinvigorate and resurrect a heralded property to greatness. In Lorraine's opinion, 2014 was the first harvest that truly showcased the hard work put in by its new owners because it was a truly great wine from a relatively average vintage. "We had good vintages in 2009 and 10, but they were good vintages for all of Bordeaux, not just us. 2014, however, should show the results of all the investment because we were able to produce a very good wine from a less-heralded vintage, which is more impressive," she told me. The critics concurred. Antonio Galloni and Neil Martin both considered it as one of the best wines from that year. While the top wine will always be the crowning achievement of any great château, I personally like to see how far that quality trickles down. Since most major producers make second and third wines at this point, I want to know: does that same level of care and attention find its way into all of the releases across the board? In the case of Montrose, the answer is yes and it's on full display in the château's 2014 Le St. Estephe de Montrose, a sub-$30 bottle that brings serious bang for the buck and continues to showcase all that top level fruit even past the standard second wine, the 2014 La Dame de Montrose

Since the "Dame" is the official second label of Montrose, I guess that makes "Le St. Estephe" the the third wine, but pound for pound I think it's right there with the great lady. Considering most properties generally use their youngest vines for their second and third label expressions, you can really see just how much effort Montrose put into revitalizing their vineyards with this release. The "Le St. Estephe" is a gorgeous and precise claret, one that seamlessly weaves delicate fruit, dry earth, and soft tannins into a medium-bodied, old school style. Far from a fruit bomb, the wine never lacks ripeness or roundness, but it's beautifully integrated into the other elements here. Lorraine was certainly right in her assessment. 2014 is not only a great vintage for Montrose, it's a great vintage to demonstrate just how deep the quality runs at Montrose today.

-David Driscoll