On the Trail

Latour's Quality Runs Deep

Jeff Garneau

We were fortunate enough to visit Château Latour during our 2016 En Primeur trip and I (Jason) was pinching myself from the second we stepped onto the property. I never expected to see the actual fort of Les Forts fame (the second wine of Latour) in person, let alone step foot in the tasting room of this legendary estate. Latour is one of this world's greatest wines—many people consider to be the best. As we walked inside to our appointment, at the end of the table—following the 2016 line up—was the 2012 Pauillac de Latour, the estate's third wine after Les Forts. Upon tasting, I was immediately transported back to when the first 2012s were reaching US shores and arriving at K&L. This wine reminded me of how much I loved that vintage. A wonderful expression of harvest and the château, it displays lovely purity of fruit and that characteristic 2012 bright fresh acidity. A combination of complex savory, mineral tones and exotic spice dominated the seamless offering. The wine has wonderful poise and polish, with the Latour thumbprint throughout. 

What exact do we mean when we say "second wine" and "third wine," you might ask? Each year, after the initial selection is made for the Grand Vin, and for the second label, Les Forts de Latour, some of the remaining lots are used to produce a third label: Pauillac, an "appellation" wine. Also included are grapes from some of the younger vines on the estate, as well as from outlying vineyards. The “Pauillac” bottling will usually include a higher proportion of Merlot and is intended for earlier consumption, requiring less aging than Latour’s more prestigious labels. When we tasted the 2012 Pauillac de Latour at the chateau in early April it was good enough to compare very favorably with a barrel sample of the excellent 2016 edition. Again, it's very much in the Latour style: structured, bold, and black-fruited. Very generous with loads of sweet fruit and good concentration. Tannins are quite fine. Drinkable now or over the next decade. Given the pricing for First Growths these days, this wine represents one of the great bargains in Bordeaux.

-Jason Marwedel and Jeff Garneau

Brandy Hunting in Northern Italy

David Driscoll

Emilia-Romagna is a beautiful place. Located just north of Bologna, the Villa Zarri estate is set in between rolling hills of green. The property itself dates back to 1578 and has hosted scores of parties, concerts, exhibits, and events over those many centuries, but distillation at the site is a rather recent development in context. Everything Guido Zarri does in the distillery is exactly as is done in the Charentes: the grapes are same varietal, the stills are the same shape and size, the proof of the spirit comes off just over seventy as it does in Cognac. It's in the barrel room, however, that Guido changes direction. Rather than age his brandies in used Limosin oak, he starts each distillate off in new oak casks to impart color and intensity before transferring them into refill barrels over time. He also does not top up the barrels to prevent evaporation, instead choosing to transfer the brandies into fewer and fewer barrels as they begin to lose volume. The result is a richer, darker, and more oak influenced spirit; one that does not require coloring agents or added sugar to soften the mouthfeel. The brandies are impressive and all encompassing from the very first sip. But, if you're a modern spirits fan, wait until you taste that concentrated flavor at 59.7%. That's what ultimately convinced to invest in our own single cask of Villa Zarri brandy.

I'd been waiting a long time for this day; the moment when we could start talking about Italy's potential as a serious source of distilled spirits beyond the ubiquitous vermouth, amaro, and herbal liqueur selections that are sweeping the cocktail culture. Distillation has been practiced in Italy since the early days of grappa and medicinal remedies. Unlike what's happening with the craft distillation scene in America, many of the "new" labels we're seeing from Italy come from companies established in the 1800s. In many cases these producers have not only generations of knowledge as it pertains to spirits, but also plenty of back inventory. Take the case of Guido Zarri as an example, the man behind the Villa Zarri brand. In addition to his fantastic amaro, his delicious nocino, and his dangerously drinkable ciliegia, Guido has mature stocks of Cognac-style brandy (distilled from trebbiano, basically ugni blanc grown in Italy) dating back to the late 1980s. As if his incredibly well-priced ten and twenty-one year old brandies weren't enough to persuade you of his prowess, I decided to dig a little deeper into his cellars.

"I want to do a single barrel and I want to do it at full proof. Is that OK with you?" I asked Guido during a phone conversation earlier this year.

"Yes, I actually think it tastes better that way," he replied, almost as if he was embarrassed by that admission.

I laughed and reassured him: "So do a lot of other people."

Why should you buy this brandy? Simple: rarely has a grape distillate ever come this close in my mind to mimicking the best parts of Scotch, Bourbon, and Cognac all in one tidy, cask strength, single barrel package. You get the richness of of the Brandy on the nose; oodles of caramel and creme brulée. You get the power and oak dominance of a Bourbon on the entry, with big spice and bold strength. You get the nuance and complexity of a Scotch on the finish with candied fruit, hints of earth, and rancio notes for minutes after swallowing. There's a reason we went crazy for this brandy after tasting it: it's a dynamic, delicious, and dangerously drinkable spirit, one that completely changes the conversation not just about brandy, but about Italy's role in the further evolution of top quality distillation.

-David Driscoll

The Fruits of our Beaujolais Labor

David Driscoll

Sitting out on the patio at Château Javernand in Beaujolais this past Spring was one of the great highlights of our trip to Burgundy. Not only did we have the chance to taste a number of great (and inexpensive!) local wines, we were able to meet the winemakers in person, have lunch with them, ask them questions about their practices, and get a sense of how the wines fit into everyday life in the French countryside. For me, it was truly a benchmark moment in my ongoing wine education—a chance to kick back a bit, get a glimpse into what table wine means in Burgundy, and get rid of all the smelling, swirling, and analysis. It was time to simply drink and be merry!

While we were tasting mostly reds and a handful of whites, there was one particular rosé that jumped out at all of us and completely stole our hearts. Fabien Collonge's Rosé de Gamay was a thirst-quenching, mouthwatering, berry-bursting blast of fresh acidity, clean fruit, and pure pleasure. When the weather warms up, there are few things better than a cold bottle of rosé and a few snacks on the picnic table. What made this particular rosé so memorable was seeing where it came from and talking with Fabien about the care he puts into it. Typically wines in the $8-$12 range don't have much of a story. In California, they're generally the result of bulk fruit or large batches of parcels, but in the case of the Collonge rosé, it's all select berries from his estate parcels. The charm and snap of the wine was what really caught my attention. Obviously, we're going to offer a great deal on any wine we import directly, but $10.99 was a total steal. I'd compare it with the fantastic Mount Edward rosé from New Zealand, albeit for six bucks less a bottle.

Beaujolais continues to be a prime source of high quality wines with ridiculously low prices, made by artisanal producers we're buying from directly. It's like a bustling farmers' market full of gamay deliciousness. I can't wait to start cracking these bottles open back here at home.

-David Driscoll

Puelles Returns to Deliver Top Value

On the Trail

One of the more exciting aspects of our direct import program is our ability to find exceptional wines at prices you simply won’t find anywhere else. Locating a Rioja Gran Reserva for under $30 is a rarity, finding one for under $20 is practically unheard of. And that’s just what we have with the 2005 Bodegas Puelles. First off, 2005 was an absolutely stunning vintage in Rioja offering the perfect conditions for wines of ideal balance and poise. Second, Jesús Puelles is a very talented winemaker, so given the raw materials 2005 provided he was able to craft an utterly breathtaking Gran Reserva. Bold, rounded black and red fruits hold center stage and are beautifully accented by notes of wild flowers, anise, saddle leather, and porcini mushroom. Given the long bottle aging the tannins are perfectly integrated making for a smooth and supple approach making this 2005 about as sumptuous as they come. And while it is drinking very well now, it will only continue to develop for another ten to fifteen years. That’s a whole lot of wine for $19.99. 

Jesús Puelles himself is one of the most talented vignerons in Rioja. Hailing from a long line of vineyard worker/owners, Puelles knows the terruño in his little slice of land in the Rioja Alta town of Abalos. All of the grapes for his red wines come from his own 26 hectares, on chalky clay soil, all within the Rioja Alta village of Abalos. Felix, Jesús' older brother, handles the winemaking (as well as packing all our orders - gracias, Felix!) Utlizing a blend of roughly 50-50 French and American oak barrels, generally of one to four years of age for the Gran Reserva, this is a juicy, brightly fruited Gran Reserva, even at twelve years of age, though it shows the hints of spice and leathery savor we love in classic, well made Rioja. Fresh, focused, and generously fruited, yet ultimately textbook Rioja, this is what we have come to expect casa Puelles and why we believe these continue to be amongst our most popular Spanish wines.

-K&L Buying Team

On the Trail at the NBA Finals

David Driscoll

I have been very lucky over the years to make the acquaintance of Warrior's owner Joe Lacob and his fiancée Nicole (maybe you've seen the old interview), who live just a few blocks from our Redwood City store and can be spotted picking out great bottles on the sales floor quite frequently. That friendship has put me into a number of incredible situations over the years, and into countless seats at Oracle Arena that I would never be able to afford or access otherwise. Last night was yet another such occasion in what is becoming a series of ridiculousness for me, as Nicole invited me to pour a high-end, pre-game wine event in the Warrior's Bridge Club and stay for game two of the NBA Finals afterward. As I'm never one to pass up an opportunity to promote K&L, I forced our company president and co-owner Todd Zucker to be my companion. "I'm going to pour while you mingle with the crowd," I said to him after springing this announcement on him last minute. He was reluctant at first, but eventually he acquiesced. "I've gotta have an owner there!" I exclaimed. "You think these people wanna talk to me?" That worked.

The Bridge Club is basically the owners' party den under the arena, just across from the players' locker room. It's located in the same tunnel the Warriors enter from before the game starts, so there's a lot of action in that hallway. Because I knew we were in for a serious crowd, I made sure we picked out a serious line-up of cannons: 1990 Montrose, 2014 Ponsot "Chambertin Close de Beze", Araujo's Accendo cabernet, and the dry white wine of Château d'Yquem for those looking for something more refreshing. We weren't going into a room like this unarmed. Besides the Warriors brass, you never knew who else might pop up before a finals game. Last night's crowd was crazily eclectic: I drank with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome at one point before shaking hands with motivational speaker Tony Robbins. You could never have predicted that roster! Not only did we need great bottles, we needed a diverse and interesting selection to match the diversity of the audience.

Todd, being the business man that he is, hit it off with the other business guys. He sat down with Warriors president Rick Welts for a bit of strategizing, while nursing his glass of red Burgundy. Just two company presidents, spitballing ideas and sharing thoughts before a huge NBA Finals game. 

Me being the chatterbox that I am, I spent my two hours mingling and socializing. The highlight was easily the five minutes I spent with Kevin Durant's mother talking about wine. She gave me a giant hug, said something that made me blush as red as a pickled beet, and took a plastic cup of Napa cabernet for the road as we exited the club for game time. She is an absolute character, and her beauty and buoyant personality took over that whole room last night. Wanda Durant is one of the most enegmatic people I've ever met in person, and easily the most fun I've had the pleasure of pouring wine for. I'm praying she calls me and asks for help picking out a nice bottle to celebrate another Warriors championship! Kevin—you are a lucky guy! And we're luckier to have you and your family here with us in the Bay.

After an inspiring and thrilling K&L tasting event, we took our seats in the owners' suite, had a bite to eat, and watched the Warriors dismantle Cleveland in four action-packed quarters—and we got to call it work! A big thank you to Joe, Nicole, Rick, Shari, and the rest of the ownership team for making our weekend that much better. I know I speak for K&L ownership when I say we're thrilled to be a part of all this.

-David Driscoll

The K&L 2016 Bordeaux Official Report

Clyde Beffa Jr.

I cut this year's Bordeaux trip down by a couple of days back in the Fall of 2016 when we originally booked our flights. After hearing the weather reports in May and June, and then during their long, dry summer, I figured we would just go, see our friends at the properties and a handful of négociants, taste a few wines and come back to concentrate on the very good 2015 vintage. As the winter progressed we kept hearing better and better reports about 2016, but we guessed it was just more Bordeaux hype as another “vintage of the century” was born. But some of our most trusted sources in Bordeaux (e.g. Bill Blatch) came out just before our trip with reports of a fantastic 2016 vintage. Oh well, we had to cram ten days into eight, which meant twelve hour days instead of nine hour days. We're professionals, are we not? Our group included myself, Ralph Sands, Jeff Garneau, Steve Bearden, and two rookies, Jason Marwedel and Tristan Stringer. I must say that the trip featured several grueling marathon days, but the crew performed admirably, and not one person missed an appointment or meal. 

So, with hopes that the reports we heard about a good vintage were true, we arrived on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and immediately went to a tasting at Barrière Frères just past Château La Lagune and across the street from Château Cantemerle. We got our first sampling of 2016s with a taste of Lanessan, Beaumont, Beychevelle and Cantemerle, and wow, these wines were delicious. The first thing we noticed was vivid color, then fresh and very perfumy aromas, and then very ripe, precise, pure fruit flavors with very round and soft tannins. The wines drank so easily, just like 2015 and 2009. Unlike 2009, these 2016s really tasted like the properties’ terroir and not like the vintage as a whole. We thought of 1982-1983, 1985-1986, 1989-1990, 1995-1996 or 2009-2010—we have back-to-back good vintages in Bordeaux! Hurray, but not so fast—what happened in those other consecutive good vintages? The prices for the wines in the second vintage were higher than those in the first, and the following campaigns stalled as a result. In fact, I remember the 1996 vintage vividly—we had bought a lot of 1996s, just like the 1995s, but the 1996 campaign came to a halt just after summer and I ended up selling a lot of the wines back to the négociants. Wouldn’t you know it, but Robert Parker came out in January 1998 with a glowing 1996 report and I had to buy the wines back—at 20% higher prices! Lesson learned—I think. 

(Clyde's review is continued in the K&L 2016 Bordeaux Report PDF) 

-Clyde Beffa Jr.

The Hill of Montée de Tonnerre

David Driscoll

On our recent trip to Burgundy, one of the highlights for me personally was spending an early morning walking through the vineyards of Chablis, watching the haze burn off over the eponymous small village from the hillsides as the sun crept up over the horizon. Obviously, like anyone with an affinity for Burgundy, I wanted to get a look at the grand cru sites to see if I could decipher the topography and determine why exactly they were considered the best vineyards. I spent a good forty-five minutes doing that. But with an hour still to spare before our first appointment, I decided to head back to the southeast and check out the hill of Montée de Tonnerre, a premier cru vineyard site from which I've drunk countless bottles over the years. Whether it was from Gerard Trembley, Raveneau, or Domaine Vocoret, for some reason I've always gravitated towards the wines from Tonnerre. They traditionally have a prettiness to them, an elegance of acidity and balance of fruit that has come to define what Chablis means to me: a serious bang for your buck. 

Our appointment later that morning was with La Chablisiénne, one of the best negotiants in the region with prices that are often too good to be true (especially when you can buy direct!). The Kimmeridgian soils of the Tonnerre terroir (meaning the fossilization of small sea creatures from the Kimmeridgian era) is on full display in the outstanding 2014 La Chablisiénne 1er Cru "Montée de Tonnerre". The breakdown of all that former sea life creates a chalky, limestone-rich slope that helps the grapes retain acidity and express a piercingly mineral character. I was stunned by the wine when we tasted it that day, and put the experience down as further proof of just how good 2014 was as a vintage for white Burgundy. It was racy and bursting with bright acidity with a saline note on the finish that almost reminds me of a great Islay whisky (sans the smoke). Located just a short walk from the famed grand cru vineyards, Montée de Tonnerre really doesn't give up much with the step down in classification. For less than thirty bucks, you're getting one of the best deals in all of white wine with our new Chablisiénne arrival. Not only am I reminded by my gorgeous morning walk with each sip, I'm reminded why I wanted to go to Chablis in the first place: it's the last true value in serious French white wine. 

-David Driscoll

The Central Coast Trail at Talley

Ivan Diaz

The Central Coast of California, though an extremely versatile landscape of micro-climates that produces an impressively diverse array of wines, is still seemingly perceived as a lesser winegrowing region compared to Napa or Sonoma. Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles and visited this growing wine region a number of times (and especially since my most recent trip with K&L), this perception strikes me as utterly baffling. In certain warmer pockets you’ll find powerful but complex Syrah, while in other, cooler areas, such as the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA (recognized as one of the most temperate viticultural areas in the world), you’ll find silky, delicate Pinot Noir and balanced, perfectly structured Chardonnay. Talley Vineyards is one such winery that has found a way to coax the perfect expression out of these Burgundy varietals through years of careful, sustainable vineyard management (they own six vineyards comprising 190 acres), and extremely measured techniques in the winery. The quality of the wines here, along with so many other wineries in the surrounding area, is world class and long overdue for the proper recognition it deserves. 

Upon visiting the Talley winery and vineyards, I was struck by the cool, slightly foggy conditions, and the chill of the breeze coming off the ocean. It was immediately clear that this little pocket in Arroyo Grande has the perfect climate for Burgundy varietals. Talley is also committed to crafting their wines according to the traditions of Burgundy, using techniques for their Chardonnay such as hand-harvesting, whole cluster pressing, native yeast fermentation in French oak barrels, aging “sur lie” or on lees, and initializing malolactic fermentation. The Pinot Noir is also hand-harvested, but mostly destemmed with about 25% whole cluster maintained from select vineyards, fermented with native yeast, and aged in French oak for 15-18 months before being gently bottled using Talley’s own in-house equipment. If that sounds like a long time in the barrel, I invite you to taste and marvel at the final product, unencumbered by flavors of “wood” or “toast,” instead offering velvety textures and pure red fruit flavors cut by the distinct, minerally terroir, and a focused ribbon of comfortable, refreshing acidity stretching from the opening notes all the way to the rousing finish.

I was also surprised to learn that some of Talley’s oldest Pinot and Chardonnay vines in their Rincon Vineyard were planted in 1984, the year of my birth. Perhaps it was the immediate kinship I felt with the vines upon learning this fact, but after tasting the final, gorgeous product, I felt an immediate and inextricable connection to the wine. As a professional, I pride myself on being able to maintain a critical distance from the wines I taste to avoid getting swept away by the romance of the winery’s story, or the beauty of the landscape, and I would like to think my professionalism was consistent here. But sometimes we find ourselves slipping down the rabbit hole, falling deeper in love than we ever thought we would, or could. Talley has continued to open my eyes to the many, versatile possibilities of which the Central Coast is capable, and has demonstrated its ability to produce some of the best examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the country, perhaps only comparable to the vivid, structured, and complex offerings from Oregon or Burgundy. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of their Pinots next time you’re preparing cedar-planked salmon or pork loin medallions, and a Chardonnay for your brown butter halibut or scallops.

-Ivan Diaz

Haut-Brion Unleashes First Growth Fury

David Driscoll

“Every atom is infused with life-affirming freshness. It is a wine bridled with incredible focus and delineation. I thought that the 2015 La Mission Haut-Brion flirted with perfection. The 2016 has that extra edge, a "je ne sais quoi" that leaves you reaching for the thesaurus looking for superlatives.”

- Neal Martin on the 2016 La Mission Haut Brion

While 2016 has produced numerous epic bottlings thus far, perhaps the mantle of most anticipated falls to Pessac-Leognan’s coveted pair: Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut Brion—one a long-established first growth, and the other considered by many to be Bordeaux's unofficial sixth premier cru. Based on the over-the-top reviews from James Suckling, Neal Martin, it's fair to say 2016 will go down in history as a historic vintage for both properties. Built on a grand scale, they stand among the best ever from their estates, even including the monumental vintages of 1959, 1961, 2005, and 2009. Perfection doesn’t come along often, but it would seem that, once again, Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut Brion have cornered the market.

Our staff echoed a similar enthusiasm after tasting through a full flight of the 2016 expressions at Haut-Brion this past April. Our owner and head Bordeaux buyer thought the 2016 Haut-Brion was fantastic (but he thinks the 2015 is just as good) and considers it to be in the hunt for best wine of the vintage. This morning, the estate unleashed both wines, the 2016 La Mission included, for pre-order and we snatched up what we could. We're holding down our first-tranche pricing while supplies last, but after the minuscule amounts of Lafite released last week, we're not holding our breath for much more. Our first tranche of 2016 Lynch-Bages sold out in less than 24 hours and the price is now about fifteen dollars higher than before. 

The first growths always play a role in establishing future pricing for the other châteaux, so it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out.

-David Driscoll

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