On the Trail

A Guide to K&L's 2015 Burgundy Arrivals - Part I

David Driscoll

When you buy wine by the shipping container rather than by the case, it's easy to go from a slim selection to a glutenous amount of inventory very quickly. In the case of our Burgundy department, we went from digging for deals just to fill the shelves, to scrambling just to find the space to display all the new bottles that have just arrived on our latest shipment. There's a reason we went deep on our purchasing, however. We've mentioned it here on this blog before, but the 2015 vintage in Burgundy is an absolute stunner, one worth investing in and making room for in your cellar. It's also being followed by a pair of disastrous harvests that were hammered by hail, meaning supplies moving forward will be short. Like any good scavenger, we decided to load up on supplies for the cold winter ahead, but that's creating quite the dilemma for our customers who see dozens and dozens of new wines on the shelf and can barely make up their minds as to what to buy. Hence, I'm here to help guide you through our newest arrivals and help you break down what's what from this latest container. Today, we're starting with the wines of Giboulot.

Whereas in the past I've found some of the cooler Giboulot vintages a bit course or thin for my personal tastes, the 2015 vintage is like a complete 180 from that more rustic style. Not only is Giboulot destemming 100% of its expressions now (allowing the fruit to take center stage), the team is using more new oak during maturation to add richness and texture. The improvement in the wine is night and day, with 2015 being the best vintage I've ever tasted from the portfolio. We spent an entire morning tasting with Jean-Michel from barrel this past Spring and I've found the wines taste even better now that they're here in the bottle. Jean-Michel is the third Giboulot to head the family estate in Savigny-les-Beaune, having resided over the twelve hectares in Beaune, Pommard, and Savigny since 1982. It was his idea to switch over to organic farming, which has also added freshness to the wines. 

The characteristic that separates the Giboulot wines from some of our other imports like Bart and Charriere is the distinct dark-fruited nature of their flavor. Whereas you might expect bright cherry or raspberry notes in your French pinot noir, these are full of cassis and blackberry with a core of tangy acidity. The 2015 Bourgogne rouge is a great entry-level example of that exact character, as it almost explodes on the palate with freshness to boot. The 2015 Hautes Cote de Beaune, for just a few dollars more, expands on that foundation and adds accents of crushed violet with a more concentrated core of ripeness. It's quite the deal. Moving over the the 2015 Savigny-les-Beaune, you get the same cassis character, but with more structure. There's more complexity at play, flavors of earth, licorice, and a mild meatiness come through on the finish. If you only have the funds to buy one wine from the Giboulot line-up, the clear winner is the 2015 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru "Aux Gravains" vineyard expression, a wine that absolutely lights up your taste buds from front to back. It's easily in my top five from this year's trip and is simply one of the most exciting mid-range red Burgundies to hit our store in years. The nose is a flurry of baking spices and ripe black cherry, while the palate carries those flavors further with a lushness and silkiness that you only get in riper years like 2015. If you're a fan of Burgundy, buy this. If you're trying to get into Burgundy, buy this. If you're typically a California fan and you like power and extra body, check out the 2015 Pommard "En Brescul," a wine that adds weight to a heavy blackberry saturation. This is the darkest and the most brooding of the 2015 red Giboulot portfolio, by far.

Stay tuned for part two!

-David Driscoll

March 24th, 2011 — A Night for the Ages

David Driscoll

I woke up this morning and sat down at the computer, looking for a few good archive photos to throw on the K&L Instagram account. Deciding to dig deep into the past, into the folder named "Scotland 2011" on my external hard drive, I came across this memorable shot: an image of my spirits partner David Othenin-Girard with Bowmore's Jamie MacKenzie, standing in front of the legendary Islay distillery on a cold, misty Islay night, a glass of 1969 Bowmore in their hands, and the smell of the sea whipping through their nostrils.

I texted it to David right when I found it and he responded immediately with" "probably the greatest night of my career."

I have to concur. When we both talk about how much we love Bowmore, much of our emotion stems from an incredible evening we enjoyed at the distillery back in the early Spring of 2011. At around 1 AM, after running through the entire distillery, raking barley in the mill and taking samples from the still as it ran, we went around behind the warehouse where the water comes into the bay and sat there taking pulls from a bottle of the twelve year. After posting this image to the spirits blog and social media sites to celebrate the launch of our new Bowmore 15 year old single barrel, I thought I'd do an entire tribute to that magical evening and post a few more unseen photos from that formative affair.

The first thing that struck me when looking back at these photos was the lodging. I had forgotten that we actually stayed at Bowmore distillery that night, in the guest houses they have on site for industry visitors like ourselves. I think that's part of the reason we went crazy—we didn't have anywhere else to go! I remember there was an issue with the ferry coming over from Kennecraig, so we didn't get to the distillery until 8:45 PM. We were scheduled to have a late dinner next door to the distillery at the Harbour Inn. Jamie was jumping up and down as we pulled in, smiling and waving at us, anticipating our arrival. This was our first trip to Islay, the spiritual home of single malt whisky, so his enthusiasm played directly into our own. There was no time for small talk, however, as the restaurant closed at nine and would be accommodating us after hours despite our tardiness. We killed two bottles of wine while feasting on local Islay fare before heading back to the guest house for drinks. That's when the party really began.

When you've just taken a ferry across the cold Scottish sea, to a famed island known for its incredible whiskies, gorged on local scallops and oysters, guzzled cold Champagne, and your host pulls a flask like this from his back pocket, you get weak in the knees. Old Bowmore whiskies like this are not only the stuff of lore, they're incredibly expensive! Today you'd expect to see a bottle of this magnitude in the $2500 - $10,000 range depending on the bottler. And that's how we started our distillery tour!

Glasses of 1969 Bowmore in hand, we set out for the floor malting room where Bowmore still handles a percentage of their own barley in-house. We all took a turn with the rake and I'm pretty sure this was my first experience tasting both malted and unmalted barley first hand. The hour was late, but the lights were still on.

From there it was over to the ancient kiln where Bowmore still peats a portion of that in-house barley malt. We loaded our own peat bricks into the oven and basked in that trademark aroma of Islay smoke. There's nothing like having one of the world's most iconic distilleries to yourself and running every step of the production to get you excited about Scotch!

Before you can distill single malt whisky, you have to create a distiller's beer or wash from the fermenting barley. That's what eventually goes into the still and gets vaporized before condensing back down into the whisky's first distillate. How often do you get to drink a big wine glass of Bowmore's pre-distillation barley beer? 

Behind the distillery, the sea washes right up on to the rocks along the bay. We grabbed a bottle of the 12 year and decided to drink next to the sea, the cold wind whipping through our hair as the yellow and orange lights from the distillery illuminated our way.

There we did a toast to Islay and the bay of Bowmore. We were running on pure adrenaline at that point. The sea spray and salty suds heightening each sip of the elixir. 

It's only been six years since that incredible night at Bowmore, but it feels like an eternity ago. Back then the entire Scotch world was still in front of us. There were countless adventures awaiting our discovery. Anything seemed possible. Then I take a sip of the new Bowmore 15 year cask we just brought in and it all rushes back. It's nostalgia in a bottle. It's a bond that will never fade.

-David Driscoll

Library of the Past

David Driscoll

It's been more than twenty years since we first began working with Rudy de Pins of Château Montfaucon, the most popular Rhône producer we've ever carried in our forty-plus year history as a retailer. There are many advantages in working directly with a wine producer, rather than simply selecting from the stocks of local distribution. First off, you cut out the middleman and get the consumer a better price. Secondly, you get to make your own determinations as to which selections the market might respond to, rather than rely solely on the taste of the importer. Perhaps the greatest of advantages, however, is the privilege of picking through a property's personal inventory of library wines — an opportunity that typically happens only after many years of doing business together. Who wouldn't want to select pristine bottles, aged under perfect cellar conditions, directly from the château, for prices that eliminate the importer and distribution mark ups? Every retailer wants that benefit! However, those deals come only after years of doing business together, and after more than two decades of doing business with Rudy and Montfaucon, we've earned that privilege. 

While the Chateau has been in existence since the 15th century, it wasn't until 1995 that Montfaucon began making true estate wines. That was the year that Rudy de Pins returned home to take over the family operation after graduating from UC Davis, and working a few stints at Henschke and Vieux Telegraphe. Up until that point, Montfaucon had mostly sold its grapes to cooperatives in the region, working as growers rather than producers of an estate label. With Rudy in charge the estate bloomed from 18 hectares to 45 hectares, and Montfaucon would acquire older vineyards while adding new plantings as well. Perhaps the most coveted lie just across the Rhône river from Châteauneuf du Pape, from a plot with vines as old as ninety years in age. It's from those gnarly old roots (like the one pictured above) that Rudy makes the Montfaucon "Baron Louis," a CdP style blend that typically sells for a sub-$20 Côtes du Rhône price (again, thanks to our direct purchasing). Recently, however, we were fortunate enough to be allowed access into Rudy's cellar to select back vintages of the old vine cuvée from 2005 and 2007, two outstanding expressions that have been slowly evolving towards perfection. Not only did we get standard bottles from the Montfaucon treasure trove, we grabbed magnums as well! Have a look here to get all the specifics, but make sure you at least grab a bottle or two. 

These are the opportunities that make doing business in the wine industry so rewarding. These are the moments we live for.

-David Driscoll

The Legacy of Domaine de Chevalier

David Driscoll

It's on occasions like this past Thursday night at Donato in Redwood City that I'm thrilled to be an employee of K&L Wine Merchants, one of the most generous and giving employers I've ever had the pleasure of working for. Imagine this: an appetizer course with seven different vintages of Domaine de Chevalier blanc all tasted side by side, followed by a second course with six vintages of Domaine de Chevalier rouge from the nineties and 2000s, followed by a main course with six more vintages of the rouge entirely from the eighties—all of it paid for by Mr. Clyde Beffa, our esteemed  owner and Bordeaux buyer who loves getting the K&L staff all fired up about great Bordeaux. But this isn't a puff piece or a chance to brag about my good fortune on social media. This is an On the Trail post meant to shine a light on just how good the wines of Domaine de Chevalier—one of the last affordable luxuries in Bordeaux—truly are. There wasn't one dog in the bunch last night, and while the wines showed a variation from vintage to vintage, there was a consistent pattern of refinement and elegance no matter which year we tasted. 

Much of the veteran Bordeaux team has watched their beloved second and third growth properties skyrocket in price over the past two decades, which was part of the reason for the Chevalier tasting. We strongly think the wines from Oliver Bernard and team stand side by side many of the $200-$500 bottles we see collectors clambering for today. Take for example the stunning 2014 edition that still sells for a modest $49.99. That wine was part of the first red flight and was absolutely tremendous, especially given the fact it's still an infant in terms of its development. The fruits were vibrant and the tannins were refined, which as I mentioned before is a thread that runs through all the wines from the domaine. Yet, you can still find bottles like the 1996 that have been perfectly aged for two decades and are still well within reach for those of us looking for a somewhat reasonable splurge. That wine came shortly after the 2014 and, while it was decidedly meaty, smoky, and full of savory soy character, it still carried the lush core of red fruit that we found consistently from glass to glass. Clyde, who has been traveling to and working directly with Domaine de Chevalier since 1985, maintained that this is the calling card of a great property.

What's funny to many Bordeaux newcomers about Domaine de Chevalier is that their incredible white cuvée is often double the price of the red. In terms of quality and complexity, the blanc is one of the great wines in Bordeaux and perhaps the world at large. With five hectares of production, quantities are limited and—as my colleague Jeff Garneau has said—it doesn't give up its secrets easily. It's a wine of extraordinary complexity and longevity, as was indicated by the consistent and somewhat shocking youthfulness exhibited from vintage to vintage, from the 1995 to the 2001 to the 2007 and on to the 2014. The wines were continually fresh and alive no matter how far back we went, and even the color remained light and vibrant, never turning amber or brown with oxidation despite the maturity. 

Jeff Garneau, who led the tasting and put together the evening's lineup, discussed his recent trip to visit Olivier and taste the heralded 2016 vintage. In conversation with Olivier, the 2016 was described as perhaps the best wine the domaine has ever produced. It stands as the product of a mature vineyard, the culmination of more than thirty years of hard work by the Bernard family. What that means is that—despite the 150 year legacy of Domaine de Chevalier and the pedigree of great wines we tasted throughout the evening—the property is likely making the best wines in its history right now! As only the fourth owner in the domaine's history, Olivier understands the responsibility of his stewardship and as a result is always looking to honor the property's past. Yet, his desire to move forward and continue to improve is evident. It seems that every year that goes by we find ourselves more and more excited about what Domaine de Chevalier is doing and the fact that we can still afford to enjoy a bit of that magic for ourselves, vintage after vintage.

-David Driscoll

The Best Tuscan Bargain of the Year

Greg St. Clair

La Massa is located in Panzanno, a part known as the Conca d’Oro—the golden shell and the prime real estate in Chianti. The best and largest single location in the entire region with a big open southwestern facing slope. Fontodi is there as well as is Castello dei Rampolla. Gianpallo Motta is the owner and a former rally car driver—a true wild man. Located in the heart of Chianti Classico, La Massa no longer labels its wine as such and Motta once even created a label showcasing the famous Black Chicken with its neck broken. Trained as a winemaker in Bordeaux, Motta does everything done in barrique and grows international Bordeaux varietals. The Gorgio Primo is his Bordeaux blend, while the La Massa is a Super Tuscan blend with 60% sangiovese, then cab, merlot, and alicante. He makes wines with a more modern barrique-aged flavor and feel. He also makes a third wine called Carla 6, a parcel named after his daughter that is 100% sangiovese, which was first released in 2011. La Massa continues to be one of our biggest sellers in the Italian department since we began working directly with Motta a few years back.

The 2013 is perhaps the best vintage of La Massa we've yet brought in and, crazily enough, at $14.99 this is the best price we've ever offered. For me, this is really a superb reflection of all of Giampaolos vineyard work. The wine is a delicious blend of 60% Sangiovese, which gives the wine a structural backbone, 30% Merlot, which adds some meat, density and richness, with Cabernet Sauvignon lending authority and direction even at this small amount, while Alicante Bouschet adds some personality, spice and a little bit of nastiness—it kind of reminds me of Giampaolo, and it all seamlessly melds together. It is a superb blend, and once again, highly awarded. Don't miss this one.

-Greg St. Clair

The Road to Caol Ila

David Driscoll

Islay is such a popular destination for business and tourism these days that you can catch a twenty-five minute flight from Glasgow just about any day of the week. But with space on the tiny plane at a premium, the prices aren't cheap and the schedule is never a sure thing due to the unpredictable weather patterns. Seeing that the drive from Glasgow to the ferry at Kennacraig is absolutely stunning, I would never even think about flying—even if I was strapped for time. My most recent visit was the fifth time I'd made the drive to the Kintyre and it was no less thrilling that any of the previous occasions. 

Traveling by plane, you would dearly miss the majestic beauty of Loch Fyne and the adjacent town of Inveraray, home to the Duke of Argyll. You would also miss stopping for lunch in Tarbert and gazing out onto the many boats in the harbor. There's no way I'd be willing to give up oysters and a glass of Champagne at Loch Fyne in exchange for a shorter commute!

Plus, you'd miss out on the ferry ride. Catching the boat from Kennacraig to Port Askaig is practically a right of passage for serious whisky drinkers! 

The first distillery you see upon landing at Port Askaig is Cool Ila, and it's always an inspiring moment no matter how many times you've been to Islay. We were fortunate enough to turn our most recent visit to the island into something special: a 33 year old single barrel of pure magic. Shaped, forged, and concentrated for more than three decades, this release under the Old Particular label brings forth one of the most decadent whisky experiences we’ll have the pleasure of offering you this year. The nose carries with it the very essence of Islay: brine, bogs, wet earth, peat, salt, and the sea, all mingling slowly and methodically through the glass. The palate is instantly soft and supple, but at 51.9% it kicks into gear mid-way through and unleashes a wave of ocean spray, sweet barley, smoke, tar, soot, and freshly-cut peat that still shines through despite more than three decades in wood.

It's everything you want when you think of Islay, and for me it's a reminder of what it takes to get there. 

-David Driscoll

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

David Driscoll

While the 2012 and 2014 Bordeaux vintages continue to provide drinkable values to consume while we secure and prepare to cellar our futures from the outstanding 2015 and 2016 harvests, we keep going back to the sweet and supple waters of 2009 for as many dips as she'll allow us. As excited as I am to start receiving the amazing specimen we tasted at last year's 2015 en primeur tasting, I can't deny that 2009 is the best Bordeaux vintage I've ever tasted as a wine professional (I say that not having tasted anything from 2016, however). In terms of price, quality, general drinkability, and overall satisfaction, that vintage delivers the goods on all fronts, which is why we're always on the look for more. Now that we're more than seven years into development, even the most basic of cuvées from 2009 are beginning to show serious development, especially some of the value-priced second wines. Looking back at our history with Château Cantemerle, the more than 4,000 bottles we've sold of the 2009 expression alone should shed some light on how much we love that wine. But it's the 4000+ bottles we've sold of the château's second wine from that harvest—the 2009 Les Allées de Cantemerle—that you should really pay attention to now that it's just come back into stock for another K&L run. 

As my colleague and fellow buyer Alex Pross pointed out in his previous OTL article "Three Bordeaux Châteaux You Need to Own," Cantemerle is not only one of the most affordable of the classified Médoc growths, it's one of the best values in Bordeaux—period. Tucked in between Margaux and Pessac-Léognan, the property has quietly created one of the most consistent, approachable, and quality-oriented programs over the last two decades under the stewardship of its humble and pensive director Philippe Dambrine. What he's been able to coax out of the property's younger vines as well is nothing short of miraculous. With a cepage of more than 60% cabernet, the second wine of Cantemerle stands up incredibly alongside the grand vin, showcasing the juiciness and ripeness of the vintage, just perhaps without the same strength or durability. That's fine, however, because while the 2009 Cantemerle sleeps in your wine cellar, you can drink oodles of the sub-$20 Les Allées and marvel in all that 2009 splendor. 

-David Driscoll

Bordeaux's Rising Star

David Driscoll

It's difficult to call a château a "rising star" in Bordeaux when it's been around for numerous centuries and was first listed as a top property back in 1850, but the rise of Lilian Ladouys over the last decade has definitely caught our attention. Located just a few hundred meters from prime first growth real estate, the Cru Bourgeois estate can trace its roots back to the 1500s when it was part of the fiefdom of Jacques de Becoyran, the lord of Château Lafite. Yet despite a long history of rule and recognition, Ladouys fell into disarray during the wars of the 20th century and saw its vineyards divided and forgotten for decades until the 1980s when it was purchased by Christian Thiéblot, who refurbished the estate and renamed it after his wife Lilian. The seeds for a new renaissance in St. Estephe were planted by the couple as they modernized the production and reinvested in the vineyards, but the final step towards a complete rebirth came in 2007 when Ladouys was purchased by Jacky and Françoise Lorenzetti, the current co-owners of Issan and Margaux. Through an ambitious replanting program that sought to regenerate the gravel and clay soils by assigned specific varietals to various parcels based on terroir, today the Lorenzettis have the estate back on top in a major way.

Over the past decade, the quality of Lilian Ladouys has risen in conjunction with the Lorenzettis' other properties. Just like we've seen major improvements at Château d'Issan and Pedesclaux, the wines of Ladouys have perhaps never been better than they've been over the last few vintages—especially the shockingly good 2014. While '14 continues to be overshadowed by the fantastic '15 and '16 vintages, the harvest produced a number of classic clarets whose value stands tall when compared to the much pricier subsequent selections. On our last two trips to Bordeaux, perhaps more so than the quality of the last two heavyweight harvests, we've come away impressed by how good the 2014 wines continue to develop (we're always more impressed by value!), but especially the Lilian Ladouys . The secret of the forty-seven hectare property is its bevy of high-density old vines, roughly forty to sixty years of age, that form concentrated berries full of intensity. In the case of the 2014, a higher proportion of merlot resulted in a supple and sweet-fruited palate full of blackberries and spice, plump from the merlot, but balanced by the 40% of cabernet sauvignon that adds just enough grip to all that ripeness.

While Lilian Ladouys may not be a classified growth, the property's value as a stylistic true-to-form St. Estèphe wine cannot be understated—especially in this market. For twenty bucks, I'm not sure you can beat it. The 2014 has become one of my new favorite mid-week Bordeaux options (along with the 2014 Brown), and it's an early look at what we can anticipate from the Lorenzettis moving forward. Expect the 2015 and 2016 wines from Lilian Ladouys to be just a tasty, and comparable in price.

-David Driscoll

Insane Discounts From the Burgundian Cellar

David Driscoll
burgundycellar (1 of 1).jpg

It's an embarrassment of riches here in the K&L Burgundy department right now. As if we weren't overloading your brain as is with the arrival of the delicious new 2015s, we just managed to put together a closeout deal with Diageo for the leftover 2014 Aurélien Verdet wines—serious reds from Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne Romanée, and Nuit St. George for half of what they should cost.

What's the catch?

Nothing! Just another major supplier finding that selling small allocations of niche wines in tiny increments isn't something they're especially excited to do. K&L, on the other hand? That's exactly what we specialize in, so a deal was struck.  Aurélien Verdet is a young and exciting winemaker who comes from a family of vignerons and has continued to forage forward in the family business. His father was one of the pioneers organic farming in the region, a tradition that Aurélien has carried with him into his own vineyards. With prime real estate and a keen palate, his portfolio of wines has historically carried a price tag to match such quality, which is exactly what makes this deal quite exciting for us. Burgundy values are few and far between in this industry. But closeout pricing for high-quality, coveted, and drinkable expressions from a heralded producer? 

You might want to pinch yourself. That's what we've been doing all morning.

-David Driscoll

Our Best Batch of Charrière

David Driscoll

Back when I was helping as an assistant in the Burgundy department here at K&L, I would often help organize the shelves and put away cases in the warehouse when new shipments would arrive from France. I remember sorting out the numerous expressions of Château de la Charrière and asking our buyer at the time about the wines; the labels seemed so rustic and quaint, like they were being made at someone's house rather than a large winery. It turns out my aesthetic assessment wasn't all that far off! Years later, now that I'm one of K&L's Burgundy buyers, I finally got my chance to visit Yves Girardin's property in person and it was very much as I imagined: a small farm with a few vineyards planted nearby, and a romantic country home just a few turns off the Route des Grands Crus. We were there to taste the 2015 vintage, one that so far represents one of the best pinot noir harvests I've ever tasted from Burgundy. Given that the Charrière have always been made in an earthier, more old school style, I was excited to see what a bit of additional ripeness might do to the wines. If the fleshiness and pure fruited flavors we'd tasted thus far had reached the Girardin vineyards, we might be looking at some of the best deals of the year.

Château de la Charrière has long been one of our most popular direct import producers because it's a label that easily represents the best bang for your buck we carry in Burgundy. However, while it was formerly run by Yves Girardin with whom we originally started the relationship, the business is now run by his young son Benoit, who definitely has modernized the winemaking a bit since his first vintage in 2011. Believe me: this is great news for all you red Burgundy lovers because the 2015 vintage is not only riper, the flavors are also much cleaner; showcasing the pureness of the pinot noir. Benoit is de-stemming completely so as to remove additional tannic structure and as a result the wines are better than they've ever been. I've never tasted reds from them that are this approachable. I'd highly, highly advise you to check out some of the inexpensive 2015 reds we just got in. For less than twenty bucks, the Hautes Cote de Beaune is drinking like an absolute dream. Their local Santenay 1er cru wines, however, are the stars. Sourced from up on the above-pictured hill, both the whites and reds were showcasing serious stuff when we tasted in person this past March, and they're tasting even better right now.

One of the most difficult aspects of selling red Burgundy to customers over the years has always been the unpredictability of the quality. With so many different producers holding vines, making various styles of wines even within strong vintages, it's entirely possible to blow a lot of money on a pinot noir that isn't up to snuff. I've also watched customers open bottles that shouldn't have been opened for another decade, spending fifty bucks or more to drink a mouthful of tannins and bristling acidity. Burgundy has always been a crap shoot, which is why having a working understanding of its communes and producers is such a valuable thing in the wine game today. The great thing about these 2015s, however, is that the ripeness is the great equalizer. It's hard to go wrong with any wine in this harvest. I've tasted 2015 reds from even the most rustic of producers that are drinking beautifully in their youth at this point. In the case of Château de la Charrière, I think I can clearly say this is the best batch of wines we've ever received from them.

-David Driscoll