On the Trail

The Great Second Wine Steal of 2017

David Driscoll
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One of the great professional wine experiences of my career was the first time I visited Château Lynch Bages in Bordeaux and experienced the complete walkthrough from the vineyard to the cellar to the finished bottle. Still my favorite wine producing region in the world, visiting Bordeaux can sometimes feel a bit more like a carefully curated production compared to say Burgundy or the Loire where the properties sometimes consist of little more than an old barn next to a narrow vineyard. With its expansive landscapes, huge châteaux, and decadent feel, it's easy to forget you're dealing with agriculture in anyway at some of the gaudier properties along the Médoc, but that wasn't the case my first time around at Lynch Bages. We were met by owner Jean-Michel Cazes and his son Jean-Charles who allowed us to get as handsy as we pleased, tasting the most recent vintage right out of the barrel and meandering through the vineyards under the early light of the morning sun. It stood in stark contrast to some of our other tastings in Bordeaux, where a butler in a tuxedo might escort you into a fancy salon and pour the latest release into an expensive crystal goblet. Not that I don't enjoy doing that as well, mind you; it's just that those rather posh encounters don't do anything to help me understand the wine on a professional level that I can then share with consumers. That entire experience at Lynch Bages felt genuine and authentic; it was an all access look at what makes the wine one of the world's best, creating a positive lasting memory and bond that I'll probably carry for the rest of my life. To this day, I often use Lynch Bages as the standard for top level Bordeaux recommendations with my best customers because I believe wholeheartedly in the quality of the wine, not based solely on my taste buds or critical reviews, but also my own nostalgic fondness and impression of the property—one that has some of the best terroir in all of Pauillac and deserves a bit of posh pampering. 

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While I'm always going to recommend the grand vin of Lynch Bages to anyone asking for a great Bordeaux, not everyone has $150 to $200 to spare for a single bottle of red wine (including myself), which is why I'm always hawking the serious second wines of Bordeaux—the cuvées that often carry much of a property's inherent quality for a fraction of the price. When I brought home this bottle of 1988 Château Haut-Bages Averous earlier this month for a sultry steak dinner in the warm Bay Area weather, I thought we must have made a mistake on the pricing—the wine was simply incredible from front to back and fifty bucks seemed far too good to be true. Haut-Bages Averous was the second label of Lynch-Bages until the property changed it over to the Echo de Lynch-Bages after the turn of the century. 1988 is part of the famed 88/89/90 trio of successive successes (say that three times fast) and I'm always on the lookout for 88's specifically because they're usually priced more fairly than the more heavily-hyped 89 and 90 harvests. Let me tell you, straight up: we opened another bottle of the 88 Haut Bages Averous at the store this weekend and the wine was absolutely PERFECT!!! I had to do a bit of digging to get the cork out, but once I managed to break through the wine was immaculate. There was still plenty of fruit, sweet cassis notes, bolstered by licorice, soy, and earth on the nose. At 12.5%, the wine is everything us old school Bordeaux fans appreciate, but there's still enough freshness for newcomers to mature claret to wrap their heads around.

More importantly, the 88 Haut Bages Averous is affordable, bolstering even more my affinity for second wines. There hasn't been anything this good for around fifty bucks in our Bordeaux library department all year, and I haven't seen anything on the docket that could best it before the year is up. With the plethora of drinking opportunities still on the calendar, I don't imagine a case being enough. I'm bringing this to Thanksgiving dinner, my wife's birthday, my birthday, Christmas, New Year's eve, and any other party where someone's willing to grill me a steak. This is well-priced, perfectly-aged, somewhat-collectable Bordeaux from one of the region's top producers, from a great vintage, drinking perfectly right out of the bottle. It doesn't get much better than this from a wine merchant's perspective.

-David Driscoll

On the Trail with Salvatore Ferragamo

David Driscoll
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When I told some of our K&L staffers that Salvatore Ferragamo was coming to K&L in San Francisco on Sunday, October 1st for a special public tasting from 3 - 5 PM, I eventually had to clarify that I was not speaking about Salvatore Ferragamo Sr, the famed Italian shoemaker who dressed the Hollywood stars in the 1950s, but rather his grandson who has become a famous winemaker in his own right. When you read the Salvatore Ferragamo name in articles talking about the family's Il Borro estate in Tuscany, both a proper winemaking facility as well as a luxury hotel destination, it's easy to assume they're talking about the fashion company as a whole, but that's not the case. Salvatore Ferragamo Jr, the dashing third generation superstar, has taken the family business to the next level by producing a portfolio of well-received Super Tuscans. Born and raised in one of the world's most iconic fashion families, how is it that someone who looked like a fashion model, clearly destined for a career in the world of haute couture with a famous name and chiseled features found himself toiling away in the cellar, making Sangiovese blends instead of walking the runway? I was interested, so I gave him a call earlier in the week and we chatted about that very subject.

If you want to come and meet Salvatore in person and taste the Il Borro wines, we'll be in the San Francisco store this Sunday for a special weekend event starting at 3 PM. The tasting will cost you five dollars and no reservations are needed, so just walk in.

David: Having had the chance to join one of the world’s most iconic fashion empires, your family’s Ferragamo luxury clothing line and your namesake, what made you decide to become a winemaker instead?

Salvatore: Well, my father bought the Il Borro property and that gave me the option to either join the fashion side of the company or the wine side. I thought to myself: there’s already so much that’s been done on the fashion side, but here I’ll have the opportunity to start something from ground zero. That’s exciting; when you’re starting from scratch but still contributing to the groundwork of what’s been done by your family. 

David: When did your dad buy Il Borro? Was that back in 1993?

Salvatore: Yes, that’s correct. 

David: What kind of condition was it in? I know it was owned by a famous duke or aristocrat previously, but was it being using to make wine at that time?

Salvatore: No, we had to replant everything. The property was in a terrible state of disrepair. Everything had been abandoned. It was very bad and it needed a lot of work (laughs). 

David: But that gave you the opportunity to start over with your own vision, right? You didn’t necessarily have seventy year old Sangiovese vines to work with.

Salvatore: Yes, we decided to choose the varietals based on the different types of soil we had on the property. As the French would say: you make the wines according to the terroir. So we did and that’s been our philosophy ever since. In January of 2015 we turned organic with our farming practices, so now we have sort of a two-pronged approach: matching the vine to the terroir, as well as organic viticulture practices. 

David: Which varietals do you currently have planted?

Salvatore: Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Chardonnay. 

David: Sort of the new wave approach to the Tuscan vineyard. I think I also read somewhere you were experimenting with amphorae clay pots as aging vessels instead of oak?

Salvatore: Yeah! We make a wine called Petruna Anfora from 100% amphora wines with no oak. It’s interesting because it doesn’t have any of the toast from the barrique. Instead it’s more about the fruit and the pureness of it, which is lovely. There’s more minerality in the wines, plus it was interesting to try and recreate the traditional methods like they made wine in the old days—like the Romans and the Etruscans. 

David: How did the first vintage go? That was just recently, I think.

Salvatore: Yes, we just finished selling the first vintage. We started with the 2015 vintage and we sold out, so now we’re working on the second release in November.

David: How has traditional Italy adapted to the new Super Tuscans and the inclusion of Cabernet and Merlot in the blends? Are the Tuscan locals excited by the evolution or resistant, in your opinion?

Salvatore: Italy has changed quite a bit and I think the public is adapting to the idea of new world wines. The culture is less rigid. It’s well proven at this point that we can make great wines in a different style and I think that’s exciting. It’s still a young concept—Sassicaia was the first to make a Super Tuscan back in the sixties—and after centuries of making wine I think the idea of experimentation is well accepted now. 

The Ferragamo family Il Borro estate

The Ferragamo family Il Borro estate

David: How was it growing up for you in traditional Italy? Did your family drink a lot of wine?

Salvatore: Yes, wine was always a big part of our family culture. Growing up in Tuscany, everyone is producing wine, so I was familiar with the subject. When I first started working at Il Borro I got certified as a sommelier, which helped me to better understand the process, but of course working at the winery itself was the real education. Wine was always available when I was growing up, often and everywhere.

David: What do you like to drink personally? What excites you about wine?

Salvatore: I think there are three great elements to wine: the varietal, the vintage, and the region, which makes experimentation fun. There’s so much to learn. Of course, I love everything from my friends at Sassicaia—the Ornellaia and the Masseto are wonderful wines—but I also love Bordeaux. Château Haut Brion is one of my favorites. There are many different and fantastic visions out there for wine. 

David: I’m someone who thinks there’s a big correlation between fashion and alcohol. Growing up in a fashion empire, do you see similarities between the two industries?

Salvatore: I think it depends on what you’re doing in fashion. If you’re making T-shirts, that’s one thing. If you’re making high-end, luxury haute couture items, then it’s another and it’s more similar to what we’re doing at Il Borro, where we’re farming organically, using a fiberoptic sorter, a gravity-flow winery, temperature-controlled steel vats, and extremely selective barriques. I think taking this level of care is what separates the luxury industry from the general market, so in that sense it is like fashion. 

David: Did growing up in the Ferragamo family help to prepare you for the rigors of such high quality production?

Salvatore: To a certain extent. My family has always been detail oriented when it comes to luxury, so that definitely helped. That level of scrutiny translates over to winemaking where being selective and always in search of the maximum quality is important. That’s our commitment at Il Borro. We want to be recognized as a quality producer. 

David: Do you ever find that the wine gets lumped in with the Ferragamo empire rather than being recognized on its own merit?

Salvatore: Yeah, and I think that’s an important point. For that reason we want to keep the two businesses separate: one is wine and one is fashion. It is important that the wine becomes successful on its own merit. It’s a question of brand integrity and it’s up to me to produce wines that are made with a quality-oriented philosophy. We can’t simply piggyback on the Ferragamo name. 

David: Since we’re talking about the Ferragamo brand, I have a personal curiosity. I’ve always thought of the Ferragamo shoe portfolio as the best in the business. My wife and I both swear by Ferragamo and, while I don’t really collect wine, I definitely have a small collection of Ferragamo shoes. But lately I’ve been noticing the belts and the jackets really take off. I was reading the other day about how the belts are really becoming big in Asia and in some cases cost more than the shoes! In your opinion, what’s the quintessential Ferragamo fashion item?

Salvatore: Shoes. I would say the shoes, for sure. I think their quality and comfort speak to the best of Ferragamo. 

David: While your grandfather, whose name you carry on, became famous while making shoes for stars like Audrey Hepburn, you’re establishing your own reputation with the Il Borro wine. Who’s someone who you’ve been able to sell wine to or perhaps drink wine with that you were excited about?

Salvatore: There are several, but there is one that stands out. I had the chance to drink with Richard Gere once at the property who dined with our family and enjoyed the wines.

David: Oh wow! Did your dad try to sign him as a shoe model while he was there?

Salvatore: (laughs) No, but I think there was some swooning at the table.

-David Driscoll

After Hours Burgundy

Gary Westby
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This past Tuesday the Redwood City and auction department staff got together for a tasting that focused on the evolution of Burgundy over time. I spent the better part of the year pulling inexpensive Burgundy from our old and rare department for the event, and I am happy to say that the group of wines showed really quite well. Of course, since it was Burgundy, the tasting was loaded with surprises!

As folks were arriving we started off with a glass of Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne from a magnum that I had cellared for five years. I didn’t want to stray from the theme of older bottles, but this was still so fresh that it was hard to tell that it was old. It was only more integrated, textural and balanced than the current release, with no sacrifice of freshness. If you have space in your cellar, magnums of good quality non-vintage are one of the best things that you can lay down for the short term.

After we had all assembled and sat down, we began the tasting with the youngest reds, and moved into the oldest. At trade tastings in Burgundy and in France in general, it is common practice to start with the reds and then move onto the whites. Unlike a dinner, where the more delicate fish courses call for white wine to start, at a tasting without food pairings it is a good strategy to start with reds, particularly if there is a lot of wine to taste. The first white refreshes the palate, and even if you feel tired from tasting reds, it is easy to keep going.

From the 2000’s we had five reds, starting at eleven years old with the 2006 Domaine de la Vougeraie Nuits-St.-George 1er Cru "Les Corvées Paget". Luckily, Muriel Sarik from our customer service team was in attendance, and lots of good insights for us on this biodynamic property, as she had worked for them in the past. This wine was still very young, with classic dark fruit and some unresolved tannin. It was the biggest, densest wine of the night by far.

We then moved on to the 2005 Domaine Camus Bruchon Savigny-lès-Beaune, a wine that sold for well under $30 at release. This too was far too fresh to call old, and a few of the group felt that it could benefit from even more time. I found this twelve year old to have great texture, and open knit red fruit personality, and plenty of lively refreshment. I wished that I had my Sunday roast chicken in front of me to eat with this marvelous drink. Note to self, age more modest village Burgundy from good producers for longer!

I had been looking forward to tasting the 2004 Domaine Robert Chevillon Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru "Pruliers” and was surprised at how advanced it was. Since 2004 is my wedding year, my wife Cinnamon and I have drunk a lot of it. A lot of Burgundy lovers put down the 2004’s as being green and lean, but both my wife and I are very forgiving of those characteristics, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that in general we really like the vintage. It is usually very fairly priced as well. The Chevillon was much more advanced and savory than other wine that we have had from 2004, even much lower priced and less famous offerings. This was a tarry Nuits with lots of porcini and quite a bit of density, but rather little snap or focus.

The little 2002 Domaine Besson Givry 1er Cru "Grands Pretans" Vieilles Vignes was Clarissa in our auction departments surprise of the night, but this time for how bright and lively it was. I don’t know if the folks at Besson thought that anyone would keep this so long, but I am sure that they would have been thrilled at how well it showed. The crunchy, cranberry fruit was very well preserved in this super tasty bottle, and besides from being richer and weightier than what one would expect in current release, it had not aged much at all!

Jordan Stone, from our phone crew here in Redwood City called out the 2002 Philippe et Vincent Lecheneaut Marsannay "Les Sampagny" as his favorite wine of the night, and Sean from auctions called it his surprise of the night. I agree that it had a tremendous amount going for it, and it was a great advertisement for cellaring the best producers (think Domaine Bart) from this underrated village. It was loaded with dark fruit and framed by subtle black truffle complexity, and still had a good bit of tannic structure to go with its lively acidity. This was full bodied stuff, and I couldn’t help wishing for a big confit duck leg over a bowl of lentils to go with it!

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The wine of the night for three of our crew was the outstanding 1999 Domaine Daniel Rion Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru "Les Beaux-Monts” that Jeff Garneu generously pulled from his own collection. It was an example of Burgundy breeding for sure, from a great vintage that was just now entering prime time for drinking. It had a super generous nose of intoxicating, catnip like oak and perfect Pinot dark cherry fruit. In the mouth it was full, silky and rich with a finish that expanded and fanned out in true peacock tail fashion. What a bottle!

Our only poor showing for the night was the 1995 Domaine Marius Delarche Corton Renardes Grand Cru that Jeff had also brought. Although many at the tasting appreciated its savor, it had a little bit too much soy and decay for most of us. Too bad, but was this was this a bad bottle or did something go wrong at the winery? Hard to say, but that's Burgundy.

My red surprise of the night and Sean Fernandez’s wine of the night was the 1987 Domaine Aleth Girardin Pommard 1er Cru "Rugiens". This vintage has a bad reputation for being thin and acidic, but I have had great luck with 1987’s over the past few years. Acidity is a good preservative, and Burgundy does put on weight with time! This had shockingly pure red fruit on the nose for a thirty year old wine, with solid medium body and a very bright and long finish. Impressive.

The 1988 Domaine Jean Tardy Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru "Les Boudots" was Jeff Garneu’s surprise red of the night, and it showed almost as much breed as the 1999 Beaumonts. This was from the period that Tardy sharecropped Domaine Meo Camuzet’s plot of Budots, a very nice parcel of old vines indeed. This vineyard abuts Malconsorts, and it would be easy to throw a ball from Budots over Malconsorts and into La Tache! This had great dark cherry fruit and excellent length from the lively acidity. I wish I had another bottle to have with Dijon braised rabbit!

Sadly, we had one corked bottle, a perfectly filled, beautifully ruby 1979 Domaine A. Ropiteau-Mignon Monthelie 1er Cru "Les Duresses". Domage! From the same collection, the 1979 Domaine A. Ropiteau-Mignon Beaune Rouge "Grèves" was my wine of the night and Andrew Nunes from our auction department’s surprise of the night. This vintage has always been over shadowed by 1978, but if it hadn’t been next to such a legend, I think that collectors would talk more about it. This was the first of the wines that I found tasted like real old Burgundy, loaded with savory, chanterelle framed red fruit, buzzing with energy and encyclopedic in complexity. Like all great Burgundy, writing about it seems like a silly exercise.

The 1971 Domaine Senard Corton "Clos des Meix" was the wine of the night for Alex Schroeder on the Redwood City sales floor. It is easy to see why he liked it so much, this was blood making Grand Cru in every way, with fantastic richness, savory rainier cherry fruit and an intricate, complex finish that many more expensive producers would envy. It was the oldest wine in the tasting, but definitely not the oldest tasting, with good freshness for further cellaring. If only we could have had it with boeuf bourguignon!

Our first white was the unanimous surprise of the night, the 2000 Dom. Jean-Marc Boillot Rully 1er Cru "Mont Palais". Stephanie from Redwood City and Clarissa from auctions also had it down as their outright wine of the night, with Clarissa noting that it was just the most exciting offering. This was the kind of white Burgundy that reminds one why so many wine makers in California want to make big Chardonnay. It can be so good. While I don’t think that the folks at Boillot imagined that anyone would cellar this so long, the collector that our Old and Rare team sourced this from obviously cellared it perfectly. This was still bright white gold in color, and hade fantastic mineral tinged acidity to balance its broad, buttery, full bodied mid-palate. Wow.

What would an old Burgundy tasting be without a bit of premature oxidation? The 2000 Château de la Maltroye Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clos du Château Maltroye" Blanc that we tried was nutty, and still interesting, but definitely far passed its prime. What a shame!

The last addition to our tasting was an incredible, once-in-a-liftime bottle of 2004 Coche Dury Puligny-Montrachet "Les Enseignères". This great Chardonnay was the high note that we ended on, and I cannot thank Molly, our auction and old and rare director enough for bringing it. Usually a bottle like this has expectations so high placed on it that it is only possible for it to disappoint, but this bottle had no problem living up to and surpassing those expectations. Les Enseignères is a village level plot that is in both Chassagne and Puligny, located immediately below Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and fancied as better than many premier crus. Bottles like this connect with me on such an emotional level that it is hard to turn the impressions into words. Most of the staff, when asked for their wine of the night simply found this to be in a separate category…and it was! The color still had a flash of green at thirteen years old, and the nose had both pure lime and lovely fromage fort elements in perfect harmony. The texture was full and expansive, but the refreshment was on the level of Mesnil blanc de blancs. I won’t ever forget it!

It was a great night, and I hope that I am sure that a few of the staff caught the bad habit of Burgundy collecting over the course of it. They are wines worth the patience required!

-Gary Westby

Syrah's Return to Dominance

David Driscoll
K&L buyers Alex Pross and Trey Beffa get a tour of the landscape

K&L buyers Alex Pross and Trey Beffa get a tour of the landscape

I remember a period of Parker-pointed dominance for the rich and ample-fruited wines of Southern France; right around the time I started working at K&L back in 2007. Our customers couldn't get enough of those mouth-filling Syrah and Grenache blends and we were wheeling out cases of Côtes du Rhône faster than we could restock them. Selling a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was like shooting fish in a barrel! Then something happened to slow that trajectory. Maybe it was market saturation, or maybe it was the short-lived rise of a foodie culture that poo-pooed the richness of the riper Rhône style, but for about five years there was a bit of a lull and customers began inquiring about lighter, lower alcohol alternatives. Lately, however, I've noticed the pendulum starting to swing back the other way. While I'm always ready to put a great bottle of Bordeaux and Burgundy into the hands of anyone who asks (and sometimes even those who don't), there's no denying the fact that the top names from St. Julien or Morey St. Denis don't specialize in pop-and-pour wines. France's top Cabernets and Pinot Noirs often need time to soften in the cellar, sometimes more than a decade of slumber before they begin to show their true merit. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it only takes a few bad experiences with a tart and tangy bottle from a cooler vintage to ruin someone from the potential joys of fine Burgundy appreciation. To many, wine enjoyment shouldn't be difficult. If you pay $50 or more for a single bottle, then the wine inside that vestibule should taste both delicious and expensive. The modern American drinker doesn't have a wine cellar, or even a collection for that matter, so the idea of waiting years to enjoy a bottle can be a setback rather than a sign of quality. We're moving more and into a culture of on-the-go and for the winemakers in the Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon, this shift in priorities plays right into their strengths. Whereas a $100+ bottle of 2014 Vosne Romanée might come across as tannic or tight if opened today, any bottle of 2014 St. Joseph in comparison will throw out silky, supple, and soft-fruited textures, even in its youth. 

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The first sign that the Rhône renaissance was back in full swing was the virtual explosion that detonated in our sales queue earlier this summer when we released the 2015 Château de l'Ou "Secret de Schistes," a thirty dollar Syrah from the Côtes Catalanes that ignited a firestorm of sales with its blistering 96 point review from the Wine Advocate's Jeb Dunnuck. I hadn't seen customers flock to a Southern French wine like that in almost a decade (and we sold every last bottle we could get our hands on), but again this week I watched a similar phenomenon occur with the release of Château de l'Ou's twenty dollar Syrah bargain: the 2015 "Infiniment."  Made from 100% Syrah and brimming with full-bodied fruit, a ripe and textural mouthfeel, and an immediately approachable charm, I've been watching the orders pile up in the sales queue all morning as I prepared to type up this post. Luckily for us, Château de l'Ou is one of our direct imports here at K&L, a wine we found after a referral from another producer we've worked with for years (Antech from Limoux). Run by Séverinne and Philippe Bourrier, the organically farmed estate consists of three different terroirs, from which the Bourriers are able to coax a number of different expressions of flavor. I'd check out Jeb Dunnuck's first hand report here for a deeper look into the production, while also reading our buyer Keith Mabry's note in the Infiniment product page linked above. While most of us who have tasted the Infiniment think it has the power to last at least a decade in the cellar, it's important to note that the wine tastes pretty fabulous right now. In the new era of fast internet, same-day delivery, and instant gratification across the board, the wines of Southern France are primed for another big run in the sun, and Syrah—always considered one of the classic red varietals—may be getting a second look from a growing customer base that values both quality and early accessibility.

-David Driscoll

A Superb Big Brand Bargain

David Driscoll
Columbia Crest winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca talks viticulture with vineyard manager Juan Uribe

Columbia Crest winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca talks viticulture with vineyard manager Juan Uribe

In the world of boutique wine with its focus on terroir, terrain, and tradition, preaching the merit of big box brands can often fall on deaf ears. Part of the allure of modern wine appreciation comes from a desire for individuality and few today find a sense of inspiration from something viewed as mass produced. Purists of fine wine often value the sanctity of smallness and the scarcity that often comes along with it. Nothing great or profound can be made in volume, right? Especially not from a supermarket brand like Columbia Crest with its 2,500 acres of fruit and massive national distribution. Despite that mindset, Washington's long-standing mega-winery has a history of challenging its perception in the boutique market. In 2009, it became the first Washington producer in history to land the prestigious Wine Spectator #1 wine of the year award for the 2005 Reserve Cabernet. I remember that moment well because we went from selling almost no Columbia Crest to wheeling out giant shopping carts full of it in less than twenty-four hours. Nothing changes the public perception faster than an award like that. I've learned over time that most of our customers just want something that tastes good for a reasonable price, even though the sommelier crowd can often dominate the narrative in our industry. If you fall into that former group then it's time to get your wallets ready once again because the gang from Columbia Crest is back with one helluva bargain. We backed up the truck and brought in a gang load of the 2011 Reserve Cabernet for more than 50% off the standard retail pricing. Tasting the wine today with some of my colleagues, it's clear we're on the brink of another fever pitch here at K&L.

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With a few years in the bottle already, the 2011 Reserve Cabernet has developed into a balanced and surprisingly restrained little gem with ample dark fruit, but subtle notes of earth and spice that accent the finish. Just that short time in the cellar has rendered the wine soft and seamless without all the ripeness or coffee bean notes from the oak I usually expect. I fooled some of the K&L senior staff in the tasting bar earlier today, pouring the wine blind and telling them it was really expensive, and I loved watching their mouths drop when I eventually told them it was Columbia Crest. Even better, I loved watching their facial expressions when I told them we had it for seventeen bucks! For a wine that rested for over two years in new French oak, most of that wood has already integrated and the wine is singing right now. Columbia Crest, lest we forget, has a history of surprising folks in the wine business. Back in 1994, their estate Cabernet was the only American wine awarded a medal at the "Challenge du Vin" competition in Bordeaux, while recent editions continue to land on top 100 lists annually from all the major publications—in addition to the heralded wine of the year award back in 2009. I've been sipping on a glass of the 2011 for most of the afternoon and I'm continually impressed by the wine's complexity, how it continues to unwind and unveil itself over the course of the day. 

While it may not have the heritage of a revered single vineyard site, or the stuffing to last a century in the cellar, what the 2011 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet offers is pure deliciousness for folks who get a kick out of bang for your buck bargains. At our price, you make this a serious Monday night meatloaf wine or a flossy bottle of Thursday night hamburger wine with real depth and intrigue. I can promise you that whatever our customers don't drink, we will. I drink a lot of French Bordeaux today, but there's still something great about discovering the real values of your own backyard, kind of like when you realize jeans don't really get that much better than Levi's for the price. Columbia Crest is one of those American institutions continually pumping out supreme value for those who prize flavor above all else. I'm glad they're here to keep reminding us of what matters.

-David Driscoll

One Wine to Rule Them All

David Driscoll
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I don't know if I should call the 2015 Yquem the best wine I've ever had, but I can safely say that no other wine in my decade of working in this business has made my knees buckle, my heart murmur, and my mouth utter an F-bomb in the middle of a fancy en primeur tasting event. We were at Cheval Blanc for lunch and the 2015 Yquem was being poured as an aperitif in the parlor before the meal. I took one sip and it was like angels were trumpeting down from the heavens. I looked at my co-worker Phil and I could see in his face that he was having a similar, quasi-religious epiphany. Then I swallowed, closed my eyes, and took in the breathtaking finish. The 2015 Yquem is the whole package. It's a once-in-a-lifetime wine, perfect in every way, without one symmetrical flaw. The fruit is so pure and concentrated you can almost see the dried apricots in your mind's eye, the acidity so balanced against the lush fruit and sweetness that any potential fatigue or overload from pure decadence is quickly erased. Your taste buds will be begging for more, and that's how the 2015 Yquem tastes right now—in its youth!! Imagine in a decade or two where this thing might be at. This is as perfect of a wine as I've ever tasted. I'm just hoping I get to taste it again someday.

We just released the first tranche of 2015 Yquem futures today, so if you're looking for a truly singular experience, one wine to rule them all, this is as close to a perfect specimen as I've ever tasted. 

-David Driscoll

On the Trail with Kyle MacLachlan

David Driscoll
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When David Lynch announced that Twin Peaks would return for a third season on Showtime, I think many of us Peakies about lost our minds, especially knowing that we would get to see our beloved Kyle MacLachlan return to the role of Special Agent Dale Cooper one more time. It was while searching for news about the project that I discovered Kyle was into wine. Not just into wine, mind you, but actually the owner of a successful private label called Pursued by Bear made in conjunction with renowned Washington producer Dunham Cellars. I tracked down a bottle of his Columbia Valley Cabernet for the big Twin Peaks premier earlier this summer and, after fully enjoying every sip, I decided I would reach out to Kyle and see if he wanted to work with us at K&L on selling the wine. By the end of August, we had worked out a deal not only to bring his Pursued by Bear Cabernet and Baby Bear Syrah into the stores, but also his very limited rose for those final summer evenings when a glass of something cool and refreshing still hits the spot. 

Perhaps more exciting, however, is that Kyle has volunteered to pour the wines in our Hollywood store one week from today on Friday, September 22nd. For a small five dollar tasting fee, you can taste all three wines and meet Cooper himself, while learning more about the varietals of Washington. I plan on flying down to help, so while I'm running back and forth filling glasses, Kyle should be freed up to answer as many of your questions as possible. Watch our website and tasting schedule for more details about that event (I'm expecting a 5 PM start). I recently caught up with Kyle to learn more about the Pursued by Bear project and how it came about, while of course getting in a few burning questions about the new Twin Peaks season and drinking with David Lynch. Our conversation is below:

David: Let’s start with an easy one: how long have you been interested in wine? 

Kyle: I started in high school with a glass of wine at the dinner table with the girl I was seeing at that time. Her family had the ritual of a sit-down dinner with everyone—she had two older sisters, so it was a large group and they would have their boyfriends there, too. I was dating the youngest one. When I joined for dinner, I had a glass of white wine—that’s what you did. That started it. From then it was a very slow progression getting to the point where I could actually decipher between a good wine and a not-so-good wine. I drank a lot of not-so-good wine in the beginning (laughs).

David: This is back in Yakima, I’m guessing?

Kyle: Yeah, this was in Yakima. It was before any real wine presence in the valley. Leonetti bonded in Walla Walla in 1977, the first winery to do so in Eastern Washington. Prior to that you had the big guys—Chateau St. Michelle, Columbia Winery and Columbia Crest…behemoths like that making wine. 

David: When did you get to the point where you actually wanted to start making wine and not just drinking it?

Kyle: It was the culmination of a friendship with Ann Colgin, who was and still is a mentor of mine, recognizing the quality of wine coming out of Washington state, being from Yakima originally, and then a desire to learn more and the feeling that the best path to do that was to actually get my feet wet. Taking the jump into making wine was only possible after meeting Eric Dunham from Dunham Cellars and having him agree to partner with me. 

David: How did you two meet? Were you originally looking at Washington when thinking about a potential wine project?

Kyle: No, it started with an eye on Napa and a little bit of research, which quickly turned into dismay because it was incredibly expensive and just felt impossible. It was my wife who said, “Why don’t you look into Washington?” She was aware already of the possible story about the business going on in my backyard, so to speak. It made sense to me on another level because I would be able to get back home to visit my dad who was still alive at the time, as well as my brothers. It gave me a reason to go back a few times a year, as opposed to just Christmas vacation. He was getting older and I wanted to spend more time with him, so this was a great thing we were able to do together. 

David: What developments have you seen with the Washington wine industry since you started? Are you surprised by how much it’s growing?

Kyle: It’s growing quickly, the number of wineries. From the beginning, as I mentioned with Leonetti in 1977, it took a while before more serious wineries were established. Dunham opened in the mid-nineties. Before that, you had Woodward Canyon and L’École 41. In fact, I think Eric originally did his internship at L’École and learned to make wine there. Then it just exploded, even from when I started back in 2005. What’s interesting is how the quality is getting better as more people are figuring it out, not only with the winemaking, but also with the growing. The growers have learned pretty quickly which varietals make good wine and which ones don’t. Prior to grapes, it was all apples and cherries up there and in that world of farming more is better. If you’re growing apples, you want to grow as many as you possibly can, so the idea of planting grapes and then thinning down the crop on behalf of better quality wasn’t inherent. Then there’s the question of what are the best sites; where do the vines work best and with what varietal? So that’s coming along pretty quickly, too. 

David: You’re pretty heavily involved with the actual winemaking, too, am I right? I know when customers look at celebrity booze projects they tend to think most of it is marketing, but that’s not the case here at all from what I understand.

Kyle: I’m in charge of selecting the fruit and then I’m there for all the blending trials. I consult with Dan Wampfler who’s my winemaker, as well—he now works over at Abeja, but he still makes my wine. Dan and I talk about specific sites and we try to be proactive when certain fruit comes online. In fact, I’m really excited because this year for the first time I’ve got some fruit coming in from Champoux Vineyard, which is really hard to get and very expensive, but it’s such a quality site. I’m also involved in making barrel choices, sampling the wine from barrel, blending, let’s see what else…

David: I think that’s a lot more than George Clooney has ever contributed to Casa Amigos Tequila.

Kyle: (laughs) I was intent on learning, so I wanted to be hands on. I’m continuing to become more involved and the most recent shift involves moving out of the partnership with Dunham and becoming sort of my own stand-alone winery. I’ve purchased five two-ton fermenters now and I’ve got everything that I need to do more of a custom crush.

After twenty five years, Agent Dale Cooper emerges from the confines of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks: The Return

After twenty five years, Agent Dale Cooper emerges from the confines of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks: The Return

David: Wow, that’s a big jump to start investing in infrastructure! That’s when things start to get real, right?

Kyle: Oh my gosh, yes. It’s going all the way. I didn’t anticipate it to be quite as overwhelming, but it’s still not too bad because the Dunham facility does most of the work, but I’m now gaining more control, moving out of the vineyard and into the winemaking itself. Processing, fermentation, speed, and delivery are becoming more important, so as I get into it more and more I realize the minuscule steps are just as important as the big ones.

David: Right, we realize that on the retail end as well. People spend a lot of time learning about the specifics of wine and the education side, but you still have to know how to use a POS system, run credit cards, and take inventory! There’s no better way to learn than to do every part of the business yourself. Speaking of going back home to Washington, how does it feel to return to Washington as Special Agent Dale Cooper?

Kyle: It’s incredible to be able to do it for a second time. The first time around was back in 1989/90, not that long after I graduated from college in ’82, so it’s always fun to be back. Most recently with the new show, we were up there last year during September and October, but to be honest I was only up there shooting for a little over a week for what I guess we would call season three. But there’s definitely a recognition and there are people who get a kick out of the fact that I’m originally from the northwest. I also just finished my run as the mayor of Portlandia in Portland and that was an interesting experience because I’d never had that kind of local recognition before. There was definitely a bit of a buzz around town while we were shooting, whereas I’m used to being a little bit more under the radar. 

David: That surprises me because you were in a lot of cult television shows from Twin Peaks, to Sex and the City, to Desperate Housewives. I would think people would be stopping you on the street all the time. Those are shows people watch over and over again and binge on. 

Kyle: Yeah, people definitely recognize me from Sex and the City, also from How I Met Your Mother. I’m pretty grateful for having been able to do this for as long as I have, being in some worthwhile productions. 

David: Which role do you get recognized for most often? Like people stop you and say, “Oh my God, I loved you in…..?”

Kyle: I would say primarily as Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. A close second would be as Trey in Sex in the City because as you said people return to that show time and time again. That one’s still pretty relevant.

David: Heck yeah it is. My wife still quotes some of your best lines on that show around the house quite often. 

Kyle: (laughs) Yeah there were some good ones. Embarrassingly good.

David: The part where Trey takes the medication and says it felt like it might “rocket right off” is a classic. I was rewatching The Doors the other day as well and had completely forgotten you played Ray Manzarek in the movie. I think you, Val Kilmer, Frank Whaley, and Kevin Dillon did such a good job in that film that I failed to recognize you as actors. 

Kyle: That’s good. That means I disappeared. I like that!

David: Speaking of Twin Peaks, David Lynch is a big wine fan as well, right? 

Kyle: Yeah, in fact we share a couple of connections. When I went to audition for Dune in Los Angeles—not even a year out of college—I screen tested for David and when I got back to the hotel there was a bottle of Lynch Bages and a thank you card from David who was hoping everything would work out. He sent me a bottle of Bordeaux, which we talked about during our first meeting. That was probably my first experience with a great bottle of wine. I think that’s what started me on the European wine path. David and I continue to this day to gift each other bottles, either wines that I make or older vintages of Lynch Bages. We definitely have a mutual appreciation for red wine. 

David: How does he like your Pursued By Bear wines? Do you keep him well stocked?

Kyle: I do, and he does like it. I think his preferred wine would be Bordeaux, but he has had very nice things to say about the Pursued By Bear wines, which I appreciate.

David: So he’s really being himself as Gordon Cole on Twin Peaks then? In one of the last episodes he sits down with Albert and says something about “enjoying this fine Bordeaux.” 

Kyle: Right (laughs).

David: So currently your Pursued By Bear label is producing a Cabernet, a Syrah, and a rosé. Do you have any plans to expand the range with the new facility?

Kyle: Not yet. I think I’m probably going to rally around those three and increase production a little bit, while still keeping my fruit sources. I’m getting more grapes from new sites like Champoux, Sagemoor, Heather Hill—that’s a site than Dan turned me onto, I love it. I’m almost like a negotiant, I’m buying different parcels from different places and still learning. The blend is always going to be Cabernet dominated. When I started it there was a Syrah component in it, but I ultimately became interested in the classic Bordeaux model, so we’re bringing in some Cab Franc for the first time in the 2016 blend. We’ll see what that does. 

We currently have Kyle's Pursued by Bear Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Baby Bear Syrah in stock, but we'll be unveiling the rosé at the Hollywood store next Friday. Hopefully you can all make it out!

-David Driscoll

On the Trail in Guadalajara

David Driscoll
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I’ve landed and stayed over in Guadalajara numerous times over the years, but not until this trip to Jalisco while on the hunt for Tequila did I have the chance to get to know the sprawling city of over four million. The Highlands of Los Altos, where most of our favorite distilleries are located, are about a two hour drive from the city center and most of my time is usually spent out there tasting potential new brands and visiting with producers. I’m usually only in Guadalajara to touch base with my transportation or to sleep, but during this most recent visit I managed to venture out into the Jalisco capital and explore a bit of the urban scene, starting with a stroll through the municipality of Tlaquepaque where a number of fine retail stores and restaurants are located.

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Towards the end of Calle Independencia is a beautifully-decorated spot called Casa Luna with an eclectic menu of traditional Mexican dishes from all over the country with small twists and alterations. The food was outstanding, but I think I spent most of my time gawking at the various diorama-like installation pieces spaced around the main dining room. If you’re looking for atmosphere, this place has it in spades.

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They also have an incredible appetizer based off what is perhaps my favorite Mexican dish: cochinita pibil, a slow roasted pork with achiote that’s a specialty of the Yucatan and generally comes with picked red onions. The chef at Casa Luna decided to stuff all that delicious flavor into a fried dumpling, sort of like a samosa or pot sticker, with Siracha and habanero salsa on the side. My tongue learned the hard way just how authentic that salsa was. Highly recommended!

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If you’re looking for a more modern culinary experience, I can’t recommend Hueso enough located in the Obrera barrio on Calle Efraín González Luna. Not only was it one of the most visually stunning restaurants I’ve ever visited, the drinks, food, and service are absolutely top notch as well. Hueso means “bone” in Spanish, so they’ve taken the name literally with the decor. 

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You can start off with a fancy Paloma—Tequila with freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice, topped with pink peppercorns. I had three. Don’t tell anyone though.

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While everything I ate at Hueso was awe-inspiring, the steak with a peanut cream sauce was to die for and they paired it with a Mexican cabernet-merlot blend. Who needs Bordeaux?

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As a life-long professional wrestling fan, no visit to Guadalajara would be complete without a trip to the legendary Arena Coliseo, home of CMLL lucha libre and the early starting grounds for many a Mexican legend. As a guest of Tequila Tapatío, I was able to pre-party in the arena’s private bar area where photos of Andre the Giant’s original visit to CMLL still hang on the chamber’s walls. It's truly a historic coliseum. 

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But I did not expect such a rowdy crowd! While the banter was never mean-spirited or angry in nature, I’ve become an expert over the years on Mexican street slang and these folks were chanting out every nasty four-letter word in the book. It was both hilarious and shocking listening to the old woman next to me call one of the wrestlers “hijo de puta” as he walked by our seats.

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We got up close and personal, as you can see here. The arena vendors are fantastic, bringing endless trays of Michelada beers with fresh celery, fruit with spicy salsa, peanuts, and various other Mexican delights along with them each time they passed through. I’m definitely making more time for Guadalajara in the future. 

-David Driscoll

Roaming the Highlands of Jalisco

David Driscoll
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There are a number of winding country roads and narrow pathways before you see the brick facade of the La Alteña distillery walls in the distance, the home of Tapatío Tequila and the facility that makes El Tesoro and Ocho as well. I'm on the hunt for new spirits in Mexico this week and Jalisco continues to be a source of serious hooch for K&L. But why am I talking about Tequila on the wine blog? I've always found that Tequila has much more in common with wine than whiskey, and in visiting the various agave distilleries of Mexico that comparison holds true on the production side as well. Some distilleries are like sterile custom crush pads with nothing more than the proper equipment and truck loads of material being dropped off for preparation. Others are actual estates, surrounded by their own vineyards (or agave fields, in this case), with an atmosphere and an aura all their own. La Alteña is definitely the latter. It's like the Ridge or Stag's Leap of Jalisco, a heralded property that has continued to make quality liquid despite its growth and enhancements over the years. Any great wine's reputation will (and should) always begin with the quality and the location of its vineyards. In the case of La Alteña, the agave is planted in the vibrant red soils of the Jalisco Highlands, which create a much different flavor profile than those planted in the Lowlands. Whereas Lowland agave produces a greener, more vegetal and herbaceous style of Tequila, Highland agave piñas tend to be larger, fruitier, and sweeter in flavor due to the difference in both soil types and climate.

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While today I'm running solo out to a few other Highland distilleries, I was with great company yesterday at La Alteña. Slanted Door founder and San Francisco restaurateur Charles Phan was along with me for the ride and we talked shop on the way out to meet legendary master distiller Carlos Camarena. Carlos is a wealth of information and we spent a good hour out in the agave fields with him, learning the intricate details of agave reproduction and the delicate ecosystem that supports their growth. His father first founded La Alteña distillery in 1937, so as you can imagine there were a number of banners celebrating the 80th anniversary of the distillery around the property yesterday. Like any great winemaker, he's always been much more interested in the agricultural side of production rather than the distillation and began his career learning about agriculture.

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Just like with wine, it all begins in the vineyard—or the agave field, in the case of Tequila. Fermentation is no different. Winemakers can dictate the concentration of their wine by choosing to ferment with or without the skins, while repeatedly punching down the cap that eventually forms at the top (or not) to further increase skin contact. Carlos makes the exact same stylistic decisions when fermenting his agave. Some fermentations are done with the liquid only, while others keep the agave fibers in the juice. Some are punched down so that the fibers continue to mingle with the liquid, while others are allowed to bubble up naturally. Every little variance creates a different tasting Tequila. Perhaps the most poignant story Carlos told me, however, was about water. We hear a lot about the importance of pure water sources when it comes to whisky, but not so much with the distillation of other spirits. When talking about the natural spring water that La Alteña sources for its fermentation, Carlos explained that his father and his partners actually built a second distillery in the town of Arandas back in 1938, but eventually closed it when customers complained that the Tequila tasted different than Tapatío. "The only difference was the water," Carlos said. 

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Due to the recent shortage of agave, many large producers (especially those using diffusers—a machine that simply strips out the starch and negates the inherent flavor) don't distinguish between the geographical origins of their piñas, but that's no different than buying a bottle of red wine that says "California" on the label and one that very specifically indicates "Howell Mountain." When you buy a bottle of El Tesoro, Tapatio, or Ocho, you know you're getting Tequila made from Camarena family estate Highland agave. In this case, buying a bottle of Camarena tequila is like buying a bottle of wine from a real domaine.

-David Driscoll

The Ease of 2005 Lynch Bages

David Driscoll
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I started a penpal relationship with Lynch-Bages owner Jean-Michel Cazes earlier this summer as a way to practice my French and in doing so ended up educating myself about the history of Lynch-Bages in the process. I brought a bottle of the 2005 Lynch-Bages to dinner and the other night and watched my friends swoon, after reading an email from Jean-Michel about the harvest and wanting to experience the wine for myself. I had asked him what his favorite vintages were over the last few decades and he reminisced about the ease of the 2005 growing season, and about how the long summer thankfully never resembled the heatwave of 2003. It was "textbook" vintage, he told me, and the agreeable September weather allowed the Cabernet grapes to reach their maximum maturity. You can taste the perfection of that Cabernet in every sip of the 2005 at this point with its power and drive still fully intact. This wine has a long life ahead of it still as the tannins are still showing their might even twelve years after the vintage, but man oh man does this wine taste good right now. Brooding dark fruits, a bit of iron and graphite, and a core of concentrated Cabernet splendor.

We just got a few more cases into stock, which makes it easily one of the top contenders for best drinking Bordeaux in the store right now. 

-David Driscoll