On the Trail

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

On the Trail with Paige Powell

David Driscoll
The contemporary photograph of Paige with Basquiat's Valentine, was taken by the photographer Matthew Placek and is ©Matthew Placek.

The contemporary photograph of Paige with Basquiat's Valentine, was taken by the photographer Matthew Placek and is ©Matthew Placek.

I was in Portland a few months ago with Courtney Taylor, hosting a big wine tasting at his bar The Old Portland, when I struck up a conversation with a striking and well-dressed woman who sat down next to me, decked out in a sleek faux leather Comme des Garcons jacket and polka dot purse. Courtney had mentioned to me earlier in the day that he was expecting a friend at the party who had once worked with Andy Warhol in the eighties, and—being a huge fan of Warhol and the entire New York scene that unfolded under his stewardship—I was curious as to who it might be. My wife and I have spent countless hours in museums over the years looking at the work of the Factory artists, as well as the pop art of Keith Haring and of course Jean-Michel Basquiat. As two kids who grew up in the eighties and watched MTV religiously, the New York street scene with the birth of hip-hop and graffiti was practically our cultural upbringing. It’s one of the biggest connections we continue to have as a couple. Having gone through a bit of a Basquiat phase over the last few years, I had been looking more into his background and when the woman told me her name was Paige Powell, I about spit out my pinot noir.

Paige Powell not only dated Jean-Michel Basquiat before his tragic death, she helped launch his career by curating shows on his behalf and helping to sell his work early on. She worked at INTERVIEW magazine with Andy Warhol as his assistant and lived through adventures in New York that I can only imagine: Keith Haring, Madonna, Fab Five Freddy, all of it! She was a documenter and continues to be an archivist of that era, hosting exhibitions at galleries with her extensive library of videos and photographs. I could have cornered her for hours and peppered her with an endless assault of queries! While I didn’t want to overwhelm her upon our initial meeting, this was a woman I really wanted to talk to. We made a date to catch up recently and I finally got to ask her all those burning questions that had been building up inside me. Our conversation is below:

David: You’re someone who got to experience what is—in my opinion—the most iconic period in American art/music history: the early eighties in New York. Not only did you live it, you were close with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and of course dated Jean-Michel Basquiat for a number of years. Do you look back now and think: “Wow, those were the days!” or do you think people like myself romanticize it into something bigger and better than it was?

Paige: Yes, they really were the days, but I didn’t know it at the time coming from Portland, Oregon, assuming that New York City always had high voltage creativity, energy, diversity and communities of like minded people. It was a romantic urbantopia. We all explored, created and experimented doing exactly what we wanted to do without a ceiling or being fueled by commerce. We were happy just getting by doing what we loved.

David: Since this is supposed to be an interview about drinking, let’s talk about drinking. Where were the coolest bars in New York at that time and what were the popular drinks in your crowd?

Paige: I was uptown, downtown and all around. Harlem had the best nightclubs like Small's Paradise, Beverly Hills Restaurant and Lounge, Casa Blanca, the Press Club, La Famille, Blue Moon and Lenox Lounge. Upper Eastside Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, Polo Lounge, Le Cirque and Quo Vadis, Upper Westside Café, Luxembourg, Café des Artists, Mr. Chow in Midtown, King Cole Bar at the St. Regis, Barbetta, Lutece, downtown Raoul’s, Florent, Odeon, Nell’s, DaSilvano, Emilio’s Balatto to name a few. So many, many more. Our drinks of choice were red wine, Champagne, Kir Royales, and martinis. We all went out every night to film premieres, art openings, parties, restaurants, clubs, museums, etc. What was considered a special evening was staying in at home.

Andy Warhol with a glass of red circa 1985. This photo was taken by Paige Powell and is ©Paige Powell. Any reproduction of this photograph is strictly prohibited without the express permission of Paige Powell Archive

Andy Warhol with a glass of red circa 1985. This photo was taken by Paige Powell and is ©Paige Powell. Any reproduction of this photograph is strictly prohibited without the express permission of Paige Powell Archive

David: Who were the biggest martini drinkers in your circle? Did anyone have an affinity for one thing?

Paige: Andy Warhol wasn’t much of a drinker but he did like a vodka martini straight up or on occasions red wine. Michel Roux, who was the CEO of Carillon Importers, had Absolut as a brand. They were Andy’s biggest advertisers for his INTERVIEW magazine. Andy and I would periodically have dinner with Michel and talk about his brands and art. Absolut Peppar had been recently introduced so Michel asked Andy if he had tried it and if so what did he think. Andy replied “Yes. I think it’s great. It’s great. I love wearing it.”

David: I would have killed to go to Mr. Chow back in the day. What was the scene there like? What would you guys eat and drink?

Paige: The room was and is still like a gorgeous and dramatic theatre with beautiful lighting, warm, welcoming and always terrific liveliness and fun. It was a favorite hangout for artists. We rarely ordered off the menu having the chef concoct a variety of dishes for our table. My favorite were the mounds of crispy spinach seaweed and the black mushrooms. I’ve been vegan for twenty six years, but I know that I ate fish at Mr. Chow earlier. We would all have a ritual Kir Royale: it was pretty, delicious, elegant, festive and it tasted fancy. Then we moved on to Champagne and red wine. Andy Warhol and I started a blind date club with our friend Tama Janowitz and we often entertained there. After dinner, there was always lots of uneaten food left and Andy would have the servers pack it up and as we walked west on 57th to head uptown, he’d leave it on the corner next to a garbage bin for a homeless person.

David: I also remember you pointing out to me that your awesome leather jacket was actually faux leather. Are you an animal lover?

Paige: I'm a long time animal activist and I support numerous local and global animal welfare issues. I think it would be a better world for all if people stopped eating meat. 

David: Today you’re back living in Portland, your hometown, and you’re still involved with the art scene there. How have your tastes in beverages changed over the years and what do you prefer today?

Paige: I’m a red wine appreciator and I love the many wonderful Oregon pinot noirs just twenty-five miles from Portland. I imagine it must be somewhat like Napa Valley fifty years ago with interesting clones from small vineyards like Vidon. I love Italian Super Tuscans and Barolo’s, French Burgundy and Bordeaux. I enjoy learning about wines especially from New Zealand, Chile, and other varietals like South African Pinotage. In California, I like PlumpJack, Scribe and other small vineyards. For cabs, I like Stag’s Leap, plus the reds from Alexander Valley, Russian River, and Healdsburg. When I was a nineteen year old student studying in Avignon we were just fifteen kilometers or so from the Châteauneuf du Pape vineyards. We would go to the tiny casual cafés where the students hung out and the CDP was served as a table wine.

David: You cut your teeth on real juice! Do you keep a cellar today or do you live bottle to bottle?

Paige: Neither. I wish I had a cellar like Pamela Sutherland, my sister who lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills making wine in her tiny pastoral. She belongs to various small, off-the-path wine clubs in Oregon, Washington and California. She went to Mondavi’s Davis Viticulture and Enology school. I’ve really learned so much about wines going with her to various vineyards and being around her other wine making pals. I do though have a little collection of wine that she organized for me online. She tells me when to drink what bottle and marks them for me.

Paige shows some of her recent shots to Courtney and his wife at the K&L wine event in Portland

Paige shows some of her recent shots to Courtney and his wife at the K&L wine event in Portland

David: One of the hot topics today in the booze industry revolves around the ever increasing prices for collectable bottles with the people who do have big cellars. When a bottle of wine or whiskey sells for $50,000 you have to wonder if anyone will ever drink it! As someone who was close with Jean-Michel Basquiat, what do you think about the current prices being paid for his paintings? Do you think art is still being appreciated for its message, or is it now just about owning something perceived as important?

Paige: Both. Art will always carry messages and certainly there are some collectors who only collect what they perceive as a prestigious prize.

David: I often look at art, fashion, and music as comparative analytics for the way people continue to perceive wine and spirits. I think image and perception play a huge role in the way people choose to drink. Andy Warhol was obviously a visionary in understanding the way the public interpreted these impulses. What were the biggest lessons you learned from working with him and where do you see those influences today?

Paige: “Work is fun and fun is work,” Andy Warhol once told me. And work was fun and fun was work, the way it should be.

David: Have you continued to take that motto forward into your work today? What are you currently working on that’s fun?

Paige: Yes, I am currently in a group show at the Cooley Gallery at Reed College entitled (self), that features the work of twelve local and international artists. It runs from August 29th-October 1st (http://www.reed.edu/gallery) and includes original ephemera and polaroids, as well as many postcards that I received from Jean-Michel the '80s. The material is in the process of being archived at Thomas Lauderdale’s 1891 loft building. Lauderdale is the founder of Pink Martini, as well as a pianist and composer. Also, there’s a 70 minute BBC documentary about Jean-Michel Basquiat to be released in the UK and Europe in October 2017, and in the USA later in 2018 with my photographs and video, and an interview with the Director David Shulman in addition to Jeffrey Deitch, Francesco Clemente, Fab Five Freddy, Maripol, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel’s sisters and others who knew him well. Then I’m off to the Barbican opening in London for BASQUIAT: BOOM FOR REAL September 20 and will have a photograph that I took of Jean-Michel in the museum catalogue.

You can find more of Paige Powell’s work here:

paigepowellphotography.com

@paigepowellofficial

@paigepowellarchive

-David Driscoll

A Masterpiece of Modern Napa Winemaking

David Driscoll
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I could start this article off by telling you how famed critic Robert Parker recently gushed about the latest installment in the Jax Cabernet saga; his elation over the "beautiful blueberry and blackberry fruit, oodles of glycerin and richness" announcing yet "another great vintage in Napa" with the 2015 expression. But this is my turn to gush, not Robert Parker's, as this is my blog and not his. I've known Kimberly Jackson-Wickam for years now and I've been sending people to her family's downtown Brannan St. tasting bar since it opened. Jax makes fairly-priced, tasty, approachable, true-to-form California wines in a variety of styles, and just about everyone I talk to thinks they're charming as hell. Vintage after vintage, year after year, the Jacksons churn out value after value for the same reasonable prices, while slowly building their base of enthused local customers and critics alike. I thought the 2014 Estate Cabernet (we still have a few bottles in stock) was incredible, as did pretty much everyone else I know who tasted it. In a sea of $40-$60 oaky, sweet-fruited, heavy, mouth-coating Napa Cabernets, the 2014 Jax stood out as honest and authentic. It wasn't just loaded with goopy texture and toasty oak; it had grit and character, showing restraint and balance in the face of all that weight. But when I got my first sample bottle of the 2015 vintage last week, I had yet another Jax epiphany. Not only did the wine exceed the quality of the 2014 edition, it was without a doubt the best wine of any kind I'd tasted from the Jackson family portfolio. Never cloying or bloated with sweetness, but rather expansive and mouthcoating with just a bit of chewiness on the finish, the 2015 Jax Napa Cabernet is a masterpiece of modern California winemaking—it's the best mid-range Napa Cab I've tasted this year.

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I say "modern" in terms of the masterpiece because of how delicious the 2015 Jax tastes right now. In the modern age of California drinking culture, I don't know many Cabernet drinkers who are building cellars dedicated to Napa anymore. Most of the folks I deal with on a daily basis in the domestic department are drinking bottle to bottle. They're in search of something fun for that evening's dinner, not their twentieth wedding anniversary. While I'm certain that the 2015 Jax will hold up beautifully over time, the freshness of the fruit at this point already, coupled with the supreme balance it maintains with the acidity and tannin levels, make it an easy pop-and-pour candidate for this weekend's Labor Day barbecue. The man behind that precision is Jax winemaker Kirk Venge, whose successes with Hunnicutt, B Cellars, and Bacio Divino have also been met with huge scores from likes of Parker and the Wine Spectator. With each vintage of Jax he continues to fine-tune the Napa Cabernet expression towards perfection, understanding the fruit a little more each time around and making small adjustments like any master technician. The 2015 is his masterwork thus far. "They have a great property," Venge told me last time I spoke with him; "The sun doesn't hit the vines until around 11 AM so it's a slow-ripening site. It allows the flavors to develop gradually." 2015 was another great year for Napa and the evidence of Venge's words are here inside the 2015 Jax Napa Cabernet, now finally on our shelf. I've tasted it on five separate occasions now and the wine is simply spectacular from front to back. It's the perfect mid-range bottle for those of you who enjoy your Napa Cab on the younger and richer side, and—despite the improvements—it's still the same price it always has been: fifty bucks.

-David Driscoll

Society of Wine Educators Conference 2017

On the Trail
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I have been attending the Society of Wine Educators conferences since 2003, and became a Certified Wine Specialist in 2006 and a Certified Wine Educator in 2009. I continue attending the conferences because the wine industry is constantly changing and growing, and the organization is an excellent way to keep current and socialize with others in the business. I can connect with old friends and make new ones. Most important, however, is how much I learn every time I attend.

Our keynote speaker this year was Paul Hobbs and he started his talk with some background about his upbringing and how he got into the wine business. He defines himself as a farmer who wants to grow the best grapes as he can, and is willing to use both traditional methods and modern techniques. His portfolio of Argentina wines is sold in our marketplace and is familiar to anyone who is a fan of that region’s wine. The focus of his talk was the international consulting projects he has in the Ukraine, Hungary, and the region of Cahors in France. It was very interesting to hear him talk about the different challenges in each country. Some were political, others geographical, but what they all had in common was the strong hold of local cultural traditions, which are the most difficult challenge of all.

When we left the room after the lecture, you could tell he had motivated and inspired us. I’m sure you all remember when you were young and in school; when the bell rang everyone ran out of the classrooms in a hurry to get outside.  Well, this was just the opposite; during the entire meeting all of us were eager to get into the classrooms and learn more. My first session was called The Basque Adventure with Carl Etcheverry. It was a bit nostalgic for me, since I lived in the southwest of France in Les Landes when I was a young girl. Les Landes is situated just north of the French Basque region, which we visited often, and I have very fond memories of the area. During this class, we touched on both French and Spanish Basque regions; their history, cuisine, and of course, the wines.  The images and videos shown were beautiful and the wines we tasted were delicious. 

In Spain the most well known Basque wine is Txakolina, a crisp white wine with citrus aromas and a slight spritz. It’s a great summer wine! The other Basque wine regions in Spain are Navarro, which produces mostly rosés and Rioja Alavesa, the smallest of the three sub zones of Rioja DOCa. The French Basque region also makes good white, red and rosé wines in the Irouléguy AOC. The whites are made from Courbu, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng grapes, and the reds from Tannat, the predominant grape, blended with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the videos included in Carl’s presentation was of school children competing for the best sheep herding call. When it was over, we were asked to stand and make those same calls. Imagine a hundred people all making herding calls at the same time. The other conference attendees had no idea what was going on!

So this is how I started my first morning at conference and I had 14 more classes to go!

There were more than sixty sessions offered at this years SWE conference, with a variety of subjects about Sake, Prosecco, Hungarian Furmint, Sicilian qines, New Zealand or Oregon Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Champagne, spirits, craft beers, historical events, cheese pairing and olive oil.  There were also sessions on how to become a better teacher or a better taster. There are way more classes than I have time for, so I am always eager to return to the SWE conference every year because of the endless knowledge offered, and I would advise others in the field to check it out.

-Muriel Sarik