On the Trail

A Papal Delicacy

David Driscoll

Getting the opportunity to travel to the world’s most prestigious wine and spirits producers is a privilege and an honor that I’ve never taken lightly. Sure, it’s both enlightening and inspiring to see the vineyards with your own eyes, feel the local terroir between your fingertips, and take in the atmospheric elements that result in some of our favorite liquids. But for a retailer like K&L, the X-factor as it pertains to first-hand tasting and travel is timing. In some cases, our success is simply a matter of being in the right place at the right moment. They say half of life is simply showing up. When it comes to scoring a hot deal in the wine business, taking the time to knock on doors and visit with the producers themselves can often lead to unexpected finds. Take our trip to Pape Clément this past April as an example. We sat in the château’s ancient parlor, on the site of a property that dates back to the mid-1200s when Bertrand de Got, then the Archbishop of Bordeaux, first planted the vineyards (Bertrand would become Pope Clément V in 1305 and move the papacy to Avignon, where it would remain for the next sixty-seven years, and the property later took his namesake). We were there to taste the 2015 vintage en primeur, but while waiting for our appointment to begin we noticed a few bottles of 1989 Le Cleméntin du Pape sitting on a table in nearby office.

I was snooping around, taking photos of all the papal paraphernalia, when my boss—K&L owner Clyde Beffa—noticed the bottles. He said to me, "Let's see if we can get them to open that after we're done." Le Clementin is the property's second wine, generally meaning a less-expensive cuvée made from the grapes that didn't make the first cut. A second wine can often be made from the grand vin's leftovers, a separate parcel on the estate, grapes from younger vines deemed not quite mature enough for the big stage, or a combination of all three. In the case of the 1989 vintage, the wine was made from the excess fruit, making the Cleméntin from this year "an original second wine," according to Clyde. After tasting through the stellar 2015 expressions, we asked our host if the 1989 was available to taste. When the château informed us it was not only available to taste, but also to purchase, we started licking our lips. 

Needless to say (because if there's a blog post about the wine, we obviously bought it), the wine was stunning; as was the price. The 1989 Cleméntin du Pape Clément is in an absolute perfect spot right now, balancing the line between earth and fruit with supreme precision. There's enough red fruit and richness to coat your palate, but there's enough depth of secondary flavors to make the wine interesting. Add in the fact that we purchased these bottles directly from Pape-Clement, not a warehouse or broker, and you've got perfectly matured Bordeaux that spent its entire life aging at the place where it was originally made. This deal is a prime example of why it always pays to show your face at a producer's estate. You never know what's going to happen while you're there.

-David Driscoll