K&L History Part 3: Clyde on Wine

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In part 3 of this series, I took the opportunity to chat with Clyde about wine. I wanted to learn about his own tastes and what he’s seen come and go over the years.

On Bordeaux
Clyde’s a Bordeaux man, through and through, and he’s the reason it’s such a strong category for us. But it wasn’t always that way. “When I first started collecting wine I was into California. We were not too far from Livermore Valley and Napa Valley. We used to go up there all the time. But once I started reading about and tasting Bordeaux, I concentrated on Bordeaux. I’d go to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, and Italy. But Bordeaux is my concentration.

“I was at a wine tasting group recently. Did a blind tasting. Lafite, Mouton, and Cheval Blanc from 1929, 1949, and 1989. They tasted like they were made yesterday. Bordeaux ages the best of any wine. The oldest bottle in my cellar is a 1906. They are fun to open with people who love it. 1906 was a very good year. It’s 113 years old. It’s probably at its peak (or dead). In the days past up until the 80s, most Bordeaux wines had lower alcohol than now—maybe that is the secret of great ‘old wines.’ Now, you get very good vintages (almost) all the time because they have the technology to deal with the weather. The wine writers want them to taste good right away. Now they are using more oak, and there are warmer vintages.”

On Wine Fads
“Fads come and go. I know when I started collecting in 1970-71, the wines in general were lower in alcohol (12–13%). There was a big fad in the late 70s to make high alcohol wines, especially Zinfandel because they would get so ripe. They could be up to 17 percent alcohol, then that faded out in the 80s. Now people want lower alcohol.

Clyde and Ralph at Château Lynch-Bages.

Clyde and Ralph at Château Lynch-Bages.

“There have been big fads in production of Chardonnay: California Chardonnay was a big thing in the 60s and 70s. Thousands of acres of Chardonnay were planted in California then and there was an oversupply. Next, Sauvignon Blanc was hot and everyone planted it—and eventually there was too much of that available and prices crashed. The movie Sideways turned people off Merlot, and it really hasn’t rebounded. It turned people on to Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is strong, but nowadays there is also a glut of this on the market and prices have dropped. Cabernet is always consistent. That’s the grape that makes the best, longest-living wines. The alcohol thing goes up and down.

“Robert Parker came on the scene with the 82 vintage of Bordeaux. The wines were ripe and sweet and lush, and he liked that style of wine and scored them highly. Winemakers noticed that he scored those wines higher, and so they changed their style. In the mid-1990s, Pomerol and St. Emilion started making garagiste wines—with tons of new oak and alcohol. That style (thankfully) only lasted about five years. They were not food wines. That was a big fad. Now people want less alcohol, more character, less oak. Organic and biodynamic are big now, but you have to be careful of the climate or your vineyards. Works well in Rhône Valley where it’s dry, but in Bordeaux it rains a lot, so there are more dangers in organic and biodynamic farming.”

On Favorites
Pichon-Lalande is a favorite property of mine. I’m good friends with the woman who was the owner from 1976 to 2007. She’s 93. The 2016 is amazing. 100 point wine. And I especially love the vintages of the 80s and 90s from this property when May Eliane Lenquesaing was running the show—we became good friends.”

On Learning More About Wine
“You have to meet the people who are making the wine, the farmers and owners also. You meet the négociants who are selling it. Go to Bordeaux. Go with Ralph! And, especially, drink more Bordeaux!”

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Forty-two years into the business, and K&L is still going strong, thanks to tremendous, loyal customers and a team of experts who are passionate about what they do. It’s been a wild ride, but one spent in celebration of food and wine and friendship. Thanks to all of our readers who have been a part of it. And thanks so much to Clyde and Todd for a great trip down memory lane!

- Kate Soto