Monday
Jun222015

It Begins Again

Did you watch the second season premiere last night? Oh man. Lots of drinking. I've never wanted a glass of Johnnie Blue so badly. Colin Farrell made it look so delicious. Sunday nights are going to be filled with blended whisky at my house.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jun212015

Summer Officially Here

It's Sunday, June 21st: the official start of summer, and the best time of the year for drinkin' as far as I'm concerned. I'm off to Modesto for a dual Father's Day celebration, then back later tonight to get ready for my trip south. I'll be working in the Hollywood store all week with my partner David OG, as we get ready to welcome director Steven Soderbergh into the K&L fold with a series of different events. We'll be hosting a dinner Tuesday night (already sold out, I'm sorry!), and then I'll be sticking around to cover the premier of Magic Mike XXL and all the Singani party action surrounding it. There will be cocktails galore and plenty of pictures. It's shaping up to be a helluva time.

For me, summer is all about nostalgia; those moments that seem unimportant at the time, but later become your memory's definition of happiness. Sitting around, not a care in the world, listening to the stereo or watching MTV with my friends. Music defined those moments for me. When I hear some of these songs today I get teary-eyed thinking back on those times. Whereas today I associate recent experiences with what I was drinking, my younger self did the same with rock and roll. I thought it might be nice to bridge that gap a little bit, so without further ado I present to you my top five songs of summer, but with explanations that could also describe my top five favorite whiskies. You'll understand when you read them:

5. The Late-Life Relevation: "Good Vibrations" - The Beach Boys

It's not like I didn't grow up hearing this song my entire life. I remember Sunkist using it for their television spots back in the early 80s, and my aunt used to listen to the Beach Boys driving my cousins and me around as kids. But you don't really understand how great of a track "Good Vibrations" is until you're much older. You need more experience, more understanding of harmony and layers, and simply more time to appreciate the intricate nature of what you're enjoying. It's like a whisky you know to be good, and that you've always enjoyed, but never truly appreciated until later on down the line. One day it just clicks, and you say, "Holy shit! This is the best thing ever!", even though it's been there right in front of you all along. Good Vibrations is the muscial version of mature Bordeaux for me. I enjoyed them both five years ago, but now I experience them both at this point in my life, and I say, "Jesus, that's just incredible."

4. The Timeless, Award-Winning Classic: "The Boys of Summer" - Don Henley

It's funny because I hate the fucking Eagles (when I first watched the Big Lebowski, I screamed with laughter when the Dude said the same thing), but I love most of Don Henley's solo stuff. We all know what his best song is. It's the Grammy Award-winning, 1985 MTV Music Video of the Year, "Boys of Summer". Everyone loves this song. It's a critical darling. It's as good as everyone says it is, and it still stands up thirty years later. It's the Ardbeg Uigeadail of summer songs. Always great, tons of accolades. Always satisfying.

3. Timeless Cool: "Enjoy the Silence" - Depeche Mode

Some songs are so cool, so ahead of their time, and so timeless that they can epitomize style and class for decades after their release. I remember watching this video just about every single day during the summer of 1990. It never got old, and Anton Corbijn's direction still inspires me today. Dave Gahan's walk through the Scottish Highlands, interspliced with the group stepping into and out of the light, decked out in leather, looking like fashion models, still looks just as badass as it did twenty five years ago. Depeche Mode is still cooler than any group to have emerged over the last two decades. This song destroys anything that's been released since. It's the epitome of awesome, maybe one of the ten best pop songs of all time (and maybe number one on that list!). It's the Berry Bros Rudd No. 3 gin of the music world; a gin that still dominates my bar four years after having first tasted it. Once you get a taste there's no going back.

2. The Nostalgic Wave of Happiness: "Head Over Heels" - Tears For Fears

I have an uncanny recollection of my earliest elementary school days, right smack in the middle of the 1980s new wave MTV cultural revolution. My favorite music video at that time (1985) was "Head Over Heels" by Tears For Fears and I remember singing it with other kids on the playground in first grade. When Donnie Darko came out in 2001 and Richard Kelly used the track for an incredible slow-motion pan through your typical 1980s high school hallway, I was practically balling with nostalgic sadness. It brought back so many memories of being completely happy and carefree; watching Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, that kind of stuff. Sometimes a great bottle of booze can do that, or even a not-so-great bottle. Last summer I bought a 12-pack of Miller High Life and drank it on the patio with two of my best friends in Modesto, and it might have been the best time I had all year. The memories make everything. This song reminds me of summer happiness, never-ending.

1. The Best Whisky is the One that Tastes Best to You: "Believe" - Dig

I don't believe that quality is subjective. That's always been a total bullshit statement to me: "the best whisky is the one that tastes best to you." Maybe your favorite whisky is the one that tastes best to you, but just because you like something doesn't mean it's good. It just means you like it. And that's the important part: that you know what you like. I know what my all-time favorite summer song is. It's not even a question. It's "Believe" by Dig, a song that dominated my life in 1993, when MTV debuted its "Buzz Bin" and moved the grunge music era into full swing. I have strong memories of blasting this song on my stereo, looking out the window at the steaming Modesto streets, heading out to the pool for a dip, and then blasting it again when I got back to my room. I can't ever listen to this song without being overcome by a wave of emotion; a reminder of how happy I was as a kid during the summer months between school. I don't pretend that "Believe" is "the best" summer song ever because I like it. It's just my personal favorite because it means something important to me; kind of like whatever your favorite whisky is. It doesn't matter how many points it got, or if other people like it. You like it. That's all that matters.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun192015

Mezcal's New Monolith

Queue the classic "Also Sprach Zarathustra" theme from Strauss, and get out your 2001: A Space Odyssey DVDs because we've got a new monolith on the shelf. Tequila Clase Azul, the company that brings you the beautiful painted porcelain bottles of Jalisco's finest spirit has branched out into mezcal. Not even Oaxacan mezcal, mind you, but mezcal from the Mexican state of Durango. This isn't contracted juice either; they purchased part of the actual production and registered their own NOM number (D291G). It took them two years to get this project up and running, which shows you how serious some of the bigger brands are getting about mezcal right now. There's a serious hunger for high-end hooch from south of the border.

Not only is this mezcal strikingly different in appearance and origin, it's also made from a type of wild agave I had never heard of previously: cenizo; one of the species native to Durango. The result is quite wonderful. I wasn't sure what to expect from this product whatsoever, and I was a little nervous when tasting it (because I would have to be honest with the supplier), but I found it quite pleasing. At 44% it's delicate, round, and soft, but full of smoke, salt, and potent roasted agave punch. Whether it's worth $200+ to you is the real question, but there's no denying its physical beauty.

Is it good? Yes, very good. And I've never seen a bottle of booze made from graphite with such panache. You're a fucking baller if you walk into a party with this. Wild agave mezcal in a crazy black monolith? Why not!

Clase Azul Durango Mezcal $229.99

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jun182015

Bottles of that Rosé

Who wants to drink Bordeaux in the summer? Me, that's who—as long as it's rosé, of course. Not that I wouldn't grill a steak and drink a magnum of St. Julien to my dome (because I did that just a few days ago), but when it's hot and humid outside it's nice to drink something a little more crisp. As our owner and Bordeaux buyer Clyde Beffa told me the other day, we don't always bring in the finer rosé wines of Bordeaux, France because people don't necessarily associate the Cabernet-dominated region with rosé. On his most recent trip to the region (just a few weeks ago), he took a little grief from Haut-Bailly over this issue. "You haven't been buying my rosé," the chateau owner told him over a long midday lunch, wondering what the issue was. Not only do we not always buy the Rosé de Haut-Bailly, but Haut-Bailly doesn't necessarily always make it. It depends on the quality of the harvest and the capability of the fruit; whether the conditions are right for rosé production. When they do make rosé, however, the Bordelais make some fantastic ones; and of all the rosés from Bordeaux, I'd say the Haut-Bailly is my clear favorite (so I'm glad they busted Clyde's chops about buying some of it!). Who is Haut-Bailly and why do they matter? I'll give you the quick 411.

Haut-Bailly is one of the best producers in Pessac-Leognan—a small commune in the Graves district just south of the Haut-Médoc; a region known for its gravelly and mineral-driven soil (hence, Graves). There's some serious terroir in Pessac-Leognon. Haut-Brion, the famed first growth (and maybe the best of the five top producers) makes its home down there, as do many other classic chateaux like Smith-Haut-Lafite and La Mission Haut-Brion. To see rosé wine being made by one of the best producers in the region isn't necessarily rare, but it's definitely not commonplace. The Graves is a top-quality Cabernet growing locale; not necessarily the type of place that's interested in making simple, everyday table wine since most grapes go into some the finest clarets known to modern man. That's why the rosé of Haut-Bailly is made via the saignée method: a process that takes the cast-off juice from the red wine maceration and recycles it into a rosé. Haut-Bailly's standard offering usually sells for about $70 a bottle, so they're not just going to let that liquid go to waste.

When the grapes have been pressed, and the Cabernet Sauvignon juice is being macerated with the skins, most chateaux will drain out a bit of the liquid in order to help concentrate the must. The greater the skin contact and the lesser the quantity of juice, the higher the concentration of flavor. That bit of liquid that's bled off during this process might normally be discarded, or maybe used to top off fermentation vats later on during the process, but some producers ferment that free-run must into an entirely different wine. Why waste top-quality grape juice? They take the slightly-pink liquid, ferment it on its own, and create a completely different style of wine from the excess drainage. Some people poo-poo saignée rosé because it's more of an after-thought than a carefully-crafted product (like making croutons from extra bread scraps). They think (and rightfully so) that the best rosé wines need higher acidity levels and should be made from fruit picked accordingly. I get where they're coming from. I certainly wouldn't be interested in a flabby, overly-sweet rosé made from the super-ripe excess of some high-alcohol red wine, but the grapes of the Graves are not of this nature. They result in mineral-driven wines with great acidity and character, which is why one can't just lump all saignée rosés into the same category.

I brought a bottle of the 2014 Rosé de Haut-Bailly home for dinner last night and my wife and I were thoroughly enthralled. It might be a bit full-bodied for delicate fish or your standard snack plate, but for roasted meats it's an absolute dream. We did chicken skewers on the grill with rice and vegetables, and the extra weight from the Cabernet really fleshed out the meal. The finish brings out the deep, dense red wine flavor, but the acidity never falters or falls flabby. As our Aussie buyer Ryan Woodhouse told me, "A lot of saignée rosé producers have to artificially acidify their wines because they're making red wine first, and using the leftovers for the rosé. That means they're trying to make crisp, refreshing wine with the same fruit they're using to create rich, robust wine." As I mentioned before, however, I wouldn't put the wines of Haut-Bailly (or the Graves in general) into that category. Grapes grown on gravel soils generally have higher Ph levels as is. If they're adding tartaric acid to the 2014 rosé it certainly went unnoticed by me. 

For those of you who don't drink much rosé, let me get this out there for you right now: no, this wine is not sweet. Rosé isn't necessarily just white zinfandel or blush chablis (that was a favorite of mine growing up). In fact, most rosé wines are light and surprisingly dry. There's a stigma against rosé because many people believe it to be fruity, candied, or full of bubble gum, but that's not the case for about 98% of the rosé wines we carry. Many of the French options currently on our shelf could be mistaken for crisp, clean white wines if tasted blindly. Just because they may look like Kool-Aid doesn't mean they taste like it. Other guys won't drink rosé because it's pink and effeminate, so it often comes down to an issue of manhood and masculine image. But if you think real men don't drink Bordeaux rosé, then you haven't been listening to your Jay-Z lately, have you? 

He's pissing Bordeaux and Burgundy, and flushing out riesling. Riesling, for God's sake! I never thought I'd see the day when mainstream hip-hop would embrace the sweet wines of Germany.

Or maybe you prefer Trey Songz? This is one of my all-time favorite drinking tracks. If I'm going out on the town to get a heat on, this is definitely bumping in my car on the way:

 

And, of course, our subject de jour is right there in the opening line:

"Pocket full of money, club don't jump til I walk inside the doorway; bottles of that rosé."

There's no stigma against Bordeaux and rosé here. So get yourself a bottle. 

2014 Rosé de Haut-Bailly $14.99

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jun172015

The Rise of the New World

We had a Bordeaux tasting yesterday as part of our staff education day and the message I took away from my experience was one of modernization. We tasted the 2012 vintage from Chateau Lanessan—a producer known for making one of the more rustic, old school, and earthier wines in the region—and it was nothing but dark cherries on the nose, a rounder palate of supple fruit, and a finish as smooth as silk; not even a trace of anything remotely earthy. "This is Chateau Lanessan?" I asked our Bordeaux buyer and co-owner Clyde Beffa.

"They have a new winemaker now. Very modern," he answered.

When you hear the term "old world" or even "old school" used to describe a wine, it's probably referring to a tannic, earthy, farmy, or more robust flavor profile—most likely because the production methods of the producer himself are quite "old world". A little dirt gets mixed in with the crush, maybe the fermentation vats aren't completely sterilized, the stems aren't necessarily separated from the berries—that type of thing. Just good ol' country grit, if you know what I mean. Nothing fancy, just your old-fashioned, everyday, backyard winemaking. Back in the day, when a wine tasted a bit "rustic" after being bottled, the simple answer was to cellar it for a few years and allow it to "soften" a bit. Put it down in the basement, let it rest for half a decade, then pull it out for dinner, andvoila!it's delicious and ready to go. Time would work out the kinks naturally. But as science and technology have advanced over the years, so have sterilization and winemaking practices. Now there's no need to wait. Winemakers today can virtually eliminate any malodorous character and all other obstacles to instantaneous drinking. They can micro-oxygenate (run a hose that inserts little bubbles into the tank) to bring out more fruit flavors, add new oak to increase the vanilla, and force malolactic fermentation to add a buttery note to your favorite chardonnay. Why let a bad vintage or an out-dated facility stand in the way of perfect flavor? You know you can sell twice as much wine if it tastes soft and smooth, right?

Did that last sentence sound a bit sarcastic? Well, it wasn't necessarily intended that way. I don't know anyone, other than the people I work with or interact with in the store, who enjoys "old world" character when drinking red wine. Most people want modern wine because it's not difficult to wrap your head around. It's full of sweet fruit and it goes down easy. Your average American didn't grow up with a proper wine cellar, stacked with aged claret, and the finest red Burgundies; training his or her palate from the age of six on the various chateaux of the Medoc. Most of us were raised with Chef Boyardee and white zinfandel in a three-liter jug. We didn't have cheese plates. We had Velveeta melted over broccoli. This whole wine culture thing is a fairly-recent phenomenon in the new world. Because of that learning curve, I am very specific and transparent when I sell any customer a bottle of anything with serious maturity. I want to make sure they know exactly what they're getting into before they throw down their hard-earned cash (a lot of it, no less).

"Do you like old wine?"

"Do you normally drink it?"

"Are you familiar with the flavors? The lack of fruit? The more savory, earthy, and evolved flavors it entails?

I've known people who have spent thousands on Bordeaux, hundreds more on storage, waited years for their wines to evolve, only to find out that they didn't like the wines once they were ready to drink.

"Something's wrong with this wine. Taste it." they'll say.

"It tastes fine to me. What do you think is wrong with it?" I'll answer.

"Smell it! It's all musty and there's no fruit!"

"Right, it's delicious. You don't like it?"

"NO!!!"

Aged wine does not taste like chocolate or caramel. It's not like aged Scotch, brandy, or Bourbon where it gets richer and sweeter the older it gets. Aged wine can be like your first cigar or cigarette: it might not taste great at first, but over time you'll grow to love it. No one will appreciate the nuance of a great first-growth Bordeaux without the proper indoctrination. But who has the time or the money to build that level of appreciation? If the majority of Americans don't like "old world" flavor (or don't have the experience to appreciate it), and they don't have wine cellars at home, and they don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on wine that won't be ready to drink for another ten years, why force them to do so? Why not instead just make a wine that tastes soft, fruity, supple, and smooth right out of the bottle? That's the standard belief of the new world winemaker—let's make something delicious and tasty to drink right now! We've got the technology, why not use it?

I was talking to K&L Bordeaux expert Jeff Garneau yesterday about his recent dining experience at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco; a restaurant that has recently morphed into the more-modern Parallel 37. "The wine list was all new California. They still had a '47 Cheval Blanc on the menu and a bunch of other older Bordeaux options left over from the previous ownership, but you could tell they were moving in a new direction," he told me as we tasted recent Bordeaux arrivals in the backroom. "We did the chef's tasting menu and the wines were fabulous; incredibly interesting—things like ribolla gialla for the white. But there wasn't much from the old world, nor were they pouring anything with age on it." Interesting, indeed. Modern California cuisine is finally embracing the hip and modern era of California wine making, no longer forcing its patrons to play French.

Is the old world in danger? Maybe. Does anyone care? I don't know.

-David Driscoll