High-End Value

I remember back in my days as a budding wine enthusiast when I would read trade magazines, flip to the back where the reviews were, and look at what they considered to be the best deals of the month. What always blew my mind at that time was how these publications often considered $80 bottles of Napa cabernet and $120 bottles of Bordeaux to be incredible values, truly bargains of the current market, when I could barely afford to spend $15 on a special bottle for Friday night. "This magazine is useless!" I would say to myself in frustration, wondering how anything that expensive could be considered a steal. Ten years later, as I find myself writing about a $299 "value"-priced single malt, I'm laughing at the irony. 

Because when you look at where the Highland Park 25 year old is priced today (due to rising Edrington prices), it's well over $500 (if you look online you'll see it for $400-$450 but that's because these stores are still sitting on old inventory). Yet, here we have a truly incredible cask of 26 year old Highland Park, in sherry no less, at full proof 55.2% ABV, for $299. That's a hot deal, in my opinion. Of course, old me would say otherwise, but I guess this is what happens as you get older.

Highland Park 26 Year Old Cadenhead's Small Batch Cask Strength Collection Single Malt $299.99- This series from Cadenhead is becoming legendary. Of course the prices for old HP are through the roof, but this bests sherried malts at five times the price and will not disappoint any lover of the special Orkney distillery.

-David Driscoll


Images From France's Best Cognac Houses

While it's always fun to get down and dirty in a dank Scottish warehouse, or dive deep into the cellar of a great Armagnac producer, there's no comparison to the environment we're presented with while tasting brandy at the great French Cognac houses. I think you could make an interior design coffee table book just from images taken from these places. Take for example the photo above I snapped while getting ready for a posh evening of drinks at Hennessy's Chateau de Bagnolet. Can you imagine a better space to sip some yak?

Or this one, taken in 2012 at Raymond Ragnaud. It's simply the epitome of romantic French rusticity, is it not?

A lovely plate of pastries for our pleasure while tasting with Dudognon at their Grand Champagne estate.

The vine covered exterior in the courtyard at Ragnaud-Sabourin.

But easily the most wonderful and breathtaking of them all is the parlor at the house of Hine, designed by English experimentalist Russell Sage. It's one of the coolest rooms I've ever sat in, period.

And I got to drink some delicious Cognac while doing so.

-David Driscoll


Steak & Claret

While there are four words that get most of our Bordeaux customers excited about Bordeaux (92 points Robert Parker), let me tell you about four words that get us excited to drink Bordeaux here at K&L: steak and claret night. You see, as a staff we came to the conclusion a while back that there are few things more enjoyable in life than drinking a glass of delicious cabernet or merlot-based wine along side a plate of still-sizzling beef. As the pre-eminent retailer of Bordeaux wine in the United States, we consider it a duty to not only know the specifics about our tremendous selection of claret, but to also know exactly what they taste like when enjoyed in the most proper of all settings! That’s why, at least once a week, a number of K&L staff members partake in what’s come to be known as: steak and claret night—the chosen evening of the week when Bordeaux and beef will be consumed side-by-side, creating one of the most sacred of unions.

I decided to join in on the fun this weekend and do my own steak and claret night this past Sunday. I ordered some beef kebob from my local Lebanese spot and decanted a bottle of the 2010 Gressier-Grand-Poujeaux, one of the best deals I've come across in the Bordeaux department over the past few months. The wine is simply stellar, showcasing pure cassis fruit (a characteristic I often read about, but rarely taste) and plenty of bold structure for long-haul aging. God, it tasted good with that steak. And I didn't have to blow a bunch of cash to drink a great wine, either. The Gressier is a total insider's secret at $19.99 and it's from a serious estate of vines, to boot. I'm considering going back for a case today because it's really all top-quality Chasse-Spleen fruit for half the price.

I'll give you the lowdown here:

The vineyards at Chasse-Spleen

Gressier Grand-Poujeaux—once a thriving and prestigious property in the Moulis region of the Mèdoc—is now actually a side label for prominent producer Château Chasse-Spleen. Chasse-Spleen, perhaps the most-respected producer from the Moulis region of Bordeaux, was once part of a larger estate called Grand-Poujeaux that was split up in 1822 due to inheritance disagreements. One half of the estate became known as Gressier-Grand-Poujeaux, and the other half was divided into smaller properties, one of which became Chasse-Spleen. The property would change hands between various owners over the next 150 years until 1976 when it was purchased by the Merlaut family, who would later go on to own a number of famous châteaux including the beloved Gruard-Larose. With a new and dedicated force behind it, Chasse-Spleen’s star would rise to shine quite brightly over the following decades, while the once great Gressier-Grand-Poujeaux fell into neglect. In 2003, more than 180 years after the original Grand-Poujeaux estate was divided, the vineyards of Gressier were purchased by Chasse-Spleen and the two properties were once again united. While Chasse-Spleen decided to continue the Gressier-Grand-Poujeaux label and reinvigorate the vineyards, much of the fruit from the 2010 Gressier is proper Chasse-Spleen-grown cabernet. Except that the 2010 Chasse-Spleen sold for $40 and the Gressier is selling for $20.

So—to give you the short version—this is a great wine from a great vintage from a great producer at half the price of what it should probably cost.

That little piece of information makes my steak and claret taste that much better. Feel free to join in on the new tradition with us.

-David Driscoll


Appreciation for the Cultural Trade

Since my wife was away this weekend, I hung out with my neighbor from Puerto Rico last night whose apartment door was wide open and welcoming when I arrived home from work. We drank and watched boxing into the late hours of the evening, talking about our various travels and experiences in different parts of the world. At one point in the night, he was drinking straight shots of high-proof agricole rhum like it was water, smiling widely after each and every sip.

"I can't get over this rhum, man!" he said to me. "As a Puerto Rican, I'm having trouble coming to terms with this."

"Why's that?" I asked him.

"Because I always believed that we were at the forefront of rum culture," he answered. "But tasting this French stuff; it really tastes like sugar cane. Like when I was a kid, chewing on pieces of it while walking back from school. This is real flavor. This is how all rum should taste."

"You're having a Ratatouille moment?" I asked with a laugh. I use the famed Pixar film to refer to any moment where someone experiences a taste that reminds them of a happy memory from the past. 

"Yeah, I think so. And what's killing me is that I never even knew this stuff existed before."

It's always amazing to me how food and booze can act as cultural agents—initial steps into a greater appreciation for the world and its incredible diversity. That cultural trade is what motivates me and drives me to keep going each day when I wake up. To be able to witness someone else's discovery of that force, via something like agricole rhum from the French Indies, and watch them have that "a-ha" moment,'s priceless. 

As the night went on (and the drinks kept flowing) we talked about Japan. I mentioned my trip there last winter and my awe-inspiring visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market in downtown Tokyo, watching incredibly-skilled tradesmen carving pieces of tuna with huge swords, their precision and focus simply beyond anything imaginable here. 

His eyes widened as I told him about the endless rows of fresh clams, squids, eels, and countless other fruits of the sea that continue on as far as the eye can see. We ended up watching half of Jiro Dreams of Sushi after I told him they visit the market in the classic documentary (currently free on Netflix streaming if you haven't seen it).

"I have such a respect for that culture," he told me, completely captivated by the images. "I really want to visit that country some day and experience it first hand."

I described my experience getting a simple whisky and soda (a mizuwari) at the hotel bar where I was staying and the care with which the bartender made it, every motion cautious and calculated—from the cutting of the ice, to the addition of the liquids—and the reverence with which the finished product was presented to me. We were both inspired in that moment, so I ran over to the liquor cabinet and grabbed one of my Nikka bottles from the trip. We drank Japanese whisky from that point on.

Until I started talking about Burgundy, of course, and then it was time to pull out a big gun: a 2002 Corton Grand Cru "Les Clos du Roi" that was as irony and meaty (maybe even bloody?) as any steak I've ever eaten. We talked about terroir, respect for the earth, and a thousand years of French viticulture for the next hour.

I'm not sure when I went to bed.

-David Driscoll


Let the Food Lead the Way

After yesterday's post about sake drinking after sushi, I was surprised by how many emails I received asking: "David, when the hell do you have time to drink sake with all the spirits and wine you're already consuming?"

I understand the sentiment. There are people out there who feel overwhelmed by just whiskey, let alone the multitude of other spirits out there and the combination of cocktails that can be derived from them. It's the same thing my assistant Kyle said to me when I integrated the sake department on to the spirits shelf in Redwood City: "Great, another thing I have to get into?!" The truth is: I don't make time to drink any particular wine or spirit, nor do I have to force them into my already hectic schedule. I simply eat such an eclectic menu at home each week that these diverse and radically different beverages just naturally fit into that calendar. Don't understand what I mean? Let me break it down:

I hardly ever cook anymore. Not because I don't like to, but because I don't get home until 7:45 on most nights and I'm not someone who likes eating dinner at 9:00. I want my food ready right when I get there, so most nights it's takeout, DoorDash, or we go out. Last night, for example, I got burritos from Pancho Villa Taqueria in San Mateo delivered, so I made margaritas and then after dinner sipped on a few shots of mezcal. That was my agave fix for the week. The night before I went out for sushi at Sushi Sam's and ended up drinking sake until late into the evening. That was my Japanese entry. Wednesday night was Pronto takeout (and if you haven't done the chicken combination dinner before you're truly missing out on one of the great deals in all of Bay Area cuisine), so that meant pinot noir, i.e. Burgundy. I killed a bottle of 2005 Morey St. Denis and ended up reading more about the region on the French Vins de Bourgogne site (one of the coolest booze-related sites out there if you can speak a little French), before moving over to the Armagnac later on. Tuesday night was delivery from Little China Kitchen so that meant cold riesling and gewürztraminer with my spicy cuisine. Monday night I cooked since I was off, so we drank a really fancy bottle of white Puligny-Montrachet and sat there staring at each other in a stupor because the wine was so freaking delicious.

Tonight? I'm doing steak, but I don't feel like cooking it so I'm going for Tannourine on DoorDash (which is my secret spot in old San Mateo on 25th—I'm actually feeling a bit uncomfortable telling people about it now). This Lebanese place is simply to die for and they make such a huge menu of different things that it's my absolute go-to spot when my wife and I can't agree on what to eat. I definitely feel like Bordeaux tonight, so I'm going to peruse the K&L shelf and come up with something before I leave work today. Then I'll order the filet mignon skewers and drink myself into a steak and claret coma to celebrate the weekend. I'll probably follow that up with a snifter of Cognac to really get that whole French regional dynamic going. The 49ers are playing Arizona at 1 PM on Sunday, so I'll need to load up on beer as well, and maybe some bubbles depending on who I watch it with.

So there it is. That's an average week for me and I've included white wine, red wine, Champagne, beer, sake, brandy, tequila, mezcal, and God knows what else. It wasn't meticulously-planned or forced. It's all about taking a few minutes to think about what you want to eat and then making sure you've got the proper pairing in place. That's why building a cellar and having space at home is important. If you're someone impulsive like me then you need options. And, let me tell you, I drink each and every option available to me.

-David Driscoll