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?"


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 


2015 NBA Champions

Our NBA season is finally complete. From a wine store that is obsessed with basketball, let us be the first to say:


Check out the front page of the regular K&L site as well!

-David Driscoll


You Are What You Eat

I get asked all the time: "David, do you really drink as much booze as you say you do on the blog?"

The answer: Yes, I drink every single day. Usually more than I should.

The follow up question is usually, "How do you have time to drink that many different things, and how do you even decide what to drink?"

Easy. First off, I don't have kids, or a mortgage, or anything else that requires me to be socially or economically responsible. I have nothing to do when I get home but kiss my beautiful wife on the cheek, take a load off, put my feet up, and pour myself a drink. When you eliminate some of life's more demanding obstacles from your path, you'll be surprised how much extra time you have (to drink). How do I decide what exactly to drink at the end of the day? It's simple: the food comes first. Then you pick out the booze. It's not all that difficult. You just let your stomach guide you and you literally go with your gut.

For example, I do a lot of take out and Door Dash. At least three to five times a week. Let's say I'm eating chinese food that evening. I call Little China Kitchen in San Mateo, I talk to Christine, and I give her my order. Heavier spirits and fuller-bodied wines don't pair all that well with spicy food, so I'll usually start with a gin and tonic while I'm waiting for delivery. Forty minutes later I get a knock on my door, along with a giant bag full of pot stickers, spicy chicken, and sauteed broccoli. That's when I break out the cold Champagne or the riesling, and get going. After we eat I might have a glass of something brown, maybe not depending on whether I want to go for a walk.

If I do pick up rather than delivery, I might swing by Pronto in Redwood City on El Camino (just up the street from our store) and grab a chicken combination dinner: a whole roasted bird, a side of potatoes, a container of white beans with garlic, and a few pieces of focaccia bread. If we're doing roasted chicken I'll probably grab a bottle of pinot noir before leaving (my house gets hot in the summer, and we don't have A/C, so I don't keep many reds in the building). We'll probably pound a Campari and soda right when I walk in, then have the wine with the meal, then I'll probably pour a glass of Armagnac after that. I like the rustic French spirits after eating chicken for some reason.

Sometimes my mother-in-law comes over and cooks, which means Mexican food. That means I'm drinking tequila/mezcal cocktails, beer, and probably more tequila after the meal. That's pretty straight-forward.

If we're snacking—let's say salads, olives, cheese, things like that—then that means white wine or rosé, with gin martinis to start, and most likely something like whiskey on the back end.

The point is: I don't drink any one particular thing on a regular basis. I drink different things every single day. I drink anything and everything because I like to eat different things all the time. Sushi with sake, indian food and a cold lager, cocktails and the Giants game with a handful of salty peanuts, a bottle of Bordeaux with a juicy steak, Mojitos and Pad Thai, you name it. When you look at each day purely as an opportunity to eat and drink something new, then this is just part of the game. It's not so much a job as it is a lifestyle. And I'm fully committed.

-David Driscoll


Weekend Fix

It had been months since I'd gone home to Modesto to visit my parents. I've been out of town so often as of late that the weekends just kept passing by, and the time away just kept racking up. Because of all that traveling, I've been seriously gassed recently, in desperate need of a break, so I decided to pack my bag yesterday, throw a case of wine in the car, and make the drive east into the Central Valley. Nothing personifies summer in my mind like a warm San Joaquin evening. Let's see...a few magnums of aged Bordeaux, some rosé, some post-meal grappa. What else did I need?

Some New York steaks might be nice. Sit outside, grill, shoot the shit with my parents, drink some claret, and let out all that retail stress. 

I love posting up with the computer while my parents are cooking. Checking through email, while my dad gets his veggie skewers ready. I was reading a story about a local incident at Little Caesars, where a guy ordering a pizza told a woman eating there that she was too fat to be eating pizza. Her son then beat the hell out of him right there in the restaurant for insulting his mother. That cracked me up. Not that I condone violence, but in the modern internet age where people say whatever they want, whenever they want, anonymously, and with no repercussions, it's always funny when they slip up and forget how real life works. Real life is not like the internet. Especially in the Central Valley. We settle it in the street.

Summer salad. A warm afternoon breeze. Plenty of booze. The Warriors win game five. Game of Thrones goes out with a bang.

What stress?

-David Driscoll


Beat the Heat

I'll let you all in on a little secret. When it gets this hot, and you want something cold, delicious, light, and refreshing (that isn't a glass of ice water and has alcohol in it), it's tough to beat a glass of Champagne. That being said, not everyone has the means (or the desire) to drop $35 on a bottle of bubbly; especially if they're going to be downing it quickly on the patio with friends. But let's be honest: there's not a plethora of inexpensive sparkling wine out there that inspires the palate. Spanish Cava can sometimes do the trick, and there's a variety of good French Cremant out there, but you're still going to drop $20-$25 for something like that (and once you're there, you might as well just pay the extra $10 and get the real deal).

Prosecco wouldn't be in my personal top five sparkling wine choices, unless you're talking simple bang for your buck. It's often slightly sweet or rather metallic in flavor, unless you spring for something nicer (but again you're talking $25). Prosecco shouldn't be expensive, though. It should be simple, to the point, and affordable. We needed a sub-$15 option at K&L, and our Italian buyer Greg St. Clair found the answer in 2011 when he worked out a deal with Valdobbiadene producer San Venanzio. We began importing the wines directly (shaving a healthy 40% off the bottle price) and were able to sell their basic Prosecco for $14.99—a smoking hot deal at the time.

Here's where it gets better: in 2014 they had terrible weather in the Valdobbiadene. Wind, hail, and massive storms obliterated a number of vines and made growing conditions pretty poor for the vintage. Some producers just flat out gave up and wrote the harvest off. San Venanzio had nothing to lose at this point, so they just let the grapes hang on the vine for as long as possible. They ended up harvesting what was left in late October—a solid two months later than usual. And guess what? The fruit was spectacular. But poor reviews of the vintage and the struggling Euro (with a strong dollar) weren't going to justify a high price point, so—despite the quality of the harvest—the price of the wines would have to come down.

And now we have the 2014 vintage of San Venanzio for $12.99 a bottle, despite the fact that it's the best incarnation of the wine we've ever carried. It's light, zippy, dry, but with a rounder palate of fruit and ripeness that balances out the acidity. I've personally drunk about seven bottles already this week. I'll probably drink a few more tonight. For the price, you can afford to get crazy. Drink it straight, make some sparkling wine cocktails, add a dash of Aperol, or use it in place of Champagne for a French 75 with gin and lemon juice. It's not often we have something this high quality for less than the standard retail. The fact that we're importing it directly makes all the difference. Another K&L wine secret for you spirits drinkers.

-David Driscoll