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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 

Wednesday
Jun172015

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:

THANK YOU WARRIORS!!

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

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jun162015

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

Monday
Jun152015

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