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Sunday
May102015

I Am Addicted

No, I'm not addicted to alcohol, but I'm beginning to have a serious consumption problem with the Hallmark network and its increased production of made-for-TV movies featuring former Full House star (and future star of Fuller House) Candace Cameron-Bure. I cannot stop watching these warm and fuzzy slices of pure sunshine for the life of me. I've even begun rewatching them off my DVR while popping bottles of Champagne and making cocktails to celebrate the ceremony. I've posted before about CCB's wonderful holiday-themed features (when I first referred to Candace as "CCB" my wife couldn't take me seriously for about a week), but it's now clear that Hallmark realizes they're sitting on a gold mine of unrealized feel-good potential, and has now increased Mrs. Cameron-Bure's involvement throughout the calendar year. Last month's premier of the new Aurora Teagarden investigative series, featuring CCB as a young, modern version of Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote, completely stole my heart. But the recent Mother's Day weekend release of Just The Way You Are really dialed it up a notch. It's another huge winner in what is slowly becoming an incredible hit streak of top-notch, cozy-couch comfort.

The newest incarnation of Candace Cameron-Bure is pure television gold. She's an ever-giving well of squeaky-clean morality with enough of an edge to make her relatable to hard-drinking hedonists like myself. Her characters have problems just like the rest of us, but unlike the recent work of her preachy and over-bearing older brother, CCB draws you in with an aura of instant kindness that never feels judgmental or marketed towards a higher message. Her new Hallmark films are the visual equivalent of drinking hot cocoa by a log fire in a wooden cabin on a cold winter's night. I'd wager to say they're even more homey and satisfying than most episodes of the Gilmore Girls. She's found her niche in the television business and the Hallmark network is exploiting that incredible talent at the expense of my personal free time. In no way am I enjoying CCB's films in an ironic or sarcastic manner. My enthusiasm for her work is based on a serious connoisseurship for her talent. I am so pumped up for Fuller House at this point because I now have complete faith that it's actually going to live up to our highest expectations. With Candace as the focus, I just don't see how it can fail.

Of course, it goes without saying that drinking while watching Hallmark's lineup of Candace Cameron-Bure films is highly, highly advised. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
May082015

Burgundian Delights

A K&L picnic in Montrachet vineyard

One of my favorite global wine regions is French Burgundy—a destination I've enjoyed immensely ever since our business with whisky blender Michel Couvreur has personally brought us to the famed locale. When we've visited, we've been with Charles; who also has business in the area with the actual winemakers. There is a group of small growers that Charles works directly with as an importer and with whom, until this point, we've never done business with at K&L. Our Burgundy buyer retired last month, however, after more than a decade at the helm, and since his absence I've been helping ownership keep the section tidy and neat. In order to keep our shelves from falling into disarray, I've brought in a few of the small Burgundian wines that we've grown fond of over the last few years on our trips abroad. So far almost everything has been purchased by the staff (because the wines are inexpensive and delicious), but I figured at this point I might as well let you all in on the secret. 

If you've ever been curious about Burgundy, but have simultaneously been afraid to shell out hundreds of dollars for wine that may be of questionable quality, then here are a few sure-fire hits that go easy on the pocketbook while delivering extreme value and quintessential Burgundian character. They're not big names from famous villages, but that's exactly why they've been overlooked, my friends.

2012 Domaine Ragot Givry 1er Cru "La Grande Berge" $24.99 - One of the most difficult combinations to find in young, inexpensive red Burgundy is that ever-longing, haunting essence of forest floor and baking spices, along with just the right amount of ripe raspberry fruit. Burgundy is cold, which means that often times the fruit just doesn't ripen the way it does in other pinot noir-growing parts of the world. Tart cranberry or tannic blackberry will often await your lips upon first sip; a sign that the wine needs a few years in the cellar to soften up before drinking. But what are we to drink while we wait?! This wine—the Ragot red from the underappreciated Givry region; a juicy and boisterous red with serious structure and depth. Black cherry fruit, bits of compote (almost like envelope glue—in a good way!), and a perfect balance of soft mouthfeel and acidity. 

2013 Andre Bonhomme Vire Clesse "Les Pierres Blanches" $16.99 - We get used to Chardonnay here in the states as something rich, creamy, or even buttery, but truth be told, Chardonnay can create one of the freshest, cleanest, and most delicate wines in existence: white Burgundy. Because of its rather neutral, mild-mannered character, Chardonnay is the perfect template for the time-tested terroir of Burgundy's complex and erratic soil structure. The limestone-rich vineyards of Chablis, for example, fill the Chardonnays of that region with the salty zing of oyster shell and baking powder-esque minerality; just like the ground in which the vines are grown. While not quite as intense, the Bonhomme Vire Clesse is snappy and fresh in that same matter, albeit with more stonefruit and less of a mineral backbone. It transitions into green apple on the finish and leaves you with a smile on your face, ready for another big sip. This is a Spring patio sipper, pure and simple.

2010 Andre Bonhomme Vire Clesse Vieille Vignes $22.99 - I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the "vieille vignes" (old vines in English) expression from Bonhomme is absolutely the best deal on white wine in the store. Whereas the 2013 "Les Pierres Blanches" is lithe and lean, the VV is five years old at this point with more richness and weight from the old vine fruit. When white wine ages, the flavors begin to oxidize and the fruit turns from fresh and clean into a nutty, sherry-like roundness. This wine is just beginning that transition so the flavors are still full of acidity, but with a leesy mouthful of white Burgundian goodness. I've drunk about two cases of this wine on my own over the last few months, as have my colleagues Jeff Garneau and Jim Barr. It's just too f-ing good to pass up, even when you've had it every night for a week. I'll be buying as much as I can of this wine until it's gone. You just do not see Burgundy deals like this anymore.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May072015

Arriver En Retard

Let’s talk about two of the most special brandies we’ve ever purchased that have finally arrived on our latest container. These two incredible spirits took us over a year to acquire, and there is precious little available for the moment. We’re doing our best to get another drop, but we likely won’t have any more until November at the earliest. In 2014, during our last trip to Armagnac, we discovered that Montreal du Gers (the town where we stay each year in Gascony) had its own brandy producer; a fact that completely shocked us considering it was our fourth trip to the region.

"Why the hell have we never visited them if they're right here in town?" we asked Charles incredulously.

"Because you're going to love them, but they'll never bottle anything for you; and they're expensive," was his reply.

Nevertheless, when we heard that Ladeveze was producing Armagnac in Montreal, we wanted to check out the scene (of course, Charles's comments only made us more curious). Jean and his son Alexander are doing some very interesting things at Ladeveze, including higher warehouse maturation (evaporating more water to increase the proof of the spirit) and the planting of ultra-rare grape varietals for distillation. For example, they have a 1998 vintage made entirely from Plant de Graisse (apparently allowed by ancient appellation doctrine). 

We were stunned by the quality of the Armagnac at Ladeveze, so much so that we tasted through just about everything they had available. They're much more interested in cask strength brandy than any other producer we visited, which is right up our alley. The spirits had character, a certain liveliness, and lots of gusto. Whereas the Pellehaut brandies are soft and graceful, the Ladeveze brandies have punch and power. They were a little pricey, but we think the Plaint de Graisse is so good it doesn't matter. The question we had to ask ourselves was: do our customers care enough about artisinal Armagnac to pay a little extra? Considering we've almost sold out of this Armagnac in less than two days, I'll take that as a yes.

1998 Ladeveze Plaint de Graisse 16 Year Old Tenereze Armagnac $119.99  Distilled from a rare varietal of grape called Plaint de Graisse, the character of the Ladeveze is both exotic and intense, with wacky aromas that range from earthy, almost cheesy accents to pencil shavings and brandied cherries. The palate is a wave of soft fruit that goes from green mango to an earthy papaya flavor, but with a rich and warming finish of vanilla and soft fruit. There’s a mineral note and a vinous accent at the back end, making this brandy much more about the wine than the wood, but there’s enough richness to balance it all out. This is not a Bourbon drinker’s brandy; it’s a wine lover’s brandy. What makes this Armagnac incredible is the rollercoaster ride of flavors from front to back, that never go too high, or dip down too low. It’s a complete and balanced experience from front to back and, man, is it delicious. The flutter of cinnamon at the end goes on for a good five minutes. Completely unique and unparalleled when compared to anything else we have in stock. Bottled at 45%

Special brandy number two is a 1965 vintage Cognac from Stephane at Famille Vallein Tercinier, a larger Bon Bois producer who has multiple stills and sells much of his liquid to Courvoisier. He has piercing, sky-blue eyes, intensely-dark pupils, and some very-defined incisors. He could have been the next Christopher Lee, but he decided to marry into a large Cognac-distilling family and take up a quiet existence making fine spirits. We sampled a large number of brandies from various properties owned by Vallein, which had been distilled and matured separately into different expressions. We managed to get 36 bottles of the Lot 65, from which we’ve already sold twenty to people who have been eagerly anticipating its arrival (that's how on the ball our customers are these days).

Vallein Tercinier Grand Champagne Tres Vieux Lot 65 Cognac $259.99  If you’re going to splurge for a bottle of Cognac, this is it. Bottled at 47% “Brut de Fut” this is an exceptionally old Cognac that brings the goods in every way possible. Decadent on the nose with deep, dark rancio aromas of caramel, toffee, brandied fruit, and burnt sugar. The palate is a revelation: a concentrated core of crème brulee and toffee, but balanced by oak spices, bits of earthiness, and the power of the proof. It never gets too supple or too sweet, and it’s by far the most youthful Cognac of 50 years of age that I’ve ever tasted. A true masterpiece of the genre.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May052015

Aperitivo Leopoldo

After five years of working together, repeated emails, and even a podcast episode, I finally got to meet Todd Leopold in the flesh today. He dropped by the Redwood City store to say hello and bring me sample of his new Campari-esque aperitivo; for which he is currently out from Colorado to promote. I was very excited to meet him as we've been big fans of Leopold Bros from some time, and we're always looking for ways to work together on future projects. 

I don't want to get too ahead of myself here (mainly because we won't have the product for another week or so), but I can safely say that the Leopold Aperitivo is the first real challenger to Campari in the modern age of amari and digestivos. Ever since the Negroni re-emerged as the cocktail de jour of the neo-booze renaissance, companies from all over the world have been looking to piggyback off of Campari's rediscovered glory and insert their own form of bitter liqueur into the conversation. As a devout devotee of Campari myself, I've been disappointed too many times in the past by the promise of a new hope, only to find myself going back to the red-tinted rescue of my first true love. Today, however, I may have finally been tempted into adultery.

The Leopold Aperitivo is slightly more bitter, slightly more sweet, and slightly more expressive than the standard Campari formula, and get this: Todd is actually using cochineal from Peru to color the liquid! Much like Campari once did before they switched over to a red chemical dye (so this aperitivo will not be vegan). It's going to blow your minds. I'm in for a few hundred bottles, if that gives you any inclination as to what I think about this little elixir. Get ready.

-David Driscoll

Monday
May042015

City Provisions

Last night was a city night; a true night on the town with good friends. We were going all out. A double date with the wives at San Francisco's most talked-about and most difficult-to-book new eatery: State Bird Provisions. Our friends had been. We had not. They had lucked out with the reservation and invited us to join them. "OK, but you need to let us take you for drinks first," I declared. "And I know just the place if we're going all out." 

I've said it before, I've said it again, and I'm going to state it once more for the record: Jennifer Colliau is a master bartender. She's not fancy, she's not arrogant, and she's not really doing anything weird or out of the box. She makes classic drinks that taste better than anyone else's classic drinks because she's more committed than any other bartender I've ever met. You want a Manhattan? Her Manhattan is better than any Manhattan you could ever make. You want a Gimlet? I guarantee you: you don't even know what's possible with a Gimlet until you try her version. My buddy Luke ordered the "Decanted Mother-in-Law", which came in its own little bottle. According to Jen, the cocktail dates back at least 150 years, but she doesn’t know the original name of the drink. It was inherited by Brooks Baldwin’s grandmother’s mother-in-law, and has since acquired that title in the annuls of cocktaildom. Apparently, decanters of this boozy mixture still sit on countertops in New Orleans, prepared in the morning so as to be ready for guests at a moment’s notice. It's made with bourbon, curacao, and amer with both Angostura and Peychaud's bitters.

We had about eight different drinks with Jen (our friends were just in complete awe) before saying our thanks and heading over to Fillmore for our dinner reservation. If you haven't been to the Interval yet, it's about time you made your way over to Fort Mason. 

I'll put this out there as a primer: I'm not really someone who enjoys fancy food that much more than I enjoy something like pizza, or tacos, or a steaming bowl of noodles. However, it's for that reason that I completely fell head-over-heels for State Bird Provisions. I've talked about the modern way forward for booze as of late; a new era of alcohol that combines unpretentious, laid-back fun with supreme quality and execution. That's SBP in a nutshell. It's all California-style cuisine served in small portions, dim-sum style—meaning they bring carts and trays around to your table and you take what you feel like eating. Everyone is friendly, they greet you casually, they're happy to explain things further if you'd like them to, but ultimately they just want you to have a good time. They get an A+ for customer service.

You might think a place this popular would be outrageously expensive, but the prices per plate are often no more than three to five dollars. Much like with Jen's cocktails, there's nothing really new happening with the dishes here, it's just that the flavors explode in your mouth with each bite in a way that no one else's food does. I took a bite of black rice-covered pork with apple sauce and I almost dropped my fork in adulation. Same with the salmon belly, the ridiculous mussels in lemon and sesame, and the best oyster I've ever eaten with seaweed and crunchy quinoa as a topping. You are gonna have to shell out a bit for the wine, but they have magnums of Sancerre and German riesling on the list, which should keep four people busy for at least an hour or two. We did the Sancerre and managed to make it last the entire meal.

I'm also not a big dessert person, but the pecan ice cream sandwiches with peanut-flavored milk made my head spin. The recipes were reminiscent of David Chang's Milk Bar in Manhattan, which is great for West Coast fans like myself who don't want to fly 3,000 miles across the country to taste such delicacies. I left inspired and intoxicated, but never once did I feel stuffed or overfed. I just felt alive and excited about the possibilities for great food and drink in this world. "There are other people out there who fucking get it," I said to my wife as we left. "This place is everything I love about modern dining without any of the lame hang-ups or attitudes that usually go with it." The only problem was figuring out how to get back in!

"How do I get another reservation?" I asked the waitress as we left. 

"You have to book via our website at least a month in advance, but every day there are people waiting for the next day's open tables. You have to be very dedicated and get to the webpage early," she replied.

"I'm very familiar with that process," I said with a laugh. State Bird is totally worth the effort required.

-David Driscoll