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Friday
Jul192013

New K&L Exclusive Armagnac

Domaine du Miquer is finally here and I expect this producer to be one of the strongest players in our French spirits department for some time to come. These are both knockouts, classic in every way.

It’s been pretty well documented over the last few decades that many of the most complex and interesting Armagnacs have been distilled from Folle Blanche wine. Besides the rather stubborn varietal, Armagnac can also be stilled from Ugni Blanc, Baco, or Colombard, but Folle Blanche seems to be a very special grape for distillation. The problem, however, is that Folle Blanche is a much more difficult grape to grow, plus it’s not as valuable for wine production as Ugni Blanc and Colombard are. So if you’re into making wine as well as brandy, you’re more likely to grow Ugni Blanc or Colombard. If you’re into making durable, long-lived Armagnac, you’re probably growing Baco. If you’re interested in making tasty, esoteric, miniscule amounts of Armagnac that will only be appreciated by a handful of super-geeky, anal-retentive spirits nerds around the globe, then you’re probably making Armagnac from Folle Blanche. Unfortunately, there are not many producers who cater to us geeky types, so these selections are quite special for that reason.

A bit more info about Domaine du Miquer, you ask? Why sure!

Taken from the blog this past March:

Our next stop after Dupuy was another new face for K&L: an estate called Domaine du Miquer that is run by Jacques Lasserre. Jacques is a veteran of the business and for years was the distiller for many other producers in the region (remember than many Armagnac producers have no stills and hire other people to distill their wine). He knows the production from the vineyard to the bottle and you can tell it right away when you taste his brandy. They are polished and exquisite in quality. His crazy old still was made in 1900 and continues to create one masterpiece after another.

Both David and I expect Miquer to be a big player for K&L in 2013. There were a number of selections that interested us. Even though Jacques only has six hectares of fruit, with which only four are dedicated to distillation, he had tons of great booze. A 1986 Folle Blanche sample was incredibly refined and polished. We were hooked right off the bat. A 1993 showed beautiful aromas and wonderful hints of Blackjack and Big Red gum on the finish. A 1982 Baco was also stunning.

If all goes well we might take as many as five expressions from Miquer because they're so impressive. We can't really ask for better brandy to sell at K&L. Jacques was also a very nice guy who is the kind of person we want to be doing more business with.

1993 Domaine du Miquer K&L Exclusive Bas Armagnac $115.99 - The 1993 is absolutely stunning with a beautiful bouquet of warm baking spices and woody barrel notes. The finish has a vibrant Big Red cinnamon note and hint of anise that really gives it pep. This is a very special brandy that matches some of the best we have ever carried from producers like Darroze, Baraillon, and Ravignan.

1986 Domaine du Miquer K&L Exclusive Bas Armagnac $129.99 - The 1986 is rich, spicy, full of woody notes, but also the softer side of the grape. The Folle Blanche gives this brandy finesse and an elegance that is rarely seen with Armagnac these days.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jul182013

Everyone Loves a Story

I only drink whiskey for the flavor. That's the most important part. I mean, who cares about how it's made and who made it if it doesn't taste great? I don't care what kind of bottle, box, or package it comes in as long as the quality is there.

People love to say things like that. I think it's a nice idea, being such a purist when it comes to drinking that nothing else besides flavor drives your purchasing or preferences. The reality, however, is that the story behind a spirit will ultimately make or break most sales, even to the most knowledgeable enthusiasts. In fact, it's often the most passionate drinkers who are most susceptible to the most romantic storylines. I know this because I'm one of those people.

If all we cared about were skill and precision then we all would have rooted for Apollo Creed over Rocky. If all that concerned us were proficiency and focus then everyone's favorite band would be Rush, not Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. If simple pleasure was the only thing on our minds then we'd all be just as happy making love to a complete stranger in the dark. This is not reality, however. There are many other factors outside of quality that influence how we feel about people, places, and things.

For example, the 1945 Camut Calvados we tasted last year in Normandy was pretty amazing. However, the fact that it was the first vintage distilled after Normandy was liberated from Nazi control put that sip into an entirely different perspective. It's that amazing story, told to us by the Camut brothers about their grandfather, that literally brought a tear to my eyes as I was nosing the glass. Or look at the fact that we completely sold out of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon yesterday, as whiskey drinkers everywhere looked to honor the legendary distiller who saddly passed away this week at the age of 93. The namesake and the legacy of that man was what drove those sales - an outpour of emotion and the desire to raise a glass in memory.

That's why when I got another routine box of barrel samples in the mail yesterday from Four Roses, I wasn't chomping at the bit to go through them. Until I checked my inbox and found an email from master distiller Jim Rutledge telling me that he had gone to the warehouse and picked these samples out personally (hence the JR with the circle around it on each label). The last few cask selections we had received hadn't featured anything super exciting, so unfortunately I had gotten into the habit of telling my sales rep that we wouldn't be taking another barrel for the time being. This information had eventually reached Jim, so he took it upon himself to go down to the rickhouse and find me some barrels he thought would be extra special. That changed my entire outlook on that box of bottles sitting under my desk. Jim picked these out? Himself? Especially for K&L? Wow, that changes everything. I paid extra special attention to each sample this time around and thought about why Jim might have chosen each of them as I tasted.

When we eventually bring one (or more) of these Four Roses barrels into the store, the fact that Jim Rutledge picked out these samples will definitely carry more weight in the product description. Just like it does when Four Roses releases their Limited Edition single barrel each year. Ultimately, there's nothing like a good story to help us along with our enjoyment of life. Knowing why something is a little extra special is something we all appreciate, even if we like to say that we don't care as much as we do.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jul172013

The Rocket Returns Tomorrow

Anyone interested in tasting some free Ardbog while doing their best Slim Pickens impersonation should come by the Redwood City store tomorrow between 5 PM and 6:30. We'll see you there!

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jul152013

Best of NYC: 2013

It's been another fantastic week in New York City and my wife and I are ready to call it quits for 2013. Manhattan is pretty much our favorite place in the whole world because there's nowhere else where you can eat and drink non-stop while always experiencing something new, cutting edge, and exciting - at any hour of the day! We come here every year without fail, so we're always on the lookout for new ideas. We've had some pretty outstanding drinks and some stellar meals thanks to a few lucky turns and some great recommendations from friends. I didn't really plan on blogging while we were on vacation, but since I have the computer and the time I thought I'd hand out our two best-ofs from this year's trip. If you find yourself in New York anytime soon, you might want to try out the following two places:

Best Meal: Catch (Meatpacking District)

This one caught me off guard. We were pretty much going here for the celebrity version of Where's Waldo and some socialite people watching, but this new spot in Manhattan's uber-trendy Meatpacking District is absolutely fantastic. We did see some very famous people while dining at Catch (Mary J. Blige eating right next to us - freaking awesome!), but it was both the food and service that really shined. It was so good we ate there twice. The yellowtail hamachi, coconut shrimp sushi roll, baked shrimp, grilled salmon, seared snapper, and pistachio scallops were all stellar - fresh, perfectly-cooked, and tasty. The wine list was also vast and reasonable. We were able to snag bottles of both Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc and Donnhoff Riesling without bankrupting our bank accounts. We already knew that Regis and Kelly loved Catch, but now we're big fans as well. We'll definitely be coming back.

Best Drink: Mai Tai at Dutch (SoHo)

This was a totally random pit stop on Prince Street while stranded in the 93 degree humidity. It was more of a necessity than a choice. It turns out that Dutch is actually quite a famous little place, but we didn't know that. I figured out they had their act together, however, when I noticed their Mai Tai used Banks 5 Island rum and real orgeat. It got even better when the bartender used two kinds of ice - large block ice for the lower section comprised of the white rum, housemade orgeat, and fresh-squeezed citrus, but then a sno-cone of perfect pebbles on top with Black Strap rum poured over it like shaved ice. In this case, the dark rum floater was like a summer slushy! In the hot summer heat, this Mai Tai was both clever and practical. The ice kept the dark rum from mixing with the lower half, allowing the perfectly crafted cocktail to pass through the dark seal on its way to my mouth. YUM!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jul142013

Motivation

I've become fairly cynical over the past few years in the booze business, mainly because I've realized much of the allure with wine and spirits lies in the fact that there's so much to know that others do not, rather than the sheer pleasure of drinking. There's a certain personality out there that gravitates towards the areas of least resistance, hoping that the percevied mastery of something less ordinary is better than the competance of something familiar. I remember my friend's brother growing up, who wanted to be revered as a basketball star like his brother was. The only problem was he wasn't any good at basketball. Or baseball. Or soccer. Or any of the normal sports kids play. That's why he started looking at roller hockey leagues and lacrosse clubs, hoping that out of the ten kids in Modesto interested in these sports, he would be good enough to stand out. It wasn't about doing something he liked or having fun. It was about garnering praise.

Sometimes I feel like wine carries a similar intrigue for those seeking attention. A little bit of wine knowledge is generally held in fairly high regard, at least in the major metropolitan areas. You don't even have to be right! I sat next to a guy at dinner last night who was just making things up, hoping to impress his date ("This wine is made from a grape known as White Burgundy, it's different than chardonnay, much sweeter"). Because very few people understand the details, facts, or nuances regarding what is a very large and complicated wine world, it tends to draw in those with a tendency for pedantry, which is why wine is often linked to snobbery. After a few chapters of reading in a basic wine manual, the odds are that you'll know more than your neighbor. The same thing could also be said for art, another genre where the patron has very little idea of what makes one subject better than another. Much like with wine and spirits, we rely on experts who tell us why certain works are considered masterpieces and others simply child's play.

Because of this gulf in understanding, the wines (and even whiskies) that are obvious to the general consumer are rarely embraced by the experts. It's difficult to appreciate merit if you have no understanding of what came before it. Sometimes, however, the wines that are rated highly by critics tend to be too esoteric for the newbie palate. This can often result in bitterness between the two groups because one cannot understand the absence of practicality, while the other hates the idea of basic mass appeal. What I really appreciate, however, is when these two roads intersect and something wonderful is created that is easy to grasp, yet profound and new. Something like that happened during the 1980s in New York City.

The early 80s in New York was one of the most important periods in the history of modern popular culture. The downtown scene was bustling with young creatives like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Madonna, Debbie Harry, Fab Five Freddy, and a slough of other artists whose impact would forever pave the way for future talents. One of the most famous artists from that period was Keith Haring, whose street murals and graffiti style transcended the basic subway tag, using simple imagery to tackle issues of gender, race, and homosexuality. You didn't need to visit a museum or a studio to view Haring's work. He would paint huge murals on the side of buildings, around the walls of a local pool, or in the bathroom at a community center.  Haring's mural at the LGBT Center (pictured above) on West 13th Street is still there if you ask at the front desk to see it. Like his pal Basquiat, critics weren't sure how Haring fit into the legacy of modern art, simply because so many people who didn't know anything about art history were enjoying his work. How can it be good if so many regular folks without MFA degrees appreciate it?

Sometimes it takes a while for praise to come your way. While Haring was definitely celebrated by his own community in New York, his stock only really began to soar after his death in 1990. Many of his paintings sell for seven figures these days. Haring was good at what he did and he stuck with it, regardless of whether the experts wanted to call it fine art or not, because it made him happy and it made the public happy as well. There was never any attempt to condescend or impress with his work, only to make life a little bit more beautiful. If only all of our motivations in life could be so simple and pure.

-David Driscoll