What is the Salon? An Introduction

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. -Wikipedia

For the past two years, St. George's Dave Smith and I have wanted to put together our own Salon in the Bay Area – an exclusive place where people could meet, talk, have a few quality drinks, and gather in a friendly, festive spirit of celebration. Of course, we could always just meet at a bar, but there's never enough room for everyone and you can't simply invite a hundred people over to your local hangout. We debated doing it at the Alameda distillery for a while, but the legalities were very hazy. We obviously couldn't do it at K&L. Every time we thought we had found a venue we wound up with some sort of roadblock. A bar or restaurant would be our only chance to pull off the Salon, but what kind of bar has that much space? What kind of restaurant would be willing to give us that type of room and offer up their own staff as well?

Enter The Vault 164.

Recently opened in downtown San Mateo, The Vault 164 is in a unique position to be the central headquarters of our Salon shenanigans. First off, it's close to my house. Second of all, they have a private dining room with a fully equiped bar at our disposal. Thirdly, I've been meeting with their private events coordinater and she and I are seeing 100% eye-to-eye: we both want to create fun, creative, unique, and exclusive tasting events unlike anything that anyone else is currently offering.

There will be music, multi-media, high quality booze, and plenty of tasty snacks on hand. There will be a limited number of tickets available. There will be a manifesto as well. The Salon is a place to socialize, not cower in a corner, taking pictures of your whisky glass with your iPhone while jotting down notes. We'll have plenty of time for that at our educational dinner events. The Salon is about bringing the social element back to booze. The Salon will be a party. A room full of people who love alcohol and love to have fun.

The details are simple. You buy a ticket for the Salon, we give you a punch card as you enter. That card is good for a limited number of 1 oz. pours from the buffet of booze that I will command. There will be a common theme and a thread linking each spirit to the next. For those who don't drink whiskey or are manning the wheel for the night, we will be offering a limited number of guest tickets for a much lower price. Guests are free to munch on snacks and receive free non-alcoholic drinks if they are driving. Guests can also order any number of non-whiskey, fully-alcoholic cocktails from the fully-functioning bar if they don't like the brown stuff.

All in all, we're looking at around 100 spots for our first Salon meeting which will take place on Saturday, February 16th at The Vault 164's private dining room on B Street in downtown San Mateo. Tickets are not yet on sale, but the fee will be $40 per person with a limited-number of guest tickets for $10. The entrance fee will cover six 1 oz. pours of six different Bourbons. Snacks and light appetizers will be available all night long. The doors will open at 7 PM and the event will run until roughly 9:30. Guests do not have to arrive right at the start, as pours will be rationed out and reserved in advance.

Sound like fun? Singles, couples, married folk - rejoice! The Salon is in full effect and we're going to make whisky tastings exciting again. Meet your future spouse or bring your current one with you. It is a party after all. Tickets will be on sale shortly, available via the K&L website.

Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll


Tequila Tomorrow!

I am planning to do a giant overview of Tequila on the blog in the very near future. To me, no other spirits category is as misunderstood, as under-appreciated, nor as ripe for a serious renaissnace. In order to give you a breakdown, however, I need to do a bit more tasting and research. In the meantime, you should come in and taste two very special tequilas on your own!

Redwood City will be host Deleon Tequila tomorrow evening from 5 PM to 6:30. I refer to Deleon as the "family-owned luxury brand" and I have written briefly about their products in the past. They are all estate (meaning the make tequila from their own home-grown agave) and their quality (as well as their packaging) is fantastic. They are also quite pricey so now would be a good time to check them out if you've ever been curious.

San Francisco will be hosting one of our favorite producers - Tequila Forteleza. Guillermo Sauza, whose family once ran the eponymous Tequila brand, has long since sold off the name of his family fortune, but not the recipe! They're still making all-estate agave spirit in a pure and rustic fashion. Come and taste through all three tomorrow!

Wednesday evening. 5 PM to 6:30 PM. Tequila is both NorCal K&L locations. Free of charge!!

(note: if you're wondering why LA doesn't do tastings, you'll have to take this up with your city government that decided to add a $40,000 city fee onto the normal $200 licensing fee we paid up here).

-David Driscoll


Uh Oh - What's Oxidation?

You know how wine people are always swirling their wine, twirling their glass to let in more air, pouring each bottle into a fancy glass decanter with a thin neck and a wide base? They do this because oxygen helps to bring out the flavor in wine. The younger the wine, the more tannic the structure, the more that a bit of air will help bring forward the fruit flavors, while softening the harsher elements. They've even invented fancy machines to help oxidize your wine more quickly by pouring it though a high-tech nozzle. When you shell out for an expensive bottle, you want it to taste right.

While aeration is good for a freshly-opened bottle of wine, too much oxygen is a bad thing. Oxidation is one of the main wine faults that sommeliers will see if you recognize as they pour you that little taste after you order a bottle at a restaurant. Too much air makes white wine taste rather nutty and acidic, while turning red into something bitter and tart. You leave a bottle of open wine out on the counter for too long and it's going to turn. Finding the sweet spot is every wine drinker's goal. However, here's something that most people don't know, even the folks who drink wine every single day: sometimes you don't want to decant your wine. Sometimes an aged bottle of wine is so fragile that aeration will only begin the process of breaking down what little structure is left in the wine. 1968 Montrose? I'm not going to decant that. I'll be praying that I can get a few glasses down before the whole thing turns to shit.

If you want to get scientific about the whole thing, here's a good definition from the Sommelier Journal:

Wine is a complex soup of chemicals, many of which are created by yeasts during the fermentation process. Any mixture of chemical entities will try to rearrange itself into the most favorable energetic state. This is the principle of entropy. In simple terms, it means that the various molecules in wine will swap tiny charged particles called electrons, depending on what is known as the redox state of the wine. In any chemical reaction between two partners, one entity gains electrons (in other words, is reduced), while the other loses them (is oxidized).

So, really, it's an exchange of electrons between your wine and the air. But that isn't really the answer you're looking for, is it?

One of the most common questions I get asked in the store is, "How long can I keep this whisky after I open it?" Like most questions, there is not one black or white answer. In fact, one of my biggest pet peeves as of late consists of people taking extremely complex explanations and simplifying them into simple yes or no, good or bad synopses. In any case, before I get distracted by a different train of thought, there is a very general answer to the "can" in that question, which is basically, "Years and years." You can enjoy an open bottle of whisky for some time with very little noticeable change in flavor. However, spirits do oxidize like wine. They will change on you. The question I would ask you, much like I ask wine drinkers, is: do you want to enjoy your whisky for that long?

Many serious whisky enthusiasts transfer their hooch into smaller containers as they continue to drink from each open bottle. The reason being that as more whisky is taken from each open container, the more that room for air is created, speeding up the oxidation process. Putting booze into 375ml bottles or 200ml minis is a way to slow the reaction. I know people who do this for wine as well. They don't want to drink the entire bottle so they immediately pour half of it into a 375ml bottle and shove the cork back in, leaving no room for air to mingle with the wine.

Now, before you freak out and start siphoning off your entire collection, I do not do this personally. I usually don't notice oxidation all that much, mostly because I don't have many old bottles lingering about. I now tend to drink what I have within a four to five month period. However, there are some bottles that have been sitting on my desk for almost a year, with only about a fifth of the bottle remaining. They definitely do taste flat, or at the very least less impressive than they once did, but they're still perfectly enjoyable. I'm revisiting this phenomenon now because of the flurry of emails I received today regarding yesterday's Four Roses post. What's going on with my bottle? I can tell you why some wines oxidize faster: it's usually because they're older and less stable. I cannot tell you why certain whiskies oxidize faster. It might have something to do with the proof, but I honestly don't know. If anyone does know please send me an email so I can post it here on the blog. What I can tell you is that my bottle of Four Roses 2012 LE Small Batch tastes more astringent than it did when I first opened it almost four months ago. It's still completely fine to drink and I just enjoyed a glass only moments ago. Nevertheless, I don't plan on nursing this one along.

I know some people in the industry who consider eight months to be the average time before oxidation starts to change the flavor of an open whisky bottle. However, I believe (although I'm not scientifically positive) that it does depend on how much empty space exists in the bottle. If the cork is tight and the surface area small, then you should be alright. However, there is no one simple answer. A website called Cellar Tracker, where wine enthusiasts go to read up on other wine drinkers' tasting notes, is a place to find out how a bottle of wine is reacting to its age. A standard review might read:

4/2012 - Opened this evening. Wine showed nicely, soft tannins, but it oxidized quickly. Do not decant.

We wine geeks read these first-hand accounts to help us with our own experiences, helping ensure maximum enjoyment. However, there are no guarantees with alcohol. As much as we try to summarize it, generalize it, simplify it, and categorize it, there are simply too many what-ifs and could-bes to do so. How did you store it? Where did you buy it from? How hot is your house? How cold is your house? It's enough to make your head spin. That's exactly why people try and create general rules of thumb to help alleviate the pressure. Despite what you hear, however, you can't simply tell someone that wine will eventually go bad while the high alcohol content of spirits gives it a permanently stable shelf life. It's not entirely true. It's not completely wrong, but there's just much more to the question.

Very few of our conceptions about booze are entirely true. Be weary of anyone who tells you otherwise.

-David Driscoll

UPDATE: SKU reminded me about his post from last year here - check this out for an actual experiment with analysis.


Something to Consider

I don't read the whisky blogs as much as I used to, but I make sure to keep up on about five different sites everyday. Two things stood out to me this week that I think people need to remember and consider.

Tim Read, from Scotch and Ice Cream, pointed out that his bottle of Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch (pretty much everyone's unanimous choice for Bourbon of the year) was oxidizing quickly and wasn't as tasty as it once was. He wasn't trying to degrade the whiskey, but merely point out that that anyone who was nursing it slowly over time might want to simply enjoy it at a faster clip.

Over on Sku's Recent Eats Steve asked readers if they had noticed any decline in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. What was interesting to me was one commenter's statement that early reviews for the whiskies had been quite positive, but more recent reviews had been less enthusiastic. Why would that be? A few commenters didn't see any difference and were slightly peeved that Steve would even mention the idea. That makes sense. After being told by internet bloggers that these whiskies were the hottest thing ever, it would be annoying if someone started reporting that they weren't.

Let's look at the first point. Is it possible that the quality of the Four Roses LESB 2012 will change after opening the bottle? Certainly. Oxidation and aeration will affect booze just as it will wine, although not usually as quickly or as dramatically. I find that most reports of oxidation are a bit exaggerated when it comes to liquor, but I did have an open bottle of the Four Roses on hand that I hadn't touched in over a month. I really hoped it still tasted as great as it orgininally did when I poured myself a glass. I truly loved this Bourbon.

First sip: hmmm....I might be under Tim's influence because it does taste more astringent to me with more of the wood tannins dominating the palate. Let's give it a minute.

Second sip: Better, but still there. Something doesn't seem right.

I decided to wait another day. The following evening I did another taste comparison.

First sip: Better, the richness seemed like it was still there, but the original glory wasn't.

Second sip: Tasty. I still really liked the Bourbon, but Tim was right: it had changed.

After reading the conversation on Steve's blog, I went back and tasted the wee baby samples I had of this year's BTAC so that I could participate in the discussion. What stood out to me was the Eagle Rare 17, a whiskey I didn't love so much the first time I tasted it, but at this moment was absolutely delicious. I made sure to note that I thought it was the winner from this year's five releases. Isn't it interesting that my opinion changed about a whiskey after spending more time with it?

What's the point? The point is that tasting a whisky once and giving it a review is a dangerous thing to do. Yet, that's what most reviewers are doing. It's not much different than the competition between news organizations. CNN wants to be the first network with the big story, but sometimes their haste to be first results in the loss of some important details. With blogging being the main source of reviews for whisky drinkers, some are racing to be the first to review new releases. In the case of the Four Roses, a very important detail to shoppers would be the fact that it might not taste as amazing as it first did a few months down the road. Granted, it is not a fact that everyone's bottle will have altered the way that Tim's and mine seem to have. Some people might not notice a difference. This is just our opinion. Opinions in general are not facts. 92 points is not a fact. 9.5 is not a fact. A- is not a fact. Despite their seemingly scientific and mathematic appearances, scores are numbers that people are making up their heads. These are opinions. And most of the time, they're opinions being made by people who take a few sips and jot down a few notes, then move on. I admit that I have to do this myself sometimes. I only write worded reviews for that reason.

In order to get the whole story, however, you have to research. The internet age has completely gutted both our ability to focus and to wait patiently. It's also created a mad scramble for many of these bottles. Quick reviews, big points, big sales, no more whiskey. If you would have waited for a more detailed review, as in how it tasted over the course of a few weeks, you wouldn't have had a chance at the Four Roses anyway. It sold out from K&L in mere hours. And that's not to say that you shouldn't have bought one either. I'm not sorry I paid for one. However, I'm going to finish this bottle within the next month because I want every glass to be at least as good as the last one.

Sometimes you have to watch a movie more than once to get it. Sometimes you go back to one of your favorite music albums from college and it doesn't hold up. Whisk(e)y can change on you and you can change on whisk(e)y. One taste is the same as one listen-through on a new Radiohead release. Did everyone think Kid A was the best thing ever the first time through? I didn't.

Thanks to Tim and SKU for continuing to review whiskies even after they've already been reviewed.

-David Driscoll


French Spirits - An Overview

Part of the reason I haven't written much educational fodder lately is because, in my mind, I've already tackled many of the subjects I feel need heavy expounding. However, as we increase the readership of the K&L blog, there are pieces that newer readers have missed and perhaps don't feel like digging through the archives to discover. One of the fastest growing sections at K&L is the French spirits department. I don't think this has as much to do with a newly-found love for Cognac or Armagnac as it does with the exciting new options we've been bringing in directly. Whereas Scotch and Bourbon would be big business regardless of whether we did K&L exclusive releases or not, the French brandies are not yet experiencing a renaissance. Which means you can still get in early, before the budding craft movement takes off (check out my man SKU's latest report concerning this).

Booze is no different than any other pop culture phenomeonon. "Yeah, I saw the Stones at Winterland back in 1969. Cost me four bucks and I was in the front for the entire show." You're not seeing the stones from that close for less than a thousand dollars today. That was then, this is now. You wanna drink the good stuff, you gotta get in before everyone else does. This isn't some lecture about how popular booze isn't good anymore. We all know that's just jealousy or ego speaking most of the time. This is about spotting the trend before it happens. Right now you can drink really fantastic French booze for fairly affordable prices. When rustic French hooch is expensive it's usually for a reason (not because it was poured down the crack of a model's ass and filtered through diamond dust before bottling). We have numerous products from small producers that are literally crafted by hand, not pumped out of a giant factory for mass consumption (Roseisle....cough, cough). If you're looking for an introduction into some of the more esoteric and of-the-beaten-part booze that represents both quality and value, we've got you covered.

Let's take a look at what you might want to experiment with. I've taken pictures of the shelves in Redwood City so that those of you shopping online can feel like you're actually perusing the booze aisle!

Calvados: What is Calvados? It's the name for apple brandy made in the French province of Normandy, in the north of the country along the English channel. Many producers, particularly in the Domfrontais region, use a high percentage of pear brandy in their Calvados, as well. There isn't currently a large selection of Calvados available in the U.S. and their certainly isn't much of an artisan selection. Having visited the region last January, I'll list a few of the producers that I think really bring it.

Lemorton 6 Year Old Domfrontais Calvados $49.99 - Lemorton Calvados comes from the southern appellation of Domfrontais. In this appellation at least 30% of the cider making the Calvados must be made from pears. This 6 year old is elegant and beautiful, with more than 60% of the blend coming from pear. The apple, however, is what shines through and the Lemorton succeeds, more than any other Calvados we offer, in showcasing the bright acidity of the fruit along with soft touches of baking spice. The Lemortons are a laid back couple with a fully functional farm in addition to their orchards. They are simple, laid-back, French farmers who like to eat and drink. Having stayed at their home, I find the rusticity of their Brandy charming and romantic, yet completely honest and real.

Michel Huard Hors d'Age Calvados $69.99 - For a rounder, more refined style of Calvados, try this multi-vintage marriage from Michel Huard, a young, up and coming producer who focuses more on farming than distillation. When we were there they happened to have the travelling still on site, sitting on a tractor bed as the local distiller made his rounds from farm to farm.

Adrien Camut 12 Year Old Calvados $94.99 - I've always known that Camut is considered the top producer in Calvados--the crème de la crème of apple spirits. However, I had only tasted the 6 year, which, while impressive, was not the best I had ever tasted. The Camut 12 year, however, blows everything else out of the water--its quality is unreal. Following Pay d' Auge tradition it is double distilled. The second distillation tends to make the spirit more neutral in its youth, but more free of impurities which makes a big difference as it ages. The nose is a heavenly blend of barrel-aged baking spice with gobs of pristine red apple. The palate is soft, with more baked apple coating the roof of the mouth, before finishing in perfect harmony with the barrel influence. You must try this at least once before you die. The Camut brandies are among the finest spirits I've ever tasted in my five years at K&L.

Armagnac: What is Armagnac? Well, first off, it's the name of a region, just like Cognac or Champagne. Armagnac is a place in southwest France, just south of Bordeaux, that grows Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Baco grapes (sometimes Colombard, as well), makes a highly acidic and dry white wine, and then distills that wine into brandy before aging it in new French oak barrels. The spirit differs from Cognac in a few very important ways. First of all, Armagnac is distilled on a column still like Bourbon, unlike Cognac that is done in a pot still like single malt. Armagnac is often undilluted, unlike Cognac which is barreled at close to 70% alcohol, yet bottled at 40%. Many Armagnacs have no water added and come in at around 48% to 52%. They tend to be bottled by vintage as well, unlike Cognacs that usually represent many different ages married together. Armagnac is also aged in new charred barrels (not as heavily as Bourbon, however) and tends to be spicier as a result. What are some interesting options for the curious Armagnac drinker?

Chateau de Pellehaut Reserve Tenereze Armagnac $49.99 - On a beautifully situated property overlooking the town of Montréal-du-Gers, lies the Château de Pellehaut. Purchased by Gaston Béraut shortly after the Second World War, he has slowly developed one of the largest single properties in the region. Béraut's sons Mathieu and Martin take care of winemaking (the red, white and rose are all big sellers at K&L) and the élevage of Armagnac. Both are intelligent and enthusiastic about their product, and between them have studied enology in Toulouse and apprenticed at Chateau de Tariquet in Eauze, Chateau Beycheville in Bordeaux and Au Bon Climat in California. Pellehaut is located in the Tenareze section of Armagnac; the soil here contains more chalk and limestone than in the Bas-Armagnac, and the spirits generally take longer to develop and begin to bloom around their 15th birthday. The youngest spend their first five years on the upper level of one chai next to the house, and then are transferred to the other chai during their intermediate years. The older vintages finally make their way back to the lower level of the initial chai. The Pellehaut stock is impressive; nearly 500 barrels housed under the two roofs. Richer, more heavily-wooded than many of the other Armagnacs we carry, the Pellehaut offers tremendous value for the money.

Tariquet 15 Year Old Armagnac $55.99 - One of the larger producers in Armagnac, the Tariquet production is still smaller than some of the tinest single malt distilleries. We happened to drop by the Chateau (farmhouse) for the first distillation and you're talking peanuts compared to other operations. What makes Tariquet unique is that they were one of the first producers to switch over to 100% Folle Blanche Armagnac. Folle Blance, while difficult and quite testy in the vineyard, is considered the finest and most complex of all Armagnac grapes. Getting to taste 100% Folle Blanche brandy at full proof with 15 years of age for $55? Yes. Yes, please.

1985 Baraillon K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $115.99 - If there were ever a romantic ideal for French countryside distillation, the Baraillons are it. Out in the middle of nowhere, there's nothing glossed over or touristic about their operation - they are farmers, pure and simple. David and I absolutely fell in love with this father/daughter team even though they hardly said a word to us the entire time we tasted (they let their booze speak for itself). This single barrel 1985 brandy is one of the finest spirits we tasted on the entire trip. A mix of Ugni Blanc and Baco, the nose is absolutely hypnotizing - port-like with stewed fruits and sandlewood (think an exotic highland single malt, but remember it's definitely NOT single malt). The palate follows up with toffee, vanilla, more fruit and stunning richness - with spice and heat on the finish that prevent the weight from becoming overly flabby. It is spellbinding brandy, although it's not for everyone with its earthy and somewhat wild mid-palate. Still, it's destined to go down as one of the best Armagnacs we've ever carried and we look forward to importing Baraillon exclusively for the foreseeable future. Baraillon Armagnac is where bucolic romanticism and quality collide.

Cognac: We've managed to run a successful Cognac operation without relying on the big four: Remy, Hennessey, Courvoisier, and Martell. We have an entire shelf of unfamiliar and intimidating bottles that few customers can comfortably navigate. What we've chosen to do is focus on farmers, rather than bottlers. When you buy a bottle of Martell Cognac, you're not purchasing something that Martell made. They purchased their brandy from a small farmer just like we do. The difference is we're not upcharging you 50% for the result. When you buy from a single producer you're also getting the chance to taste one distiller's work (think single malts versus blends, but without the grain component). On top of that, we also try to feature only producers who do not add boisé (a combination of low-proof brandy, sugar, and oak chips that functions as a simple syrup) or any artificial additives. Adding boisé is a very detailed conversation, however, and should NOT pigeonhole a producer as good or bad. See this synopsis from last year for more info. Cognac has three main regions: Borderies, Petit Champagne, and Grand Champagne, but we need another full article for that breakdown (because there's the three Bois regions as well, but we don't have much from there). Focus on these for now:

Dudognon Reserve Cognac $49.99 - The Dudognon family has produced Cognac in the small town of Lignieres-Sonneville since 1776. This region is the heart of the famed Grande Champagne of Cognac. Spirits from this Premier Cru are especially renowned for their tremendous length. While many cognacs are laden with permitted additives (sugar, boisé, caramel), the only additive used in Dudognon Cognacs is water: because of this, their color is fairly light, their sweetness comes from only naturally concentrated fruit. The 10 year old reserve has notes of apple, toffee and spice. Soft texture, with additional notes of vanilla on the palate. Delightful entry-level Grande Champagne.

Guillon-Painturaud VSOP Cognac $59.99 - The Guillon-Painturaud family owns 18 hectares of Ugni Blanc located in one plot around the farm they have been living in since 1610. In the 1970s, they began bottling under their own name rather than selling to the big house producers, and they have never looked back. Passing the distillation education from generation to generation, the family business is currently run by an energetic young woman named Line Guillon Painturaud, who has brought forth some fantastic brandies. The VSOP is an average of 15 years old and is brimming with supple fruit and caramel.

Jacques Esteve K&L Exclusive Selection Coup de Coeur Cognac $89.99 - Jacques Esteve was one of the most exciting producers we visited from Cognac this January. His fruit is all estate and the brandies are distilled on site in a small room just next to his garage. Pulling into the driveway, you wonder where the distillery is, but its all carefully integrated into his country property. His barrels sit underneath his house and age gracefully amidst the cobwebs. Esteve's grapes and Cognac are in big demand right now with some of the large production houses and it's clear as to why. The Cognacs bring richness and weight while retaining their finesse. The Coup de Coeur is a blend of 1979 and 1981 vintages that begins with soft citrus on the nose before blossoming into a warming and supple palate. Barrel spice and nutty flavors balance out the sweetness and the flavors are in perfect harmony on the finish. If there's a better deal in Cognac for less than $100, we've yet to find one. For those looking for more intense flavor and character, rather than the lighter more delicate style, this Cognac is for you. Available only at K&L in the United States.

Raymond Ragnaud K&L Exclusive Reserve Rare Cognac $115.99 - This Grand Champagne Cognac from Ragnaud represents our dedicated efforts to find excellent Cognac without the use of additional sweetners or traditional boise. Distiller Jean-Marie has spent the last thirty years perfecting his pot-still brandies into delicate expressions of the fantastic terroir in the area. He is a firm believer in the idea that the limestone-rich soils of Grande Champagne produce wines that, when distilled, create brandies capable of aging in barrel for eternity. While we originally came in search of single barrel Cognac, we tasted a few out of the cask and soon realized that Grand Champagne Cognac doesn't taste all that great in its youth--and by "youth" I mean anytime in the first 20 years of its life--nor does it taste too great out of the barrel. Usually the blends have more complexity because the expressive "young" brandy is balanced with the richness from older vintages. The Reserve Rare was our favorite of the expressions, exhibiting beautiful concentration and the elegance we've come to expect from world-class Cognac producers. Gentle richness on the entry leads into flavors of toasted nuts, stone fruit and vanilla, before finishing with a soft dash of baking spices. A masterful Cognac that managed to seduce us with subtlety and style, rather than with sweetness and weight.

Pineau des Charentes: The Tawny Port of France! A lightly fortified wine made of white Cognac eau de vie and lightly-fermented grape must. Imagine fruity, floral grape brandy with some sweet wine: it will either be ultra-goopy and result in an ultra-hangover, or elegant and delicious. We're going for the latter here.

Raymond Ragnaud Cognac $18.99 - Pictured above, this is one of the most charming and fun items we sell at K&L. Great acidity like a white wine, but with a kiss of honeyed sweetness. We brought in some Cognac directly from Ragnaud so we figured, "why not add some Pineau des Charentes to the pile?" This is light enough to serve before a meal, but sweet enough for dessert. Very versatile.

Jacky Navarre 30 Year Old Tres Vieux Pineau des Charentes $69.99 - Like Port, the PdC wines can age gracefully in the barrel, getting slowly oxidized and nutty over time.
One of the absolute most unusual and exceptional examples of one of our favorite categories of apéritifs, Pineau des Charentes. I think these really work after dinner as well. Like the incredible Paul et Marie Pineau before them, the Navarre’s Pineau des Charentes take this whole category to the next level. They’re produced in a hyper-inefficient manner, which makes them absolutely wonderful. The first, Jacky Navarre Tres Vieux Pineau, used six-year old Cognac to stabilize grape must from the 1982 vintage. Exquisite, tropical and fresh, it spent the next 30 years oxidizing into the magnificent liquid that we sell now. Bottled in 2012, it is a true 30-year-old Pineau and very, very rare.

Marcs: We don't see a whole lot of this stuff in the U.S., but Marcs is simply grappa from France. After the grapes are pressed and the juice run off for wine fermentation, there is still a good amount of sugar left in the pommace – the skins and seeds. This mash is fermented into a low wine, then distilled into Marcs: a high-octane spirit that, very much like grappa, is not for the faint of heart. We have a fantastic option from the wild and untamed Jura region that we like very much:

2002 Domaine Labet Marcs du Jura $39.99 - Can you believe we found a Marcs from the Jura?! Wine and spirits geeks unite! Made from Savignin, Poulssard, and Chardonnay skins, aged in oak for ten years! Like the richest grappa, yet also exotic and slightly oxidized like a Vin Jaune. One of the most intriguing and exciting spirits I've tasted in years. My love for the wines of Jura and my passion for spirits finally collide!

Vieille Prune: Plum brandy from Gascony, the other fruit distillate of Armagnac. Distilled from local produce, then aged in oak barrels like Cognac. Y-U-M.

Louis Roque Vieille Prune $44.99 - From the historic Louis Roque distillery located in the sleep town of Souillac. Imported by the legendary Charles Neal, Roque specializes in Vieille Prune from Gascony. Perhaps the finest in class, certainly the best of what's available in the states, prune uses only the best Gascone Plums. With the depth of a cognac and the finesse of a plum brandy. Esoteric, yet familiar, this Vieille Prune has an unparrelled richness. Bursting with asian spice and ripe fruit, you'll want to keep this one in stock once you've tried it.

Other Liqueurs: Cognac producers are always trying to use their young spirit for something delicious, other than Pineau des Charentes and Grand Marnier. These two new liqueurs really caught me off guard:

Francois Peyrot Chestnuts Au Cognac $43.99 - Very rich and very sweet, but maaaaaan......does this thing really taste like chestnuts. Sip this for dessert or use it as the simple syrup for your next Old Fashioned for a nutty, roasted flavor.

Francois Peyrot Rose Au Cognac $35.99 - This stuff is amazing. A clear colored, yet sweet liqueur that is brimming with freshly cut rose petals. Sip it chilled for a dazzlingly different post-meal digestíf, or make a fancy cocktail. Prosecco, perhaps?

That's it! You're now an expert. The only thing left to do is try them out for yourself.

-David Driscoll