Making Time (or Falling Back in Love with Red Wine)

If I were to ever get a tattoo, it would probably be some kind of ornate scale, or maybe a duel between Apollo and Dionysus.  Something that depicted the struggle between two opposite pulls - complete and utter excess and rational logic.  Part of the reason for my phasic mood swings with wine centers around the fact that I want to drink every type of varietal all the time.  Not because my body craves alcohol necessarily, but because my mind craves education and I'm in the business of teaching and learning about booze.  When I'm unable to make the time necessary to enjoy these pleasures properly, it frustrates me - to the point that I might write a whole article trying to convince myself I don't need it anyway.  You have to understand, I'm the kind of guy where on my day off I might end up doing nothing because there's literally too much I want to do.

As part of our ongoing education, K&L co-owner and Bordeaux buyer Clyde Beffa and store expert Jeff Garneau have organized a series of dinners dedicated to sitting down and understanding older Bordeaux vintages.  Last night was another eye-popping line up on paper: an opening flight of Domaine de Chevalier Blancs from 96 and 99, followed by three flights of reds from 1970, 1966, and 1983 respectively.  As we walked over from the store to our neighboring restaurant John Bentley's, the air was crisp and Fall was definitely showing itself.  It was the type of night where the warm, glowing interior of the dining room looked extremely cozy through the outside windows, beckoning us to come inside and enjoy a glass of champagne (which we did).  Mood is very important to drinking because what ever bottle you select to enjoy will taste better on the right occasion.  With the dining room set and the appetizers being around, the atmosphere was perfect for enjoying some special red wines.

When I recently complained about my inability to enjoy my collection of red wine, what I was really complaining about was a lack of time, place, and company.  I don't have the time to make nice meals at home anymore (ah...the days of teaching when school got out at 2:45) and my friends usually want to drink white wine and cocktails.  However, there is simply something about mature red wines, like the great Bordeaux bottles we had last night, that adds a certain magic to the evening.  I can't really put my finger on it, but it's simply not the same enjoyment that great whisky offers.  Swirling the glass, taking small sips in between bites of grilled quail, lamb chop, and New York striploin, talking about the flavors with my co-workers, and gazing through the low-lit chamber, I became utterly aware of why we love coming together to do this. 

Not only was the milleau appropriate, both the wines and food were amazing.  The 1970 vintage wines were still amazing fresh with plenty of fruit and acidity.  I about had an epiphany with the 1970 Branaire Ducru - the aromas were incredibly enticing, shifting effortlessly between soft red fruit, baking spices, and subtle leathery notes.  I could have just nosed that wine all night and been completely satisfied.  It was easily one of the best red wines I have ever experienced.  The 1970 Beychevelle, Clerc Milon, and Haut Batailley were all spot on as well - plenty of life left in them even at 41 years of age.  The longevity of these great Bordeaux wines is fascinating.  At 45 years of age, the 1966 Leoville Barton was heavenly - beautifully concentrated red berries in complete balance with the tannin and acidity levels.  The 1966 Lynch Bages was full of cocoa powder and dark fruits, which are tasting notes I often read about, but rarely experience with older bottles.  Getting to do so was like some sort of validation.

Just like interior design or party planning, there is a skill to crafting the perfect wine meal and this one truly delivered.  It takes time, effort, and company to make it happen, however.  A room full of people who all love good wine and good food comes first.  The wine and the food comes next, followed by the time to enjoy it properly.  Moments like last night are what inspire us to pack bottles into temperature-controlled lockers, empty our bank accounts to secure precious futures, and research which vintages are currently drinking best.  It's a lot of commitment, but the payoff is huge.  What I learned last night is that having a collection of great red wine is not necessarily about diving into it as often as possible and getting proper use out of it.  It's more about cultivating a garden.

I tend to throw things away that I'm not using or sell them off on Craigslist because I'm always in a forward-thinking mode.  While this works great for keeping my apartment clean, my wardrobe current, and my hoarding fears dormant, it's not the best way to look at one's wine collection.  I might not drink anything out of my stash for months, but that doesn't mean I won't ever enjoy them.  When the proper time comes and another K&L dinner rolls around, I might want to dig deep into the kitty and add some enjoyment to another wonderful evening.  Patience, it will come.

-David Driscoll


Barrels, Barrels, Barrels - Let The Fun Begin

The barrel yard at Springbank distillery

The holiday season is starting early at K&L.  I'm working day and night to get orders placed, secure large amounts of popular new whiskies, and make sure our casks from Scotland arrive on time.  Today is going to be a huge day.  Three of our new barrels will be arriving this morning: our Glendronach 16 year Sherry cask, the Springbank 14 year Madeira cask, and the Springbank 13 year Bourbon cask.  While many of the other barrels we purchased yielded 250 bottles or less, the Glendronach and Springbank Madeira barrels were gigantic - both dolloping out more than 600 bottles each!  This is a gigantic commitment for us to make up front, however we did it for a reason.  These whiskies are going to be our work horses for the next few months (if they last that long).  The Glendronach 16 is one the most accessible and tasty barrels we've ever purchased - think Macallan 18 on steroids with lots of chewiness.  It's so good, I can sell it to literally anyone and feel confident that they'll truly love it.  The Springer is no different, although the richness is more honeyed and therefore a bit less intense.  All three barrels will be available for sale later today.  For all of you who ordered pre-arrival, I'll be working over at the warehouse all day to get your orders filled as fast as possible - hopefully as soon as this weekend for some of you.  It's important that we do this quickly because there's no time to rest.  Next week we'll be getting the 16 year Bruichladdich finished in Ardbeg casks, followed by the Blair Athol cask right after.  Then the Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc cask hits, along side the Littlemill from our Faultline label.  It's going to get hot and hectic over here, and that's without little things like Talisker 18 and Old Pulteney 21 getting in the way!  Let the fun begin.  We've got a lot of whisky to get through people.  Get some sleep and make sure you're well rested.  I need your livers in top gear.

-David Driscoll


Free Tequila Tonight!

Two of my favorite producers are in town for some fantastic tequila tasting tonight!

Redwood City has the marvelous Los Osuna products, while San Francisco hosts the lovely Gran Dovejo tequilas.

Both tastings are completely free of charge and begin at 5 PM.  They go until 6:30!  Come out and expand your palate's horizons!

-David Driscoll


Keeping Things In Perspective

Have you ever asked anyone what their favorite movie is?  As a former film student, I've had that conversation more than a few times in my life and I've heard a lot of Shawshank Redemption during those talks.  That movie is a solid choice - great acting, lots of emotion, and a perfect ending.  It touches just about everyone so it seems natural so many people would like it.  Every now and then you'll hear people say 8 1/2 by Fellini or Citizen Kane by Orson Welles and I'm not sure what to make of those responses.  Did they actually like that movie or are they just saying that because those are supposed to be the two best movies ever made?  I mean, honestly, how often does anyone ever feel like sitting down with either of those films for a good time?  Being a brash, nineteen-year-old, aspiring director, I used to put forth Big Trouble in Little China or Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze because of their cool, camp factor.  Those are obviously not great movies (unless you redefine greatness), but they're so off-base with the expected response that they catch one's attention.

That's what I used to be all about - getting your attention.  I wasn't lying about my love for Kurt Russell and Patrick Swaze in the 80's - those are seriously two of my favorite flicks.  However, by telling someone that my favorite movie is Big Trouble in Little China, I'm doing two things: 1) taking pleasure in diverting attention to a film that is grossly overlooked and underrated, and  2) making myself look pretty smooth by bucking the trend and choosing something outside the normal realm of possible candidates.  If I had to guess why Jim Murray selected Old Pulteney 21 Year Old as the number one whisky in the world for 2012, I would say that it had something do with the analogy I just gave you.

Old Pulteney is a good distillery.  I really love their 17 year old whisky - a wonderfully balanced malt where the Bourbon and Sherry maturations form the yin and yang of the palate.  The 21 year is also quite nice.  Rich, enticing, creamy, and less sweet than something like Glenfarclas.  There's no doubt that these whiskies are good and very much overlooked.  However, giving Old Pulteney 21 the title of "best whisky in the world" is like giving Paul Newman the best acting Oscar for The Color of Money - it's more of a lifetime achievement award than recognition for that particular role.  Paul Newman was a great actor, but that movie wasn't close to his best (actually Tom Cruise was better than him in that movie). 

Personally, I believe that Jim Murray's rankings aren't literal.  He knows that curious drinkers everywhere will flock to his choices once they're released, driving sales up immensely for these particular producers.  They're more like political or personal statements about himself and his philosophy.  By lavishing that prestigious title upon Old Pulteney, he was hoping to give an underrated distillery a bit of much-deserved spotlight, as well as play the cool and unexpected card (see his previous ranking of Amrut Fusion as #3 whisky in the world).  I have no problem with that whatsoever.  My only concern is that the hundred or so customers who bought a bottle over the last day are going to come back and say, "Really?  That one?"  I can guarantee you that many new owners of an OP21 bottle are going to argue his decision.  However, you have to put these things into perspective.

-David Driscoll


Just In! (Not For Long!)

My email list is apparently not delivering emails right now, so while the tech management guys work on that, I'll post some great info here.

Talisker 18 is back in stock right now.  There are 90 bottles in LA with another 210 coming to RWC this weekend.  I would order now and secure one, then select it for shipping or for store pick up.  We'll be sending out a big email about this later on and they will be gone in a heartbeat.

We also have limited supplies of Old Pulteney 21, now named the #1 whisky in the world for 2012 by Jim Murray's Whisky Bible.  We've sold a bunch already to some eager customers this morning before David OG and I cleaned out the California distribution.  I've got 30 in RWC now with another 70 on order to LA tomorrow.  There are a million people on the hunt for these now that it's considered the BEST whisky in the world.  It broke the record for points with 97.5.  If you want to know what I think, I think Old Pulteney makes great whisky and the 21 year is outstanding.  As is the 17 year.

That's it for now.  Gotta run.  Grab what you can while there's still time!

-David Driscoll