The Real McCoy

It's funny to watch how the term "the real McCoy" has evolved over the last century because I never knew it had anything to do with rum until I started working in the spirits business, despite the fact that I had definitely used it over the course of my life in reference to something genuine. Bill McCoy was a rum runner during the Prohibition years and his secret stash was known for its high quality, never adulterated with chemicals or various other substitutes to stretch or disguise the quality of the hooch. Hence the term: "the real McCoy." It therefore makes sense that a rum company would want to use that famous name and reputation with their own label, and it makes even more sense that said company would want to work with Foursquare distillery on the island of Barbados, a facility praised both for its transparency and pureness when it comes to rum. 

The Real McCoy 12 year old is one of the best new value rums I've tasted over the last year because, unlike some of the beefier Foursquare editions I've tasted in 2017, this is session rum—as in you could have three or four glasses in a single sitting and still get up the next morning for work. I'm definitely a fan of cask strength rums, single barrel editions, and oddball pot distillates when we get them, but the simple truth is that I'll probably drink ten bottles of the Real McCoy 12 year before I ever finish the one bottle of Foursquare Criterion I bought simply due to its price and practicality. While the big, bold, barrel strength flavors dominate the geekier end of the rum and whiskey spectrum, the majority of people I know who shop specifically for rum at K&L ask me the same question over and over: is it smooth? When it comes to the Real McCoy 12 year, not only is it as smooth as silk, it achieves that soft and silky texture naturally, without the use of added sugar or sweeteners. Aged entirely in American oak ex-Bourbon barrels, it drinks much like an older version of the Mount Gay XO with extra weight and richness from the wood. There are gobs of barrel spices, orange peel, cloves, and molasses notes on the finish. 

And the price is definitely a fair one. I'd add this to your short list of every day drinkers. If you're looking for the rarest, most exotic rum on the market to impress your tiki buddies, this isn't the bottle. But if you're in search of a delicious, real deal, affordable, unadulterated bottle of classically-flavored rum, this is one of the best new additions to the shelf. As someone who wants to cut back on my sugar intake, it will likely replace the El Dorado 12 year as my new house rum. 

Foursquare Distillery Real McCoy 12 Year Old Single Blended Barbados Rum $39.99

-David Driscoll


Who Do You Think We Are, Ted Danson?

Recognize this store? Ironically, we don't have any Smirnoff!

-David Driscoll


D2D Interview: Salvatore Ferragamo

When our Italian buyer Greg St. Clair told me that Salvatore Ferragamo was coming to K&L in San Francisco on Sunday, October 1st for a special public tasting, I felt bad telling him that Salvatore Ferragamo passed away back in the early sixties so that wasn't possible. Greg knows I have a thing for Ferragamo shoes, so I thought maybe he was playing a joke on me, but then he clarified: "It's his grandson; he has the same name, but he's the family winemaker." Suddenly everything made sense. I'd seen the Salvatore Ferragamo name thrown around in articles talking about the family's Il Borro estate in Tuscany, both a proper winemaking facility as well as a luxury hotel destination, but I had always assumed they were talking about the fashion company as a whole. Not the case! They were indeed referring to Salvatore Ferragamo Jr, the dashing third generation superstar who has taken the family business to the next level by producing a portfolio of well-received Super Tuscans. Born and raised in one of the world's most iconic fashion families, how is it that someone who looked like a fashion model, clearly destined for a career in the world of haute couture with a famous name and chiseled jaw line, found himself toiling away in the cellar, making Sangiovese blends instead of walking the runway? I was interested, so I gave him a call earlier in the week and we chatted about that very subject. Our conversation is below:

David: Having had the chance to join one of the world’s most iconic fashion empires, your family’s Ferragamo luxury clothing line and your namesake, what made you decide to become a winemaker instead?

Salvatore: Well, my father bought the Il Borro property and that gave me the option to either join the fashion side of the company or the wine side. I thought to myself: there’s already so much that’s been done on the fashion side, but here I’ll have the opportunity to start something from ground zero. That’s exciting; when you’re starting from scratch but still contributing to the groundwork of what’s been done by your family. 

David: When did your dad buy Il Borro? Was that back in 1993?

Salvatore: Yes, that’s correct. 

David: What kind of condition was it in? I know it was owned by a famous duke or aristocrat previously, but was it being using to make wine at that time?

Salvatore: No, we had to replant everything. The property was in a terrible state of disrepair. Everything had been abandoned. It was very bad and it needed a lot of work (laughs). 

David: But that gave you the opportunity to start over with your own vision, right? You didn’t necessarily have seventy year old Sangiovese vines to work with.

Salvatore: Yes, we decided to choose the varietals based on the different types of soil we had on the property. As the French would say: you make the wines according to the terroir. So we did and that’s been our philosophy ever since. In January of 2015 we turned organic with our farming practices, so now we have sort of a two-pronged approach: matching the vine to the terroir, as well as organic viticulture practices. 

David: Which varietals do you currently have planted?

Salvatore: Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Chardonnay. 

David: Sort of the new wave approach to the Tuscan vineyard. I think I also read somewhere you were experimenting with amphorae clay pots as aging vessels instead of oak?

Salvatore: Yeah! We make a wine called Petruna Anfora from 100% amphora wines with no oak. It’s interesting because it doesn’t have any of the toast from the barrique. Instead it’s more about the fruit and the pureness of it, which is lovely. There’s more minerality in the wines, plus it was interesting to try and recreate the traditional methods like they made wine in the old days—like the Romans and the Etruscans. 

David: How did the first vintage go? That was just recently, I think.

Salvatore: Yes, we just finished selling the first vintage. We started with the 2015 vintage and we sold out, so now we’re working on the second release in November.

David: How has traditional Italy adapted to the new Super Tuscans and the inclusion of Cabernet and Merlot in the blends? Are the Tuscan locals excited by the evolution or resistant, in your opinion?

Salvatore: Italy has changed quite a bit and I think the public is adapting to the idea of new world wines. The culture is less rigid. It’s well proven at this point that we can make great wines in a different style and I think that’s exciting. It’s still a young concept—Sassicaia was the first to make a Super Tuscan back in the sixties—and after centuries of making wine I think the idea of experimentation is well accepted now. 

The Ferragamo family Il Borro estate

David: How was it growing up for you in traditional Italy? Did your family drink a lot of wine?

Salvatore: Yes, wine was always a big part of our family culture. Growing up in Tuscany, everyone is producing wine, so I was familiar with the subject. When I first started working at Il Borro I got certified as a sommelier, which helped me to better understand the process, but of course working at the winery itself was the real education. Wine was always available when I was growing up, often and everywhere.

David: What do you like to drink personally? What excites you about wine?

Salvatore: I think there are three great elements to wine: the varietal, the vintage, and the region, which makes experimentation fun. There’s so much to learn. Of course, I love everything from my friends at Sassicaia—the Ornellaia and the Masseto are wonderful wines—but I also love Bordeaux. Château Haut Brion is one of my favorites. There are many different and fantastic visions out there for wine. 

David: I’m someone who thinks there’s a big correlation between fashion and alcohol. Growing up in a fashion empire, do you see similarities between the two industries?

Salvatore: I think it depends on what you’re doing in fashion. If you’re making T-shirts, that’s one thing. If you’re making high-end, luxury haute couture items, then it’s another and it’s more similar to what we’re doing at Il Borro, where we’re farming organically, using a fiberoptic sorter, a gravity-flow winery, temperature-controlled steel vats, and extremely selective barriques. I think taking this level of care is what separates the luxury industry from the general market, so in that sense it is like fashion. 

David: Did growing up in the Ferragamo family help to prepare you for the rigors of such high quality production?

Salvatore: To a certain extent. My family has always been detail oriented when it comes to luxury, so that definitely helped. That level of scrutiny translates over to winemaking where being selective and always in search of the maximum quality is important. That’s our commitment at Il Borro. We want to be recognized as a quality producer. 

David: Do you ever find that the wine gets lumped in with the Ferragamo empire rather than being recognized on its own merit?

Salvatore: Yeah, and I think that’s an important point. For that reason we want to keep the two businesses separate: one is wine and one is fashion. It is important that the wine becomes successful on its own merit. It’s a question of brand integrity and it’s up to me to produce wines that are made with a quality-oriented philosophy. We can’t simply piggyback on the Ferragamo name. 

David: Since we’re talking about the Ferragamo brand, I have a personal curiosity. I’ve always thought of the Ferragamo shoe portfolio as the best in the business. My wife and I both swear by Ferragamo and, while I don’t really collect wine, I definitely have a small collection of Ferragamo shoes. But lately I’ve been noticing the belts and the jackets really take off. I was reading the other day about how the belts are really becoming big in Asia and in some cases cost more than the shoes! In your opinion, what’s the quintessential Ferragamo fashion item?

Salvatore: Shoes. I would say the shoes, for sure. I think their quality and comfort speak to the best of Ferragamo. 

David: While your grandfather, whose name you carry on, became famous while making shoes for stars like Audrey Hepburn, you’re establishing your own reputation with the Il Borro wine. Who’s someone who you’ve been able to sell wine to or perhaps drink wine with that you were excited about?

Salvatore: There are several, but there is one that stands out. I had the chance to drink with Richard Gere once at the property who dined with our family and enjoyed the wines.

David: Oh wow! Did your dad try to sign him as a shoe model while he was there?

Salvatore: (laughs) No, but I think there was some swooning at the table.

(Salvatore will be in the San Francisco tasting bar this coming Sunday, October 1st, if you want to come by and meet him while tasting the wines—details to come!)

-David Driscoll


More Hollywood Nights

I'm not going to lie; I started getting a bit concerned when more than sixty people had already lined up for our Kyle MacLachlan wine tasting at the K&L Hollywood store with still more than thirty minutes before the opening. We'd never had a tasting of this magnitude in any of our stores before, so I wasn't sure as what to expect. To make matters even more concerning, we had unknowingly scheduled the tasting for the exact same date and time as the new Twin Peaks soundtrack release at nearby Amoeba Records (one block over on Sunset) featuring David Lynch himself signing autographs. The word was out on the Hollywood streets: there was a Lynch/MacLachlan duel event going on and the Twin Peaks fans were milking every potential minute of it! I was stoked. But simultaneously scared. 

While we were organized and ready to adapt as need be, the idea of doing an actual wine tasting with Kyle talking in-depth about the wines quickly fizzed into impossibility. We were being over run by hundreds of people waiting for their turn to get in. If you thought the Twin Peaks return was a small pop culture phenomenon, you should talk to the dozens and dozens of people who I had to continually turn away at the door. It was a difficult conversation to say the least. 

While there were a few unruly late-comers, the overwhelming majority of folks were patient, kind-hearted, and just happy to be there. I saw some of the best Twin Peaks fan art ever on the table waiting for Kyle's signature. It was truly a sight to behold. One guy had a skateboard deck with the Log Lady on it!

And the style!!! This was by far the coolest crowd of people to ever grace the tasting bar at any K&L outpost. I was blown away by the fashion in the house tonight.

Kyle MacLachlan is such a pro that it's almost impossible to fully explain. He's a pro's pro. He's a beacon of customer service, kindness, and general civility with everyone he meets. He made every person in that tasting bar feel like the most special person in the world tonight. It was really something to behold. Many thanks to him for joining us in the Hollywood store. A big thank you as well goes out to our Hollywood store manager Tommy Martinez who held down the fort, dealt with the dirt, and covered the important logistics all night long. These two guys together would be an unstoppable customer service support team. 

-David Driscoll


Dickel Me, Dickel Me, Dickel Me Too!

I was a big Shel Silverstein fan growing up. I had the poetry books and the cassette tapes where he played guitar and sang songs, too. "Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me, Too" was one of my all-time favorites and to this day I can't even look at a bottle of Dickel without thinking of Where the Sidewalk Ends. In any case, I've got three new can't-miss casks of K&L Exclusive Dickel to tell you about right now and they are without a doubt the best single barrels of American whiskey we've had in stock this year. For the price, they are simply unbeatable; each with a 9 year old age statement, a high 103 proof, and a uniquely wonderful flavor profile. 

When I talk to passionate Bourbon drinkers in the store today, most of them are looking for the rich, sweet, bold flavored, high proof editions that seem to have completely evaporated from today's market. Part of the reason the Van Winkle expressions (and the Weller Bourbons by default) became so beloved, besides the pull of pop culture, has to do with their sweeter profile due to the lack of rye grain in the mashbill as a balance. While not technically categorized as Bourbon (Dickel goes by Tennessee whiskey even though it qualifies as such), the distillery's high corn, low rye mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley results in a whiskey brimming with sweetness with less of the peppery and herbaceous elements. The only thing that's ever kept Dickel from becoming the next big thing in the American whiskey scene is the low proof, but that's where the company's single barrel program comes in. The individual casks dial up all that corny sweetness with a bolder ABV, transforming the normally mellow and creamy soft flavor of Dickel into something more beastly and unhinged. 

I'll say it now and I'll say it again later after some of you email me wondering what happened to our inventory: BUY ONE OF EACH. Each is completely different, by design. I'm choosing casks that have variety and individuality as well as incredible flavor. Here's the rundown:

George Dickel "K&L Exclusive" 9 Year Old Single Barrel #7234K1002 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 - Barrel #1002 is for oak fiends who looked for the heaviest, most saturated single casks for their next needed fix. The profile begins with huge aromas of wood and polish and the oak simply explodes on the midpalate with the higher proof dialing it up on the finish. The corny sweetness does its best to penetrate the surface, but it keeps getting punched down by endless amounts of char and oak spice. It's a monster!

George Dickel "K&L Exclusive" 9 Year Old Single Barrel #7234K1003 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 - Barrel #1003 is a perfect example of everything today's modern Bourbon drinker goes gaga for: sweet vanilla and caramel corn on the entry bolstered by baking spices and heavily charred oak with the boldness of the high proof on the midpalate to electrify the taste buds. The finish has a bit of a burnt banana note, but it's quickly washed over with more creme brulee and oak sweetness. An absolutely bangin' bottle of whiskey!

George Dickel "K&L Exclusive" 9 Year Old Single Barrel #7234K1005 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 - Barrel #1005 would fool even the most ardent Four Roses fan with its balance of fruit, oak, and spice, easily the most balanced and classic of the three current barrels we have in stock. Beautiful notes of oak and charred spice explode on the palate with hints of mocha and clove before a dark wave of burnt vanilla washes over the finish. If this bottle said Kentucky on the label we'd likely sell out in less than an hour.

-David Driscoll