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Staff Favorites - Bryan Brick
2010 World's End "Little Sister - Reserve" Napa Valley Merlot
Review Date: 08-22-2015
After the recent tremendous success of the 2010 World's End "Good Times Bad Times" To Kalon Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon closeout we figured that we’d go back to the well. This time what we found was a killer Merlot, every bit as high in quality as the Cab and for a similar steal of a deal. This Merlot may not come from the famed To-Kalon vineyard but it does have a fantastic pedigree coming from two tremendous sites, one in Coombsville and the other being from Sugarloaf Mountain which is an area that you will hear much more about in coming years. Deep, dark and quite powerful for Merlot this has a lovely cassis, blackberry, sandalwood and blueberry ripeness to the nose all encapsulated in spicy, polished French oak. Masculine and having generous notes of espresso, mocha, repeating blueberry fruit, a slight tar note and pretty violet tones this is one mouth-filling and complete Merlot. Long and more savory than sweet on the finish with medium rare peppered beef and fresh sage I couldn’t think of a better deal in Merlot, especially for fans of Cabernet Sauvignon!
2012 Ridge "Lytton Springs" Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
Review Date: 08-17-2015
If you haven’t tried the Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings by Ridge Vineyards by now you probably have been living under a rock, or on some deserted island somewhere. For decades--the first Geyserville was made in 1966 and first Lytton in 1972--these have been the best zinfandel based wines in the United States. For either instant consumption or long term cellaring few have ever shown as much promise and continuously paid such great dividends. We thought we’d not see any more of this wine having been sold out for some time but, PRESTO, there some was just hanging out in Southern California. So we jumped on whatever we could and are bringing this to you as a “last call.” The 2012 Lytton Springs was delicious from the start with a vibrant mix of high toned wild red berry fruit, sassafras, white pepper and streaks of vanilla and coconut flake. A bit more confectionary and lush than the 2013 Geyserville this is a touch more giving right now and is just delicious. However, like all the Ridge wines it will continue to age gracefully. It is about as good as it gets in the current world of Zinfandel.
2013 Ridge "Geyserville" Alexander Valley Zinfandel
Review Date: 08-17-2015
If you haven’t tried the Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings by Ridge Vineyards by now you probably have been living under a rock, or on some deserted island somewhere. For decades--the first Geyserville was made in 1966 and first Lytton in 1972--these have been some of the best Zinfandel-based wines in the United States. For either instant consumption, or long term cellaring, few have ever shown as much consistent promise and continuously paid such great dividends. The 2013 Geyserville is classic and wildly representative of why Geyserville has become so famous. Deep, brooding and darkly fruited, this is a wine that is delicious right now. It has plenty of boysenberry, unsweetened cocoa powder, whole black peppercorns and a broad rich textural feel on the palate. It has that perfect balance between ripe, plush fruit and marked spice, all the while being fully accessible early. The great news is that as good as it is now, this wine is only going to get better with time, and should be a wonderful wine over the next 8-15 years.
2013 Varner "Amphitheater Block-Spring Ridge Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-03-2015
I’m not scared to say it, and I have many times, out loud, to real people. I think the Varner Chardonnays are some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnays made in the United States. These wines are still way under the radar to most wine fans due to their small production, out of the way location-high in the hills above Portola Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stylistic choices. But for all of us lucky enough to have tasted these wines vintage after vintage we can’t help but feel this way. The wines are just too good, with pinpoint precision, amazing complexity, and little “wine making” to get in the way of the amazing raw materials they put into each and every bottle they make. The 2013 "Amphitheater Block” stunned me with how fleshed out it was. Typically the Amphitheater is always the most strict, linear, mineral driven wine under the Varner label. However this year there is a pleasing nutty generosity to the nose and a very deep set richness on the palate that just wasn’t there in previous vintages. (The Varner’s attest this to the vineyard block maturing rather than any changes in the cellar, of which there were none.) Cashew, almond skin, dried apple and nectarine mesh on the complex and intriguing nose. Bright and citrusy on entry with layers of mineral and earth over tangerine, pomelo and lemon pith this has a subtle creaminess and fleshes out with a pretty floral bitterness at its edges.
2013 Varner "Bee Block-Spring Ridge Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-03-2015
I’m not scared to say it, and I have many times, out loud, to real people. I think the Varner Chardonnays are some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnays made in the United States. These wines are still way under the radar to most wine fans due to their small production, out of the way location-high in the hills above Portola Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stylistic choices. But for all of us lucky enough to have tasted these wines vintage after vintage we can’t help but feel this way. The wines are just too good, with pinpoint precision, amazing complexity, and little “wine making” to get in the way of the amazing raw materials they put into each and every bottle they make. The 2013 “Bee Block,” long the favorite block of most of our local customers, is Bee Block at its finest. I don’t know if it is the suggestion of the name, or if the name came from the suggestion, but there is always a honeyed quality to this wine. Never sweet of course but more of an exotic, spiced, ripeness that the other blocks just don’t have. Build on top of that aromas of anise seed/fennel, jasmine blossoms, talc and a delicate marzipan note and this is one aromatic wine. The heftiest of the bunch this has layers of rich flavors like crème brulee, peach pit, egg custard and apricot however it never feels flat or blousy. It’s quite the contrary one the finish full of Meyer lemon, wet stone and fresh alfalfa rolls around. But never does that honey quality subside and I’m glad it doesn’t, it’s the true tell of this stunning wine.
2013 Varner "Home Block-Spring Ridge Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-03-2015
I’m not scared to say it, and I have many times, out loud, to real people. I think the Varner Chardonnays are some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnays made in the United States. These wines are still way under the radar to most wine fans due to their small production, out of the way location high in the hills above Portola Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stylistic choices. But for all of us lucky enough to have tasted these wines vintage after vintage we can’t help but feel this way. The wines are just too good, with pinpoint precision, amazing complexity, and little “wine making” to get in the way of the amazing raw materials they put into each and every bottle they make. My favorite of the bunch, and certainly a wine worth lying down, is the 2013 Home Block. This wine is not some much about its aromas or flavors, which are all certainly wonderful (chalk, granite, Asian pear, kumquat, saline) but about its intensity and tension. Structure is always hard to write about in wine, and rarely done in white wines, but this wine is all about its frame. The way its parts build on one another to create a wall of flavor, an experience of everything at once yet remaining streamlined and delineated. I’d love to taste this wine in 5, 10 and 15 years to see the life it lives.
2013 Joseph Carr Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Review Date: 07-22-2015
Long one of our favorite negociant producers in California Joseph Carr has continuously knocked out fantastic value wines. Some of you may remember their Cabernet Sauvignon from late 2014/early 2015? That was a huge hit with over 300 cases sold. Well we think the 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is the next big hit from this relatively unknown producer. This Chardonnay is barrel fermented, goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and sees around 10% new oak so while it’s creamy it never is too over-blown and shows great balance. Aromas of mango, passion fruit and green apple flesh are tied together on the nose by a subtle note of clover honey. Fleshy on entry with ripe orange, more honey and layers of savory oak, mushroom and challah toast this is one delicious Chardonnay. Riding the line between textural and savory this wine comes off much more serious than the price tag would suggest. Maybe that is some of Aaron Pott’s pedigree rubbing off on the wine. He’s a superstar, having made wine at Troplong-Mondot, La Tour Figeac, Newton (under John Kongsgaard) and Blackbird amongst others. If you love a great value in Chardonnay this is not to be missed!
2012 Walter Hansel "Cuvee Alyce" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Review Date: 07-11-2015
Consistency is the word I think of when I think of the Walter Hansel wines. Not only have the prices remained consistent over the last decade, which is no small feat in itself, but the wines are always in a fuller, plush style full of fruit and feel, ready to be drunk and to appeal to the masses. The 2012 Cuvee Alyce Pinot Noir is one of my recent favorite Pinots from Hansel. There seems to be more savory/earthy balance in the wine this year. Sure there is still plenty of their signature red fruited sap but there is just so much more complexity and intrigue in the wine this year. Spiced strawberry with mint and a white cherry note dominate the nose early but it continues to build with air showing exotic notes of hibiscus and lower toned clay aromas. Entering snappy and energetic this builds fruit and texture through the mid-palate and shows considerable layers of beets, raspberry, clay, more hibiscus and ripe cherry fruit. Balanced and open this borders on sexy but done in a way that is full of class.
2012 J. Davies Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 07-11-2015
Most people probably have never heard of J. Davies and their outstanding wines from their estate on Diamond Mountain but that is not for lack of history or pedigree. The Estate was founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram and planted shortly thereafter. Out of this vineyard sprung Schramsberg the famous, and quite prolific, still wine house of the 19th century. Obviously many years have passed, 153 to be exact, and while Schramsberg is still wildly famous and is now producing some of the best sparkling wine in the United States, if not the world, they wanted to get back to their roots of making great still wines. So in 1994 they replanted the Estate to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals and in 2004 the first vintage of J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon was released (2001). Since then they have produced a string of wildly delicious, balanced, structural efforts that have for some reason or another remained distinctly under people’s radar. Hopefully that all changes with the 2012 vintage which is a stunning wine full of the complexity, depth and concentration that is rarely seen but often spoke about in Napa wines. Chock full of unsweetened chocolate, cassis liquor and spiced plum on the nose this has tons of sweet tinged aromatics but underneath that lays a savory sous bois and new leather quality that adds complexity and considerable depth. Brightly blue fruited on entry with a texture that is slick, round and approachable this Cabernet comes off as ripe but never jammy or sweet. As the wine floats along the palate it adds flavors of fleshy black fruits, asphalt, red currant, sage and black tea. The tannins melt away slowly in the finish and frame the wine in a harmonious manner.
2013 Foxen Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Review Date: 06-19-2015
On our recent trip to the Central Coast we tasted a myriad of Pinot Noirs--mostly great, a few exceptional, and maybe one or two that were just OK. Point being that there is tons of great Pinot Noir coming out of the area. Few were better, however-- especially if you consider pricing--than the 2013 Foxen Santa Maria Valley bottling. The lion’s share of this wine comes from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, and not any parcel but the same parcel that Foxen’s famed Block 8 vineyard designate comes from. Rounded out by fruit from Riverbench Vineyard and Solomon Hills Vineyard, the quality here, for an appellation bottling, is off the charts. A fresh and pithy nose of plum, violet, blueberry and crushed stone is unencumbered by oak, the wine seeing not a lick of new oak. Ripe and juicy on the palate, with plenty of berry fruit, this spices up as it goes along with pretty confectionary spices like nutmeg and allspice and gingerbread. Broad velvety tannins round out the back end with a streak of floral complexity that persists. I don’t know if we saw anything better for $30 Pinot on the trip!
2013 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Review Date: 06-18-2015
On a trip earlier this year a crew of K&L employees went up to the far Sonoma Coast and visited places like Hirsch, Fort Ross and Flowers. It was certainly a wonderful experience and we had a ton of fun and found plenty of new wines. On that trip I think we were most surprised by the wines at Flowers. We knew that they were up to some new tricks but we really were thinking of the wines as they used to be, not as they actually are. A perfect example of this was the just released 2013 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. The first thing that struck me was how balanced the wine was. I recalled these wines being bigger, fatter and flabbier, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for what I was tasting. Made with less than 20% new oak, this wine struck a chord with me in its aromas of mint, nectarine, peach and chalk and little to no woody aromas. Vibrant and energetic, this bordered on citrusy-tangerine and clementine--with plenty of stone fruit, apricot preserves--passed around on the medium-weighted frame. Richness and texture were there but they came more on the back end with brighter fruit tones running the show. A long, savory finish laced with thyme and stone wrapped up the wine and my expectations were blown. If you haven’t checked out Flowers in a while I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
2012 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Review Date: 06-17-2015
On a trip earlier this year a crew of K&L employees went up to the far Sonoma Coast and visited places like Hirsch, Fort Ross and Flowers. It was certainly a wonderful experience and we had a ton of fun and found plenty of new wines. On that trip I think we were most surprised by the wines at Flowers. We knew that they were up to some new tricks but we really were thinking of the wines as they used to be, not as they actually are. The 2012 Pinot Noir was singing that day with its surprising freshness and airy feel. This was not the oak-dominated Pinot Noir that I remember it being, but a pretty feminine style punctuated by acidity and perfectly ripe black fruits like plum and boysenberry wrapped in an earthy frame. Never heavy or jammy this was a showy wine in a way that framed its raw materials not the winemaker that put it together. “Honest” is the word that came to mind the most and I really think it sums up this enjoyably drinkable bottle of Pinot Noir.
2010 Acumen "Mountainside" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 04-23-2015
Sometimes the wily vets in this biz can get pretty jaded about all the new upper end wines that flood the marketplace with the release of every new vintage. History tells us that so few of these wines are actually good values at their respective price points and even fewer are actually wines we think our customers would like to drink. So it is certainly a special occasion when we see one that is truly exciting, a tremendous value and completely delicious and that is what the 2010 Acumen “Mountainside” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is. This wine floored me with its combination of fantastic raw materials and precision winemaking as it should being that Steve Matthiasson (Araujo, Hall, Spottswoode) is the vineyard manager and Denis Malbec (Chateau Latour, Blankiet, Kapcsandy Family) is the winemaker. These two respective superstars have built something quite spectacular here with aromas of pretty cassis and sweet pastilles on top of bay leaf, green olive and black tea notes. Sassy and full of energetic flavors of red currant, milk chocolate, more olive and cola spice this is not a wine to be glossed over, rather this wine is a rare Cab that is full of life and vigor. Super fine tannins round out the dovetailed and flavorful finish. This is a wine with a wonderful pedigree that delivers in every way.
2012 Frei Brothers "Reserve" Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 04-22-2015
Frei Brothers has long been the “Green” winery in the Gallo wine empire; in fact they were “green” way before it was cool to be “green.” Kermit the Frog may have been the only thing green that was cool when Frei Brothers began to really look at the impact wine growing had on the land that they were farming. Now everything the winery grows is fully sustainable, for every acre of vines they plant they set aside an acre of natural wildlife habitat and they even pulled out 15 acres of vines to help restore a local natural wetland. While this is the kind of stuff we can all get behind it doesn’t matter much in this context unless the wine is good, right? Frei surely has had its ups and downs with quality but I can assure you that this bottle of wine is really great for $20. It has a big bold varietal character with plenty of ripe cassis and olive spice components on the nose. Savory oak and a pretty plum and cocoa laden palate along with earthy loam notes and a slick overall feel build a wine that seems easy going and more than friendly for most California Cab drinkers. Add the nice lift found from some bright, red fruit flavors on the finish and this is a rock solid Cabernet.
2013 Domaine Drouhin "Arthur" Dundee Hills Chardonnay
Review Date: 04-21-2015
One thing is for certain the Drouhin family knows what they are doing when it comes to growing and producing Burgundian varietals. When they started Domain Drouhin Oregon (DDO) back in 1987 there were producers in the area that were both thrilled and a bit terrified. They were thrilled because there was this behemoth in world of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that was willing to put a large sum of resources into the Willamette Valley. It truly helped to legitimize the area as a world class growing region. But it terrified people for the same reason; they knew that the bar had instantly been raised. This influx of knowledge and experience certainly didn’t solely make the Willamette Valley what it is today but I think most of the producers that are in the valley would tell you that it certainly helped more than it hurt. Fast forward to 2015 and DDO are still cranking out some of the best wines you can find in the valley for fair and affordable prices. No wine better embodies this than the 2013 “Arthur” Chardonnay. Long one of my favorite Chardonnays from Oregon this wine has superb balance and a tremendous weight without ever being cumbersome or flat. Ripe flavors of baked apple, nectarine and pie crust are bolstered by fresh, mouthwatering acidity and lovely subtle lime pith. The touch of new oak, 15%, gives just enough added depth and complexity, not to mention a pleasing honeyed nature, to the wine as to make it far from an oak bomb but still noticeably oak driven. There is just so much to like about this wine no matter what side of the Chardonnay spectrum your taste falls on.
2010 Fort Ross "Fort Ross Vineyard" Fort Ross-Seaview Pinotage
Review Date: 04-14-2015
It’s not every day that I get to write about Pinotage, more less try the few coming from the States, but this certainly is the best I’ve ever seen. Sweet licorice, blueberry, sage and a touch of beef blood flavors come to the fore with a layered approach. Violets and pinning tannins fill the finish in this bold, intense wine that would be perfect for a bacon wrapped filet.
2012 Center of Effort Edna Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 04-01-2015
Rare is the case that a new Chardonnay comes across my desk that really has something to say, but that is exactly what the 2012 Center of Effort did. It spoke, and it did so clearly and efficiently. From estate fruit that is planted to rockier/sandier soils than what’s found in the majority of Edna Valley, this is from one heritage clone of Chardonnay that was planted in 1997. Furthermore the wine making team of Mike Sinor (Ancient Peaks, Sinor-LaVallee) and Nathan Carlson (EOS, Tolosa) select only the best block on the estate property to make this wine. A very rich nose full of brioche, custard and orange oil comes together nicely without being overbearing or over “made” here. Slightly tropical and nicely weighted, this is a full-throttle Chardonnay that is still balanced and energetic. Its backbone of solid calcareous minerality is a wonderful foil to the creamier notes of oak toast, white pineapple and apricot on the palate. Simply put, this is one of the best new $30 Chardonnays I’ve seen this year and a wine that is sure to please fans of the larger side of the varietal while still being intriguing to the folks that are looking for balance above all else.
2013 Mercer Canyons Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 03-20-2015
The Mercer winery was first put on my radar a couple of years back on a field trip to Washington State. We met with the folks behind this large farming operation; they are one of the largest producers of carrots and potatoes in the state, to check out their impressive amount of vineyards. Long one of the main growers for the largest wineries in Washington a number of years ago they decided to start making their own wine off of the better parcels of their sprawling acreage. The “Canyons” series was debuted in 2012 and already has turned heads nationally with its tremendous quality for value ratio. I was shocked on just how pure and clean these wines were. The Chardonnay is a perfect example of this. Pulpy apple aromas fill the nose with a broad streak of vanilla/butterscotch that meld into a rich golden fruited base. Broad and rich but still with a nice airy feel this has all the toasty flavors and yeasty richness that the classic Domestic Chard fans are going to want but also has a pretty floral component and some mellow citrus tones to keep the wine from being bogged down in excess. The best thing here is that this is only $11.99 a bottle which is a paltry sum for a wine that has this much going for it. I think we just found our best “cheap” Chardonnay.
Marietta "Old Vine Red-Lot #62" Red Blend
Review Date: 02-25-2015
For years the Marietta Old Vine Red has been one of the most underappreciated values coming out of California. This non-vintage, multi-varietal and multi-appellation blend has flown under the radar of most affordable minded customers, but in our experience, one try and you’re hooked. We’ve sold it religiously over the last 7-8 years and every year I’m astonished with just how true the flavors are, how fresh the fruit is and how balanced the wine comes off overall. This blend, Lot 62, is every bit as good as any of the other blends, maybe a bit more, as a new estate vineyard has come more on board in this bottling, with pretty graphite, briary berry and a clove/nutmeg spice to the nose. Pulpy and sun-fresh, the ripe, but bone-dry, berry flavors on entry are sure to please with a persistent, bright energy and an underlying pastille spice. Plum and violet combine with a rich, coating nature on the finish to round out this tremendous value for well under $15. Simply put, this is one of the truly best wines in a category with more filler than killer.
Sherman & Hooker's Shebang "Eighth Cuvée" California Red Blend
Review Date: 02-04-2015
When customers ask me about Shebang! I always have the same answer that goes something like, “We’ll it’s probably the best inexpensive wine in the shop right now.” The impressive thing is that I’ve now said that about 4-5 of the 8 cuvees in a row. Somehow Morgan Twain Peterson just keeps rocking out these amazing blends that are some of the most delicious and serious in the category. From a wealth of old vine material throughout the state of California that Morgan has access to this year’s bottling is predominately Zinfandel with pieces of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchet, Grenache, Carignane, Syrah, Mourvedre and Barbera. All of this adds up to a lovely spiced effort full of briary black fruits and an intensity that betrays the $11.99 price point. A wine that you can find new complexities in every time you open a bottle this is as suited for the dinner table as it is for a BBQ rager in someone’s backyard. A can’t miss bottle.
2013 Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir
Review Date: 01-29-2015
With every new release of Banshee I become more and more impressed with just how dedicated to quality these three young men are. This year they’ve really upped their game adding Winemaker Ross Cobb, of Cobb Vineyards, a little known winery to the masses but to us nerds this means something, and moving production to Copain’s new winemaking facility. Both of these moves are apparent to me in this new Sonoma County Pinot Noir. There seems to be a much finer point to the wine this year with better delineation of flavor, more pronounced acidity while still being fully interwoven in the wine and a bit more overall structure. All in all the fruit that most of our customers have come to know and love is still here but there is just a little bit more here than in past vintages. I’ve loved these wines for the value that they offer our customers over the years and I continue to love them for not resting on their laurels but to be in constant pursuit of upping their game.
2013 Alma Rosa Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
Review Date: 01-28-2015
Richard Sanford is a true legend that simply does not receive the credit he deserves. Back in 1971 he planted the first Pinot Noir in the Central Coast at the now famed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Just that act alone has him in the history books yet he still continues to make rock solid and affordable wines, first under his Sanford label that was a staple in fine wine shops in the last three decades of the 20th Century. After a shake up at Sanford, which we won’t get into here, Rick once again set off to create something new, this time Alma Rosa where sustainability was paramount to the winery, both in the vineyards and in the business practices of the winery. Taking this model Rick has made many lovely wines from both his self-planted, historic vineyards and new sites as well. This 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is a perfect example of his craftsmanship. Mostly coming from a 35 year old block of Chardonnay at the White Hills Vineyard this is a powerful wine that betrays its paltry price point. With notes of almond skin, apricot pit, sage and a touch of salinity in the nose there are few rival Chards that can hold a candle to this sort of complexity at this cost. Waves of peach flesh, green apple, sea salt, low toast oak and crushed cashew flavors flow freely on the palate to create a sense of both richness and breadth. If that’s not enough for $15 the finish is long and energetic with lemon zest and a touch of a white floral note. Kudos to Rick and all he has done, for so many years, for all the wine drinkers out there.
2012 Seven Hills Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 01-22-2015
I don’t know how they do it, I really don’t. Somehow Seven Hills puts out a $20 dollar Cabernet every year that just crushes the competition. Deep and inky, this wine has plenty of complexity to offer on the packed nose. Aromas of pencil lead, sweet licorice, pipe tobacco and black olive swirl freely in the glass. Ripe but structured, this is perfectly positioned to be an everyday drinker for fans of big Cabernet. It has enough fruit to please, but enough structure to be friendly at the table. Black tea, currant, ink, wet stone, subtle olive and dried sage flavors combine here for one shockingly complex wine, especially considering the price tag. Be it the super high quality fruit, the fantastic 2012 vintage in Washington or the open, friendly style of the winery but this wine maybe one of the best Columbia Valley bottling I’ve seen from them in the last 4-5 vintages. It’s surely not a wine to be missed.
2013 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel
Review Date: 01-07-2015
Back in 2011 there was quite a scare in the world of Zinfandel. That was the year that the Seghesio Family sold their winery to a large company named Crimson Wine Group. This was a bit unsettling at the time being that the Seghesio Family was second only to the Foppianos for the crown as the longest running winemaking family in Sonoma County. We were all a little depressed by it for a while but then nothing really changed. The family still held control of the old vine plots like Cortina and Home Ranch, Pete stayed on as CEO and Ted as winemaker. The quality and branding was the same as it ever was and quite honestly I think most people even forgot that the Winery changed hands. This was great news to all Zin fans, especially when they kept churning out tremendous, affordable Zin like the 2013 Sonoma County. Just released this is a great wine for $20 with all of is warm spice cake, berry cobbler, whole peppercorn and sweet tea aromatics. Big and burly but with wild acidity acting as a counter weight this has a little something for everyone in the Zin world with its briary richness of fruit, bushels of pepper, fresh berry notes and a sweet oak lacing which ties up the substantial finish. I guess change, or the lack thereof, isn’t always a bad thing!
2012 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Review Date: 12-16-2014
Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? I don’t really know but I think that some old dogs are smart enough to pick some new things up as they go along. That is exactly what Chateau St. Jean did with this brand, spanking new Sonoma Coast bottling. (By the way please don’t confuse this with the Sonoma County bottling that is everywhere and is completely different.) To say that I was taken by surprise by this new wine would be an understatement. I was blown away by the amount of power and richness it had, all the while keeping true, cool weather Sonoma Coast acidity throughout. With a nose laced with apricots, crème brulee and persimmons, while having an underlying citrus backbone, this was completely appealing and felt really natural. On the palate comes waves of vanilla, baked apples, some crushed stone and a lovely white floral highlight. For the under $20 arena of Chardonnay it certainly does not get much better than this. I’d scoop this up before the powers that be at CSJ realize just how good this wine really is!
2012 Michael & David "Freakshow" Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 12-09-2014
Incredibly surprising or surprisingly incredible, either way I think those two statements describe the new releases from the Michael & David winery. Always known for their amusing labels and marketing I think the most recent batch of wines will make people take notice for just how much quality is in the bottle for such little cash. The style of wine is still full throttle, fruit driven and bold, as the wines always have been but there is much better balance in the wines overall and most importantly I found there to be no discernible residual sugar in the wines. These are a must try for fans of exuberant Domestic Wines for reasonable prices. I’m a big fan of party rock. Think Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog album or any of the great Power Pop Albums of the late 70’s early 80’s like The Beat’s Self Titled album. These are certainly not the most critically acclaimed albums but when you hear them, especially at a party they really make everyone feel good, loosen up and start moving around the room. I sort of felt this way about the Freakshow Cab. Not the most critically amazing wine but damn if it doesn’t taste great and won’t please everyone in the room. Under $20 this is like a record that has 3 hits on it that you’ll never get tired of and is in the dollar bin, pure magic. Deep, with silky black fruits and a nice waft of tobacco this is palate coating and intense wine that really brings some fun to the Cabernet game. Blackberry, spice cake, toffee and café con leche flavors are all apparent here and are meshed nicely. It’s going to be hard to beat this cab for this price.
2013 Bethel Heights/K&L Wine Merchants Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
Review Date: 11-12-2014
On our recent trip to Oregon this summer we certainly found plenty of great wines and met with a multitude of amazingly talented people. Many of the wines we found on that trip have already come in and sold out mostly due to our sheer excitement about the quality of wines we found. One of the most exciting opportunities from that trip was to work closely with our friends at Bethel Heights to put together a Pinot Noir exclusive to K&L as part of our burgeoning Co-Branded project. This 2013 Bethel Heights/K&L Wine Merchants Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir ($24.99) is a blend of the young vibrant fruit of the bordering Bjornson Vineyard, a vineyard planted in 1996, and the more nuanced, ethereal fruit from the old Wädenswil block at Bethel Heights Estate, planted in 1977. Ben Casteel (winemaker for BH), the K&L staff and I came up with and tasted numerous blends before we enthusiastically chose the one in the bottle here. We thought it was a perfect middle ground between the sappy, rich black fruits of Bjornson and the more earthen, sage and subtle red fruits from the Estate. We loved how the nose really spoke of classic Oregon Pinot focusing on earthen, sous bois and floral tones rather than chunky fruit. The wine is seamless in texture at this point with a feminine frame and well integrated acid/tannin interplay. A bit of aeration, either by untwisting the convenient Stelvin closure or popping this into a decanter, will really help to heighten the lovely tones of loganberry, evergreen, black currant, white sage, new leather and lavender found here. Thanks to the entire Casteel Family for helping make this wonderful wine that we couldn’t be prouder to have our name on!
2013 Ancient Peaks/K&L Wine Merchants Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 10-06-2014
What we agreed upon for the final blend was as follows: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 15 (the structural and aromatic backbone of the wine), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 49 “A” (the mouthfeel of the wine and oak richness), 10% Malbec from Block 45 (added mid-palate weight and density), 8% Merlot from Block 3 (finishing complexity and length) and 2% Cabernet Franc from Block 9 (toasty oak and sweet spices). This blend was easily the best on the table creating a complete and complex wine that we thought showed both the style of Ancient Peaks and the collective palate of K&L. Plum, cassis and a touch of mildly toasty oak came together instantly for a surprisingly integrated and pretty nose. Ripe, with plenty of plush fruit and a medium-full weighted palate the wine showed plenty of blue/red fruit interplay along with tobacco, gravel and pencil lead. The finish is bright and juicy with a lovely layer of oak toast adding a nice confectionery spice to long and energetic finish.
2013 Talley/K&L Wine Merchants Edna Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-20-2014
Back in the late winter/early spring of this year I was really trying to identify a Chardonnay producer that we might be able to do a co-branded wine with. In looking at what we had and what was popular with our customers, I thought Talley would be a great fit for the project. We spoke and we both agreed that we really were excited to work with each other on this level. So at the end of June I drove down to Arroyo Grande to blend the wine with winemaker Eric Johnson out of barrel. There were 13 barrels for us to choose from, all of which were from one of Talley’s estate vineyards, Oliver’s Vineyard, and I got to select five of those barrels for this blend. What I found that day is that if I could have taken all 13 barrels, I would have. The quality of all the barrels was just superb and really showed off the vineyard and all of the subtleties that Chardonnay can have, but rarely does, in California. The final blend was actually the first we put together and while we futzed with it a bit, we agreed that this blend was always the best blend of the bunch. The nose showed a really delicate interplay of white floral notes, baked apple, sandy soil and a richer core of peach flesh and a hit of tropical fruits. With good entering cut and resonating energy and intensity throughout, this richly weighted Chardonnay never felt bogged down in anything excessive like oak or manipulated buttery richness. Instead it traded on its richly textured mid-palate and wealth of stone fruit and cleansing earth aspects as well as a lifting citrus oil note. I honestly couldn’t be happier with the way this wine came out. Thanks, Talley, for making us such an awesome wine!
2013 Bodkin "The Victor's Spoils - Sandy Bend Vineyard" Lake County Sauvignon Blanc
Review Date: 07-09-2014
Plain and simple I was shocked when I tasted the 2013 Bodkin "The Victor's Spoils -Sandy Bend Vineyard" Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. Why? Because in all my years in this business I can’t remember ever tasting a Domestic Sauvignon Blanc that was this close to the wines of the Loire. From the intense minerality and slight oiliness on the nose to the laser-like acidity and leafy, slate-y, grapefruit, quince and lemon rind on the palate this is a dead ringer for Sancerre or Pouilly Fume for a fraction of the cost. Hell, even some of our most Francophillic employees were raving about this wine after trying it. Seriously if you love Loire Sauvignon Blanc this is a must try, I think you’ll be as floored as I was.
2009 Ici/La-Bas "Les Reveles-Elke Vineyard" Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Review Date: 05-19-2014
I’ve had a thing for the Ici/La-Bas wines for years. I was always trying to hunt them down in years past to no avail. They seemed to always be in reach but yet just out of my grasp. I just had to have Anderson Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from one of my favorite winemakers. Finally they are here and I couldn’t be more excited with what is in the bottle. If you are a fan of wines that show off a place rather than the persona of a winemaker look no further. I can think of very few wines from the Anderson Valley that taste, so, well, Anderson Vally-ish. Rosemary, anisette, beet root and piney bark combine on the savory, earth driven nose. Tangy from the moment this enters the mouth and developing a wealth of exotic spices as it unfurls its layers one after another on the mid-palate. Plum, sassafras, green/foresty underbrush, white cherry and a solid framing of oaken spice make this not only entirely drinkable but a wine that also is horribly underappreciated and unknown. Be the first on your block…
2011 Hendry "Block 7 & 22" Napa Valley Zinfandel
Review Date: 02-26-2014
Hendry long has flown under the radar in the world of Zinfandel except with maybe the most ardent fans of the varietal. They don't do a lot self promotion and they don’t have a big flashy building on Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail in Napa. All they do is quietly make amazing wines, their Zinfandels long my favorites from their bench land vineyards. This Block 7&22 Zin is one of the best I've seen in the past few years with alluring aromas of warm soil, blackberry, pastilles and subtle pepper notes. This is the rarest kind of Zin in my book, one of refinement and poise rather than hammering weight and extraction. Lithe and friendly from the moment it hits the palate this is full of black currant, bittersweet chocolate and a pleasing undercurrent of savory herbs and iron rich soil. Long and lasting with great finishing acidity this Zin is going to be much more appropriate on your dinner table than as a cocktail wine, even with its balanced 15.5% ABV. This makes me want roast pork with crispy skin really bad!
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales "Bam Biere" Farmhouse Ale, Michigan 750ml
Review Date: 05-25-2010
The Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales "Bam Biere" is one of the best work horse beers out there. Made in the style of a Saison this is one of the best interpretations coming out of the US right now. With its yeasty, fruity nose of peach, apricot, fresh bread dough, tangerine and a pinch of clove this is about as traditional as Saison gets. Lightweight on the palate but full of flavor the beer displays flavors of brewer’s yeast, fried plantains, wet earth, savory grassy tones and a bit of drying hoppiness in the finish. The sweet/bitter interplay here is perfect, keeping the beer from ever getting out of balance or cloying white the understated fruitiness builds complexity as it goes. Big time Boosh!
West County Cider "Redfield" Cider, Massachusetts 750ml
Review Date: 05-25-2010
A perfect summer beverage is the West County Cider "Redfield" Cider. This is far from your typical cider made from the apple varietal of Redfield which is red fleshed giving the cider its brilliant orange, ruby color. Aromas of raspberry, rose water, mango and warm clay are wonderfully alluring and really add a separate dimension that most will not expect from cider. The cheery, bright flavors of cherry, cinnamon and pear build on each other developing acidity and cut as they go until you reach the grainy bittersweet apple quality towards the center of the mid palate. Mildly tannic and totally serious this has the ability to change any negative opinions you may have had about cider in the past. Total Boosh!