I love K & L Wine Merchants so well that it is difficult for me to adequately describe it, let alone be rational or objective. Really, they’re the wine merchants with whom I compare all the others, often to the competitors’ disadvantage.
Located in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, they’ve also got shops in Redwood City and in Hollywood. In my opinion, they are the finest purveyor of wine in the City for a number of reasons. First, they’ve got a huge selection. I’ve read that K & L is the largest importer of Bordeaux on the West Coast, for example. But they also shine in other French regions, like our favorite, the Rhône, in Italy, California and other parts of the New World. Sure, sure, they don’t have everything (I’ve often wished for a bigger variety of Terodelgo or more dry Portuguese, for instance) but they sure have a lot.
The wines run the gamut between bargain basement to ultra-exclusive, with everything in between. I have fun reading the latest issue of Wine Spectator then searching the K & L web site for wines that sound appealing, and often, the store has them.
The web site is great, and has to be the second best thing about K and L after their wide and varied selection. The site lets you do all the things that you expect a web site will do: search by region, price, type of wine or variety of grape, vintage, still versus sparkling, or even professional rating score, plus you can search in all combinations of the above. You can create an account and train it to scan the database for your particular wine-du-jour and get e-mail updates. You can order wine through the site and either arrange for delivery or pick it up in any of the shops. Most of the wines listed have some descriptions, both by workers at the store and professionals. Best of all, the site will give you an up-to-the-minute account of wine inventories at any of their locations, including the warehouse, thus eliminating the guesswork. They’ll even ship wine between stores, at your convenience, all free of charge. You can’t say that about the web sites for other wine shops. I really like The Wine Club and all the exciting changes they’ve been making lately, but their site is so not user-friendly and frankly, I find it almost impossible. The Wine House site is nearly as bad. And forget Kermit Lynch! I like them but they’re still living in the computer dark ages without a real online store at all.
K & L offers all the “regular stuff” that you expect from a wine shop: good customer service, pre-arrival sales, discounts, wine tasting and special events. Many of these feature Bordeaux and Champagne this time of the year but recently we enjoyed a really fun Rhône tasting a few Saturdays ago.
I prefer the San Francisco location over the Redwood City one. It is closer to me (I can walk there at lunch from work). Also, physically, it looks more attractive, with tall ceilings in an airy well-lit space. The RC spot seems closed in by comparison. I haven’t yet gone to the Hollywood shop, so I reserve judgment on that.
My “third” most favorite thing has to be that warm comfortable feeling I get when I enter the shop, gaze at the racks and racks of gleaming bottles lined up everywhere, and daydream about their places of origin, how the wines might taste and occasionally, fondly remember enjoying that bottle or two at some wonderful meal with friends and loved ones. Strike that “third.” Maybe that’s my favorite part of K & L after all?
You don’t have to visit the place to shop there, though that is best. K & L will ship to many states (but not Virginia, which is a real nuisance come holiday time as my father, a wine lover, lives in that Commonwealth). Whatever else you do, and I don’t ever use this word lightly, you’d be crazy not to check it out.