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Staff Favorites - Gary Westby
Gary Westby | Send Email | Subscribe to My Sommelier Service
I started at K&L in February of 2000, after 4 years of working down the street for another retailer, and although I take care of the Champagne buying here at K&L, I love to drink wine from all over the world. I prize authenticity in wine, and love representative examples of many different styles, whether it is a spicy dry creek zinfandel or a mineral driven Manzanilla. I almost always drink my wine with food, and am drawn to food wines rather than the softer styles that are good for drinking on their own. My wife Cinnamon and I cook a lot of Italian & French food at home, and my list of wines reflects those food choices. I also love value, at every price point, and can't stand "prestige" labels that under deliver in the bottle. I love honest wines for the table. If you love good wine to go with your good cooking too, I think that by joining my personal Sommelier list you will be treated to a wide variety of wines that represent a strong value for money at what ever price range you feel comfortable with. Give it a try!
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Coniston Brewing Company "Bluebird Bitter" England 500ml
Review Date: 4-17-2009
This hoppy bitter deserves the accolades it has received; which include the Campaign for Real Ale's "Ale of the Year" in 2008. Bright, refreshing bitterness, balanced by high quality but extraordinarily restrained maltiness and very low alcohol make this a true session beer - perfect for occasions when having a few more than one. This will be in my cellar (they suggest 58 degree serving temperature) from now on!
Hendrick's Scottish Gin 750ml
Review Date: 3-27-2009
Scotland has more to offer than just great whisky... This gin is world class too! Cinnamon and I are both big fans of the old "mother's ruin" and always keep a variety on hand. Along with Fernet Branca and Rittenhouse Rye, this is one of the most repeated bottles of spirits in our liquor cabinet. This is a gentle style of gin, not extra proof or supercharged with juniper, yet it is could never be given the old put-down "vodka lovers gin"- it has far too much balanced flavor for that. The cucumber and rose petal elements in this fine spirit lend a cooling and subtly aromatic touch rather than being overt flavorings. I love it with tonic, and just the smallest corner of one of our homegrown Meyer lemons.
Sandeman 20-year-old Tawny Port
Review Date: 3-25-2009
This is my top 20 year Tawny, and perhaps my favorite tawny in the store. It has a very pale amber color and a serious old solera nose. On the palate the Port is full bodied, with candied citrus and roasted, salted almond flavors. The perfectly balanced sweetness and long finish complete the package. This is a great tawny - at any age. I am looking forward to pairing it with a cheese course at my next dinner party, and Ligia from Sandeman showed us how well it works with milk chocolate as well!
Anchor Junipero Gin 750ml
Review Date: 3-14-2009
Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing fame is a hero of mine. Everything he is involved with, from Anchor Steam beer (my personal desert island beer) to his exceptional York Creek wines and his Protero distillations, are among the best in the world. I always blame my English heritage for my strong attraction to gin, but this all-American creation is certainly one of my favorites. While very light in body, this is strong stuff at nearly 100 proof, and has a huge amount of very clean juniper flavor. I love it with ice, lime and tonic, but it is also a fantastic martini gin.
Baron Fuente "Esprit" Brut Champagne
Review Date: 3-13-2009
Eric de Brisis from Champagne Baron Fuente just visited us (3/11/09) here at K&L, and we had a great time with him. We did tastings in both the San Francisco and Redwood City stores and had a lot of good customers come and taste. The star of the tasting was this Esprit. Not many Champagne houses make a non-vintage wine like this, with such a suave texture from long aging, and none at such a low price. This is elegant Champagne for sure; not at all austere, yet in no way sweet, a balanced and fine aperitif.
Fernet Branca 750ml
Review Date: 3-5-2009
Fernet has a following that borders on a cult here at the K&L. The ultimate in "acquired tastes" this herbal digestif is rarely enjoyed by the imbiber the first time. But, in the wine business, we often times have meals that are a little bit bigger than normal, and need a little something to settle our stomachs, and nothing on the planet is better than Fernet. Cinnamon is an evangelical convert to this magic elixir, and having less than half of a bottle of it in our liquor cabinet is an emergency situation. We even have Fernet posters in our living room - no lie! Try this out the next time you need a little help settling your stomach after a big meal... You'll learn to love the herbal taste.
Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne
Review Date: 2-25-2009
This is one of our longest running direct import Champagnes- we have been carrying it now for almost 10 years. It had been a while (months at least!) since I had drunk a bottle of the Aspasie Blanc de Blancs, so Cinnamon and I put matters to right last Friday night. We had a dinner date just four blocks from our house, so we filled up a couple of flutes and enjoyed the Champagne on our walk in the neighborhood, and even received a jealous comment from a neighbor on our way. This is K&L's creamiest Blanc de Blanc: full-bodied, gentle, and brimming with a soft mousse. It is festive Champagne, and drinking it outside got our party started early. This is a top recommendation for your next party - no matter how small!
Drink from 2009 to 2014
Ramos Pinto Quinta Ervamoira 10-year-old Tawny Port
Review Date: 2-19-2009
A single-vineyard Port is an elegant way to finish any meal, and since this particular wine has already been aged 10 years in barrel, it is ready to go. One needn't worry about if suffering from oxidation either, after 10 years of slow exposure in oak, a few months re-corked in your cellar or liquor cabinet will not hurt it. This has more vintage-like power and full black fruit than your average 10 year tawny, and goes very well with cobblers and pies as well as the more traditional match with cheese.
Aperol Aperitivo Liqueur 750ml
Review Date: 2-11-2009
Quite a few Aperol bottles have made it into the Westby family recycling bin by way of our liquor cabinet. Cinnamon and I love to make Champagne cocktails with it, a habit that K&L's own Doug Davidson got us started on. Since Aperol has quite a moderate alcohol content (at 11%, it is even less than Champagne!) it isn't quite as dangerous to drink while cooking as other cocktails we enjoy. The recipe is simple: fill a rocks glass thoroughly with ice, add one shot of Aperol, fill the remainder with Champagne (it is great with the Michel Dervin) and add a twist of orange. It is also great with just plain soda and a twist.
2006 Cantemerle, Haut-Mťdoc
Review Date: 2-11-2009
I have written a lot in these staff reviews about the virtues of wel-balanced claret, and if you have patience to wait 6 or 7 years, I believe this wine will come to epitomize that virtue. Anyone with a cellar and a love for Cabernet-based wines should strongly consider this wine for a case purchase. Clyde, Alex B, Alex P, Ralph, Joe Z, Steve and I tasted through an entire ballroom of 2006 Bordeaux at the UGC tasting this January and all of us agreed that the Cantemerle was one of the stars. I thought it was THE star, since the other wines in its class were all more than twice its price, and many wines three times its price could not even touch it! It is perfumed, layered, cassis-driven and framed (but in no way dominated) by oak on the nose and follows through with richness that is not at all overweight on the palate. It is great Bordeaux for a small price; all you have to do is cellar it!!
Bruno Michel Premier Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Review Date: 2-5-2009
This was the top wine from my April 2008 trip, and it resuscitated me from my flu while I was working sick at my visit to Bruno's property in Pierry. Top class Blanc de Blancs should shimmer, and this does one better, it almost vibrates with refreshing vigor. Like a great Burgundy, this Champagne tells the story of its site, the very cool "Les Brousses" parcel in the Premier Cru village of Pierry. The deep roots of the 45-year-old Chardonnay vines extract a lot of complex minerality from the ancient chalk, and Bruno's all-old-barrel regimen for fermentation and aging, round out the wine. We have drunk quite a bit of this cuvee at home, and it is a favorite with take-out sushi, and I dare say that a good order from the raw bar and this bottle will transform a dull Tuesday into a celebration. It does well with the variety, going from spicy tuna rolls to unagi with aplomb. It is quintessential Champagne from a very special plot.
Ramos Pinto White Port
Review Date: 2-5-2009
This dangerously delicious wine has a permanent spot in our home refrigerator door, and the empties are a constant feature in our recycling bin. A blend of several vintages that have been aged in large barrels, it takes a while for the wine to oxidize... Exactly how long we are not sure. The bottles simply have not lasted long enough for us to figure it out! I drink it as the main description recommends, on the rocks with a slice (or twist) of orange, but sometimes also use a Meyer lemon off the tree if my lovely wife is feeling generous enough to give one up. As soon as it is made, I check the clock - and won't allow myself a second one for another 15 minutes. This drink goes down far too easily, and will catch even an experienced wine professional by surprise! It is one of my favorite ways to make the transformation of day into evening!
Cadenhead's Old Raj Gin 110 Proof 750ml
Review Date: 1-20-2009
When is a gin worth $50 a bottle? When it tastes like this! I have far too much English blood in my veins, and gin is part of my heritage... I can't resist the stuff. This is simply one of the best, combing the wild exoticism of saffron with the staid authority and elegance of royalty. Cinnamon and I always keep a bottle in the house; it is a luxury worth indulging in. I love it for gin & tonic, as it says on the label "after the hunt"...
Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof, Bottled in Bond 750ml
Review Date: 1-20-2009
I can't say that we have anything- spirits, wine, beer or other that delivers as much value as this superlative spirit. When Susan Purnell secured our first allocation of this producerís rye, I immediately bought a bottle of this and the 21 year old. I loved the 21 year old, which I opened first, and was completely amazed by the standard bottling. If you have never had rye, you no longer have an excuse not to try it- if you love rye, do not let the low price fool you. This is a rich spirit, but does not have any of the bubble gum sweetness that small batch bourbons are often afflicted with. It also has a wild streak- think rye bread- that is hard to pin down. I enjoy the Rittenhouse on the rocks after dinner most often, but sometimes also indulge in an absinthe sazerac with this rye as the star ingredient. Feel free to write me for the recipe!
Ardbeg 10 Year Old Islay Single Malt Whisky
Review Date: 1-14-2009
How does one judge a fine drink? My father and I have talked about this subject a lot, and one of his key questions is, "would I return to it?" With this expression of Ardbeg, my answer is a big yes. Susan just sold me a bottle of what will be the sixth expression of Ardbeg in my liquor cabinet at present. I love this distillery, and jump at the chance to buy each new bottling that comes our way... Yet I am drawn back most often to the distillery ten. It is the lightest, the brightest, the most untamed by wood and time of all of the Ardbegs we carry. It is full of peat - My wife Cinnamon can often smell it from across the room as I pour and will complain about it. So, don't by it for someone who does not like peat - they will hate it! I am sure that I return to it because it has the peat flavor that I love, but without the oily heaviness that I don't want after a big meal, and after a big meal is when I want Scotch the most. Donít get me wrong, I love the variety and still drink my other bottles (all of which were more expensive), but I just empty this one fastest. It is delicious, and well worth the modest price.
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