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Staff Favorites - Mahon McGrath
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Sean Thackrey "Pleiades XXIII" Old Vine Red Blend
Review Date: 11-10-2013
The twenty-third Pleiades features aromas of tart raspberry backed with lily. I almost want to say rhubarb, but it never quite gets all the way there. A smidgeon of discrete toast backs the vibrant fruit on the palate. Compared to the previous release, this has a more ample mid-palate, and more of a sense of continuity from beginning to end, while remaining a very light on its feet and graceful, with a transparency of flavor many a Ca. Pinot Noir wishes it had.
1989 Schloss Schönborn Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Riesling Auslese
Review Date: 11-9-2013
Of the three older bottlings we’ve got from Schloss Schonborn, this is the vintage which is at full maturity. The wine, however, has plenty of power left. The nose suggests dried roses, dried peach, and quince, this last of which continues on the palate to be joined by apricot preserves, orange marmalade, and caraway. Texturally, this is viscous, full, round, and dense. The impression conveyed isn’t of a melodic air, but more as if a complex chord was resolutely struck on a keyboard, and sustained until fading out. Though not anywhere nearly so sweet, there is a Sauterne-esque aspect to this Auslese’s aromas that makes me wonder if there wasn’t a bit of botrytis that year.
2008 Camiana "Blue Hall Vineyards" Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 9-9-2013
Roasted berry fruit, with an almost beefy dimension, picks up a hint of menthol-eucalyptus, and a dusty quality, on the nose of the 2008 Camiana Blue Hall Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The dust carries through to the cassis, plum, and blue berry fruit on the palate, which, while the most prominent feature here, is neither heavy nor candied. Tannins are present, but open, as are the subtle vanilla shadings lurking underneath. A winner for immediate consumption, this has enough character and dimensionality to take it outside of the ordinary.
2011 Stolpman "Estate" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah
Review Date: 8-31-2013
An enveloping bouquet of meaty, peppery, charcoal intensity in the 2011 Stolpman Syrah finds a pretty floral lift. Tart berry and plum flavors, with a suggestion of hot asphalt, come through on this medium-full bodied wine, before it finishes long, bright, and fresh, with negligible tannins, and considerable suavity.
James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey 750ml
Review Date: 4-29-2013
Surprisingly sweet and round, with lemon, mandarin peel, and pine contrasting toasted almond, marshmallow, and vanilla, there is a solid depth of flavor here for a two year old rye. That being said, if you plan to make a Manhattan or some similar creation, go with a lighter sweet vermouth and be chary with it. I find this works best for my palate in cocktails with just a few small additions. As an aside, it is refreshing to see that the bottle's legend freely admits to the whiskey being from sourced barrels, while the label's own distillates are coming of age.
Plymouth Navy Strength Gin 750ml
Review Date: 11-4-2012
It had been bruited about that such a creature as “navy strength” Plymouth gin existed, or once had, and here in the midst of the great cocktail revival, where many a long-lost dream comes true, it once more graces these shores. If you’re familiar with Plymouth gin, there are no great surprises in store for you here; which is just fine. Why mess with success? The Navy Strength bottling is simply a brawnier version of the classic Plymouth taste. When this is, for instance, mixed up simply 1:1 gin to vermouth(Noilly Prat), no garnish, as a Wondrich reprint of an early 1850's San Francisco Gibson recipe suggests, this is a fabulous drink, and one in which a standard proof just wouldn't cut it. With the Navy Stength, you can taste the gin’s presence clearly and distinctly. An excellent addition to the canon!
Tempus Fugit Kina L'Avion D'Or Aperitif 750ml
Review Date: 10-8-2012
Does Kina l’Avion d’Or replace Lillet? Not exactly; more like compliments Lillet. While you can have a glass of Lillet all by itself, L’Avion is much too sweet for such a maneuver. The bitterness is also, correspondingly, more pronounced in the l’Avion d’Or, though it is still only moderately bitter. What is different is the scope. It would be more correct to say that it has an array of bitter flavors. When mixing, those flavors and l’Avion’s over-all robustness really stand out when you substitute this in a cocktail in place of Lillet. I think you might even find you want to adjust your proportions accordingly to take that into account. The fact that this is so clearly its own creature is to be commended, and provides plenty of room for the imagination to invent new drinks as well as showing established recipes in a different light.
Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe 750ml
Review Date: 9-4-2012
I admit, I had my doubts. While a devoted fan of the sweetly aromatic, cooling smell of fresh mint, any attempt to capture that essence always seems to me to come up short. This liqueur comes about as close as I reckon you can. It doesn’t, naturally, take the place of fresh mint in cocktails; as much as it is true to the flavor, it is best considered as its own creature. It mixes splendidly, especially in gin drinks, where the juniper and the crème de menthe get together and execute a sort of cool tango on your tongue, and in a way that muddled sprigs wouldn't. So, yeah, I'm a convert: this is well worth checking this out.
Byrrh Grand Quinquina Aperitif 750ml
Review Date: 9-4-2012
What sort of aperitif is this? I'd liken it more to Dubonnet than sweet Vermouth, though it has a brighter, fresher berry-fruit character to Dubonnet's plush, bass heavy profile, and a more pronounced bitterness as a counterpoint. Note, though, that this is skewed more towards the sweet than the bitter, and therefore seems to me to suggest it wants dilution of some sort, whether passively by serving it over ice, or through mixing: dust off your copy of the Savoy Cocktail book for a few suggestions on how to get started if that latter course strikes your fancy.
Leopold Bros Navy Strength Gin 750ml
Review Date: 8-3-2012
As noted, this is NOT the same creature as the Leopold Bros small batch gin. At first, you might think it bears no resemblance; the aromatic profile is markedly different and I don't think anybody would want to sip this as is. What happens, though, when you mix it, is that that recognizable Leopold's suppleness of texture comes out. True, the botanicals here sing out clearly even when you are mixing it 1:1:1, but it still comes across more polished than savage, with the result that you can more easily plug this into a wide variety of recipes with excellent results.
Leopold Bros Orange Liqueur 750ml
Review Date: 6-19-2012
Ever notice the way things can seem to recede from you apace with the attention you give to them? What seems a solid, known quantity or concept—a river, say—can be, depending on where you observe it from, both a bubbling spring on down to a many branched, meandering delta, and so is not one thing but many things. And even observing the portion that accords with the more straight forward conception of “river” is, itself, is up for question: where it is can shift drastically, and what it is, too: spring’s rush to fall’s hush, never exactly the same, as the old saw goes, twice. If there is a fault, it owes not so much to our perception and experience as to the limitation inherent in creating an idea of, and a name for, a phenomena or process both varied and fluxional. “What the heck does this all this have to do with orange liqueur!?” I can hear you wondering. Well, where once there was but Cointreau and Grand Marinier at the top, in recent years, the narrow scope of high-quality sweetened spirits flavored with oranges has burst its banks and proliferated considerably. You have at once recreations of historic recipes as well as re-imaginings with different spirit bases, or, as in this case, different oranges, specifically bergamot here. Considering the ongoing popularity of Earl Grey tea, and the ubiquity of bergamot as a component in perfumery, I’d say the Leopold Bros decision to include bergamot in the recipe for their orange liqueur constitutes a very sage twist on the Curacao tradition. While the aroma and flavor is distinctive, it is not so far removed from traditional preparations that it cannot be profitably put to use in cocktail recipes calling for triple sec, etc. If it is not the one orange liqueur everyone must have, I nevertheless heartily recommend it both as a tasty, finely crafted spirit and as a ingenious expansion of the possibilities of the genre’s boundaries, a welcome additional texture to the multiplicity of expressions the concept of orange liqueur is capable of.
Ferrand 1840 Formula 90 proof Cognac 750ml
Review Date: 5-31-2012
There aren’t a bevy of Cognacs out there built for mixing. This one has two things going for it: 45% abv, and a formulation that is an attempt to recreate the flavor profile of a pre-phylloxera Cognac. So, does it fly? Yes, it does. That little bit extra strength combined with the robust flavor profile gives this the power to really sing out in mixed drinks where other Cognacs might just fade into the background. The flavor is mostly in the dry fruit and new leather vein, with a papery vanilla, and some citron and bergamot, in the background in this plump, round, reasonably sweet brandy. Try a sidecar with it and see for yourself!
Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey 750ml
Review Date: 4-15-2012
This cask strength bottling of Red Breast certainly ratchets up the drama. There is more oomph, more richness and intensity, on both nose and palate. It remains, however, an Irish pure pot still whiskey foremost, and as such bears closer kinship to its more familiar version lower proof bottling than to the untamed ferocity of something like a George T Stagg. You ain’t toying with no pipsqueak, though; you will want ice or water or a bit of both to round the edge off. You get a wonderful range of baked banana, dried fruits, butterscotch and sweet grain, enlivened by a citric note that keeps things from seeming cloying or fatty. The finish here rolls on like thunder—well, civilized thunder, anyway. I’d note, too, that if you’re mixing a Manhattan-style cocktail with Irish whiskey, this is probably the best one for the job I’ve come across to date. The cask strength really keeps the whiskey from getting lost amidst the other ingredients.
Hidalgo "Napoleon" Amontillado Sanlucar de Barrameda (500ml)
Review Date: 1-21-2012
This has a meaty, rich, sweet date scented nose with toasted walnut and almond behind it. Once sipped, you recognize immediately that this sherry was none of the fat you might expect. While the flavors have good depth, this is quite devoid of heaviness and has plenty of salty, lip-smacking tang. The finish is lively and bracingly fresh, with a slight chalkiness and a lingering almond character. You can luxuriate in this Amontillado without the flavors ever cloying. With that said, however, you just might have to keep an eye that the 17.5% doesn’t get the better of you…
Rare Wine Company Historic Series Charleston Sercial Madeira
Review Date: 11-27-2011
The dominant character here is a subdued toasted nuttiness, not specifically almond or walnut, with undercurrents of dried fruit. The palate is another thing altogether. This is one a wine that succeeds more on texture than nuance of flavor. While it is a sweet wine, it doesn’t put itself across the way a sauterne or even a sweet sherry would. It is as though you’d put the proverbial “spoon full of sugar” in your mouth-though for the purposes of this analogy we’d better make sure you’re visualizing raw sugar-and then sucked a fat wedge of lime. The tremendous acidity doesn’t just balance out the sweetness, but actually overcompensates for it, making it seem to finish much drier than it started and lip-smacking, too. Singular stuff. Works pretty nice with a slice of pumpkin pie and I’d wager you would get good mileage out of it with well-seasoned meaty bites, say dumplings of some sort.
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