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Staff Favorites - Mahon McGrath
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2012 Neyers "Sage Canyon" Rhone Blend
Review Date: 3-9-2014
Gamy strawberry aromas pair with floral brightness in this vivacious, light-medium bodied, moderately tannic red. Taste it, and the florality takes the upper hand; the wine seems to ascend, though it keeps some dry spice flavors lower down, which emerge on the finish, and tether this balloon to earth. You may not imagine yourself in the French Mediterranean while sipping this, but for a California red blend in that style, this is compelling and integral.
2010 Joseph Jewell "Hallberg Vineyard" Russian River Pinot Noir
Review Date: 3-9-2014
Rich dark cherry aromas mingle with sassafras on the nose of this Russian River Pinot Noir. On the palate, the fruit has a very natural, un-confected power to it, with shadings of rosehip leading to a lively, vibrant finish.
Powers & Sons 12 Year Old John's Lane Pot Still Irish Whiskey 750ml
Review Date: 1-20-2014
The all pot-stilled Powers John’s Lane bottling really ratchets up the intensity and complexity from the usual run of Irish whiskies, while remaining true to type. You’d never mistake this for Bourbon, Scotch or any other style of whiskey. The nose gives up orange marmalade, yellow plum, honeysuckle, powdery vanilla, and cedar, before a duet between toasted graininess and yuzu fruit, with spice and crème brulee accents, begins on the palate. I hope we soon see more like this!
Lot 40 Rye 2012 Release Canadian Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 1-20-2014
Unctuous and rich, this Canadian Rye packs in an intriguing array of flavors that stays true to the character of the grain. Style-wise, it skews to the sweeter side of things, with a fat mid-palate, and a supple, seamless texture. This is definitely the best new addition to the--of recent days--rather un-crowded field of contemplative, sipping Rye Whiskeys that I've had occasion to sample.
2011 Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir
Review Date: 12-6-2013
Pinot Noir is still one of the most difficult grapes to get right in general, but especially at the lower end of the price spectrum, and Chalone has done a commendable job with their 2011 Monterey County Pinot Noir. Cherry-berry flavors, with just a smidgeon of cocoa, have the concentration to show to good effect while happily staying this side of understated, skewing more tart than sweet.
2011 Soter "North Valley" Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir
Review Date: 11-13-2013
Soter has shown a masterly hand in the 2011 North Valley. This is spritely, dynamic Willamette Pinot Noir. Dark cherry and rosehip notes, with a dry edge, on the nose segue into lifted berry flavors buttressed by a dusting of earthy cocoa. The slight chalk of the tannins adds texture to the vibrant, lively finish.
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.
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