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Staff Favorites - Mahon McGrath
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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.
El Dorado 15 year old Demerara Guyana Rum 750ml (ships in a 1.5 box)
Review Date: 7-1-2011
Demerara-rah; that’s the spirit! The El Dorado 15 year certainly shows the benefits of the time that the spirit spent in barrel in the initial intensity of the nose and palate. What is better still is it pulls back a bit towards the finish and finds a little reserve, avoiding the bombast of certain other “too much isn’t nearly enough” long-aged spirits. Toasted chestnuts, antique woodsy vanilla and candied pear, papaya and pineapple ornament a core of lush, sweet sugar cane that switches about between the continuum of sugar-brown sugar-molasses without ever settling on just one, a sort of olfactory iridescence. Pull up an evening and a chair and settle in; you’ll want to linger long—in the same way that the finish does—with this rum.
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda (375ml)
Review Date: 5-30-2011
This manzanilla plays down the toasted almond dimension of sherry, and offers instead clean, vibrant, salty aromas coupled with golden apple and a little sprinkling of parsley, even. Take a sip, and you’ll find a smooth texture and a pleasantly plump middle palate, finishing with a citric pucker and a lingering evocation of wet stone. Well worth trying where you’d normally reach for muscadet, say.
Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch Bourbon 750ml (ships as a 1.5L)
Review Date: 4-28-2011
This has got to be one of the best values in an aged bourbon that we carry. The 12 years this spent in barrel is amply attested to by the nose: full, heavy, oaky vanilla fudge, a beam of bright maple syrup, peach and loads of spice. The flavors follow in a similar vein, with good richness of body. Relatively smooth, there is only a slight rasp from the oak aging and the finish brings back some of that light, bright vertical maple character. To my taste, it is a little too contumacious to use in a mixed drink; I recommend you sip this one only, but that, of course, in whatever fashion you like.
Tempus Fugit Liqueur De Violettes 750ml
Review Date: 3-30-2011
One could reasonably expect a violet liqueur to taste like… well, violets, no? And yet, of the four varieties I’ve had occasion to sample, none taste exactly like the others. This new bottling, in my estimation, happens to be one of the best. Why do I say that? Pour a jigger of it over some ice cubes and add some soda. Take a sip. This is a liqueur with an arc, the flavor moving from a dry, dry-woodsy start into cool berry fruit and then on into a dusty, tranquil, ethereal twilight. Since it doesn’t have any coloring added, it won’t stain your drink a pretty purple-blue, but that is a small price to pay for the clarity of flavor it offers.
Leopold Bros. American Whiskey 750ml
Review Date: 2-28-2011
This whiskey is an act of historical imagination. It joins a small number of commercially available whiskeys, such as Anchor Distilling's Old Potrero bottlings, that attempt to replicate the American whiskeys of an era long gone. I say imagination because, from what records have come down to us, the heterogeneity of whiskey in olden days, even from within a given time and place, is its chief feature, so some selectivity is naturally required. That said, you really can immediately taste and smell how different the Leopold Bros. whiskey is from the vast main of modern American whiskey making. The nose comes across like an eau-de-vie of grain. The grain shows prominently on nose and palate, somewhere between fresh corn meal and a toastier, popped corn note. The rye in the mash seems mainly to keep that from becoming overwhelming, giving it a little dimension, without showing up prominently itself. A sweet fruit component plays counterpoint and in the background are soft vanilla and caramel notes. Texturally, this feels closer to cognac than bourbon. It has the softness of cool silk being drawn over your skin and this in a younger whiskey(while there is no age statement, but I don't reckon this spent too many years in barrel). Most young whiskeys only wish they were this smooth; heck, so do some older whiskeys. What to do with it beyond sipping might require a little experimentation. A mint julep worked brilliantly, a manhattan less so. TKO by Carpano Antica in the first round; I think the vermouth has more vanilla than the whiskey does. All said, this does not simply carve itself a niche within an existing distilling tradition but re-invigorates and enlarges the possibilities inherent in American whiskey making by harkening back to the methods employed in the industries youth. As such, it makes interesting drinking for that reason alone. Of course, history aside, it doesn't hurt that it tastes great, too.
Leopold Bros. Small Batch American Gin 750ml
Review Date: 1-31-2011
Damn, this is pretty! So very pretty-pretty! Juniper shares the stage with a prominent sweet citrus oil component and a delicately floral dimension in the nose. While the Leopold’s would have to be counted amongst new-styled American gins, I think it is really in a category all its own. Why? Take a sip. Yes; just of the gin straight, at room temperature. This is gentler, softer, suppler, and more delicate than any gin I’ve heretofore had occasion to taste. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily advise this for use in every cocktail recipe out there. For people who want that indomitable juniper character shining through in a drink despite citrus juices, liqueurs, bitters, absinthe, whatever you might throw at a gin in the course of making a cocktail, well, this probably isn’t that spirit. In more gin-centric drinks, this is beautiful, fresh, gracefully perfumed... and well worth a try!
North Shore Gin No. 11
Review Date: 11-29-2010
This is a very smooth take on a London dry style of gin. There is noticeably less “bite” here than with a good many other gins in the same style. The botanicals are well balanced, too: while you’re never in any doubt that there are juniper berries present, it doesn’t spell out JUNIPER in block caps; more like Spencerian script. Clean citrus and warm spice notes flesh out the cool, clear juniper. While it doesn’t lack for flavor, this is more about grace than force. So; if you didn’t believe the dog pile of reviews on this gin already, now I’m giving you my two cents: well worth trying!
The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters 200ml
Review Date: 10-26-2010
I was intrigued to find that the folks at The Bitter Truth had undertaken a version of Jerry Thomas' Decanter Bitters. I say version, because the original recipe, as it was printed back in the nineteenth century, called for only five flavorings, one of which, snakeroot, has since been banned for human consumption by virtue of its toxicity. The guys at the Bitter Truth were also, by their own admission, presuming that the maestro would not have divulged all the ingredients for his famous bitters to the general public and therefore fleshed out or accentuated the basic formula, minus the snakeroot. Being a decanter bitter, this was intended to be drunk by the glass as a "tonic" back in the day. What we're looking at here, with the J.T.'s Own Decanter Bitters, is to my mind more of a dashing affair. The bottles dasher top is the first clue to that, naturally, but if you taste a wee bit of it on its own, as I did, you'll find it a shade too pungent to ever contemplate drinking by the glass. Feel free to prove me wrong. So, what does it taste like? This is fully bitter, smooth, mellow and dry, with a dominant allspice-clove flavor and subdued orange-tangerine peel accents. It smells much the same, with a undercurrent of vanilla. I want to say it reminds me of an apothecary's shop but I've never been to one. Damn. In an old fashioned it works nicely, but it probably won't edge out your other favorites in a Manhattan. It is distinctive, being both less sweet and less aggressive than many of the other bitters out there and definitely worthy experimenting with.
Tempus Fugit Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur 750ml
Review Date: 10-18-2010
For long years, Campari was the only game in town for a bitter of this sort. It has fans both loyal and ardent and is indeed wonderful. Campari tastes to my palate mainly about the contrast of bitter and sweet. The Gran Classico seems a touch gentler compared to it, easing back a wee bit on the bitter and then fleshing out that bitter-sweet polarity with a plusher range of dry woodsy spice, citrus and herbal accents, without ever obscuring the basic character. I wouldn’t think of Gran Classico so much as a replacement for or an improvement on Campari but as a worthy addition to the genre. Some cocktails, like the Old Pal, really do come to life with the Gran Classico in a way they never did with Campari. On the whole it makes for a mellow, integrated cocktail. Whether this will be an improvement will depend on both the drink and your tastes. Gran Classico is pretty compelling just on it’s own with soda over ice: a little variety never hurt anyone, eh? This is well worth trying!
Antonio Barbadillo "Obispo Gascón" Palo Cortado
Review Date: 8-23-2010
Lots of textural interest here for Sherry fans. This is a Palo Cortado that lives up to its name, combining the elegance of an Amontillado with some of the richness and the flavor signature of an Oloroso. Walnut, in a very dry, woodsy fashion, caramel, leather and raisin all make their appearance here. The finish is more austere, focused and dry than most true Olorosos would display; it never picks up the full sweetness and weight. Roast nuts and hard or blue cheeses play real nice with this.
Vergano Americano Aperitif 750ml
Review Date: 8-23-2010
This is a fun, tasty, kind hippogryph of an aromatized wine. The wines body reads as vermouth, however the flavorings take it in a more dry, woodsy, spicy, cigar tobacco direction. You can get a pretty fair cocktail just substituting it for vermouth in a Manhattan and leaving out the bitters. It's definitely a tinkering candidate for closet bartenders out there and I'd wager would appeal to those with a taste for Carpano Antico and/or Gran Classico.
Crème Yvette Delicieuse Liqueur 750ml (ships as 1.5 L)
Review Date: 7-26-2010
When I first read about violet liqueurs years back I knew that I had to get a hold of some. At that point, crème de violette was still an item only obtainable in foreign countries; an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one. Crème Yvette, however, was the real holy grail, according to reports from the truly obsessed who had managed to seek it out: a proprietary liqueur concocted in Victorian times and not seen for sale on any stores shelf since around the 1970s. It sounded wonderful. Being nearly unobtainable, enjoying same was nothing more than a reverie. Thankfully, that’s changed. Plucked from history’s dustbin, Crème Yvette is back! and to try it is to wonder at the cruel tide of fashion that swept it there in the first place. Crème Yvette is not interchangeable with crème de violette. Violet is only part of Crème Yvette, not the whole kit and caboodle. The berries in the liqueur are more prominent at first. When mixed in a drink, it isn’t until you’ve taken a sip and the sip has trickled down your throat that you really know the violet is there. It’s like the melody that you continue to hum to yourself long after the show has let out, or the scent of a flower pressed in a book from a past summer, an ephemeral phenomena where the experience of it already acknowledges its passing. Or, anyhow, it seemed that way after a couple cocktails made with it...
Lustau Dry Amontillado "Los Arcos" Solera Reserva
Review Date: 7-26-2010
If you’re looking for a good dry Amontillado, you’ve found your bottle here; this is a lot of sherry for the money! The Los Arcos offers expansive and intense flavors on a well balanced frame. Toasted almond and dried fruit aromas are followed by flavors of salty, toasted nuts juxtaposed nicely against a mellow sweetness. The finish is crisp and dry. What it might lack in nuance when compared to some pricier bottlings it more than makes up for in overall harmony and depth of flavor. Lovely stuff. Incidentally, if you’re making atavistic cocktail recipes such as the Bamboo or the Tuxedo that call for dry sherry, the Los Arcos shows to good effect in them. It doesn’t get lost in the mix the way pretty much any Manzanillas or Finos I’ve used to date seem to.
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