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Staff Favorites - James Knight
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Highland Park 12 year old, Isle of Orkney Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 2-24-2015
The malty, soft, cereal grain and butterscotch aroma of the Highland Park 12 is imbued with a whisper of peat that draws one in to a deeper place. For me, it's the long-ago memory of an oceanside cottage--opening the door, the cupboards, the aroma was always familiar and comforting yet distant, salty, and of the sea. That's Highland Park, to me: a straightforward butter cookie of a whisky, but the window's open just a crack, and you can smell the sea and heather coming in.
Highland Park "Dark Origins" Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 1-14-2015
Highland Park peat is like no other that I've encountered, so far, on my whisky journey. And this whisky's response to a heavy dose of sherry is singular, too. "Dark Origins" is a NAS (no age statement) single malt, and as I understand it, many people have reservations and/or criticisms of this genre of whisky. Certainly, the opaque black bottle, the price point, and the "outlaw" backstory may set off some alarms, for some. Caution--am I being marketed to? Yes, but here's what I found: Highland Park don't fool around. This is a medium-bronze hue, not luridly dark (the label says, a naturally dark hue but does not specifically say it's not colored; it does state non-chill filtered). The peat aroma is of a floral, gentle heather sort, not a hot, burning heather like some young Islay peaters; there's milk chocolate, too, accenting the perfumy sherry--no walnut or rancio character, here. Like an HP 21-year that I sampled last year, this retains its applejack character to the last, but it's so refined, it's like the champagne of whiskies--the warmth spreads slowly across the palate, instead of quickly burning a retronasal path out and up. Maybe, eventually, I'll appreciate the more subtle, ethereal whiskies for what they are, but for now, this is like my perfect fantasy of what Highland Park can be--the subtle grace, plus a wee bit more stuffing.
Glendronach 12 year old Distillery Bottling Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 1-4-2015
This whisky just keeps getting better, in my estimation. Rich and sherried, reminiscent of summer and winter treats: caramel apples and roasted, candied nuts. The Glendronach 12 has spicy, rum-raisin aromas, roasted nuts--filberts, Brazil nuts--and baked apple and pear notes, which repeat on the palate, so cotton-candy smooth, and the fruit flavors deepen toward the dry, smoky finish. Similar to: Aberlour 16. More flavor than: Glenlivet 12. Fiercer, less smooth than: Macallan 12 or Glenmorangie 10. More easygoing but in a somewhat similar profile to: Glendronach Allardice, Aberlour A'Bunadh. A standby, a classic. UPDATE: I have tried the Glendronach 15 Year Port-finished edition, a really svelte, nice dram, for sure, but I STILL prefer the 12 Year. If you like rich, nutty, sherried single malt, you really ought to try the Glendronach 12.
1998 Mortlach 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Sherry Butt Finish Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 12-23-2014
It is a peculiarity that there's still plenty of this old Mortlach available, while the pricier 25 year Blair Athol that came in about the same time is completely sold out. Exactly the opposite has occurred in my liquor cabinet, after I purchased both: The Mortlach is going much faster than the near-full Blair Athol. The latter may be more concentrated, with rancio and spicy wood notes, but the Mortlach is silkier, with butterscotch warmth and a piney top note. I even prefer it to the current Glenfarclas 105.
2009 Iron Horse "Ocean Reserve" Green Valley Blanc de Blancs
Review Date: 12-5-2014
I had the 2009 at the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries tasting in San Francisco this fall, where owner Joy Sterling was pouring her sparkling wine next to a Bay Area restaurant's table full of oysters. What a match! Is it the power of suggestion or does this wine, in each vintage, have something of the sea to it? Fresh, salty, and possessing of a steady power, the Ocean Reserve is not just a "charity" wine with the Iron Horse label, it's one of their top wines, in my opinion. It's also fairly dry and zippy.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan Islay Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 12-5-2014
For sure, the next time I have enough spare change to be able to decide between purchasing a Talisker 18 or the Corry, I am likely to experience some cognitive dissonance--and I mean before I have had any whisky! UPDATE: After first sampling the Corryvreckan, I was able to purchase a bottle and am very happy with it. This whisky presents luxe aromas of vanilla, caramel, and a hint of chocolate liqueur, haunted by a roasted seaweed, smoked fish and bacon sort of peatiness. If you've tried the Ardbeg 10 but felt it was just somewhat too aggressively peaty for you, at least for now, check out this one. It's got all the soft, lovely smoky beauty of a Talisker Distiller's, say, but with a spicier, cinnamon mint finish--like a younger Islay, like our Kilchoman single barrels, for instance. If you don't mind a hot finish, and love a single malt that tantalizes your nose with seductive, smoky and sweet aromas, this is it.
2007 Louis Roederer Brut Champagne
Review Date: 10-21-2014
A very pretty, rich aroma, just the right mix of bakery and autolyzed yeast notes and freshness; creamy balance, not too sharp on the acidity--a lot less so than the 2008 Brut Rose. Just so enjoyable!
2012 Tatomer "Sisquoc" Santa Barbara County Riesling
Review Date: 10-13-2014
I discovered Tatomer a year or so back at the International Alsace Varietals Festival in Anderson Valley, California, and was impressed with their wines and their focus on Riesling. Although I don't find any "petrol" notes in the 2012 Sisquoc, it's got an intoxicating blend of golden raisin and honey aromas--reminds me of drizzling dark, clover honey in amber rivulets onto a crostini. Even at a higher 14.1% abv, it's got enough acidity to balance whatever residual sugar there may be--the wine finishes dry, with a sensation of sweetness due to the aromatics--anyway, no less dry than most Chardonnays these days! I like this with a cheese plate of goat Gouda and seeded crackers, or creamy spaetzle.
2013 Charles Smith "Kung Fu Girl" Columbia Valley Riesling
Review Date: 7-28-2014
I like Riesling with a little something to it, you know, a little steely, limey, slightly diesel-stinky crunchy toasty marmalade to it; I like South Australian Riesling. The Brooks 2009 Willamette Valley that we had a while back, that was nice. I've hesitated to check out the Kung Fu Girl for years, because, you know, hip label, but what's it really got? Surprisingly a lot. Peach and pineapple fruit, yes, and maybe a little golden raisin, but a right limey seriousness to it. I wouldn't be surprised if this got more interesting in two years but it's delicious now; a little off-dry but totally balanced.
Balvenie 12 year old Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 7-15-2014
Lovers of Glenlivet and Glenfiddich who are looking for something a little different and even a little prettier on the palate might look here. The Balvenie 12 single barrel has a light hue, with pretty aromas of wildflower honey, dates and dried figs, with buttery pear, and a really nice, silky finish. I enjoyed this Balvenie.
Balcones Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 7-11-2014
I would seriously never have considered a Texas single malt whisky unless it was sitting in front of me, nearly daring me, saying, hey, I dare ya. What a surprise. A surprisingly developed aroma of roasted walnut, with a deep, darkly sherried palate that reminds me a little of, say, the Cragganmore 23, but with cinnamon spice, too--not in a bourbony way. This rich, dark single malt may be not quite as complex of some of our older, nutty Scotch single malts, but it is a really great effort from the single star, I mean the Lone Star state.
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 7-11-2014
Wow, this is a spicy, forward, yet ethereal whisky with a distinctive personality, indeed. Mr. Driscoll got it right about the cinnamon Red Hots aroma that hits your nose on the wind of a burning field of flowering heather. My only previous taste of Kilchoman was a wee airplane bottle of young, lightly heathery whisky; this one's richer, and more sure of itself--the only comparison I can make is with Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated.
Isle Of Skye 12 year old Matured Scotch Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 6-25-2014
Yes, this really does have a bit of the Talisker character. With a hint of orange rind over slightly smoky, bacon scone-y sweet characteristics, it's a fine Scotch on the rocks that retains some of its grain alcohol character while offering something more interesting than a lot of blended Scotches. But it's not a substitute for single malt Talisker: while I may enjoy it as a Scotch on ice from time to time, I follow it up, when I can, with a nice Talisker 10 or Distiller's Edition--neat!
Lagavulin 16-year-old Islay Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 6-17-2014
Earthy, smoky, ashy, and underneath it all, sweet and chewy. I waited nearly a month and a half after opening the Lagavulin 16 to review it; I figured it would reveal itself over time, that this lion would lamb out a bit. Well. I agree that it is defiantly smoky (as Dave Broom says), like a hearth, with some caramel candy and smoked meats like, say, the Talisker 10 (aka the Precious...in my regard) on the tongue. Nosing is hot and spicy, and the finish is like hot smoke. Richer, with less thin, iodine character than some Islay single malts--maybe a hint of singed seaweed. A serious Islay at a whacky good price.
Ardbeg Uigeadail Traditional Strength Islay Single Malt Whisky
Review Date: 6-5-2014
Recommended for those with a love for--or a tolerance that may blossom at some time in the indeterminate future--peaty, sherry-influenced single malt. After I had tasted a sample of the Ardbeg Uigeadail and sort of gave it thumbs down in my personal notes, later I purchased a whole bottle and followed it over a while. Why? There's just something about it. There's dried seaweed, some plaster from a seaside cottage renovation, perhaps, some dried fish on a grill fired by beach brush. And mid to high-toned sherry underneath. But there's more, and whatever that more is, it keeps me coming back from time to time.
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