Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I tasted a lot of wines for 2008, and there are so many that were extraordinary that it is tough to really RANK them from first to last, yet the following Top 40 (My homage to Kasey Kasem) are the wines that made the biggest impression on me, ones that still resonate with me now.

40. Chateau d’Epire Savennieres 2007. Thank you Kermit Lynch for delivering an extraordinary Chenin Blanc from the Loire. I really love this wine.

39. Sausal Zinfandel Old Vines 2006. A limited wonder. I wish I could get more of this wine.

38. Santa Ema Rivalta 2005. One powerful, dynamic Bordeaux-influenced Chilean red. Outstanding.

37. Chateau Fonreaud Listrac-Medoc 2005. One of the more affordable 2005s out there. A great intro to one of Bordeaux’s finest vintages ever.

36. Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton 2006 & 2007. Thank you Jorge Ordonez for delivering yet another exceptional value red. Voluptuous old vine Grenache for under $10. Really? I’m all over this one.

35. Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2005. It’s a Sauternes for crying out loud. And 2005? This is simply gorgeous.

34. Duval-Leroy Brut NV. Always one of the best Champagnes most of you have never had. Don’t expect me to keep this one a secret ever!

33. Domaine Faury St.-Joseph 2005. Another golden nugget in Kermit Lynch’s luminous portfolio. Amazing Northern Rhone wine.

32. Edmeades Zinfandel 2006. A fantastic Zin from Mendocino County. One of our hidden gems!

31. Olvena Chardonnay 2007. Extraordinary value in New World Chardonnay from the Somontano region of Spain. Delicious and well-made.

30. Girard Artistry 2003. Always a beautiful Bordeaux-styled red.

29. Lemelson Pinot Noir Thea’s Selection 2006. One of my favorite Oregon producers and one of my favorite Pinot Noirs.

28. Kermit Lynch Cotes-du-Rhone 2006. Really exquisite CDR for any price. Kermit Lynch is my hero!

27. Lorca Pinot Blanc 2005. I thought this would be old. WRONG! Damn, what a delicious, complex white wine, and from California no less.

26. Chateau Pey La Tour Bordeaux Superieur 2005. My go-to Bordeaux for under $20. One of Michel Rolland’s infinite projects. A terrific red wine.

25. Brundlmeyer Gruner-Veltliner Terrassen 2007. One of a host of amazing GruVe wines I tasted this year. Ageworthy, complex and balanced. An incredible white wine.

24. Kanonkop Pinotage 2004. I truly think this is the best Pinotage I have ever had.

23. Achaval-Ferrer Malbec 2007. A real surprise as usual! I love this producer, and their “entry-level” Malbec is remarkable. Really overdelivers.

22. Clos de los Siete 2006. Michel Rolland strikes again! Terrific Malbec blend. Amazing value!

21. Stoller Pinot Noir JV 2006. I love the youthful exuberance of this wine. Always a favorite, vintage after vintage.

20. Chateau St.-Georges St.Georges-St.Emilion 2004. Yes, it’s not a 2005, but if this producer delivers a stunning red wine in the classic-oriented 2004 vintage, just image their 2005. Look for it on next year’s list.

19. Hirsch Gruner-Veltliner “Veltliner #1” 2007 and First Drop First Love Red 2006. A tie of sorts. I love the Hirsch #1 for being a really dynamic white wine and the First Love Red as an extraordinary, unique medium-bodied red. I just couldn’t decide.

18. Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 & 2006. Really delivers on the promise of being top quality at an affordable price. I think I may truly enjoy Napa Valley Cab again thanks to these guys.

17. Foppiano Petite Sirah 2004 and Vincent Vignaud Pouilly-Fuisse 2005. Tie #2 – thanks to Jo Diaz of Juicy Tales for putting me back on the PS trail, as well as Louis Foppiano for coming by to reintroduce this yummy red to me and my staff. And the Vignaud PF is a terrific find – a Pouilly Fuisse that is as affordable as it is really good.

16. Columbia Crest Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red 2005 & 2006. Hands down the best damn value in our stores. Way to go Columbia Crest. You guys are awesome!

15. Bodegas Muga Reserva 2004. Scary good!

14. Luca Malbec 2007. One unbelievably amazing Malbec.

13. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007. The opine begins – WS already gave these guys more props than they should have – now we may witness the end of this wine being under $25. A shame, because this is the best f@#$ing Zin under $25, period!

12. Donnhoff Riesling QbA 2006 & 2007. I fell in love with this wine years ago, and it’s string of successes with not just me, but any self-respecting Riesling lover, continues.

11. L. Aubry Brut Ivoire et Ebene 2002. An amazing sparkler! Just remarkable.

10. Mendel Malbec 2006. This is one decadent red wine!

9. Vilmart et Cie Cuvee Rubis NV. Quite the sexy sparkler.

8. Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir Leras Vineyard 2006. One monster-bad-ass Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley’s best kept secret. A PN for Cab drinkers. Takes days to open up, years to fully mature in the bottle.

7. St. Supery Virtu 2006. An absolute stunner! My top white wine of 2008!

6. Pedestal Merlot 2005. More of that Michel Rolland mojo workin’ – an experience not to be missed.

5. Dei Sancta Catharina 2006. Extremely limited, delicious red blend from the truly gifted Catharina Dei, the queen of Prugnolo Gentile in Tuscany.

4. Two Angels Divinity 2005. A massive homage to Rhone grapes. Hedonistic, sexy, full-bodied love in a glass.

3. Chateau Beychevelle Saint-Julien 2005. I have become completely enthralled by Bordeaux, partly because of my new found love of Beychevelle.

2. Chateau Sociando-Mallet Haut-Medoc 2005. This overachieving unclassified Chateau should – if there is any justice in this world – become a classified growth. A hidden gem of the left bank!

1. Cellers Can Blau Mas de Can Blau 2005. This wine certainly wins the “Holy Sh#$” award for being so friggin’ good. Your palate will never truly be fulfilled until you taste this wine.

There are a lot of honorable mentions (more than I have time or room for) but a few of the standouts are: Waterbrook Reserve Syrah 2006, Heidi Schrock Muscat 2007, Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2006, Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2004, Mulderbosch Rose 2008, Huia Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Fontanafredda Barbera Briccotondo 2007, Belle Vallee Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2006, Domaine Lafond Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005, Chateau Clerc-Milon Pauillac 2004, Marc Hebrart Brut Selection NV, MacRostie Syrah Wildcat Mountain 2004, and Terlano Pinot Grigio 2007.

We hope you have enjoyed our commentaries this year. We look forward to sharing a great many more tasting notes, diatribes and peculiar insights into this business in 2009.

Thank you and have a safe New Year!


Tuesday, December 30, 2008


[Jesse, like Shannon, has been one of my proteges for awhile. She is one of the tag-team assistant wine buyers that injects a lot of passion and excitement into the atmosphere around here. I definitely rely heavily on her for her positive spirit as well as her insight into wine and customers. Here are her Top 10 for the Year:]

1.) Mas Can Blau Montsant 2005
2.) Montes Alpha M 2004
3.) Descendientes Petalos 2006
4.) Caldwell Rocket Science 2006
5.) Craggy Range Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006
6.) Small Gully Mr. Black's Concoction Shiraz/Viogner 2005
7.) La Spinetta Barbera Ca di' Pian 2005
8.) Robert Weil Kabinett Halbtrocken 2006
9.) Trinoro Guardiola Chardonnay 2007
10.)Les Fiefs de Lagrange Saint Julien 2005

Monday, December 29, 2008

(Pop)Culture by Shannon

‘Tis the season for Champagne and celebration and all over the blogging world this past week the conversations seem to be centering on these seasonal sparklers. The economy and its impact on Champagne consumption is definitely a common thread throughout the blogosphere, as more and more people (like Eric Asimov) move into the territory of sparklers, proseccos and cavas, instead of their expensive counterparts.

What really interests me, however, is the intersection between champagne (I’m using this word loosely now, meaning any sparkler) and culture. A symbol of wealth and power for centuries, champagne screams-I mean fizzes- luxury and indulgence, which is why it attracts so many people. For perhaps the first time I’ve noticed the way packaging may influence someone’s decision to buy, even more so with champagne than with any other bottle. The name on the bottle and the bottle itself are the sought after items, more so in some cases that what is inside.

Take for example the beautiful vintage Perrier-Jouet Fleur we have in the store, (1999), painted with delicate flowers and accompanied by two painted glasses. We have the upgraded (2000) Dom Perignon case, which opens in a modern way with a button on the bottom. Trendy Veuve Cliquot comes in a yellow travel case, also equipped with two glasses, made especially for the ultra-hip. And then there are the oddly understated Cristal bottles, simply wrapped in yellow cellophane. Moet Chandon will stud any bottle with Swarovski crystals to your liking for a pretty penny. (Like the ones given out at a marc jacobs show)

Although my eye and fancy is distracted momentarily by these proud peacocks displaying their feathers, my palate yearns for something more simplified. My favorites have to be the Domaine Carneros Brut and Brut Rose, both of which I’ve written about before. These Californian sparklers are elegant and have the perfect amount of fruit and fizziness, and are reasonably within budget. Delicate and delicious. After the carbonation goes to your head and a champagne high sets in, who need crystals, anyway?


[Corey is our resident science teacher/francophile out at our Fort Thomas location. Far and away one of the funniest people I've ever known, his wry wit has been a hit with our customers. Here Corey selects his favorites with his usual unexpected take on things.]

Here be my Top 10:

Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mentions for these two wines that we unfortunately will no longer carry.

Chateau Lepine => By far and away the best Bordeaux we carried for under 20 bucks.

Venta la Ossa => I love La Mancha tempranillos for their finish, and this was an exquisite example.

The Top Ten:

(10) Gysler Silvaner Halbtrocken => Wonderfully clean and crisp, absolutely perfect for sushi.

(9) Michele Picard Vouvray => I love chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, and this is a very nice and economical example of one. Good stone fruit and a touch of honey on the finish.

(8) Garnacha de Fuego => Old vine grenache from Spain, with spice notes to accompany Cajun, Thai, or any other spicy food.

(7) Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier => I was at a dinner party at the Mount Adams Fish House, and was asked to recommend a white wine for everyone to share. All 12 people had ordered a very different fish dish, and this went with every one of them. A great find!

(6) Zisola Nero d’Avola => The only Italian (really Sicilian) on my list. Layer after layer to this wine, I would age it a few years.

(5) Borsao Red Wine => 75/25 blend of Grenache/Tempranillo, one of the best 7 dollar investments you can make in the wine world.

(4) Solanera => I use this wine as a bridge wine for people willing to explore out of California Cab and into Spain. It is Cab and Monastrell, with the fruit notes of a Napa Cab and the muscle of Monastrell. Does anyone remember the Disney movie Fantasia and the ballerina hippos? That’s what this wine encompasses…grace and power.

(3) Telegramme CDP => A rather “economical” (relatively) look at Chateauneuf du Pape with amazing depth and dark fruit notes, with the correct amount of earth for a French wine.

(2) Yellow Jersey Pinot Noir => I took the leap! I admit I was hesitant about a wine in a plastic bottle, but I made this my #2 wine for its surprise factor. I challenge anyone…pour this into a decanter and serve it to people without showing them the bottle. Tell them it’s a Pinot Noir, and ask them their opinion. Then tell them that it’s only 11 dollars and ask them their opinion again. Finally, show them the bottle. There is absolutely NO plastic taste, and if this came in a glass bottle it would have been over 20 dollars. By saving on shipping, the price is so much more affordable, giving us one of the best QPRs in the store. Note to those not familiar with wine lingo – QPR is Quality to Price Ratio. So long story short, don’t be a weenie about the plastic bottle and try this!

(1) Gaudium Gran Vino by Marques de Caceras => Simply sexy. If you buy this wine for me I will be your bestest friend.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


So as always, I have more than a few opinions about the various goings-on in this business, mainly because in this strange little dichotomy of the Northern Kentucky market (being part of Cincinnati geographically yet not in relation to wine distribution). A lot has happened in not just the past year but ever since I joined Liquor Direct in 2002, far too much to encapsulate in this small post so I'll just hit the high (and low) points of this past year:

1. Consolidation. The trade mags and suppliers do't really see what the big deal is with consolidation, but in the interests of customer service, it's everything. Consoldiation on the supplier side of things (such as Constellation ending up with Hogue, Mondavi, Toasted Head, and many others, and the overblown merger of Southcorp and Beringer Blass yielding Fosters Wine Estates (that's everything from Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, and Souverain, to Penfolds, Rosemount and Lindeman's)) it means certain brands leaving a well-established good working relationship with a trusted distributor to a murky, bureacratic mess with a more ambiguous, more monolithic distributor. Sometimes, the reverse has happened. Or even more remotely, a brand has ended up in a smaller house, one that is more focused, less diversified, and able to better provide both service to the brand and the customer (that would be us). The dirty little secret of the consolidation game is the problems it poses with the consumer's tier, that of the retailer, is one that we folks on this end have to deal with every day. And those suppliers (importers, wineries, brokerages) don't even care.

2. Exclusivities. Thanks to the economy taking a plunge, I think those suppliers relying so heavily on exclusive agreements with a sole retailer (like French importers Kysela, Kacher and Ex Cellars, along with wineries such as Graham Beck, Quilceda Creek and Bridgeview) may be reexamining their current business models. Consumers what to be able to comparison shop for everything, INCLUDING WINE, and that can't be done in the context of exclusivity. I've half a mind to tell these whenever they come calling to buy their wares, to take a big ol' flying leap, but it all revolves around what our customers want. If they want these wines, then we'll get them if we can. If they don't, there are plenty other wines in the sea.

3. Local Wineries. From the time I arrived here at LD in 2002 till now, the amount of local wineries has exploded. It's phenomenal, considering that the focus of KY farmers was primarily tobacco. Yet with the way tobacco products are perceived today, many of these tobacco farmers are turning to grapes, and many of them are making some really good wine. Across the river, wineries like Kinkead Ridge and Henke are doing extraordinary things, impressing critics all over the country and even the world. Pretty cool stuff.

4. Wine Blogging. The new generation of spreading the love, passion and knowledge of wine is now in the hands of Wine Bloggers around the world. Wineries such as Twisted Oak, Hahn, Stormhoek and Chateau Beaucastel, as well as respected writers like Eric Asimov of the NY Times and Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast and the whole crew at Wine Spectator have embraced the new media. Local talent includes Michelle Lentz of My Wine Education, Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings, Mike Rosenberg of The Naked Vine, Jonathan Seeds of Best Drink Ever, and even up the road in Dayton, Ohio, renowned wine blogger Mark Fisher (the wine writer for the Dayton Daily News) have paved the way for an army of wine geeks (including us winos here at LD). We're all just at the ground floor, and it's only going to be one colossus of innovation.

5. Demand. Seems like everyone is drinking wine or at least trying wine these days. The desire to be more wine savvy is quite remarkable. And with so much information available these days, in print media, online, through tasting groups and various tasting events around town and throughout the country (and the world), it's no wonder wine continues to grow.

I am truly excited about what lies ahead in this industry. And 2009 promises to have even more remarkable surprises up its sleeve.

See you next year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


[Alfonse is our main wine guy – the face of this store, this company. Everyone knows Alfonse, and you may understand why with his top 10 picks that are no-nonense, unpretentious and easy-to-comprehend. He chose not to rank them simply because it was just too damn hard to pick one over another – he really likes them all.]

Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2006. Chocolate, black cherry and pepper notes with a lush oak finish.

Murphy-Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel 2004. Dense and concentrated Zin with bright acidity that balances this beauty out.

Diseno Malbec 2007. Big, robust Malbec with blueberry and chocolate notes.

Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2004. Big, bold and fruity with heavy tannins and a big finish.

Bearboat Pinot Noir 2005. Strawberry, black cherry and cinnamon.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viongier 2007. Soft, approachable white blend.

Riondo Prosecco NV. Crisp, lively sparkler with great balance acidity.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2006. Butter, pear and apple with soft oak.

King Estate Pinot Gris 2007. Hints of lemon and pear with a spicy cinnamon finish.

Magito Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Bright lemon zest and tropical notes.


Friday, December 26, 2008


[Shannon is second-generation family wine staff, and fresh out of college. Thrown into the fire, she has risen from the blaze already looking like the future of these stores. Here's Shannon's Top 10 for the year.]

The highlights of my first 6 months in the wine business:

10)Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2007. I appreciate Michael Honig's family dedication to Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and that dedication shows in this crisp and refreshing wine.

9)Dievole Pinocchio. A fruity and fun nero d'avola. It doesn't hurt that I drank this wine in the presence of Nick Lachey.

8)Venta la Ossa. I discover Spain! Well, Spanish wine that is.

7)Mischief and Mayhem Chablis 1er Cru 2006. This wine is a tribute to my discovery of really well-made Chardonnay, and my current obsession with anything Burgundian.

6)Merryvale Profile 2005. Wow. A big, powerful blend with finesse and style.

5) The Prisoner 2005. My first taste of this cult wine was out of a broken bottle off the delivery truck. Couldn't let it go to waste!

4) Chateau St. Martin de la Garrigue Blanc 2007. One of the most unique whites I've ever had, it definately stands out in my memory.

3) Domaine Carneros Brut Rose NV. Femininity in a glass. A fluted glass, that is.

2) Domaine Berthet-Rayne Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2006. A stunning representation of a chateauneuf, and the cutest wine making couple ever.

1) Cellar Can Blau Mas de Can Blau 2005. Even after palate fatigue of trying over 20 wines, this wine still managed to blow me away.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


A choice few of you all know that I am a poet living in a madman's brain - I even have my own collection of poetry-like things out there in the universe (it's about 6 years old now). One poem in particular I like to share with everyone this time of year is something I wrote back in 2001 called "Woke Up Christmas Morning." I share it with all of you and hope that everyone has a terrific holiday season, and perhaps that whole peace on earth thing can happen, if only for one night...



Tossing and turning in my bed,
I could hear my wife grumbling dreamily:
"What's wrong with you?"
"I can't sleep," I tell her,
My hand gently rubbing her back
With clumsy reassurances.
Rising from bed,
The clock stares back at me
With its bright red eyes, shouting
"It's 2:45 in the blessed A.M.!"
Christmas morning.

I stumble through the bedroom door,
Creeping slightly, quietly down the stairs
Trying hard not to step on any of the seven cats
Scurrying around in the dark,
Those seven critters that call us pets while our backs are turned,
Ransacking our refrigerator
And running up our phone bill
While my wife and I are both at work.

Making my way downstairs,
And into the kitchen,
I look back at our Christmas tree
Standing silent and unlit.
Out through the windows I stare,
Gazing blindly at the patio,
The tree line behind it,
And the night sky above.

Like tiny crystals glistening in the streetlights,
I spy the first snow of winter.
It falls to the ground,
Deep and almost glowing,
As if ghostly angels
Rained phosphorous upon the Eatth
While we all lay asleep in our beds.

I mull over everything,
Like one gigantic epiphany,
Remembering the past with a skewed awe.
"Isn't it funny how everything I've done
And everyone I've known,
Has brought me to here, to this moment?"

All the people that have come and gone in my life,
Either by Death, Distance or Time,
All the wondrous places I've been,
And all the sorrow I have felt
Has delivered me soemwhere I never thought I'd be.

As the snow comes down,
I wonder how my family is doing,
Living their lives close by and far away,
The ones I haven't spoken to in years,
And the ones I spoke with only yesterday.
I pray they all are well,
And that they all are happy -
For the holidays,
And for always.

I smile as my mind finds my wife,
Who is sleeping sweetly above me,
Unaware of my nocturnal pondering.
Each day she reminds me of what life can be like,
When bad things lose their meaning,
And pain and suffering can be forgotten.
And suddenly it hits me -
Christmas is not about gifts,
It's not about money or parties,
Tacky Hallmark decorations or chaos in the shopping malls.
It's about love and family.

(If ever there was a corny moment, it's now.)

I am thankful for my family.
And I am thankful to have known love.
I whisper prayers within the darkness:
A prayer for forgiveness
For those I may have wronged.
A prayer of remembrance
For the ones I have lost along the way.
A prayer of thankfulness
For those who still stand beside me each day
And a prayer of hope
To those still begrudged and distant.

I breathed and sighed,
And reached down for Kosmo,
My most comical of cats,
And the world of worry slipped away.
I made my way back upstairs,
Stumbling back to bed,
To dream of sugarplums,
And my family.
"Merry Christmas to all," I quipped to no one,
"And to all a good night."
I muttered a few more prayers
And climbed into bed.
Looking over at my wife,
I took her sleepy hand,
And closed my eyes in a peaceful surrender
Listening to her breathing,
Dreams took over...


[Sean Glossner is our store manager and main wine consultant at our Fort Thomas location. He's been here about 3+ years and continues to inspire our clientele there at our newest store. Here are Sean's Top 10 for the year...]

My top 10 list of wines I have tried over the course of the year.

10) Hope Estate Shiraz 2006 "The Ripper". This little Shiraz from down under lived up to its name. It was a monster wine for under $15.

9) Justin Orphan 2006. A great wine from a great producer. I like that its a wine with a little mystery to it.

8) Domaine Pichot Vouvray 2007. Hands down the best all purpose white wine I had all year round. This goes great with just about anything you can think of.

7) Wild Oak Zinfandel 2005. Big full bodied zin with a nice cedar and spice undertone. Long and peppery finish. Just the way I like them.

6) Planeta Chardonnay 2006. All I can say is holy oak and butter that is the BIGGEST Chardonnay I have ever had. It was by far the best Chard I had all year.

5) Ridge Independence School 2003. Dug into the cellar a bit to pull this one out, but it was an incredible zin. Anything from Ridge is flat out good wine.

4) Montes Alpha M 2005. This is the premier wine from one of Chile's top producers. It was amazing, I actually drank it over a 2 day span.

3) Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. Not only is it one of my favorite cabs, it was also the wine of choice for dinner for my fiance and I on the night of our engagement.

2) Chartogne Taillet NV Brut "Cuvee St.-Anne". For those of you that do not know I am a champagne freak. I love the bubbly and this was the best I had during the year.

1) Orin Swift The Prisoner 2005,2006,2007, etc. This is not only a top 10 wine of the year for me, it more of a top 3 wine of a life time. I love everything about this wine the blend is not your common blend, and it gives the wine a rich almost port like flavor. Lots of raspberry, spice, oak, cedar, and a silky smooth finish that seemingly last for ever. I'm getting thirsty just thinking about it. I hope everyone had a great year and that 2009 is even better.

Thanks For A Wonderful Year,

Sean Glossner

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


There are always things changing for better or worse in this business. And it's really all about perspective too, because one person's calamity might just be another person's miracle. So personally vested in this biz, I find it increasingly impassioning to monitor what happens on a daily basis. So here it is, my Chronicled Top Ten Best Things to Happen to the KY Wine Business this year (in no real particular order)…

1. LD joins forces with the local wine blogging talent. A huge thank you to our blogging brethren – Michelle at My Wine Education, Tim Lemke at Cheap Wine Ratings, Mike Rosenberg at The Naked Vine and Jonathan Seeds at Best Drink Ever for opening the floodgates to a whole new audience.

2. Heidelberg Distributing and their Bordeaux Importing. At long last, Bordeaux wines at great prices WITHOUT having to buy them on futures.

3. Kermit Lynch hooks up with Heidelberg Distributing. Finally, after so many years of this extraordinary French/Italian portfolio being locked up in exclusivity, we now have access to the best, most diverse French book in the U.S.

4. Four Vines Comes to KY. After the past two years of the Cincinnati Wine Festival having been blown away by these wines, I am pleased to at last, sell their terrific wines. However, the single-vineyard Zins have yet to arrive so this should rank higher once that happens.

5. TGIC Imports. We have been championing this importer for years, but at long last, I think we have finally gotten the customers in on the act.

6. Malbec Mania hits the stores. We’ve come across a cornucopia of not only great Argentinean Malbec, but fantastic South American wines, making it the largest growing category here at our stores.

7. Jean-Robert’s Restaurants. With Chalk and Greenup Café joining Jean-Robert’s Downtown restaurants, we are seeing more and more customers looking for wines introduced to them by the crack staff at all his restaurants. A big shout out to Bryant, the sommelier at Chalk! It has ushered in an era of great new restaurants being recognized in Northern KY, including newly relocated NuVo, Mainstrasse’s Otto’s and Bouquet, Fort Thomas staple Vito’s Café and the legends Waterfront, Chart House and Mike Fink’s.

8. Layer Cake Diversifies. With the success of their Shiraz (which is currently out of stock), the additions of the Malbec, Primitivo and Cotes du Rhone have taken off, establishing this brand as a recognizable source of quality and value.

9. Enquirer Ads Take Off. Our owner’s serious marketing blitzkrieg has served in getting the word out that we are the area’s low-price wine leader.

10. Columbia Crest Does it Again. The remarkable Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red (currently on the 2006 vintage) has become one of our top-selling value wines of all time. A stunning blend of Sangiovese, Syrah and Cab, this wine overdelivers on everything.

And the worst things that have happened in KY’s wine world are:

1. Republic National Distributing drops the rising star importer Wines of Spain. Aurelio Cabestrero is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Spanish wine market, yet with the nationalizing of their portfolio, RNDC jettisoned one of the best kept secrets in the biz.

2. Republic National Distributing drops Tangent and Baileyana. California’s rising stars from the Edna Valley, Tangent and Baileyana (Tangent was named one of the top value brands of the year in Wine & Spirits), these wines never really had a chance.

3. The continued battle for/against interstate wine shipments here in KY. With these restrictions, the continued dimished availability of many allocated wines (such as Shafer, Peter Michael, Paloma and others) miffs wine buyers and confounds aficionados all over the world.

4. Southern Wine & Spirits and Glazer’s join forces. Bigger isn’t always better and the move towards a distribution monopoly continues. We retailers are faced with a looming prospect of the most abysmal customer service entity in history – aside from Budweiser. Resembling SkyNet of the spirits industry.

5. Exclusivities in the industry continue to perplex consumers. Outdated business models followed by such companies as Kysela, Ex Cellars, Robert Kacher and many other importers bound themselves up in an exclusive agreement with one retailer (out of over 640 in the state), forcing many to either look elsewhere for their French, Italian, Spanish, etc. or drive up to Ohio where, despite there being more readily available, the prices are much higher.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


The hoopla, at least in our stores, has finally died down for the infamous Wine Spectator Top 100 list. Even though we still have some wines from that list trickling in (the Callabriga Dao 2005, Luca Malbec 2007, Argyle Extended Tirage 1998, etc.), the excitement has waned.

And just in time because the redheaded stepchild accoutrement to the WS Top 100 is the Wine Enthusiast Top 100. Couple this one with San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 (which I would be more apt to be into), and you've got yourself a big list hoedown.

I am just waiting to compare the WS and WE lists this year because last year, someone took on the interesting task of correlating the two lists from 2007, and discovered that there wasn't one wine on both lists. NOT ONE! Don't you find that a bit odd? I don't think there was really any valid explanation than to say that it just worked out that way. Now I am not knocking those findings, I just think it strange.

And speaking of strange lists, I will be posting my own Top Ten at least (I like Dave Letterman's way of doing things) as well as listing our resident wine alien, Alfonse's Top Picks for the Year. We'll have those up next weekend so stay tuned.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Thanks to my ever-growing Internet social circle, including all the local bloggers (I love you guys - and girl!), other bloggers around the country and the globe, and all my peeps on Facebook, and tweets on Twitter, I have found a new frontier on which to trudge my demented commentary out from the twisted confines of my grape-stained brain and splash them all over the masses. I love this whole new social media thing, because I am able to interact with people from anywhere in the world, and I feel, if only for a moment, like I am right in the room with them.

What does this mean for wine? There have been a lot of different folks on the Web speak about this new concept of using Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln, Flickr, MySpace, Open Wine Consortium and various other social media web sites as a new means of connecting with current and potential customers, as well as creating a very dynamic, interactive arena in which to exchange thoughts, customer comments, and otherwise engage each other in the conversations of all things wine.

Thanks to folks like Lisa de Bruin (of WineDiverGirl), Steve Heimoff (from the Wine Enthusiast) and Dale Cruse (Drinks Are On Me), the stage is set for a whole new experience in wine discussion and adventure. I've even learned that some retail stores are actually making use of Twitter and other social median as a way of marketing specials, advertising discounts, and engaging their clientele economically, not just socially. That's cool. Here's to the new guerrilla marketing plan.

P.S. Huge thanks to Dale at Drinks Are On Me for listing me amongst all the Twittering winos out there. There's a helluva lot of us now so it's nice to make the list.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Okay, so I’ve been on a white wine kick as of late, highlighting some terrific Austrian wines, as well as sampling some amazing older vintages of German Rieslings. My boss always sees me bringing in a 2-, 3-, or 4-year old white and he commences to having a full-on Kinipshin. I try to explain to him that wines like Loire Chenins suchs as Vouvray and Savennieres, Spatlese and Auslese level Rieslings from Germany, and even Austrian Gruner Veltliners, Rieslings and other whites tend to age fairly well, some going as long as ten years or even longer.

It’s a common misconception that white wines are meant to drink young and red wines are meant to age. The plain truth of the matter is that 90% of all wine produced, regardless of its tint, is meant to be drank within its first 6 months. It’s that other 10% that has any true aging potential – and that is red, white and sparkling.

You have to take everything on a case-by-case (or I should be more precise in saying producer-by-producer) basis. The greatest disservice I think the wine critics such as Robert Parker, James Laube and Marvin Shanken (at Wine Spectator) and others have done is generalize vintages by giving a score to the overall year of each particular wine region. However, that translates to consumers as just a thumbs-up or thumbs-down review of a particular year.
Take for example the 1998 vintage (anyone remember this one?) Wine Spectator in particular absolutely murdered the California 1998s, yet consumers just heard the year and assumed everything from that vintage sucked. I was constantly pointing out to customers that 1998 in Australia, Rhone and Oregon were all phenomenal wines, and places like Piedmont and Washington State didn’t fare to badly either. Everything devolves into half-truths and full-blown misconceptions in the press, which is unfortunate. I feel for the real journalists in this business who get misquoted or have their stories taken out of context, yet it’s guys like Laube and Shanken from Spectator that really do the most damage in the long run.

I was inspired, if not outright taught, to look at a producer’s track record, how they can take a so-called bad year, and turn it around for them, make it work FOR them. Chateau Lynch-Bages in Pauillac would be an excellent example. Here is a producer that really doesn’t make a bad wine, even if the vintage is not all that great. It’s the winemaker that take lemons and make lemonade that stand out for me as a buyer, and I have worked for years to convey that in the selections that we offer here in our store.

Nobody’s perfect, that’s for sure, but sometimes wineries such as Lynch-Bages put forth Herculean efforts to create consistently extraordinary wines using all that nature has provided, alongside the natural talent that winemakers such as Daniel Llose and Nicolas Lebenne (the winemaking team at Lynch-Bages) exemplify the point that you must not necessarily look at an overall vintage in order to assess the quality of a particular region, but take into account the presence of great talent.

In getting back to my point about white wines that CAN age and age well, here are a few we currently have in the store:

Philippe Delesvaux Anjou Aunthentique 2005: 5-7 years.
H. Donnhoff Riesling QbA 2007: anywhere from 3-12 years!
Poet’s Leap Riesling Columbia Valley 2007: possibly 7 years.
Fritz Haag Riesling Spatlese Brauneberger Juffer Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2007: potentially up to 12 years.
Joh. Jos. Cristoffel Erbern Riesling Spatlese Erdener Treppchen Mosel 2007: Quite possibly up to 2030.
Hiedler Gruner Veltliner November 2007: Up to 2017.

You can check out the wines of Nicolas Joly from the Savennieres, or the Vouvray of Phillipe Foreau. There are white Bordeaux, Grand Cru Rieslings from the Alsace (from producers such as Weinback, Marcel Deiss and Kuentz-Bas) that all possess extraordinary aging potential. Look past all the stereotypes and make your own truth.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The Grade: Amazing. The Mojo: Back to Terry Thiese, importer extraordinaire, this grower Champagne producer he represents here in the states turns out some amazing sparklers. The L. Aubry Ivoire et Ebene 2002 ($58.98 limited) is simply extraordinary. Made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, this stunning Champagne is light-to-medium bodied, with a frothy mousse of stone fruit and cream. Notes of pears, white peaches, roasted herbs and fresh tea are present in both aromas and flavors. You can almost smell and taste freshly picked peaches, biting into one and sensing the juices burst forth. There is a creamy element leading into the long-lasting finish. This bubbly would be an ideal choice for the holidays, showing how much of a genius Terry Thiese is for bringing this to the U.S. market, as well as making you look like a phenom to all your guests this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The Grade: Amazing. The Mojo: Not a lot of folks are all that familiar with Torzi Matthews. This ultra-small producer comes to us from the Eden Valley in Australia, and with only 1200 cases made, the Torzi Matthews Schist Rock Shiraz 2007 ($19.49) is a well-made, medium-to-full-bodied red that displays great focus and balance, unlike the fruit behemoths of the Barossa. The bold, vibrant, juicy blue fruit shines through, with hints of oak, mineral, black cherry, clove and roasted meat. Complexity abounds, leading you up to a very long and precise finish that is very, very satisfying. We didn't receive much of this wine (obviously) so try some soon before it disappears.

Monday, December 15, 2008


The Grade: Outstanding. The Mojo: Most folks don't realize that Austria can produce exceptional Chardonnay, but the Prielers prove it can be done and done well with their Chardonnay Ried Sinner 2007 ($22.98 limited), a light-to-medium bodied white with fragrant white flower, nectarine and Fuji apple aromas and flavors, possessing mild minerality tempered by the slightest bit of residual sugar. Very similar to a white Burgundy, this divine white wine is ideal for winter chicken and pork dishes. Be bold and adventurous and give this one a try.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The Grade: Amazing. The Mojo: The second straight Austrian white I have tasted this week is the Hirsch Gruner Veltliner "Veltliner #1" 2007 ($16.98), this entry level "GruVe" is playfully aromatic, with vibrant Meyer lemon, red tea, white flower, and spice notes, leading you into flavors of ginger, lemongrass, flint, fresh herbs and fresh cut flowers. It's ripe and lush on the palate, with an incredibly long finish that is so surprisingly light throughout - you will be won over by this grape and this particular producer's presentation of it. This wine is well-balanced, possessing good integration of fruit and acid, with just a touch of residual sugar to give you added intricacy. [Note: Ironically, the packaging of this wine makes it a well-suited wine for the holidays, an added bonus.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: Terry Thiese calls this white wine the best Hans Setzer has ever produced. Bold statement from one of the premier importers of Austrian and German wines. For years I have shied away from Austrian wines chiefly because of the price. Most of these Austrian beauties run above $20 a bottle, and especially in this day-and-age, you've just got to be more frugal. However, I have always, no matter how dark the economic times may be, believed that you get what you pay for, and let me tell you people, with the Setzer Riesling 2007 ($23.98), you get way more bang for the buck then you would expect. The hints of saltiness and mineral combine with lemon zest, fresh flowers, Rainer cherries, allspice and ground ginger, and a lot more. A lot is going on in this sexy beast, and the great thing about this white wine wonder is that you can actually cellar it for 5-7 years. Pretty cool. Complex, rich and decadent - it all makes for a very impressive effort from Austria.

Friday, December 12, 2008


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Columbia Crest Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red 2006 ($6.47) is the second-vintage of what has arguably become our store’s best value red. Columbia Crest is renowned for making consistently great wines that are also quite affordable, and this addition certainly continues the trend.

This red blend of primarily Syrah, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon is medium-bodied, with mild tannins, smooth red and black berry fruit flavors, hints of red plum, cinnamon, mocha and spice notes, and a finish that is quite impressive for the price. Those looking at QPR (quality-price ratio) will see this as a home run. Even in today’s dark economic times, you could still afford to buy this one by the case.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Jocelyn Lonen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2004 is a remarkable find at any price. The fact that we are selling this at ½ price is ludicrous. This rich, concentrated, full-bodied Cab is the product of two of Napa’s finest vineyard sites – Stagecoach and Krupp.

It takes awhile for this one to open up – it’s still quite young. After an hour or so of decanting, the wine is still very shy and introverted. However, after a few hours, the tannin structure is firm and silty, with a strong backbone of acidity and the presence of dense black and blue fruits, cocoa, espresso, cigar box, coffee, Darjeeling tea, cinnamon, and dried herbs. Layers and layers of complexity run throughout this wine, and the finish is long.

500 cases of this elegant, complex red were made, and this is the last vintage before the fruit will find its way into the regular Napa Valley bottling. It will be a great wine for cellaring or for your next big meal of beef tenderloin or roasted lamb.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Recently, Julie Gallaher from Things You Should Do, a great little web site for travelers who want to know what restaurants and wineries they can visit, not only in the U.S. but from around the world, asked me to write a guest blog on one of my favorite spots locally. So, being a former employee and continued fan of Jean-Robert, I recommend Chalk Food + Wine, one of my favorite places in all the land. Check out my stab at restaurant review at


It’s very cool that WBW is being hosted right in my own backyard, courtesy of Tim Lemke at Cheap Wine Ratings. It’s doubly cool that this WBW post will make our 200th post at Under The Grape Tree. SO in keeping with the spirit of Tim’s blog, and staying true to our goals here at Liquor Direct, I give to you the Cono Sur Organic Pinot Noir 2007 ($9.49).

For a bit of background on Cono Sur, this producer, which is located in the Colchagua Valley of Chile, is striving to become both the top organic wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as the leading producer of Pinot Noir in South America. With this venture (this joins the already staff favorites entry-level Pinot Noir ($7.98), Vision Pinot Noir ($11.98) and 20 Barrels Pinot Noir ($21.98) that we currently have in our stores.

Cono Sur currently has over 200 acres of Pinot Noir under vine and is all done using sustainable agricultural techniques, employing old world winemaking with state-of-the-art green viticulture.

This particular Pinot Noir is light-bodied, with an almost-cherry red hue. Its grape/cherry bouquet is fragrant and inviting, offering notes of bright berry, candy and cola as well. On the palate, there are more grapey notes, with bright fresh cherries and red raspberries, a bit of pomegranate as well. Also present are just the tiniest glints of spice and menthol, and a nice candied cherry finish. Its juicy, vibrant and has a really nice finish. It would be a nice accompaniment to Pastel de Chocio (beef, chicken and corn pie) – a traditional Chilean dish – or everyday American food such as pizza, pasta and burgers.

Go green with this delicious, inexpensive Pinot Noir. Your palate and your environment will thank you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: Coming from First Drop Wines, a brand new project from South Eastern Australia and the former winemaker of St. Hallet and the former GM of Chain of Ponds (and current GM of Schild Estate), the First Love Red 2006 ($9.98 special) is an unique blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Barbera (yes, I said Barbera!) is medium-bodied, with rich, lush red berry fruit, slight hints of pepper and spice, and a long-lasting finish that is the perfect any-night-of-the-week red wine. The blend gives you a bit of Languedoc meets Piedmont for a delicious, fun red that is chock full of style.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Usually, when something new comes along, I embrace it to the point of almost smothering it to death. It's always been my messed-up behavior. Music was always that way, from the time I heard my first KISS song, to my first real band, Neverland. And sex - oy! Don't get me started there.

Blogging has become my latest obsession. For those of you unaware of the fact, I am a self-declared media whore, mugging for the local paper, doing anything to get the store in print or on TV, and now, penning commentary for the Web, here Under The Grape Tree, as well as popping up on The 89 Project and The Wine Hub. My latest addition to my blogging whoring rap-sheet is pairing wine and music as a guest on my old friend Dale Adams' Web site - The Architek. Dale is one of my oldest friends, having started out on a rock 'n' roll journey back in high school. Over the years, Dale has evolved into one of the brightest recording engineers/producers in the South, working with a host of hip/hop, R&B and alt-rock acts coming out of Atlanta. He ask me to talk wine and music because our mutual affinity for both, so you can check out my first contribution (one of I hope will be many) at The Architek. This first contribution features the music of trance blues artist Otis Taylor and the Gros Nore Bandol 2006.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Weird Pairings Continued...

Wow, I never would have thought a South African Pinotage/Shiraz would pair with skyline chili. I also would never think to pair a Dornfelder with sauerkraut either (according to Kevin, it works). By the way, if you are ever confused about whether to pair a white or red with a difficult dish try a Barbera d' Alba.

Like Cheese? Pair any of our Cycles Gladiator wines with some aged cheddar or dubliner. Not sure how Adam manages to do it but they just have the perfect balance of acidity for cheese, especially the Pinot Noir.

Here are some other great pairings I've discovered...
  • Hearty Malbecs with a good steak

  • Dry Rieslings with Thai

  • Marquis Philips Merlot with the deer huntn' cabin

  • Stogies with fishing

  • Minerally Pinot Gris with chicken

  • Cognac with skiing

  • Rose with a ham sandwich

  • Good gin with tonic

Remember, never pair a wine with food that you don't like. For example, don't let your wine person sell you a Chardonnay to pair with a meal if you don't even like Chardonnay to begin with. There's no need to suffer through a wine you don't like just because someone told you it would be the "best" pairing. Also, if some snobby wine salesperson says that your palate sucks or is "oh so slightly off", you calmly respond with... "So's your face!"

Friday, December 5, 2008


Ever tried to find the appropriate pairing for Skyline Chili? Well, look no more my friends. I believe I have mastered this tricky combo.

You may think Greek wines would pair best, given that Skyline originated from Greek recipes. However, the general sweetness of the Greek wines available to the U.S. market don’t lend themselves entirely well to the meat-based spaghetti-hotdog variations.

But what I did try is a wine we currently have on closeout at 2 for $10, Leopards Leap Pinotage Shiraz 2004. A brief lesson on Pinotage: In 1925 two grapes were crossbred in South Africa, Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Although both French varietals, the wine produced seems nothing like its parents. Usually a wine with given characteristics of bramble, earth and tropical fruits, this wine didn’t really hit the U.S. market until the late 90’s.

Unexpectedly, this South African wine was a perfect match for my dinner last night, Skyline Chili (probably my favorite food, anyway.) Filled with plenty of fruit and chocolate notes, it brought out the elusive ingredients in Skyline, chocolate and cinnamon. Basically, a Greek man brought his chili recipe to Cincinnati in the 40’s, a South African wine hit the Cincinnati market in the 90’s, and here I am, a German-Irish gal enjoying them together. Isn’t globalization a crazy thing?

Basically, the moral of the story is to try new wines with your favorite foods all the time, and who knows, you just might get lucky and find a great pairing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I was waiting in the doctor's office with my wife the other day and to kill a bit of time, I thumbed through an old Cincinnati Magazine. At the back of the issue was an article written by our good friend Mike Rosenberg (of The Naked Vine). Mike was discussing how when he first got into wine, he was often intimidated by wine stores, not knowing what to look for or who to ask. It was kind of revealing. I mean, we've all been there.

But what struck me as hilarious was the visit to one of our competitor's I must say, and his confrontation with one of the wine staff. Mike was looking for a rose, one that wasn't too acidic, and the wine person there told him they didn't carry it and they WOULDN'T CARRY IT. Mike asked why and the person told him it wasn't acidic enough to be a real rose. When Mike said that is what he liked in a rose, the person basically came out and told him he had an inferior palate, berated him in the middle of the store and stormed off.

Ha! I thought, Damn! What balls! I know if that person worked for us, he wouldn't be working for us no more. Customer service is huge in this business because wine is such a community thing. People love to tell other people about what wine they had last night with dinner, or what wine suggestion they got from the wine store down the street. Oh, and did you see that Chateau XYZ just got 91 points in Spectator, and it's only $10!

You get the idea.

I'm glad Mike shops with us now, but regardless of where he or anyone else shops, the object of all of this is that you find good people at a place you feel comfortable with, whether it's Piazza Discepoli in Cincinnati, Eric Jerardi's Little Store up in Vandalia, Mary Kay at The Winds Wine Store way up in Yellow Springs, or Gordo down at Old Town in Louisville. The people there at the wine stores you go to are there for YOU! They may have SUGGESTIONS but they are there to service YOUR NEEDS and YOUR LIKES. That's what it's all about. And it doesn't require a Ph.D. to understand that.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


So the last few things I want to talk about are the gorgeous white dessert wines of Sauternes, Barsac, and some of the lesser known appellations, as well as what is meant by the terms “cru Bourgeois” and “Bordeaux Superieur.”

First let me lay out the Classification of Sauternes and Barsac:

Premier Cru Superieur (First Great Growth)
Chateau d’Yquem

Premier Crus (First Growths)
Chateau Climens
Chateau Coutet
Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey
Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau
Chateau Guiraud
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey
Chateau La Tour Blanche
Chateau Rabaud-Promis
Chateau Rieussec
Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud
Chateau Suduiraut

Deuxiemes Crus (Second Growths)
Chateau Broustet
Chateau Caillou
Chateau d’Arche
Chateau de Malle
Chateau de Myrat
Chateau Doisy-Daene
Chateau Doisy-Dubroca
Chateau Doisy-Vedrines
Chateau Filhot
Chateau Lamothe-Despujols
Chateau Lamote-Guignard
Chateau Nairac
Chateau Romer
Chateau Romer-du-Hayot
Chateau Suau

Obviously, the most prestigious of these chateaux is d’Yquem, the ultimate in luxury. However, wines from Chateaux Guiraud, Rieussec and Suduiraut have become highly sought after wines, with many critics feeling that these producers have equaled or perhaps even surpassed the stature of d’Yquem.

If you aren’t wanting to spend a lot of money, yet still want to experience the beauty of the botrytis cinera, you may want to investigate Loupiac, an appellation which lies on the opposite bank of the Garonne River, directly across from Sauternes and Barsac. Loupiac turns out terrific botrytisized whites without the hefty price tag. Also look into Monbazillac, the area in the Dordogne that emulates Barsac, yet is a mere fraction of its cost.

Finally, there are two terms anyone new to Bordeaux should be aware of – Cru Bourgeois and Bordeaux Superieur. The term Cru Bourgeois refers to the approximately 200 chateaux that were not part of the classification of 1855. These have for many years been viewed upon by critics as being somewhat inferior to the Classified Growths, yet nonetheless good values. However, with innovations in winemaking techniques and more modern technologies at these winemakers’ disposal, many of these once-inferior chateaux are now exceptionally well-made, and at a fraction of what the classified growths cost. Wines from such chateaux as Chasse-Spleen, Sociando-Mallet, Maucaillou, Potensac and Poujeaux are extremely good values and much easier to find.

Bordeaux Superieur refers to wines from what have been deemed less than desirable areas within Bordeaux. However, as with the Cru Bourgeois, these wines have become much more affordable alternatives to the Classified Growths – such as Chateaux Pey La Tour, Haut-Nadeau and Fleur de Rigaud.

I hope that this information has helped you in discovering a bit of what Bordeaux has to offer. I urge you to check out my friend Eric Jerardi’s entertaining DVD, Get Real Wine Volume II: Bordeaux, as well as visit for more information on this fantastic wine region.

A votre santé!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Yesterday, we discussed briefly the breakdown of the regions and subregions within Bordeaux, as well as touching on the grape varieties grown there, and the different classification systems in place for different portions of Bordeaux. Today, I wanted to go over with you the full list of the Classification of 1855, as well as detail some of the better Chateaux and some of the better values in the region.

First, let’s outline the Classification of 1855:

First Growths

Chateau Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Chateau Latour, Pauillac
Chateau Margaux, Margaux
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac

Second Growths
Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
Chateau Cos d’Estournel, St.-Estephe
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, St.-Julien
Chateau Durfort-Vivens, Margaux
Chateau Gruaud-Larose, St.-Julien
Chateau Lascombes, Margaux
Chateau Leoville-Barton, St.-Julien
Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases, St.-Julien
Chateau Leoville-Poyferre, St.-Julien
Chateau Montrose, St.-Estephe
Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Pauillac
Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse-de-Lalande, Pauillac
Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Margaux
Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux

Third Growths
Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Chateau Calon-Segur, St.-Estephe
Chateau Cantenac-Brown, Margaux
Chateau Desmirail, Margaux
Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
Chateau Ferriere, Margaux
Chateau Giscours, Margaux
Chateau Kirwan, Margaux
Chateau Lagrange, St.-Julien
Chateau La Lagune, Haut-Medoc
Chateau Langoa-Barton, St.-Julien
Chateau Malescot-St.-Exupery, Margaux
Chateau Marquis d’Alesme-Becker, Margaux
Chateau Palmer, Margaux

Fourth Growths
Chateau Beycheville, St.-Julien
Chateau Branaire-Ducru, St.-Julien
Chateau Duhart-Milon-Rothschild, Pauillac
Chateau Lafon Rochet, St.-Estephe
Chateau la Tour-Carnet, Haut-Medoc
Chateau Marquis de-Terme, Margaux
Chateau Pouget, Margaux
Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Margaux
Chateau St.-Pierre, St.-Julien
Chateau Talbot, St.-Julien

Fifth Growths
Chateau Batailley, Pauillac
Chateau Belgrave, Haut-Medoc
Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc
Chateau Clerc-Milon, Pauillac
Chateau Cos Labory, St.-Estephe
Chateau Croizet-Bages, Pauillac
Chateau d’Armailhac, Pauillac
Chateau Dauzac, Margaux
Chateau du Carmensac, Haut-Medoc
Chateau du Tertre, Margaux
Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Pauillac
Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
Chateau Haut-Bages-Liberal, Pauillac
Chateau Haut-Batailley, Pauillac
Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac
Chateau Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac
Chateau Pedesclaux, Pauillac
Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac

Obviously, the prestigious ones are the first growths, yet there are some terrific wines to be had in the other four classifications. The standouts are almost always (vintage after vintage): Leoville Las Cases (2nd growth), Cos d’Estournel (2nd growth), Lascombes (2nd growth), Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse de Lalande (2nd growth), Malescot-St.-Exupery (3rd growth), Beychevelle (4th growth), Prieure-Lichine (4th growth), Clerc-Milon (5th growth), d’Armailhac (5th growth) and Lynch Bages (5th growth). In past vintages, these wines were (and still are to some degree) a fraction of what the 1st growths cost, however, these wines, as the word gets out, are becoming more-and-more expensive.

Some rising stars for value are Chateau Sociando-Mallet and Senejac (both Haut-Medoc). These unclassified chateaux are exceptional values. Parker even argues that Sociando-Mallet should become a 5th growth wine.

For Right Bank wines, St.-Emilion are classified, yet the top two – Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone – are typically astronomically priced. It’s difficult to find a good St.-Emilion out there for under $100 (Cheval Blanc and Ausone usually come in around $1200/bottle!), but they are out there. One particular St.-Emilion we carry that is superbly affordable is the Chateau St.-Georges St.-Georges St.-Emilion, which lies just outside the city of St.-Emilion.

And of course, the super rarity, that being Pomerol, is not classified at all. The tiniest commune in all of Bordeaux, wines like Petrus, Le Pin, Lafleur and Vieux-Chateau-Certan are equally pricy, topping out these days between $800 and $1200 per bottle. Their small production and amazing cellarability make these wines highly sought after the world over.

Most consumers new to Bordeaux want to know what to look for in good value producers. Regions such as Listrac, Moulis, Cotes de Francs and Fronsac are excellent ways to initiate yourselves in quality Bordeaux for not a lot of money. Chateau Fonreaud (Listrac-Medoc), Chateau Chasse-Spleen (Moulis), Chateau Puygueraud (Cotes de Francs) and Chateau Fontenil (Fronsac) are great examples of getting all you can out of the region for very little green.

Also, look for wines produced by or consulted on by enologists such as Michel Rolland (subject of the documentary Mondovino) and Jonathan Malthus, or negociants like Andre Lurton and Dourthe. These individuals or groups usually deal with multiple Chateaux and make sure that quality is high and accessibility is good.

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap things up with a look at the sweeter side of Bordeaux, as well as the peripheral region of the Dordogne.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Lately, I have become enamored with all things Bordeaux. Obviously I picked a good time to really fall in love with Bordeaux – with the 2005 vintage, the wines were across the board incredible – though prices were astronomical. In light of that, Liquor Direct kicks off its first ever Bordeaux sale, one I hope we can repeat. And in honor of the event, I’d like to offer up a primer for those who want to learn more about these incredible wines, yet not invest a few years trying to decipher all the ins-and-outs of the region and its beautiful wines.

First off, let’s talk about the region of Bordeaux. The province of Bordeaux sits on the western Atlantic shores of France, in the southwesternly portion of the country. The town of Bordeaux sits at the mouth of the Gironde river, the body of water which separates the region into two distinct parts – the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The predominant number of communes (villages) lie within the Left Bank, while the Right Bank possesses primarily 2 communes (Pomerol and St.-Emilion).

Second, the grape varieties are set in stone: for whites, the grapes are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle, and to a lesser extent, Ugni Blanc. And for the reds, the grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

When we in the business talk about Bordeaux, we often speak of the different Chateaux (wine houses) as either Left- or Right-Bank in style. The predominant grape in Left Bank reds is Cabernet Sauvignon, while Right-Bank usually boasts a majority of Merlot (although the commune of St.-Emilion does at times emphasize Cabernet Franc, such as Chateau Cheval Blanc). With the whites, Sauvignon Blanc is used primarily in the still wines, while Semillon tends to be the dominant grape used in the Sauternes and Barsac wines.

The lesser known aspect of the Bordeaux geography is that the Gironde divides into two smaller estuaries – the Garonne and the Dordogne. The land that stretches between these two smaller rivers is known as the Entre-Deux-Mers (between two seas). It is in this area that one finds the Loupiac (viewed by many as a sort-of poor man’s Sauternes, a real value). The Loupiac lies just across the banks of the Garonne from the Sauternes, Barsac and Ceron.

So let’s delve in a bit further, shall we?

From north to south, the communes are as follows:
1. The Northern Medoc
A. St.-Estephe
B. Pauillac
C. St.-Julien
2. Central Medoc
A. Listrac-Medoc
B. Moulis-en-Medoc
3. The Southern Medoc: Margaux
4. Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers
A. Barsac
B. Cadillac
C. Cerons
D. Entre-Deux-Mers
E. Graves
F. Loupiac
G. Pessac-Leognan
H. Sauternes

From north to south, the communes are as follows:
1. Libournais
A. Fronsac
B. Canon-Fronsac
C. Lalande-de-Pomerol
D. Pomerol
E. St.-Emilion
F. Cotes du Castillon
G. Montagne-St.-Emilion
H. Lussac-St.-Emilion
I. St.-Georges-St.-Emilion
2. Dordogne
A. Cotes de Francs
B. Montravel
C. Haut-Montravel
D. Bergerac
E. Cotes de Duras
F. Monbazillac
G. Pecharmant
H. Rousette
I. Saussignac

The region is far more than just the usual suspects. However, it is the classified growths that get the predominance of attention. Beginning in 1855, the producers of the Medoc were gathered together in Paris by Napoleon III. It was under the simple guise of the chateaux coming together to rate the quality of their own wines. Appalled by the prospect of turning their neighbors against them, they rebelled at the idea, and the task was given to the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. The inevitable result was a ranking of the Chateaux into five categories: First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Growths. Out of the hundreds of producers only 61 were classified.

The Classification of 1855 has stood pretty much intact since its creation, with only one change coming in 1973 (the elevation of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild from second to first growth), and has fueled the increase of asking prices for these wines with each passing vintage.

Sauternes and Barsac, also in 1855, ranked their chateaux, initially classifying a total of 22 producers, with 1 Premier Grand Cru Superieur Classe, 11 Premier Cru Classes and 12 Deuxiemes Cru Classes.

In 1953, Graves ranked 16 chateaux as Cru Classes. The list was revised in 1959 and remains as such today.

In 1954, St.-Emilion classified the chateaux into 11 Premier Grand Cru Classes and53 Grand Cru Classes. This classification is revised every decade, with the last being 1996. [Note: the 2006 revision was overturned by the French government after several chateaux were declassified. The decision is still causing upheaval in St.-Emilion 2 years later.]

These classifications have been confusing, and at times, deceiving, due to the implication of increasing quality with the higher rankings. Many critics feel this deception is most evident, and many of them, including Robert Parker, have often suggested that many chateaux, such as Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases, a second-growth producer now, should be elevated to first-growth status, and Chateau Lynch-Bages, currently a fifth-growth producer, should be elevated to second-growth status.

The reasons for these suggestions are obvious: the permanence of these rankings has led to rampant complacency and in some instances, utter collapse of winemaking standards.

Tomorrow, I will present the Classification of 1855 in full, as well as offer up some great second-label releases and inexpensive alternatives.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


What has always fascinated me is how wine "critics" go about assessing the so-called quality of a wine. There is the ever-popular, often-vilified 100-point system, which really isn't a 100-point system, but a 50-point system, as well as the 20-point system, which is usually employed at Wine Festivals like our local Cincinnati International Wine Festival (of which I have been a judge the past two years). To employ one of those scales is in a lot of ways, taking both the joy and the artistic expression of the wines. Granted, there is a lot of plonk out there (as evident I found during my last two stints at the CIWF), but ultimately, every winemaker is after some sort of expression, much like a poet, a songwriter, a painter, or any other type of artist.

The difference between rating wines and assessing their market appeal are two entirely different animals, if only in the fact that you have to look at the wine's QPR (quality-price ratio) and any other nuances that might be appealing to consumers - like limited availability or direct import or regionality, there are a host of variables.

Buying by the numbers is almost an inherent indication that the buyer (for a wine store, restaurant, etc.) is without any real palate or knowledge of their own. It's something I have learned over the years, thanks in large part to a great many individuals I have come to respect and admire - not only for their palates, but for their passion and desire for this business and for wine itself. My buddy Eric Jerardi was one who I feel unintentionally coerced me into exploring my own palate as I was building my first wine list at Cafe Boulevard in Dayton, Ohio (while I was bar manager there). People like Mary Kay at The Winds in Yellow Springs and the late, great Doug Simon of Arrow Wine & Spirits, who had a fairly innovative approach to how they selected wines for their respective stores. So many people I have met and worked either for or with over the years, have contributed to my own wine education, and I continue to learn each day.

Yet it is ironically, the artist in me that seeks out the unique, artistic expression in a wine before I really consider it for the store. As far as the scores go, I am unimpressed. The worst thing a winemaker or an importer can do when pitching a wine to me is bringing up the scores it received FIRST. Right there, that is a tell that the wine sucks and they can't sell it. A wine should be something that is almost too intangible to describe YET THEY FIND A WAY ANYWAY.

A great example is the first time I tried Verite - a big boy Sonoma blend from wine mastermind Jess Jackson. I was introduced to the first vintage - the 1998 - by way of an old friend, Rich Collins, who was working for Corterra Brands (the brokerage representing Verite, as well as Stonestreet, Cambria, and others - it's now called Majestic Wines). Sitting in the store with him and the brand manager - whose name escapes me right now - and tasting the wine, there wasn't a great deal of bantering. No need - the wine was ethereal. I actually told him it reminded me of a poem I continue to herald as one of my faves, by Pablo Neruda, called "Body of a Woman." One of the most sensuous works of the modern era, and the poem was pretty seductive too.

Years later, I was able to revisit the wine upon my visit to the winery with my wife. At this point, the wine was 8 years old. And it was even more remarkable than when I first tasted it. It literally stopped time.

Granted, this is a pretty exaggerated example, but you get the point. What speaks to me as a buyer is what's in the bottle. An Aussie blend that rocks, and it's under $10 - bring it on! A Bordeaux Superieur from a great vintage that drinks like a classified growth, and I can sell it for under $20. Rock on!

The point is that while everyone is up-in-arms over Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, the crux of the matter is that these guys are no different in being able to assess the quality of a wine than YOU are. Sure they have their magazines and their subscribers, but in the end, it's all about YOU. They could just as easily score Chateau Whatsits 2008 a 100-point wine, but you could buy it, try it, and think it positively sucks. That's just the way it is - taste is subjective. Only yours counts in the end.

And they don't really want you to realize that. Once you do, then you won't give a crap about anything they say.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Domaine Lafage Cote Est 2006 ($10.59) is a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, and comes to us from the coastal regions of Southern France. It has a surprisingly medium-bodied complexity with dense stone fruit flavors and aromas, possessing hints of white flowers, mineral and slight creamy textures. Its smooth, plush mouthfeel makes it an enticing drink, perfect for fish, chicken or poultry.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: Wow! I love Cabernet Franc. So I’ve always been fascinated with the Wit’s End Procrastinator 2006 ($19.69) from McLaren Vale in Australia a very intriguing drink. Here you have a Cab Franc that is surprisingly translucent in color, garnet with a pinkish hue. Yet on the palate, dried cherries, violet, red raspberries, mineral, cedar, tobacco and espresso wash over the tongue in intermittent tones, mingling into a real red wine lover’s complexity. There is a lot of depth and character here, and the lingering cherry and spice finish is quite gratifying. Definitely something off the beaten path for you to try.


We at Liquor Direct would just like to take a few moments and wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving today. In the rushing around, trying to get this wine or that turkey, or pick up that centerpiece, or those relatives at the airport, it's easy to forget that today is about family and friends getting together to share all that they are thankful for in this world.

And even though the economy is pretty crappy, and the weather may or may not be crappy, and the Thanksgiving dinner might be crappy, it doesn't mean that the getting-together has to be crappy.
Know what I'm saying?

Happy holidays, and remember, slow down, they'll be leftovers tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: Damn! This is a juicy beast! Consider the Two Angels Divinity 2006 ($22.98) Napa Valley’s answer to a Chateauneuf du Pape. This sexy blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah is dark in color, very fragrant in the nose with expressive notes of red flowers, red and black berry fruit and dark spices, and shows of a supple, peppery blackberry compote with delightful acidity. The finish is long and lingering, leaving one with the flavor of sun-ripened blackberries for what seems forever. Give this one a try… soon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I am not a real fan of network TV anymore. All the shows that I get into (aside from House) are always teetering on the brink of extinction (Jericho anyone? And now My Own Worst Enemy?). The shows that remain on the air (insert ANY reality show here) pretty much suck. So whenever I hear the phrase SEASON FINALE, I greet it with a modicum of skepticism.

However, in a completely different use of the phrase, our own wine tasting season finale (which comes before a 5 week hiatus, allowing us to regroup during the silly season) is this coming weekend (for all those still in shock from Turkey-and-in-laws OD).

This weekend, our two-part tasting will feature a total of 12 wines, 6 at each store, and presented in a sort-of continuous decadence - all part of our way of thanking all of our customers for a great year. This tradition was begun the year we began our tastings, 3 years ago (or was it 4?) and we always try to outdo ourselves (I am having a hard time reaching my back for self-congratulatory backpatting, so could you do it for me?).

The lineup is as follows:

Part 1 - Marc Herbert Brut Selection NV, Mischief & Mayhem Chablis 2006, Thelema Chardonnay 2006, Mirabile Viognier 2006, P. Delesvaux Anjou Authentique 2005 and Lemelson Pinot Noir Thea's Selection 2006.

Part 2 - Remirez de Ganuza Rioja 2002, Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard 2006, Mirabile Tannat 2005, Mollydooker Shiraz Blue Eyed Boy 2007, Chateau Monbousquet St.-Emilion 2003 and Pedestal Merlot 2005.

Friday night, part 1 will be on tap at our Covington store and part 2 at Fort Thomas. Saturday afternoon will be the reverse.
As with all of our tastings, there is no charge whatsoever. So please, don't be shy, come on in, and tell a few dozen of your friends too.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: I am always intrigued by anything imported by Terry Thiese, yet I’ve shied away from his Austrian wines simply because they (Austrian wines) are a tough sell. Well, this time I bit the bullet and ordered the Heidi Schrock Muscat 2007 ($25.98), which really isn’t a Muscat at all, but a proprietary blend of 40% Gelber Muskateller, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Ottonel. The nose on this wine is really cool, with a spicy papaya/pineapple/lime quality matched up with honeysuckle and orange blossom. There are notes of wet stone and Chinese Five Spice in there as well, and I haven’t even tasted the stuff yet! On the palate, there are almost-creamy tones of citrus, pickled ginger, white peach, apricot and orange zest, and even a saltiness that is pretty crazy. This is a very complex, very intricate wine from start-to-finish. And I’d even venture to pair it with Thanksgiving. All I can say is “Wow!”

Sunday, November 23, 2008


So in thinking ahead for Thanksgiving, I am sitting at my home tasting table, with new kitten Wiley playing with the newly peeled capsule off one of the wines, and sampling three Chenin Blancs, a grape perfectly suited for Thanksgiving. I've pulled 2 South African Chenin Blancs (the Simonsig 2007 and Kanu 2007) and one from the Loire Valley (the Michel Picard Vouvray):

The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2007 ($11.98) is quite fragrant in the glass, possessing hints of mineral, nutmeg and starfruit in the nose. Its light-to-medium bodied, with honeydew melon, Anjou pear and lime characters, propped up by wet stone and balanced acidity. It’s been a few vintages since I last had this wine, and I was not disappointed. This white wine is really great for the price, and would lend itself well to your Thanksgiving feast.


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: I have always been very surprised by the quality of wines from Kanu, and the Kanu Chenin Blanc 2007 ($8.99) continues the trend. There are a lot of mineral, lime and melon notes in the nose, with hints of guava, kiwi, apple and ginger. The light, delicate body of this wine is deceptive; there is a lot of complexity here, especially for under $10 a bottle. This wine really shows off just what the Chenin Blanc grape is capable of without costing an arm-and-a-leg.


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Michel Picard Vouvray 2006 ($10.98) is a subtle, light-bodied and fruit-driven Chenin Blanc from the Loire that is sure to satisfy your need for a white wine this time of year. Ideal for fish, chicken and pork dishes – should actually do well with sauerkraut – the stone fruit, melon and lime notes intermingle with slight hints of nutmeg, mineral and white flowers. The finish is slightly sweet, giving it an almost-marmalade texture on the palate, and continues for close to a minute. A great buy!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: I continue to internally thank Jo Diaz of Juicy Tales for prodding me along on my re-exploration of Petite Sirah, and here I am with one of the benchmarks in the wine business for PS – the Foppiano Petite Sirah 2004 ($17.98). I actually just met with Louis Foppiano last month, who was gracious and extremely patient for meeting myself (along with Jesse and Shannon) in our fast-paced, labyrinthine Covington store. This stunning red is deep, rich and seductive, on both the nose and palate, with chewy tannins, juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit, rich baking spices and touches of smoky vanillin oak. There is a lot going on in this wine. And for those of you who have never tasted a Petite Sirah, this is a fantastic initiation to the grape.

Friday, November 21, 2008


It seems awfully early to reach this point this year but already I am bleary eyed and barking mad. I realize that most of the economic situation is bordering on kamikaze but here in the wine and spirits world, there's a hustle and a bustle that are dizzying to the senses. It's rough keeping up, though I fight for that "eye of the storm" every day. Thank God for my own personal Wonder Twins (Jesse and Shannon).

Yet like the outside world, the wine and spirits world is very dynamic, always ebbing and flowing like a high rising river and levees breaking on all sides.

But I digress.

The holidays (the span between Thanksgiving and Christmas) is the busiest time in the retail world, though thanks to the current economic crises, our counterparts in other aspects of retail will arguably not fair so well. In sad economic times, we seem to want to drink more, so at least there is that. But the stress levels seem to go up, even as our stores do well. Just the nature of the beast I guess.

I hope that you will all join me in being thankful for what we have (though it gets smaller and shabbier each day) and appreciate all that's good in this world. And as for the bad, screw 'em!