Friday, April 25, 2008

Color My Spring Pink

It seems high time to mount my high horse and expound on the pleasures of a good, dry blush wine. Think pink, man! That should be every wine merchant’s battle cry this time of year, because pink wine, is perfectly balanced for the slightly warmer weather, and all of the cuisine that goes with it. Most people however, see the pink stuff in the glass and assume that is going to be sweet. Thank you Sutter Home and Beringer White Zinfandel for that false sense of syrupiness.

For those of you still disbelieving in the pink stuff, the good rosés are bled from the grapes right after or during the process of skin removal, giving the juice some of the pigmentation of the skins, but not all of it, hence the color and lightness of hue. The term for this is “saignée.” The aim is to produce a lightly pinkish red wine that boasts more flavor and more phenolic structure, giving it more grip on the palate and providing more flavor character for the consumer. Typically, these wines drink fuller and richer than many rosés, such as wines from Provence, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

One prime example is the Kenwood Pinot Noir Rosé 2006 ($8.98) is delectably crafted from a saignée of 100% Russian River Pinot Noir that exudes fresh strawberries and raspberries in the nose, continuing on the enlivening fruit and floral palate to its refreshingly crisp and invigorating finish.

Another surprisingly good blush is the Juno Rosé 2007 ($7.69) from South Africa. This mindblowingly delicious pink made entirely from Pinotage (surprise!) is loaded with strawberry and watermelon notes, filled with lovely acidity and finishing with juicy ripe citrus and red berry tones. Here’s a nice pink wine for the summer that certainly won’t break the bank (we’ll leave that to the oil companies!).

From Oregon comes the amazing Abacela Rosado 2006 ($14.59). This blend of 93% Tempranillo and 7% Grenache has notes of fresh strawberry, sweet cranberry and orange peel flavors. This blush is almost garnet in color, and possesses more body and depth than a typical blush. Intense red berry and cherry fruit flavors abound, giving this a wonderfully juicy quality.

Also, coming from Santa Barbara is the Epiphany Grenache Rosé 2005 ($14.99). This wine doesn’t even drink like a rosé, with an almost-Pinot Noir-meets-Syrah character, this medium-bodied pink gives you a lot of fresh strawberry and cherry notes, with juicy watermelon intermixed within its delicious, round, lively character. It has an extraordinarily long finish, with layers of complexity not found too often in pink wine.

There is a vast array of rosés out there, the majority of them being very dry, and extremely refreshing and well-suited for food. This time of year, with light chicken and seafood dishes, sweet barbeque sauces, and things like potato salad and deviled eggs, just serve pink.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Fan Boy's Gratitude

I’ve become a big fan of Jean-Luc Colombo’s wines recently. What this winemaker is doing in the Northern Rhone is fascinating, bringing change to what has been seen as a staunchly adverted-to-change environment. Primarily thought of as a producer of exceptional single-vineyard Cornas, Colombo’s foray into white wine is no less significant, as exhibited here in the Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes-du-Rhone La Redonne 2006 ($13.96) – a blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne. Drawing from the extraordinary vineyard sites in Condrieu (the Viognier) and St.Joseph (the Roussanne), this delicious, medium-bodied white wine offers up notes of mangoes and apricots in the nose, giving way to a soft minerality intermingling with peaches and white flowers on the palate. The wine has a slightly viscous mouthfeel, with surprising honeyed fruit tones and well-balanced acidity.

All-in-all, this white wine gives you a remarkable amount of character for the price. Another stunning effort from Colombo, give this wine a try. Like me, you'll be glad you did.

Brief Escape to Down Under

After a hectic weekend, I managed to sit down with the Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($13.98), an excellent white wine brought to us by our good friends at TGIC Importers. I typically expect New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs (this one hails from the Marlborough region) to be all grapefruit and nothing but the grapefruit, yet this light-bodied white exhibited much more. With hints of guava and gooseberry both in the nose and on the palate, this expressive white shows off its acidic nature, lending to its desire to match with fresh seafood or light salads. The inclusion of 11% Semillon softens the often-piercing acidity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, giving this wine a New World take on white Bordeaux.

Though finishing a bit short, this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has enough citrus fruit, mineral and dried herbs to give it significant depth and character. This 100% stainless-steel fermented Sauvignon Blanc gives clean, crisp, satisfying pleasure that is perfect for summer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


So I am in the midst of a maelstrom it seems, with more and more tasks at hand, yet as my new No.2, Jess, gets more adept at handling my excess chaos, I find a few moments every so often to relax and focus on my home hobby – cat herding. For those of you that do not know me all that well, my wife and I have 7 cats – most of them the size of small dogs – and they all have become a huge source of calm and hilarity in my world. (The most puckish of them – Stinkerbell (a short-haired Torty with big alien eyes) – has just joined me at the table and is demanding that I pay her some attention).

And so, it is at one of those moments of calm that I am able to sit before my laptop and wield a few tasting notes on a threesome of wines I have recently tasted.

First off, I managed to try the new Layer Cake Cotes-du-Rhone 2006 ($13.98). You heard right – Layer Cake Cotes-du-Rhone. This rather brawny version of a Cotes-du-Rhone is juicy, jammy, and very appealing for those of you that like your wines a bit more voluptuous than a typical Old World wine. Far from the normal style, this fruity red is loaded with red and black berry fruit aromas and flavors, with hints of mocha, vanilla and white pepper. Conjuring the image of Baked Alaska, this jammy red has a wonderfully long and satisfying finish, and certainly brings a smile to one’s lips.

Second of all, I finally got to try a stunning effort from Michele Laluce – the Zimberno Aglianico del Vulture 2005 ($21.49). This is a fairly new addition to the portfolio of John Given Wines, one of my favorite importers of Italian wine. This delectable red from the Basilicata region of Italy (lying between Campania and Puglia – the knuckle of the foot so to speak) demonstrates a lighter, more acidic style of the grape, showing off loads of red and black cherries, with hints of cola, red flowers and even a dash of rosemary. Lighter tannins and well-balanced acidity give this wine a big advantage when matched with Sicilian or Mediterranean cuisine. A really nice effort!

(My tiniest of cats, Peaseblossom – a black cat with white socks and a small marshmallow smudge on the nose – has just made an appearance at my feet.)

The last wine of my home flight is the Chateau les Reuilles Bordeaux 2005 ($9.99). A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, this inexpensive red is medium-bodied, with medium tannins and a good presence of acidity. Though not overwhelming, the expression of red and black currants in the nose give this wine a boast, with red and black fruit flavors exposing notes of cola and baking spices. Remarkable considering the demand for 2005 Bordeaux is so high right now, this value-packed red is a nice treat, and good exposure to what really is a spectacular vintage.

With the sun going down on my back porch, and the natives of the house getting restless (my youngest of the broad, the white long-haired colossus known to our home as Moonshine, is busy chasing all the girls around, hoping for at least a bit of affection (they all find Moonshine a bit boorish)), it is time to head off to bed so I can get up tomorrow and start the whirlwind all over again.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Our weekly newsletter, The Buzz, has built up some weird following over the last year or so. Not that that is a bad thing. But it seems more people download it than pick it up in the store. But after wading through a river of ideas today (note all the water allusions to all you local folks sleeping in your rubber pajamas), the latest addition is up and ready for download at

MY NO. 2 IS ON CH.48

This weekend, one of my two new assistants, Jesse Stambaugh will be on the Action Auction on Channel 48 Saturday night, thanks in part to good friend and fellow blogger Michelle Lentz ( There will be a lot of great wine-related items up for bid, and all for a good cause. Tune in and give them a call. And wish Jesse a belated Happy Birthday!


So each month, I manage to pull together a dozen wines that I think are standouts in the store. Sometimes they can be old favorites but new vintages, yet others tend to be wines I've not ever had before. This month's group is a dozen brand new wines in our store, many of which had been previously unfamiliar. Check this April's and past selections out at

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A New Favorite

Switching gears, I got home Monday evening, opting not to enjoy the beautiful sunny day on the patio, but instead, to share with all of you one of my new favorite reds, the 2004 Chateau St.Georges St.Georges-St.Emilion. This gorgeous red appears like liquid rubies in the glass, with just a small opaque, deep purple center. The aromas of blackberry, loganberry and black currant leap from the glass, intermingled with clove, dried herbs, cedar and mocha. It is a wonderful bouquet.

The flavors of red and black currants continue on the palate, with black cherries, hints of pomegranate, blood orange, rose petal and cinnamon stick wafting in and out of the medium- to full-bodied middle. The aromas continue to influence you as it lingers, with a good balance of grip and acidity.

This Merlot-driven red is ideal for near-term drinking, which is a huge bonus in Bordeaux in my opinion. Obviously, 2005 being a more dynamic year, will need some time in the bottle to soften and mature, yet like many 2004s, this red is a real bargain, and one you don’t have to wait too long for.

We have a good supply of 2004, at $22.98 on special (normally around $30 retail) so if Bordeaux is what is on your mind, look no further than this tasty red.

Monday, April 7, 2008

After the Curtain Falls

So after another brief weekend, I have had time to digest all of the comments made to me at the past weekend’s wine tastings here at LD Covington, many concerning this year’s Cincinnati International Wine Festival. A LOT OF PEOPLE said this very same thing to me: “I was extremely disappointed at what was at the CIWF this year.” Many of our customers who braved the drunken debauchery of the CIWF this year were overwhelmed by the number of wines yet underwhelmed by both the quality of said wines, and the lack of decent food. I guess Kroger’s Private Selection eats do not qualify as acceptable when you’re spending $70 for admission, but that is just me – as well as virtually every customer of mine that went.

Now, I tell people this every year, that you can’t just go to this event without a game plan. You’ve got to do a bit of early recon before sojourning out to the Convention Center. Find out what is there that you haven’t tried, or wines you haven’t had in awhile and figure out where they are in the floor plan and go.

Huge praise goes out to Audrey Wood and TGIC Importers, Mark Maher and Cutting Edge Selections, David Kantor and Vineyard Brands, and all the good people of Vintner Select with the Robert Whale Selections, Marc de Grazia, Hendry wines and Alain Junguenet booths and a massive thank you to John Erickson and the Wimbledon Wines booth. There were other good wines there to be sure, but the aforementioned exhibitors were my standouts.

What really threw me for a loop was the special tasting room, which cost festival-goers an additional $35! Wow! Does that come with a massage? Is there one of those swag bags like the ones they give out at the Oscars? It sort of takes away from the spirit of the event, which is to promote the adventure of wine appreciation and the discovery of new tastse, but again, that’s just me.

With all the fantastic wines out there, you would think that there were be more of them represented, but when it is primarily driven by a few distributors, there is not much objectivity there. And the medal winners – I am almost embarrassed to be a judge for this event. I will probably not be asked to do it next year after this, but I always call it like I see it. No B.S. here.
I hope that the people who attended send comments to the Wine Festival board, in the hopes that more attention is paid to the product being sold than it was this year. The event has the potential to be really amazing, yet it certainly falls flat, especially this year.

If you do have comments concerning the CIWF this year, please let me know at or you can send them directly by visiting the contact page at

Friday, April 4, 2008


Thursday evening, and after dinner has been served, and the dishes are languishing in the sink, I have settled down to my Grandpa Brennaman’s old dinner table, to taste through a couple of wines we just got in courtesy of the Grateful Palate, an importer of powerful fruit bombs championed by the likes of Robert Parker and Harvey Steinam, as well as high-alcohol wine fans everywhere. Though not my usual cup of tea, I decided that I’ll exercise my palate by tasting the new Strong Arms Shiraz 2006 ($9.49) from Grateful Palate big cheese Dan Phillips, and his latest hired gun winemaker superstar Chris Ringland, as well as a pair of ultrarare oddballs from Tscharke: The Curse Zinfandel 2006 and Only Son Tempranillo Graciano 2006 (both $18.49).

Tasting order be damned, I started with the Strong Arms Shiraz, which is one of the latest concoctions from Chris Ringland and Dan Phillips’ R Winery. What starts off fairly subtle, this little red has a ruby red to light purple color in the glass, giving off lots of raspberry, blackberry and hints of red flowers and cinnamon in the bouquet. There is more red berry and spice across the palate, with splashes of dark chocolate, notes of tobacco and smoke, and medium body and tannins throughout the finish. All-in-all, not a bad drink for $10. (My wife didn’t like this one much, though the label did catch her eye.)

Next up, I opted for the Tscharke The Curse, a late harvested Zinfandel clocking in at 15.5% alcohol. I fully expected a very sweet, raisiny dessert wine, but instead, was greeted by a medium-to-full bodied red with a surprising balance of acidity. The color was a bit more purple than the Strong Arms, and the aroma lent itself to more licorice, red currants and white pepper. On the tongue, there were elements of raspberry, dragonfruit, espresso and cocoa powder. A bit odd, I know, but so is a Zinfandel from the Barossa Valley. It finishes long, with medium tannins, and good balance. It is definitely one of those wines you should try for yourself. (My wife agreed that this one was the best of the three.)

So before I head off to bed (my eyes start drooping before the 10 o’clock news), I wrapped up my little taste test with the Tscharke Only Son, a high-alcohol blend of Tempranillo and Graciano (neither of which is all that prevalent in Australia, with Graciano fast becoming an endangered fruit even in its native Spain). Essentially an Aussie Rioja, this medium-to-full-bodied red was deep purple in color with more floral character in the glass than The Curse. It possesses quite a lot of red berry fruit, even a bit of black cherry and hints of cola. There are a lot of spices on the palate, though those notes exercise much restraint under the veil of oak. Once again, a big alcohol wine that you really couldn’t tell by the taste, that’s for sure. The finish is round and pleasing, as if taking a bite out of a caramelized red berry tart with mocha powder. (My wife thought the finish was too tart, and gave this a Caesarean thumbs-down.)

All three of these wines aren’t long for our shelves. We received only a small allocation of the Strong Arms (15 cases) and a laughable few bottles of the two Tscharkes (I felt compelled to try these two only because I never seem to know how to answer people when asked whether I’ve had these ridiculously allocated wines). I hope that you can try these, and I look forward to sharing more tasting notes with you.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The First Time

The first time is always the most awkward. For me, it was quite messy. Just getting it out was difficult enough, but I didn't really have the tools to get the job done right. I am talking about wine for all of you closet perverts out there. And like my first time opening a bottle of wine, I am awkwardly sojourning into the blogosphere for the first time, unsure of what will come of this. I hope to get in one or two each week (posts that is), letting you know the ins-and-outs of the retail side of the grape. I hope to have my two new assistants, Jesse and Shannon put their two cents in as well, along with some interviews and of course, an appearance from me on my weather-worn soapbox.

There's a lot that goes on in bringing to you the wines we deem fit to lend space to in our stores, as I am sure many other retailers labor just as hard as we do. In our tiny store in Covington, there isn't a lot of space for everything, so it becomes an arduous process of elimination to get to the wines we feel are the most fantastic for our customers.

And there is a lot of quasi-political nonsense that accompanies the selecting of the wines, with various distributors jockeying for both the MVP and Nimrod of the Week awards, whether it is something our staff is hot on that they suddenly ran out of, or a big invoicing snafu, you never know what you're gonna get when you buy for a retail wine shop.

But instead of just boring you with all of my backroom confessionals, I want to share with you wines I think are phenomenal - whether it is for price, for uniqueness, or just an all-around steller bottle of juice. There's a host of pundits out there who weigh in on wine scores, vintages, cult status and so on, but I simply want to let you into my crazy mind, somewhat stained and saturated by the grape for the past decade or so, and share with you my twisted, left-of-center viewpoint on wine.

Let me know what you think, ask me questions, and I hope to give you a different perspective than the usual black-and-white presentation. Three cheers for thirty shades of grey - and purple!