Thursday, May 29, 2008


To give you a more broad brushstroke of wine info, I have been prodding my two new assistant wine buyers - Jessica Stambaugh and Shannon Depenbrock - to begin contributing to the Grape Tree, to sort of share with everyone their viewpoints into this crazy world of retail wine. First up is Shannon, with a look into one of the less-than-glamorous aspects of tasting on the job - spitting...

TO SPIT OR NOT TO SPIT (by Shannon D.)

I’m standing in the back room, ready for my first official tasting as Assistant Wine Buyer, feeling excited that after a week of work, I finally get to actually taste some wine! A Wine Rep is in from Lexington, and we’re opening up some Australian Shiraz. We begin with Dirty Bliss. (Get your minds out of the gutter people, we’re talking about the sheer joy of working in a vineyard, tending the vines.) I’m swirling and smelling, commenting on the nose (smooth and almost creamy) and trying to act very professional. Then we begin to sip and taste, noting the nuances of the wine in our glass. All of this is going just as I imagined it would. A Rep in the back room with a case of wines to try, Kevin, Jess and I all enjoying a break in our busy day to try some really remarkable wines.

And then it happened. My snap back to reality. The end of the dream. Kevin picks up the bucket, and spits in it. Imagine the sound of rain on a tin roof. It had just rained on my parade.

So, following suit, Jess takes the bucket and spits out the wine. (She’s been here for a few months already, and knows the jist of things). Although I had already swallowed my first sip, I take another sip, and attempt my “professional” spit into the bucket.

Lets talk proper spit etiquette. (It exists?). Always brought up to be a well mannered young woman, I was a little taken aback by this blazon disregard for all thing ladylike. I lowered my head and even recall turning my back a little, just so no one could see the wine abandon my mouth.

After a few more delicious wines, one in particular called Fox Gordon, which made me want to take it home and drink the bottle with some dark chocolate, and some subsequent spitting endeavors, my first professional tasting was complete.

“I liked those wines, I didn’t want to spit them out!” I complain to Kevin later. He gives me a word from the wise, and tells me to learn from his mistakes. In the beginning of his career he felt the same as I, enjoying the flavors and subtleties of the wines so much he refused to spit it out. And he fell asleep at his desk everyday after tasting.

So, this is why we spit out perfectly good wines. Better than good, sometimes. To be efficient, hard working professionals. To complete an honest days work.

Today, after moving cases of wine around to our different stores all morning, (and building some impressive arm muscles, I might add), we tasted through a good amount of wine. And I spit them all out. Even the really good ones, like a Sauvignon Blanc called Two Angels, that had green flavors and grapefruit, a perfect refreshing wine after all the sweating I had done earlier.

So what has my spitting experience taught me? That the world of wine retail is not as glamorous a place as it sounds, that it’s not a haven for people who like to just drink wine all day. Sometimes, to get work done, you just gotta spit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I’m sitting in my office listening to the new Ashes Divide CD and mulling over what to include in the new email blast, which is a fairly arcane process itself. All of you computer jockeys out there would laugh me into next week if you knew how I had to do it right now, but such is the beauty of bringing you the lowest prices possible – razor thin overhead.

Anyway, as I listen to this new disc and the buzzing of the tiny fan behind me (which keeps me from melting in this pizza oven of an office), I can finally get around to telling you about a great summer white, the Cantina Cincinnato Illirio Bianco Cori 2006 ($11.98). This medium-to-full-bodied white from Cori (an ancient city just outside of Rome in the province of Lazio (Latium)) is brought to the states via John Given Wines.

When I first learned of the wines from Cincinnato, I obviously had to bring them in, but I was more than surprised by the character of the fruit presented both in the white and the red (the Raverosse Rosso 2004 ($13.98)). I was so impressed I made them wines of the month for this past month.

The Illirio Bianco is an unique blend of 30% Trebbiano, 40% Malvasia and 30% Bellone (a varietal that until now I was unfamiliar with). The nose of this beauty is wildly fragrant in the nose, with hints of lemon and lime zest and baked pineapple. It’s a bit like an Hawaiian luau – all you need is the sunny beaches and all that blue water (and don’t forget the poi!). On the palate, there’s more citrus and tropical fruit flavors with hints of nutmeg and vanilla (despite the fact this is entirely tank-fermented). It finishes dry and would lend itself well as an aperitif wine or first-course wine. It would also make for a refreshing change from a light beer on a hot summer day.

Come by and check it out! You won't be disappointed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Comin'Atcha Live

The latest edition of Liquor Direct's The Buzz is available online now! Also, a sneak peak at Liquor Direct's June Wines of the Month are the Jean-Luc Colombo Cote Bleue Le Pins Couches Rouge 2005 ($11.97) and Viognier La Violette 2007 ($13.96). For more information, check out and look for Jean-Luc Colombo.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Recently, I read Tina Caputo’s article in the May issue of Wines & Vines, an industry mag that is more concerned with winemakers and wholesalers, but it’s nevertheless a pretty handy insider look into the biz. Ms. Caputo’s article was entitled “Many Consumers Overwhelmed” and reported on the recently completed “Project Genome” consumer survey conducted by Constellation Brands U.S. – the megacorp borker/importer of brands such as Franciscan, Blackstone, Simi, Penfolds, Hogue, Lindeman’s and many more.

Heralded as one of the largest consumer surveys ever conducted, this 2005 study of 3500 wine drinkers concluded that 23% of those were overwhelmed by the sheer number of wines available for public consumption. Indeed, even someone like me, a self-proclaimed supergeek that eats, drinks (obviously) and lives wine, is pretty blown away by all the new wines that hit the streets each week. It’s absolutely for most of us professionals so I can only imagine how intimidating it is for anyone new to drinking wine.

The report goes on to say that more needs to be done to help deflate the daunting aspects of walking into a wine store for American wine customers, such as educating sales staff. The biggest problem, the report goes, is that “most people in the industry are considered Enthusiasts”, and that “may account for the industry’s failure to understand Overwhelmed consumers.” I must admit that in all my endeavors to bring to the table the newest, most unique wines out there that offer the most bang-for-the-buck, I often neglect those brands that have been staples of most wine stores and restaurants for decades. I have admittedly been walking around with my geek volume on 11, so I will probably need to turn it down a notch or two.

The only downside I see to this survey is the economics of it all. When many of these old, established producers jacking up prices on a steady basis, it can prove difficult for consumers to stick with said producers, especially as the price of gas and groceries continues to skyrocket. Yet the report does open one’s eyes to the problems that face us cork dorks.

To read the report, visit


Ah, home cooking! I sometimes feel bad for my wife because she is sort-of stuck with me whenever I decide to do my Naked Chef impersonation. Monday my wife and I whipped together a dinner consisting of grilled swordfish, jasmine rice and an arugala and mint salad with cucumbers (and my wife's idea for a lemon juice and olive oil dressing), and paired with the new Colomé Torrontés 2007 ($9.99) from Argentina.

Keep it simple, that’s how I contend with the kitchen duties (although my wife likes to point out how difficult my approach really is). I’m more like a mad scientist than a chef though years of experimentation have at least yielded something edible. Yet alongside the meal, this delicious white wine made of 100% Torrontes (a native cross between Mission and Muscat d’Alexandria) married well with everything, expressing light honeysuckle, orange blossom and apricot notes that are deceptively sweet in nature. The initial taste is bright with radiant acidity, a hint of lemon and mineral, followed into the midpalate by peaches, apricots and lemon verbena. The finish is clean, crisp and dry, leaving the palate refreshed.

Try it tonight with seafood or light salads tonight.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Robert Mondavi passed away at 94. To say he had a full, rich life is a minor understatement. As arguably the pioneer of the California wine industry, Robert Mondavi showed the world that superior wine was not an exclusive product of European countries. The subject of many books and news articles, Mondavi’s life was filled with tumultuousness, innovation, and drama. A true icon of business, his passing leaves an indelible mark on this industry that many like myself won’t soon forget.

I never met Robert Mondavi. My closest association with him was a story told to me and my wife while at the Martini House in St. Helena. We were having dinner with Drew Neiman, owner of Vanguard Wines in Columbus as well as assistant winemaker at Kongsgaard, one of Napa’s top Chardonnay producers. As we were leaving, we ran into John Kongsgaard and his wife, who had just come from a charity event. John told us of Robert Mondavi’s introduction of a beautiful Russian violinist, and his obvious enthrallment with the beauty. John shared with us his inner dialogue of “someone get the hook” as he looked at Robert’s somewhat embarrassed wife, and the redfaced Mondavi himself. An icon such as Robert Mondavi, you tend to forget that they too are human, prone to the same kind of awkward hilarity that you are, and it was a moment that though not experienced firsthand, nonetheless possessed a connection to this small world of an industry that many of us winefolk share.

I still have a few bottles of Mondavi Napa Cab 1997 and Reserve Cab 98. Perhaps the time has come to open them, in fond remembrance of a man who, for argument’s sake, had a hand in creating a job for yours truly, because honestly, without him, I would probably still be in a simple server at some chain restaurant. For that alone, I owe him profound thanks.

Raats Cabernet Franc 2006

So last night I finally got around to working on my sample wines and first up – for pairing with sun-dried tomato sausages, Spanish rice and steamed broccoli – was the Raats Cabernet Franc 2006 ($23.99). Now I am a huge fan of Cabernet Franc, but I know that there really is no middle ground for Cab Franc to exist – it’s either really good or really bad. So much to my delight, this one was a hit – with dinner too.

Raats Family Wines is a producer hailing from the Stellenbosch appellation of South Africa, and South Africa is not really all that known for Cab Franc, so this one appealed to me before ever trying it. What sold me, and what usually sells me on South African wine, is the importer. Raats comes to the U.S. through Cape Classics, an importer of solely South African wines, with a stunning reputation for bringing to our shores some of the best that South Africa has to offer, so the Raats Cabernet Franc 2006 had some expectations to fulfill without even opening the bottle.

Upon smelling the wine, I picked up lots of blackberry and black cherry notes, with just a hint of red flowers and baking spice. Though somewhat subtle, the aromas were more seductive, not bombastic. The flavors that followed were black fruits, tobacco, cocoa and mineral with slight tinges of hickory smoke. The flavors were elegant, never explosive, and the finish was long and satisfying. And it actually married extremely well with dinner, another huge plus.

All-in-all, the Raats Cabernet Franc 2006 is a remarkable wine, something for the more adventurous wine drinker, that will fare well with a bit of aging (5 or so years) or just some brief decanting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Taking a day off is a rarity for me, much to this displeasure of my wife, but in this turbulent world of wine retail, one day off is the equivalent to about 5 days away from the job. I have this feeling I am a bit like Atlas, though there is no time for kibitzing. Not to say that I am indispensible, on the contrary, I am sure that the big machine that is LD would groove along nicely without me, but I do know that there is a lot going on, more than one could imagine.

As in life, this place is filled to the brim with the concepts of change, with hundreds of new wines, constant presale and special deal offerings, new sales reps, new importers, changing distributors, new press, loads of point-of-sale information, etc., etc., etc. Most people see this job as all fun – me just tasting wine all day, taking samples home and remaining in a state of semi-intoxication almost 24-7. But the tasting bit is only about 5% of my job. I’d have to say that a good 75% of my job is research. I constantly have to read about the products coming my way – whether it’s Wine Spectator, Decanter, Wine Advocate, any number of wine blogs, or the various text books scattered around my office. There are an infinite number of new HOT products coming out from week to week, with high-scoring wines, small-production wines, trendy new packaged wines, the infamous “Cult” wines, and so much more, flying in and out of view at light speed. There are so many moments at home where, with everything whizzing around in my brain, that I “blank out” while my wife is telling me about some movie, or I am on the phone with my mom, or I am standing in the shower. (At least I don’t do it while I am driving.) To say that I eat, DRINK and sleep wine is a major understatement.

Every day is a new challenge to take on, a new wine to try, and a new topic to learn. It’s an exciting business, but one that requires a lot of studying. I almost feel like I am back in college. But that is the beauty of it – this business is an ever-morphing mind exercise, sort of liquid soduku.

Let the mayhem continue…

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I’ve read so much on the subject of wine reviews lately, and have even shot my own mouth off about it in the past few weeks. The debate between the purists and the new vanguard of winemaking has been brimming over with steaming bile for several years now, and it really is a load of crap. You see, the whole mystique about wine is that it is meant to be enjoyed, not reviewed. Yet there are so many of us posturing on how this wine is fantastic and that wine is terrible, how this producer is genius and that producer is mad, and so on. There is a bit of something for everyone, which is why the adage “variety is the spice of Life” is so apropos when discussing wine.

As a retailer, I have had to learn how to differentiate between my own personal tastes, and the varying palates of my customers. I was able to learn this from many people in the industry over the years, and I have tried to apply that knowledge to my current position, but it’s not an exact science. You are almost always going to miss the mark from time to time, because of all the different flavor preferences and all the latest trends in the industry, so you are never, ever going to be 100% on the money with the wines you bring into your store. I use a number of resources to make such determinations: past experience with certain brands, wine reviews, customer insight, tasting the wines, pricing. All of these things contribute to the buying process.

The use of the press has always been a double-edged sword in the fact that while it may help you convey to the customer what the wine has to offer them, it is an almost-entirely biased author providing the review, regardless of that reviewer’s acknowledgement or denial of such bias, and the score assigned to said wine is inherently flawed due to the fact that it is not an assessment of quality but of body size (what I lovingly refer to as BIGNESS). It is difficult to explain that fact to the customers due to our past indoctrination of the 100-point scale during our youth (I still have those final exam dreams, don’t you?). Many customers have been acclimated to this ratings scale and have been conditioned to believe that the rating is an absolute indicator of quality. It’s not. Yet the arguments both for and against continue to rage on, because those for the scores contend that it helps facilitate one’s learning curve, broadening one’s palate. Those arguing against the scores feel that reviewers such as Robert Parker, James Laube and James Suckling of Wine Spectator, and the like, are leading to the homogenization of the wine industry. Typically the debate is divided between the new vanguard (those for) and the traditionalists (those against), but that assessment is not as clearly delineated as one would think.

Many wine aficionados would agree that critics such as Parker and Wine Spectator have done great things in opening up the wine world to hundreds of thousands of new wine drinkers, ones who arguably would not have been reached otherwise. These publications have been highly successful in furthering the wine education of America, and other parts of the world. But the opponents of the rating system feel that in doing so, they have distorted what wine is truly for: an accompaniment to food. The big, opulent fruit bombs that Parker and Wine Spectator laud so highly are for the most part, uncomplimentary to food, yet again, the taste-is-subjective debate would present the contrarian opinion that people should drink what they like with their food and forget the old-school mentality of sommeliers and the like. Traditions be damned!

Whatever your stance on this issue, or whether or not you even care, the real goal is for you to discover, on your own, what your likes and dislikes are, and forget all the pundits and what they tell you to do. Utilize their information, but don’t accept it as gospel.

A lot of what I discuss in my blog is merely a momentary rant-and-rave session that serves to let off some steam. Don’t let that dissuade you from making up your own minds about wines. My years of experience in the business sometimes cloud my judgment and force me from time to time to reevaluate my opinions, a kind of stepping back period if you will. Helps maintain a bit of perspective. At the end of the day, all I can do is make recommendations based upon my experience and tasting knowledge of the inventory. Neither I nor anyone here at Liquor Direct wants to force wines on our customers because of mitigating circumstances. We truly enjoy talking about wine and we love recommending a whole myriad of choices. We do utilize reviews as a means to help talk about the wines when we cannot, but we never ever want anyone to believe that the review is all there is to know about the wine. There is always more to the story than one scrap of paper hanging from the shelf sign. A lot more.

Likewise there is much more to the reviews of virtually every wine on the market today. There are so many different wines out there, and that is what makes this business so exciting. You will never get bored. And you will never be without an ocean of opinion. All that I ever ask of my customers is that they recognize that these reviewers do not have the final word on a particular wine – they (the customers) do. Wine has to be considered one of the most singularly personal and direct multisensory experiences ever. An artist creating a fluid work, and through various brokerages, it lands in the hands of its intended audience, to accentuate a meal, highlight a conversation, elevate a mood, or alleviate stress. It is meant to be a soft milieu for which to enhance one particular moment in one’s daily life. Nothing more. Inevitably, we as wine consumers will see that, and the days of wine reviews will no longer be necessary. Until that time, it is a necessary evil.

Monday, May 5, 2008


So, my new sales rep for Heidelberg Distributing in Kentucky – Wendy Huff – blessed me with an invitation to a training seminar for Kermit Lynch wines last week, and I have to tell you, I was really stoked. For those of you who haven’t heard of Kermit Lynch, he is by far one of the most recognized importers of French (and now Italian) wines. He has a terrific book entitled ADVENTURES ON THE WINE ROUTE, which has to be one of the best wine books ever written. Bruce Neyers, of Neyers Vineyards in Napa Valley, has served as the National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch for nearly two decades, and was flying in to Cincinnati specifically to train the sales staff of both Heidelberg Ohio and Heidelberg Kentucky, and I was graciously allowed to join them.

You may or may not think this to be a big deal, but Kermit Lynch wines have been a rather inconsistently supplied line of wines in this state (at least for us). Though not technically an exclusive line, the previous distributor sold them mostly to one store here in Kentucky, so many of the great brands that Kermit Lynch represents in this county were really not available to us. So I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store.

When I arrived, Bruce was held up in traffic, so I was able to say hello to everyone I knew there and take my seat. Displayed on the counter before me was a total of 41 wines, from Kermit Lynch’s French and Italian lines, as well as a few selections from Bruce’s own winery. Once he arrived, we settled into a very informal, somewhat whirlwind tasting that was almost overwhelming, but nonetheless impressive.

Bruce Neyers is an affable guy, who is extremely passionate about wine and all its eccentricities, and that passion resonates in each and every syllable he conveys. He was excited about the new wholesaler situation and was eager to show the staff at Heidelberg the wines, which were as follows:
1. Domaine Kuentz-Bas Alsace Blanc 2005
2. Domaine Meyer-Fonne Pinot Gris Hinterburg de Katzenthal 2004
3. Domaine Meyer-Fonne Riesling Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg 2006
4. Domaine Lavanturex Petit Chablis 2006
5. Domaine de la Cadette Bourgogne Vezelay Blanc 2006
6. Philippe Colin Bourgogne Rouge 2006
7. Phillipe Colin Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chaumees
8. Bouvier Marsannay Rouge Clos du Roy 2006
9. Buisson St.-Romain Blanc 2005
10. Domaine du Poujol VDP de l’Herault Proteus Rouge 2005
11. Chateau Saint-Martin de la Garrigue Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc 2006
12. Domaine Chotard Sancerre 2006
13. Regis Minet Puilly-Fume Vieilles Vignes 2006
14. Domaine Salvard Cheverny 2007
15. Domaine Champalou Vouvray Fondraux 2006
16. Domaine des Grandes Perriers Sancerre Vieilles Vignes 2006
17. Cuvee Selectionnee par Kermit Lynch Cotes-du-Rhone 2005
18. Domaine le Goeuil Cairanne Cuvee lea Felsch 2005
19. Domaine les Pallieres Gigondas 2005
20. Domaine Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Mourre des Perdrix 2005
21. Domaine Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2005
22. Domaine Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Hautes Brusquieres 2005
23. Rousset Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2005
24. La Viarte Colli Orientali Inco Bianco 2006
25. La Viarte Colli Orientali Pinot Grigio 2006
26. La Viarte Colli Orientali Fruilano 2006
27. Aldo Marenco Dolcetto di Dogliani Bric 2004
28. Guido Porro Dolcetto d’Alba Vigna I Pari 2005
29. Guido Porro Barolo Vigna Liazziarasco 2003
30. Tintero Moscato d’Asti Sori Gramella 2007
31. Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico 2004
32. Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2003
33. Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano Brut NV
34. Corte Gardoni Chiaretto 2006
35. Corte Gardoni Bianco di Custoza 2006
36. Neyers Chardonnay Carneros 2006
37. Neyers Chardonnay Thieriot 2006
38. Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
39. Neyers Zinfandel High Valley 2006
40. Neyers Syrah Old Lakeville 2006
41. Neyers AME Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

I don’t want to really give you the play-by-play, because suffice it to say, they were all good (except the La Viarte Friulano, which was corked). So what I would like to do is give you some of the highlights. [NOTE: Prices on many of these wines were not yet available as this is a completely new venture for Heidelberg Distributing.]

For starters, if you are looking for the big Parkerized fruit bombs, then you’d be sadly disappointed. It has been said that Kermit Lynch, a self-proclaimed traditionalist, has been referred to more of as an historian of French wine than an importer of the same. He seeks out small, family-run wineries who have labored long-and-hard to preserve the traditions of their forefathers by making wine that speaks of it origins – that dreaded word “terroir.”

Of the three Alsatian wines we tried, the stand-out was obviously the Grand Cru Riesling from Meyer-Fonne. Full of mineral and ripe pear in the nose, this full-bodied white was rich with viscous, spicy white peach and hints of mineral and white flower throughout the finish. Though quite pricy (it would come into us at around $43/bottle), the wine has quite a few years in the bottle, and would be an excellent white wine for any Francophile.

We tried 6 total Burgundian wines, shifting from white to red like a Le Mans race car driver would, with the standout being the Domaine de la Cadette Bourgogne Blanc from Vezelay. Simply for value-sake, this wine is phenomenal with its light-to-medium-body, and hints of nectarine, pineapple and lemon cream, with surprising minerality and clean finish. (Price not yet available).

Two wonderful Languedoc wines – the white from Chateau St.-Martin de la Garrigue and the red (called Proteus) from Domaine du Poujol – were both extremely enjoyable, showing off the fantastic versatility that winemakers have there. The Proteus ($ NA) is a blend of Merlot/Cab/Carignan/Cinsault, and demonstrates dynamic red and black fruit, a hint of forest floor in the nose, velvety dragonfruit, cherry and red currant flavors, and a robust, full-flavored finish. The Garrigue Blanc ($16.59) is primarily Picpoul and Grenache Blanc, and shows off floral notes in the nose, followed by rich stone fruit flavors, medium body and a hint of lemon at the finish.

Loire was next, with the Champalou Vouvray Fondraux 2006 showing the best for me. It was a delicious example of Chenin Blanc, with mineral and white flower in the nose, racy d’Anjou pears and traces of carmelized sugar on the palate. It finishes elegant and clean for a wonderful white wine experience. ($ NA).

2005 was a glorious year for French wines, not just Bordeaux and Burgundy, but also Rhone. And Kermit’s less-familiar Domaine, Charbonniere served up not one, not two but three phenomenal Chateauneuf du Papes. The Mourre des Perdrix was full-bodied with deep, dark, rich, red and black fruits, roasted meat and tobacco notes. ($ NA). The Vieilles Vignes was more rustic and more robust than the Perdrix, but still very impressive. ($59.98). The Brusquieres – my personal favorite – was much more elegant, with a gorgeous bouquet of black and red fruits, roasted game, leather and black pepper. Amazing stuff! ($59.98).

Kermit Lynch has been working with Italian producers from Friuli, Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto for several years now, and the traditionalist mentality still applies. Only old-world style, classically produced wines will do for Mr. Lynch. And that is just fine with me – an Italian purist at heart. The most exceptional of all of these wines was the Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva, which was everything you’d expect from a CCR – cherry, tobacco, hints of leather and light spices – it’s a real homage to Chianti Classico Riserva ($ NA).

Finishing off the tasting were the wines of Bruce Neyers’ namesake vineyard, which are the antithesis of Kermit Lynch’s wines – big, bold, opulent fruit-bombs that still somehow show off a rare elegance not found in many California wines. The standout was the tasting’s final wine, his new AME Cabernet Sauvignon, which was 100% Cab, full of lush, magnificent blue and black berry notes, lots of cedar, mocha and coffee flavors, and a full-bodied presence in the glass and on the palate. An absolutely amazing wine. (Heidelberg has yet to take over distribution rights for the Neyers wines in KY so stay tuned!).

In describing Kermit Lynch’s wines, Bruce evoked the image of these wines possessing “soul.” It is a description of an increasingly smaller amount of wines in my opinion, yet all of these wines possess a soul not seen too often in the wine world. Kermit and Bruce take great care in the wines they represent, making sure that quality is in the bottle from the time it leaves the winery, until it arrives in the customer’s hands. It’s truly a labor of love, and it is what I personally look for as a professional buyer. I have to be able to trust where the wines come from in order for them to get a spot in my store. Liquor Direct is not in the business of selling bad wine, and I personally want the customer satisfaction to be as close to 100% as I can possibly get it. With importers such as Kermit Lynch, I have nothing to worry about – and neither will you.
Look for these wines and more in the coming months.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


I managed to eek out my 12 picks for this month. Difficult time choosing. I hate picking favorites. Would be like choosing which one of my cats is my favorite - they all are. So you can view them now at Included are some great whites as well as the obligatory reds and a wonderful, rare Oregon Rose.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Bone of Contention

I have a bone to pick with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. As most of you know, I am not a big fan of the wine scores. To recap, I don’t like them because 1) the 100-point scale created by Parker and his disciples is built upon a wine’s BODY, not overall quality, and 2) we Americans have fairly cynical views on the 100-point scale thanks to our time served in the public school system as youths. But the biggest issue of all is that this is a small group of supposed experts who have slowly integrated their stilted opinions upon the masses, for better or worse. And despite the fact that these reviewers have had a big hand in maneuvering the masses into the wine world, they have steered them in one singular direction – the direction of homogenized, sometimes soulless wines that exhibit often brutish fruit characteristics, possessing as many dimensions as an amoeba. [Okay, that might be a bit harsh, but hopefully, my point has been made…]

What has made the use of reviews palatable in our stores, in my opinion, is the accompaniment of some sort of textual review – a sort of rationale for the score. These reviewers at least provide a bit of interpretation of the elements used to conclude that wine A is deserving of a high score or low score.

So this brings me to the double-barrel insanity at and the Wine Advocate – the reviewers named Dr. Jay Miller and now Neal Martin.

According to Parker’s website, Dr. Miller has been in the wine industry since 1977 and has worked as a part-time assistant to Parker for a time from 1985-1998. Where I don’t doubt his credentials, what I do doubt is his work ethic. To me, posting a score for a wine without any sort of review whatsoever is ABSOLUTELY LAZY. How in the heck did you come up with the score? Especially when it is a 90 point wine, what the heck makes it so? Most people would want to know, particularly if it was a wine for under $12 suggested retail. Case-in-point: the recently reviewed Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2006. 90 points in Wine Advocate according to Jay Miller, yet absolutely no tasting notes published WHATSOEVER. There was a whole host of Argentinean wines with good scores buy not one tasting note for them. Seems to pad the issue, an index of noteworthy wines was given the lazy treatment with a simple listing and a numerical score. The list was comprised of entirely wines under $20. This listing of incomplete information gives the reader the impression that value is not nearly as important as a 95 point wine that’s $40 and above. You would think that with today’s economy sort of residing in the toilet bowl, the staffers at Wine Advocate would reevaluate that line of thinking, but this month, thanks to the Advocate’s resident Brit, Neal Martin, New Zealand gets its turn with the shoddy treatment. I have a lot of praise for Mr. Martin – his contributions to Parker’s website have given a more contemporary, younger appeal, and his prose is actually some of the more enjoyable in the wine world to date. But it seems he is taking his cues from Dr. Miller, with the comprising of a Best Buy Index for Kiwi wines. Case-in-point: Huia Sauvignon Blanc 2007. 89 points in Wine Advocate – no tasting notes. Why? It’s a pretty good wine for the money. Shouldn’t there be a review? I mean, how did Mr. Martin devise his score for this wine? Got me?

I am not the only one honked off by this apparent “phone-it-in” attitude. I only hope that my hero in the biz, Mr. David Schildknect, for whom I have a profound respect, will continue to be comprehensive and complete when presenting his reviews. The “filler” mentality of these indexes does little to further credibility for the new critics at Parker – I would argue that it goes a long way to damage their integrity.

Dr. Jay Miller = 77 points. Neal Martin = 85 points.


Already, on May 2, it's absolutely crazy around here. New wines coming in, Spring is moving like a tsunami, and with this ridiculous economy, the pressure is on to find better and better deals for our customers. In this week's edition of The Buzz, I'll have the latest values, plus allocations from Justin (2005 Isosceles), Louis Latour (2005 Beaune Vignes Franches) and Casanuova di Neri (2003 Tenuta Nuova and Brunello di Montalcino and 2005 PietradOnice).

And this weekend, I'll have a report on a very cool trade tasting I went to yesterday, with Bruce Neyers of Neyers Winery and Kermit Lynch Wine Selections. 41 spectacular French, Italian and Californian wines in less than 4 hours. It was like riding in the Tour de France! Stay tuned!