Thursday, July 31, 2008


Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to a tasting show in Louisville. (I know, it was such a hard day at the office). While there I got to try some really incredible wines, and a few that we carry in the store that I had never had before. But one of the most interesting things that caught my attention while I was there was what seemed like a common trend: Man and Wife Wine Estate Owners/Winemakers.

Among some of the few: Christian and Dany Berthet-Rayne, who make Chateauneuf-du-Pape, (when I asked them how the weather is in Avignon, Christian responded, “Ah, it is very, uh, hot”) Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham from Elizabeth Spencer, (whose wines were my favorite on the day from California) and finally Peter and Deanne Franus from Peter Franus.

Each couple was so generally sincere and excited about wine that you could tell how much it meant to them, and each couple was so excited and comfortable with their spouse that you could tell how much they meant to each other.

I left each couple’s booth and asked myself the age old question, “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Meaning, does the love between a couple come first, or the business relationship?

Surely a career as wine estate owner and winemaker is a time-intensive, emotionally trying career, but doesn’t that go for a marriage also? (Not that I’m an expert, I’ve never been married…but my Mom and I have been planning my wedding since I was 5. But I digress.)

I don’t know how these couples do it, and I have no way of explaining the seemingly high number of couple winemakers out in the world. All I know is that if these people are as passionate about each other as they are about their grapes, those are some seriously loving people.

I think the Franus’s described it best. Peter poured me 2005 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel, and, nodding at his wife, said “Here, have some love wine.” It was exhilarating, refreshing, and delicious. Hey, a lot like love.


In this business, one of the joys of the job is the trade tastings. Though it really signals that the silly season is fast approaching, it also means that we get to taste a lot of the wines we sell (many of which are either too expensive or too allocated to sample any other way), as well as taste wines that have not quite been released. It’s kind of like going to a midnight showing of the latest blockbuster movie before everyone sees it.

This past Tuesday, the girls and I travelled down to Louisville to attend the holiday show for Ohio distributor, Vanguard Wines, which also operates in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky. Hosting the event at the very cool 21-C Museum Hotel in downtown Louisville, it was like an All-Star game for the wine business. I was able to touch base with owner Drew Neiman (winemaker for his Neiman Cellars wines in Napa, as well as being assistant winemaker for John Konsgaard) as well as see old friends Roy Cloud of Vintage ’59 Imports and Patrick Allen of United Estates. I love these events because often times, the business of wine keeps you out-of-touch with all the great people you meet every day, and it was good to see them well and prospering. Larry Gurner, the national rep for Vinum Cellars, was also there, though last time I saw him, he was with Laetitia (funny how the wine world turns). Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and John Caldwell from Caldwell Vineyards were also there, as were representatives from Eagle Eye Imports, Martine’s Wines, Terry Thiese Selections, Morlet Family Vineyards, Franus, Cliff Lede, Jose Pastore Selections, Crocker & Starr, Selene, Armador, Ancien, Domaine Serene and more.

It was truly an exercise in decadence, but the girls came away with a greater sense of what our mission is: to bring to our customers the most kick ass wine available and at the best damn prices we can sell them. There were a lot of standouts – Jesse and Shannon both said there wasn’t a bad one there – so singling out one or two to talk about proves difficult. However, the Caldwell Silver 2006 ($NA) was absolute heaven in a bottle. There was the Passopisciaro 2005 ($35.98) from Sicily that was sheer decadence, accentuated by winemaking siren Erika Ribaldi. Another winner was the Chateau Monplaisir Cuvee Prestige Cahors 2003 ($21.99) from Vintage ’59. One of the more dazzling values was the Henri Maire Vin Fou Demi-Sec NV ($11.99) from the Jura region in France. An affordable, slightly sweet sparkler, this wine is a real crowd pleaser, and for (I believe) under $12. Look for these wines coming soon, and ask us about the Vanguard Show. There will be a lot of new wines coming courtesy of our friends at Vanguard very soon.

P.S. For all you movie geeks and fans of the TV show Lost, I actually spotted William Mapother (Ethan) roaming through the corridors of 21-C as we were leaving. For those of you who have never seen a Tom Cruise movie, cousin William usually has a supporting role (Minority Report, Born On The Fourth Of July, Mission Impossible II), though he truly kicked butt as the baddie in the Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom. A Louisville native, I am sure he was hanging out with family and friends.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Our senior wine consultant at Liquor Direct, Alfonse Mele, has up and started his very own blog - It's a no-frills, party-planning site that just went up yesterday. Drop by and say "hi!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Just so everyone knows, we'll be holding our first annual "Limited Edition" tasting, Friday night at the Covington store, and Saturday afternoon at the Fort Thomas location. We will be featuring the following wines:

  1. Alphonse Mellot Sancerre "La Moussiere" 2007
  2. HDV "de la Guerra" Chardonnay 2005
  3. Domaine des Relagnes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2004
  4. Clos du Marquis 2004
  5. Chimney Rock Elevage 2003

For more information, call our wine department at 859-291-2550 or drop us your questions via email at For all you locals, I hope to see you there! There may even be a surprise or two!

Further out: Next week, our former wine buyer/now sales rep for RNDC-Cumberland, Jennifer Thieman will be conducting a tasting on Australia with the wines of Epicurean. And coming in September - the attack of the Special Guest Wine Bloggers, featuring Michelle Lentz of and Tim Lemke of


Every now and then, something a bit rare comes through our stores, and this past weekend was one of those times. We received a small amount of the Roseé de Chateau Monbousquet 2005 ($13.98) from Bordeaux (courtesy of Heidelberg Importing). I know what you’re saying – you can’t seriously be recommending another rosé? Well, as a matter-of-fact, I am. This delicious, dark pink-colored blush is predominantly Merlot, coming from the prominent St.-Emilion producer, Chateau Monbousquet.

In the nose, you’re met with lush, candied berry notes, and slight hints of cinnamon and allspice. There’s plenty of acidity on the palate, balanced by nice strawberry, red raspberry and red currant flavors and well-integrated mineral tones. It demonstrates a fair bit of complexity throughout the surprisingly long-lasting finish.

If you’re grilling salmon, serving gazpacho, or cooking a sultry, spicy Paella, this should work very well. It also works as an aperitif, to serve chilled on the patio for midsummer night conversation with neighbors and friends.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


So I was working at the store late last night, and I was seeing a lot of regular customers I haven’t seen in awhile (the boss has kept me locked away in the office a lot more these days), and at more than one moment, I was asked the question, “what’s new?”

A huge part of me has longed to hear those words from our customers. Gone seem the days where the customers would come in looking for the old standards – Cakebread, Rombauer, Opus One, Silver Oak. Don’t get me wrong, those are still fine wines all, but as a retailer, with a barrage of new wines every week, you hope that folks getting tired of eating “mac-n-cheese” and move on to other tastes.

So back to the question. “What’s new?” they asked.

My God, I thought to myself. Here I am up to my Adam’s apple in new Bordeaux, and for the life of me, I was drawing blanks. On average, we rotate in maybe 20 new wines a week. Obviously the slow movers tend to be “liberated” off the shelves like some cold war spy, to make room for all of these things. I try to keep the customers and staff abreast of the changes – a weekly newsletter called “The Buzz” as well as the face-to-face orientation when time permits. But sometimes, the hyperbole of this business overwhelms even me.

Why do I do it? I love it! That’s why I do it. I love that this business is in a constant state of flux, and that new wines come in like johns at a Social Club dance. “Life is change”, an old Psychology professor used to say to me, “and stagnation is Death.” In this fiercely competitive market, you’ve got to go for any and all angles you can. Our selection has become a huge marketing point to new customers. And part of that selection is the new stuff, which arrive seemingly every minute of every business day.

It keeps the juices flowing, if you will excuse the expression. It makes me think of the old movie “The Wild One,” where while all the young hellions in the town are rioting and tearing things up, someone asks Marlon Brando’s character, “what are you rebelling against?” To which he replied, “what d’ya got?”

We’ve got a lot, I would say to that. And I’d follow with it’s all GOOD.


"I am sure you fellow college grads remember the annoyance of group projects and are well aware that the key to a successful project is communication. Lets just say that my partner, Shannon, and I have been experiencing the never-ending group project. We are both assistant wine buyers for LD. Allow me to paint the picture…we alternate days in the office Monday through Thursday. If Shannon is in the office, I am opening the store and running the floor and vice versa. On these days, we are both performing the same functions; researching customer requests, making sure stores are fully stocked, researching press, tasting wines with distributors, taking care of reimbursements, ordering wine, creating delivery manifests for all stores, advertising, and whatever else Kevin gives us. We also work the wine tastings on the weekend. Needless to say, we LOVE our Sundays.

Sounds glamorous, eh? Sure does until you see our sweaty arses in the warehouse flinging around cases of wine with stained black hands. Being able to beat a man at arm wrestling is not so glamorous. “Oh man, I believe today will be a three-stacker in the van.” The beauty of it is this…no need to hit the gym after work.

Here’s another beautiful thing…Shannon and I are two completely different kinds of people. This makes it all the more interesting. Shannon is soft-spoken, well-mannered, studious, likes purses, pretty dresses, and you will NEVER hear her drop the “F” bomb. I, on the other hand, am the complete opposite. I fish, wear cut-off jean shorts often, swear like a sailor, can be a little abrasive, like bad independent films, and am easily amused.

I always seem to surround myself with people that are nothing like myself because it keeps things interesting. I think I may be a little too outspoken for Shannon at times, but in the end, we make one hell of a team. One thing we do have in common. We LOVE vino and our jobs!!! The saga continues..."

Thursday, July 24, 2008


"C’est La Vie. Baguettes. Edith Piaf. Nice. Paris. Amelie. Café au lait. These are some of my favorite French things. And this week, I think I can officially add le vin.

Although I’ve always had an appreciation for French wines, I don’t know if my prior drinking experiences truly would merit me proclaiming that I love French wines, given the fact that while I know the ins and outs of the French wine-making world, I haven’t really gotten to try a whole heck of a lot.

That has not been the case as of recently. It seems that I have been up to my neck in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chablis, Cotes-du-Rhone. (Not to mention Pinet and Cotes-du-Thongue.)

This sudden influx of vin francaise on my “thongue” strikes me as somewhat paradoxical. Wine Spectator recently ran an article entitled, “Millenial Divide”, in which it calls attention to the strange fact that while the French still drink the most wine per capita, there is a growing number of youth that don’t drink wine at all. They choose to drink other alcoholic beverages. One young adult interviewed said that while she valued wine for the French culture, she and her friends very rarely drank it.

So there you go. The millennial divide between France’s old and young becomes an ironic continental divide between France and the U.S., where people 21-29 are largely becoming the biggest consumers of wine.

So, some of my favorites from the land of La Tour d’Eiffel? Always a fan of white burgundies, Christopher Buisson Saint-Romain 2006 has that classic French Chardonnay feel to it, without over doing it on the minerality and flintiness. I love that it’s a Chardonnay that can be refreshing.

Another wonderful wine is Domaine Ligneres Cabanon de Pascal 2003. It just has that je ne sais quoi factor. I was fortunate enough to try a plethora of the Domaine Ligneres wines. If those aren’t enough to make you yell, “J’adore le francaise!”, I don’t know what will."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


So, I just read today that the only blog worth reading on Wine Spectator is done. I’ve been a huge fan of Tool and Maynard James Keenan since their debut ep, “Opiate” was released back in 1992, back when I myself was trying to be the new Layne Staley (late singer of Alice In Chains). I never imagined that I would end up in a business shared by Mr. Keenan, and it not be music. But here we are in 2008, and as I continue in the retail side of things, Maynard has become a serious, up-and-coming winemaker in of all places, Arizona, and has been a contributing wine blogger for Wine Spectator.

But alas, Mr. Keenan (who not only fronts the heavy rock band Tool, but the more melodic rock band A Perfect Circle, his own solo material, and occasionally collaborating with Danny Lohner (ex-Nine Inch Nails)) has caught the wine bug, with his Arizona vineyards, Caduceus (with winemaker Eric Glomski, formerly of David Bruce) and now founding Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. Maynard is a busy guy, shifting his touring schedule around his vineyard schedule, and the WS blog days are now officially done. With the old, stogy wine writers being all that is currently left blogging for WS, Maynard’s passion and zeal will truly be missed.

For you wine-rock fanatics, check out the Arizona Stronghold Vineyards’ blog site at

Monday, July 21, 2008


I just received the new, special edition of Wine & Spirits, which features a host of revolutionary winemakers and “winemongers” out there, of which there are a growing contingent of innovative and imaginative thinkers when it comes to wine. Of course, the most notable presence in this list is the venerable maverick, Gary Vaynerchuk, who for those in the know, have come to revere this guy as the pinnacle of wine retail. And for those of you who don’t think highly of him, don’t be a HATER – this guy’s kung-fu is VERY STRONG.

Taking his small family liquor business and transforming it into a 40,000 sq. ft. wine store that cranks out $50 mil a year in sales, you’d be hard press to find fault in his magnanimous exuberance. He has taken the Web and used it to blast his excitement and passion into cyberspace, and he has created a cultural firestorm in the process.

A lot of folks think he is obnoxious and arrogant, but I happen to see the guy as extraordinarily passionate about this great industry, and what he has done is nothing short of genius. I feel like I am right there with him in trying to fire up the customers on new, exciting brands and undiscovered appellations, showing the world there is much more to wine than Napa Valley and France.

For those of you who don’t have a clue who I am talking about, check out and tune into one of Gary’s weekly video blogs. They run close to a ½ an hour so make sure you take some time, grab a glass of your favorite wine, and enjoy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Last week, I invited one of my oldest friends in the business, Audrey Wood of T.G.I.C. Importers, to talk with my staff about some of the wines she represents (and we sell). I’ve known Audrey since my days back at Chateau Pomije, when she worked for the now defunct Metamora Imports. She is far and away one of the nicest people in this industry, and that is a high mark to pass over, and she was happy to oblige me to come speak to the crew (though it’s a lot to ask to come in and speak to my unruly bunch).

I wanted to taste the staff and educate the staff better in regards to this importer, due to the difficulties we had in getting it for this state. A long, complicated story that I may share with you another day, but to encapsulate, these wines were exclusive to one retailer down state, though widely available on the other side of the river. I had to call on the Kentucky ABC to get things released, enabling Liquor Direct, and every other retailer in Northern Kentucky the ability to sell these terrific wines.

We tasted 7 wines from several of the brands T.G.I.C. represents here in the states:
1. Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough
2. Pascual Toso Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Maipu Valley
3. Kaiken Malbec 2006 Mendoza
4. Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Maipu Valley
5. Montes Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere 2006 Colchagua Valley
6. Montes Alpha Syrah 2006 Colchagua Valley
7. Montes Alpha M 2004 Colchagua Valley

The last wine of the tasting, the Montes Alpha M 2004 ($65.98 special) is a remarkable Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that most would be surprised it comes from Chile. This is a world-class beauty that I was stoked to taste the staff on. Though I have the 2005 on the shelves at my Fort Thomas store, I thought by showing the 2004, the staff would see how gorgeous this wine is even with some bottle age.
Audrey informed the clan, as they sat euphorically, that though the alcohol was high (14.5%), the secret to its softer, more elegant character comes from night-harvesting, where moisture re-accumulates in the grapes, eliminating the potential for stewy, raisiny flavors. Indeed, the night-harvesting helps this wine achieve an elegance that is typically reserved for classified growth Bordeaux.

All-in-all, the tasting was a success, showing the staff that T.G.I.C. provides us with exceptional wines, ones our clientele SHOULD try. Ask our crack staff about any of the T.G.I.C. wines we carry next time you’re in.


It takes very little to make me angry in this business. I think I am a pretty easy-going person when it comes to wine, and most all the people I have met in this business have been truly great. Yet every now and again, I meet up with someone that irks me to the limit.

Why do I bring this up? Well, every now and then, I see a particular wine that for years, I enjoyed promoting because it truly is one of the best values out there. Surfing the blogosphere, I was on Wine Lover’s Page and saw the Falesco Vitiano recommended, and it got me thinking how years ago, I had to kick out one of my favorite importers due to the possibility of price fixing being suggested by the regional sales rep for this company. I know that a lot of you don’t really understand just how wine gets to us (because the three-tier set-up forcefully imposed on the industry by post-Prohibition regulations is about as complicated as astrophysics) yet it all came about one fateful day when the importer called, saying he was fielding complaints from accounts in New York and elsewhere, bemoaning our prices on his wines. We often do this to suppliers because we refuse to be boxed in by SUGGESTED retail pricing. We enjoy selling quality product at lower prices than our competitors because our customers seem to like it. Strange, huh?

Well, this gentleman was not pleased, and implied that, discovering we work on a lower margin than our competitors, he was proposing to charge MORE to us. In a manner of speaking, I told him “thanks but no thanks,” and now, some 3 or 4 years later, we still do not carry their products.

In a way, I owe them thanks because it was then that I discovered the great wines of the John Given Wines (RIP Mr. Given), and later, Banville & Jones (many former employees of the aforementioned importer), and Palm Bay Imports. There are FAR TOO MANY wines out there to really have to rely on one importer, which I had for years prior. And though I would still like to carry the wines of this importer, I won’t at the expense of running off my customers.
Which fascinates me to know end – why it is that the suppliers, and even the wholesalers seem to forget where the wines end up. I just don’t understand. With all the hemming and hawing over direct shipping and the like, why can’t these people realize that it is ultimately the customers that pay the price. The last thing we as wine vendors should want is to end up like the airline industry (fees for everything and customer satisfaction at nil). Maybe if these importers and wholesalers worked the floor of my store for a couple of weeks, they might figure out that if they really want their wines in front of the public, they would stop being royal assholes to the retailers. Because it really is not that the retailers need these guys, but that these guys need the retailers. Without us, their wines wouldn’t get to the customers, and without that, there’s no money to be made.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


For those of you who didn’t get a chance to participate, we had our staff showcase wine tasting this past weekend. The rules were quite simple. Every wine staff member from both store locations chose a wine to pour for the tastings. This could be any wine, no matter what the price, as long as we carried it and was currently in stock. Every customer who tasted all five wines was asked to vote for their favorite wine. The winners from both store locations won bragging rights along with a display of their favorite wine or wines through December 1st. Needless to say, we had a rather versatile spectrum of wines from all over the world on the tasting tables over the weekend.

And the winners are….Ray Burwick from the Fort Thomas store and me from the Covington location. Ray chose Alto Moncayo 2005 which is an awesome Spanish red made from 100% Garnacha. We all knew as soon as he picked his wine, it would blow all of our wines out of the water. We were just jealous we didn’t think of it first.

I came in a close second with three votes shy of Ray’s wine with Descendientes De. J. Palacios Petalos, a 100% Mencia from Bierzo, Spain. Not bad considering the Petalos is over $20 cheaper than the Alto Moncayo. ;-) I did, however, enjoy the rest of the Moncayo after the tasting Friday night as I decorated my new apartment (just a warning folks…it’s 16% alcohol). Thanks Ray!! Keep an eye out for our displays at the stores because our palates are obviously very similar to yours. Although, I honestly thought my wine wouldn’t do as well as it did as some people might find Mencia to be a little weird. Come to find out, you all have the coolest palates ever!

The rest of the wines also did especially well. Mike Harney came in a close third with Sokol Blosser Evolution NV. Evolution is a unique white blend of nine different varietals from Oregon. I thought it was a pretty cool how a $15 white blend beat out some higher end red wines. So… TAKE THAT red wine snobs!

While I am on the bragging subject, we tasted some spectacular wines with Audrey from TGIC importers tonight. One of which was a Bordeaux varietal blend by Montes called “M”. All I can say is the Montes “M” puts the 2005 Bordeaux craze to shame. Ooohhh baby! It’s usually $85 and we’ve got it on sale for $65.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I love recommending wines from friends. And some of my dearest friends are the folks at Wimbledon Wines (winemaker Adam LaZarre from Hahn and Cycles Gladiator and sales manager extraordinaire John Erickson among them). I am overwhelmingly thrilled to have tasted this latest home run, the Lucienne Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard 2005 ($37.98). Made by former Adam LaZarre assistant winemaker, Paul Clifton, this is a gorgeous, fruit-forward Pinot Noir that offers up delicious, rich red berry and spice notes in the nose, followed by lots of velvety tannins, roasted walnut, cinnamon, red raspberry and cherry fruit, and slight oak tones across the palate. It’s a little weighty for a Pinot, but there is substantial fruit and spice and well-integrated tannins to give even those finicky big red drinkers a treat.

Lucienne is the newest endeavor from our friends at Wimbledon Wines and Hahn Estates, started by Nicolas Lucien Hahn. A separate winery from Hahn, you can find this in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands. The 2005 vintage is the inaugural vintage from Lucienne. I for one, cannot wait to try future vintages.


So this past weekend, we at Liquor Direct unveiled our first semi-annual Staff Showcase “Showdown” tasting, which took up both Friday and Saturday at both locations. We had 10 of our crack wine staff (or is that wine staff on crack?) choose what they felt to be the best wine we had in the stores right then and there. Price was not an object, with the only real stipulation being that the wine suggested was currently in stock.

The line-up was as follows:

LD1’s (Covington’s) picks:
1. Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Napa Valley
2. Des. De J. Palacios Petalos 2006 Bierzo
3. Mas des Brunes Cuvee des Cigales 2005 VDP de Cotes du Tongue
4. Wild Oak Merlot 2005 Sonoma County
5. Stag’s Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2004 Napa Valley

LD2’s (Fort Thomas’) picks:
1. Sokol Blosser Evolution 9th Edition Oregon
2. Borsao Crianza 2004 Campo de Borja
3. Colomé Malbec 2006 Colchaqui Valley
4. Havens Black & Blue 2002 Napa Valley
5. Alto Moncayo 2004 Campo de Borja

For starters, I was a bit shocked that having lifted any price restrictions, the staff choose nothing over $40. Good for the customers, to be sure. All the wines were pretty well received, with the two whites (Honig and Evolution) finishing 3rd and 4th. The votes have been tabulated, with over 150 customers taking part in the voting (not bad for the first time out).

The winning selections were the Alto Moncayo 2004, chosen by our ace utility player Ray Burwick at Fort Thomas, and the Des. De J. Palacios Petalos 2006, chosen by assistant wine buyer Jesse Stambaugh. Look for their feature selection displays in the front of our stores – Fort Thomas and Covington respectively, and thanks to all those who voted. We’ll do this again after the first of the year.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I’ve known Michael Honig of Honig Wines for a long time. I can’t even remember when I first met him, but over the years, I’ve been a huge supporter/fan of what he does. He’s a no-nonsense wine guy that found his niche and sticks to it. As a maker of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, he excels at these wines, and chooses not to add umpteen other varietals to his repertoire to increase his bottomline, unlike a lot of his counterparts. There is something extraordinary to be said for such things.

But the coolest thing about Michael and his company is the fact that they only take their craft seriously, not themselves. He’s far and away one of the most humorous guys when it comes to promoting his wares, as evidence in this one among a long standing collection of postcards he has created along with the merry band of miscreants who work for him.

You have to admit, he seems like a fun boss to have. There aren’t too many of those around, but this particular postcard struck a familiar chord with me. Case-in-point (that's me in the middle):

And that is what Honig truly does best – they speak to the everyday portions of everyone’s lives, in one fashion or another, nonchalantly celebrating and parodying pop culture in a postcard lampoon that you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to understand. Much like his wines, which aren’t complicated, just good, well-made wines that anyone can enjoy, the postcards are just a way of telling people that “hey, wine doesn’t have to be pretentious – just take a look at us!”

And all I can say is, “Keep Rockin’!”

Friday, July 11, 2008


Wine Spectator’s upcoming August 31st issue will be their Restaurant Awards issue, and with that upcoming event, they’ve posed a question for the blogosphere online related to restaurant wine service. It is interesting to see just how many people are out there not at all pleased with the approach restaurants take toward wine. Some of the gripes are:
1) Overpriced wine lists
2) No vintages on lists
3) If vintage is listed, that particular vintage is out of stock or has changed
4) Inadequate glasses
5) Ill-trained wine staff
6) Overbearing, unscrupulous sommeliers

The list goes on and on. It leaves me with one simple question: “what the #$%^ are restaurant owners thinking about when they put these lists together?” And what are they thinking when they hire some of these sommeliers?

I used to be the bar manager for a fairly new restaurant almost a decade ago, and the challenges I faced then are still out there now. Unfortunately for me then, I was too inexperienced to really do much in the way of putting a good program together for the restaurant I managed, but I know I could do a more effective job now. Retail does that to a person, I guess.

The problem with most wine lists are that they are NOT the total creation of the sommelier or bar manager, but a product of whatever distributor offers the best service to the establishment. Many of the wines on a particular list usually come from one, two, or at the most three purveyors, out of convenience. As a retail buyer, I have 13 distributors. Writing checks to 13 distributors would be a pain in the rear for a small restaurant. However, the benefits of using all the distributors you have should far outweigh the drawbacks. The selection you are able to create, as well as a more proper pairing with your menu are huge pluses for your customers and your reputation.

Glassware is a big cost. Most dishwashers are inadequate to wash crystal stemware such as Riedel or Speigelau. And even most barbacks or bartenders don’t really have the time to care for these glasses. Yet having enough on hand to placate the more discriminatory wine drinkers out there would mean a big difference in a restaurant’s wine sales. Even finding a sturdier crystal stemware “all-purpose” glass would be beneficial. Speigelau is sturdier in construction to Riedel because it is one piece (Riedel glasses are usually the bell fused to a separate stem). Or using the new Riedel “O” Series would be a plus.

Training the wine staff is a no-brainer. You have sales reps who, for the most part, are fully capable of training your staff, not only on product knowledge, but the ins-and-outs of presenting wine at the table. Knowing the menu AND the wine list usually means greater revenue for the establishment, which is why they are in business in the first place, right?

And pricing, yikes! Is this the big pain. I left the restaurant business primarily because I didn’t buy into the whole 3Xretail mark-up. Most of the clientele these days are pretty savvy about wine, so they usually know what they can pay for a bottle at their local retailer. To pretend like they don’t know is pretty naïve. Why charge more, when you can charge less and sell more? It will keep inventory down the more product you move, which saves a lot of money in the long-run. And having GOOD QUALITY, INEXPENSIVE choices for the clientele, ones that will be complementary to the menu, will both impress, and satisfy.

Isn’t that what restaurant owners want?

And if you are paying big bucks for a sommelier, you should be able to find one that isn’t an ass to the customers. A sommelier’s job is to ENHANCE the patron’s experience at their restaurant, not INHIBIT it? Right? Sommeliers should be able to utilize their wine lists to build trust with their customers, and complement the chef’s cuisine. No suggestion should be made simply for profit. And only use vintages for older selections. Make sure that the wait staff KNOWS what the current vintage being offered is, so that the wines listed are from trustworthy producers that you and your customers know will be good. If the wine’s vintage is inferior, get rid of it and get something else. Communicating what the bar has and does not have is key.

And NEVER open a bottle at the bar or in the server station. Always open it at the table, in front of the customer. Sommeliers should ask the question, “may I check the wine for you,” if you feel that the customer is uneasy with YOU. And always take the damn bottle back WITHOUT ANY B.S. or PROTESTING. If the customer says it’s no good (Corked, Cooked, etc.), IT’S NO GOOD. Pleasing the customer is the ultimate goal.

Why is all this so damn difficult?

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Shannon reports back on a trade event in Louisville with Jed Steele, legendary winemaker:

“I’ve replaced the hope for contentment with an intent on hard living to rival that of Ernest Hemingway’s.” So says the back label of Writer’s Block Grenache Lake County 2006.

The entire Writer’s Block series includes a Pinot Noir (a favorite of our store), a Malbec, Roussane, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. These wines are produced by Steele Wineries, whose owner and winemaker I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago in Louisville, Jed Steele.

As we got to talking, I told him how appreciative I was of his wines, (I also love the Steele Pinot Noir Carneros 2006, which is a smoky but balanced pinot noir), and how much I loved reading the backs of the labels of the Writer’s Block series. He informed me the idea was his son's, who is an up-and-coming wine maker in his own right, and who studied English Literature in school and thus designed the Writer’s Block series. Each varietal has a different anecdote written on the back, a literati treat for the mind, as the wine in the bottle is a treat for the palate.

I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in English Lit, so I loved hearing the connection of this wine to the written word. Or, more specifically, the combination of two of my passions in one: wine with a witty homage to writing.

A few people have asked me since I’ve started working with wine if I can draw any parallels to the two worlds (wine and writing, that is), and the immediate parallel that comes to mind is the trademark quality that most really great writers throughout history share: they were incessant drinkers.

Take, for example, Hemingway on the left bank of Paris, sipping on wine and watching the Seine, writing “The Sun Also Rises”, where the protagonist is so drunk for most of the narrative, drinking from wine skins in Pamplona, that the reader can hardly decipher the course of events.

Thus, the parallel that is made on the Writer’s Block Grenache. Wine is “Love’s Liquid Shadow”, “The Soul’s Lubricant”. By drinking the grape’s mysterious juices, it fuels our own creative juices. By loving wine, we are loving life, and all the subtle nuances it brings. And that is exactly what really great writers accomplish. They capture life, emotion, reality, darkness, mystery. Instead of flowing forth from a bottle, it flows from their pen."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


For this weekend’s in-store tastings, I’ve given the staff a daunting task – to nominate their selection as the best wine we have in the store. The daunting part of this is that taste is such a subjective thing, that one person’s ambrosia could be another’s a…, uh-hum, so the parameters of the mission are as follows:

1) The wine can be any price point, and of any availability, as so long as it’s available now.
2) It doesn’t matter what distributor it comes from, just that it’s available now.
3) It has to be something we already sell (No ringers).

And that’s it. Pretty simple, eh?

Now the fun part…

I will assemble these wines in two parts – 5 wines from Covington’s staff and 5 wines from Fort Thomas’ staff. On Friday night, Covington tastes Covington’s and Fort Thomas, Fort Thomas’. Saturday we switch. I will lay these wines out and ask our customers to choose which one is the best of them all.

What’s in it for them? Bragging rights mostly, but they will get a place in the front of each store to display their selection(s) each month for the next six months (the next showcase comes in January 2009). They will get to claim bragging rights as the top wino of the store (one winner for Covington and one winner for Fort Thomas).

And what’s in it for you? Though we can’t give out anything in the way of a raffle or the like (not legal), what we do give you is hopefully, one awesome tasting.

We will have ballots at the table instead of the usual tasting sheets. We invite you all to participate in this battle royale. See you this weekend.

Monday, July 7, 2008


So, alongside the Austrian Pre-Sale information I had to wade through, I also had to make it through Terry Thiese’s German DI (Direct Import) info. I have been a huge supporter of Thiese’s German portfolio, which consists of some of the best producers from all over Germany, for well over 10 years now, and was excited to see what his notes had in store for me.

As I said with regards to the Austrian DI, Mr. Thiese is a wonderful writer, who actually makes researching his wines much more enjoyable than most importers would. Though not a quick read, my English Literature background seems to take hold whenever I pull up his latest notes.
To give you insight into my thought process as to what 2007 German wines I am bringing in, here is the list, accompanied by his notes (TT) and my brief remarks (K2):

1. Joh. Jos. Christoffel Riesling Spatlese Erdener Treppchen 2007. TT: “This ‘07 is salty and tangy, brilliant, but bottling has distorted it and sharpened its acids at the expense of its fruit, yet what peaks through is so compelling, suggesting ultimately an ‘07-melange of juicy fruit and a serpentine slither of firm mineral.” K2: Christoffel is one of those remarkable producers in the Mosel who has built an amazing reputation for quality. The wines of Christoffel have become extremely rare, limited only to long-time supporters of the brand. His wines can never be doubted; they always deliver superb character and quality.

2. Hexamer Riesling Spatlese Trocken Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg 2007. TT: “As a rule Hexamer’s wines have been too pointed to work in the dry idiom, and this one was the first hint that something was different about his ‘07s, for this immediately shows the authority of important wine from important soil; smoky, foresty aromas; wonderfully juicy and stony; amazingly focused and long.” K2: I haven’t brought in anything from Hexamer for a few years, for no other reason than I didn’t have any room. Always superb value from the Nahe region.

3. H. Donnhoff Estate Riesling 2007. TT: “Back to the insane quality of the 2005; porphyry and kirsch, deep and bright, exotic and minty, spicy, with perfectly calibrated sweetness. This would easily pass for Felsenberg, and offers ridiculous quality for the “entry-level” wine.” K2: Without a doubt, this wine has been my favorite Riesling from anywhere in the world vintage-after-vintage. An extraordinary value in dry QbA Riesling.

4. H. Donnhoff Riesling Grosses Gewachs Felsenberg 2007. TT: “… a juicy and masculine Riesling; a smooth mild breeze blowing over a soil where rain just fell; all the fragrance of the earth and bushes and flowers exhale. An almost pensive, thoughtful dry wine.” K2: Something new from Donnhoff – the term “Grosses Gewachs” is relatively new. It means “great growths.” Most of these wines are dry, and of superior quality, coming only from the best vineyard sites.

5. H. Donnhoff Riesling Grosses Gewachs Dellchen 2007. TT: “…an essence of its terroir, leather and prosciutto; the palate is stonier and spicier, or becomes that way as it ambles around your senses; an almost forbidding solemnity that’s not austere; both enveloping and pointed.”

6. H. Donnhoff Riesling Grosses Gewachs Hermannshohle 2007. TT: “… Dark aromas swoon into a bright palate, like those times you look at a sunlit tree against a black stormy sky; it reads a text it loves deeply, it almost weeps, its voice is moderate but charged with ambiguity and a sort of compassion, a wonder; it wants to be cuttingly berried and mineral and it also wants to caress; it gets your attention not by its noise but by its quiet, and finally you can’t fathom all the almost garish spicy arpeggios against this lullaby texture."

7. Wagner-Stempel Scheurebe Trocken 2007. TT: “Pungent! As stony as Pouilly-Fumé and as curranty as marl-grown Sancerre—35-yearold vines on porphyry by the way—93º Oechsle; full of licorice and wintergreen; it’s like a Traiser Bastei as Hans-Günter Schwarz would have made it. Wonderful chewy, juicy wine; addictively drinkable.” K2: Not just a token Scheurebe, but something of unique exceptionalism.

8. Gysler Silvaner Halbtrocken 2007. TT: “This one’s a little drier and more sinewy than last year—it’s the ripest and latest-picked (93º Oechsle), and do you realize what that means? The best fruit goes into the CHEAPEST wine! And he does that for you and me.” K2: A reload of this tasty, dry white.

9. Muller-Catoir Riesling Kabinett Trocken Haardt 2007. TT: “Amazing complex aroma; lemon blossom and bergamot and jasmine, with warm and cool notes alternating; the palate follows, with generous yet cool fruit and really explicit salt; again a paradoxical blend of filigree and creaminess. Gotta love 2007!” K2: Here’s arguably the best, most renowned producer in the Pfalz, recognized for their penchant for dry (trocken) wines.

10. Muller-Catoir Weissburgunder Kabinett Trocken Haardt 2007. TT: “This is crazy-good, with gloriously expressive classic varietal aromas spoken with almost a Riesling diction; pure filigree luxury, and you will not find classier Pinot Blanc anywhere.” K2: Companion to the Riesling, this tasty German Pinot Blanc is of exquisite character.

11. Muller-Catoir Muskateller Kabinett Trocken Haardt 2007. TT: “No secret I feel this is the best Muscat in Germany and thus one of the very best on earth. What’s there to say anymore about this absolute sure-thing, the sex that’s always perfect, the thirst that’s always quenched? Except that it has almost a Riesling minerality, and it’s an audience of many thousands laughing, and it delivers a huge mass of $%&#ing delicious flavor with 11.8% alc. So deal with THAT, alcohol bullies! Wine can convey no greater joy than this. . . .” K2: Muscat Blanc from Germany, done in a racy, slightly sweet style. Amazing stuff for Asian food or just hedonistic drinking.

As always, the second DI from Thiese is usually due in September/October. We will feature a good portion of these during many of the tastings between September and November to give all of you a chance to try them. I will keep you posted on their arrival, and will have more on Terry Thiese in the future.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Funny how things just work out…

I’ve been searching for a particular white wine for some time. This particular white wine has always been an ideal white for the summer – light, crisp, fruity – yet for some inane reason, there has just never been one available to us. The difficulty has always been the manner of EXCLUSIVITY – a circumstance where a particular wine importer, most of the time an importer of French wine, decides that lowly Kentucky needs only one retail outlet for their wines, so the end result, more times than not is that we at Liquor Direct are S.O.L. when it comes to wines like E. Guigal.

Such it has been with the Picpoul de Pinet, until now. My friends at Heidelberg Distributing have recently bagged the wines of Grape Expectations, a small, boutique importer of French wines based out of Raleigh, N.C. And much to my surprise, they bring to the state the Cave de L’Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet 2006 ($7.99). I knew I’d like this one, but after tasting it – I really like it.

You see, there is only so much grilled steaks and burgers one can bare over the course of a season, and every now and again, it’s nice to come home, grill a chicken breast or some shrimp, put them over a nice bed of fresh greens, with some cucumber or tomato, and pop the cork on a good, clean white wine, something that doesn’t weigh you down like an anchor, but something that is light and refreshing, and leaves the door open for more than just eat-drink-sink-in-the-couch-and-go-to-sleep.

The Cave de L’Ormarine is light-bodied, with bright, vibrant acidity from start-to-finish, with clean, crisp Fuji apple and d’Anjou pear flavors, hints of nutmeg, white flower and slate, and a lively finish that will satisfy your taste buds on those hot summer nights ahead. Give it a try!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Our tastings for this holiday weekend are cancelled. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please join us for our next tastings on July 11th and 12th. We'll be featuring wines from Palm Bay Imports, as well as our first bi-annual Staff Showcase, featuring wines chosen to be the best by our crack wine staff.


Tasting is subjective – that sort of falls into the “no kidding” category. The taste of anything, whether it’s wine, cheese, miso or Matzo, is going to vary depending on who’s tasting it, when said person is tasting it, how it’s served, etc., etc. Even the venerable wine reviewers are subject to this subjectivity. We are all only human, right?

I have just read an article by Cornell University entitled, “An Analysis of Bordeaux Wine Ratings, 1970-2005: Implications for the Existing Classification of the Médoc and Graves” which looked at Bordeaux reviews by Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer and Wine Spectator. It noted that all three sources were very favorable, and fairly close to each other in scoring, with Parker being the most generous of the three and Tanzer being the most stringent.

Chiming in on the debate is Joe Roberts, CSW over at the 1 Wine Dude blog, who tells us to lay off Parker for scoring the big fruit bombs. I have to concede that I have become increasingly brutal of Parker’s 100-point scale and have railed against the flawed design of this scoring system – its built-in bias against delicate wines like Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay. Joe makes the case that there is no real way for anyone to be objective in tasting wine because of various factors in play, though many critics will argue that they are adept enough to withdraw their own personal palates for the sake of analytical review.

While I believe that there are those “supertasters” who not only can determine a wine’s composition, origin, time harvested, and all the little nuances the wine may yield to the taster, I am not a huge fan on quantifying, thus my ongoing tirades against the scores. Yet maybe the time has come to lay down the arms I have taken up against incessant points-brandishers. Maybe, as Joe puts it, it’s time to cut Parker some slack.

Then again, maybe not. It’s all about keeping them (and myself) honest. I actually had someone call ME a critic. I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not to take that as compliment or insult. Maybe it’s a bit of both. I still am not a believer in the 100-point scale because it bases quality on the amount of body present. I strongly disagree with that opinion. What makes a wine exceptional is not body, but harmony. When all the components are in balance, then the wine should be perceived as being of excellent quality. One could argue that the big fruit bombs loved so much by Parker and his peers are not in balance, what with all the thick oak, baked black fruit and high alcohol present. However, maybe that whole perception – the oak/fruit/high-alcohol thing – defines complexity to them. (I shrug.) Who knows? Perhaps this continued arguing and pontificating will go on until someone comes up with a better way to make their point about wine. Until then, I’ll be counting down the days.