Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I was reading Jo Diaz’s Juicy Tales this weekend, and she mentions that its Petite Sirah that she feels is the next big thing, contrary to Mr. Laube over at WS who feels it is Syrah. I’d have to agree with her on that point and strongly disagree with James Laube for two reasons:

Reason #1 is that I usually disagree with just about anything Wine Spectator says regardless of what it is about – with very few exceptions – just on principle alone, because I feel they (the magazine) are grossly out of touch with everyday wine consumers. Reason #2 is that Syrah has become a pompous, overpriced grape that seems more content on being exclusionary and less on being a grape of the people. More-often-than-not, the Syrahs – particularly from California – are ridiculously overpriced and do not deliver nearly what they should for the price tag they bare. Petite Sirahs on the other hand, usually overdeliver, and can usually be found at a much cheaper price than their Rhone brethren.

With that in mind, I am going to feature a number of Petite Sirah reviews this month, in the hope that you readers will be more inclined to give these delicious reds a try. It’s probably no coincidence that this month is typically referred to as Petite Sirah month by my purveyors so look for a plethora of great PS’s from all over.

And check out the site P.S. I Love You – a site dedicated to the love and promotion of Petite Sirah.


I hate being sick. Who doesn’t, right? Anyway, I really want to thank Michelle Lentz and Tim Lemke (of My Wine Education and CheapWineRatings.com respectively) for coming in on both days of our weekend tastings to share their passion, expertise, and their selections with our customers. It was a lot of fun and our customers really enjoyed it.

We’ll have Jonathan Seeds of Best Drink Ever and Mike Rosenberg of The Naked Vine next week so don’t miss it. And I hope to have a palate back later this week so we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled blog posts.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I’ve said before that I can be a real S.O.B. to suppliers when I want something that is not available normally to me, so I was really excited when my supplier for Terlato Wines International (importer of Chapoutier and Santa Margherita, as well as broker for Cuvaison, Sanford and Markham, among others) told me “yes” (it was only after I asked twice) on getting the newest Michel Rolland project, the wines of Olvena, from the Somontano region of Spain.

Somontano is nestled in the northern portion of the province of Aragon, just south of the Pyrennes Mountains and the French-Spanish border. Its D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) was awarded in 1985, and its potential has been explored by such winemakers as Sarah Perez and now, internationally known enologist Michel Rolland, who has teamed up the Addas family in Somontano, a first in Spain for Rolland.

Though most known for such varietals as Tempranillo, Viuda, and little known Moristel (not the same as Monastrell), Bodegas Olvena has begun using such non-traditional Spanish varieties as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Of the wines from Olvena I brought in – and none of these wines have been reviewed here in the states yet – I thought I’d share with you my notes on the four most affordable of the lineup:

1. Chardonnay 2007 ($13.99)
2. Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2004 ($13.99)
3. Crianza 2004 ($17.99)
4. Cuatro 2005 ($34.99)

First up, I tried the Chardonnay 2007, which is a light- to medium-bodied white, showing more in common with its Burgundian counterpart than something from California: ripe peach, apricot and Golden Delicious apples in the nose, and on the palate, hints of nutmeg and starfruit, with juicy apricot and nectarine flavors and well-balanced acidity. The presence across the tongue is vibrant, lively, and certainly one that would impress even the most die-hard New World Chardonnay fan. It is definitely not flabby, displaying only gentle nuances of oak and cream. Very nice!

Next, I tasted the blend – the Tempranillo (50%)/Cabernet Sauvignon (35%)/Merlot (15%) 2004. This medium-bodied red has a lot of dried cherry and cedar in the nose with hints of red flowers and dusty earth tones. Immediately on the palate, there are strong tannins that I would have expected to have softened being an ’04. Yet the cherries continue, with red and black currant, Darjeeling tea, mocha powder and espresso notes swirling around, with good acidity and leading into a dry yet sustained finish. A hearty meal featuring grilled pork chops or a beef empanada with chiles would lend well to this wine.

I was really anxious to try the Crianza 2004, a straight Cabernet Sauvignon aged 10 months in oak. Violets and black cherries float up from the glass, engaging the senses. I taste a lot more dried cherries, with hints of cocoa, chicory, Provencal herbs and cranberries. While dry, and possessing good tannic grip, it’s not overwhelming, with traces of pomegranate and currant peaking through. It is nicely balanced, and built for near-term drinking or short-term cellaring.

Finally, I opened up the Cuatro 2005 – a blend of 45% Tempranillo, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Syrah. The price tag would bar this from being an everyday drinker, so obviously, my expectations are a bit high. Slight hints of licorice and red currants intermingle with plums, cherries and coffee. Its vaguely floral, though its fruitiness stands out. Its palate is livelier with more fresh red berry fruit, baking spices, red and black teas, and cloves. Strong, firm tannins grip the palate, leading you into a very lingering, cherry-berry finish. It’s a really nice wine that should fare well with a few years in the bottle.

All-in-all, these wines are not what I expected from Michel Rolland. Known for big, monster fruit bombs that go for the big Parker scores, these wines from Spain show excellent restraint and sense of place. And you’ll find these only at Liquor Direct.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I have a pretty good job. I enjoy what I do, and even though it's pretty intense sometimes, it's still a lot of fun. Yet the one thing I hate about this job, I am having to do more and more all the time.

Raising prices.

It sucks to be quite honest, because for us, pricing is always an issue. As a bridge store, we are in constant battle with the other side of the river, trying to make sure that our prices are hard to beat. But with the economy all mucked up right now, our distributors are tacking on higher and higher fuel surcharges, and all the brokers, importers and wineries are raising their pricing almost weekly, so not only do I spend a lot more time in the office on our POS system, but I am "anti-green" by constantly making and remaking the shelf signs for every single brand that goes up in price.

I feel like if I were telling the kids there is no Santa Claus. And someone just ran over the Easter Bunny to boot.

Raising prices is no fun. Dropping them is fun, but not raising them. Keeping prices the same each week is proving difficult, but we are trying. Time's are tough and everyone is taking it on the chin. I just hope that things get better by Christmas, but I won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


This past weekend, our stores featured the wines of Stonebrook Winery from right here in Kentucky. While they produce the usual suspects (Cab, Chard) and the indigenous varieties (Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin), the big claim-to-fame for these guys are their fruit wines.

Now, most of you wine aficionados out there will almost immediately turn your noses up at the mere thought of drinking a Blueberry or Blackberry wine, and I am sure that most of you out there equate fruit wines with Arbor Mist or Mogen David. However, you would be pleasantly surprised at how balanced these wines are. No sugary Kool-Aid here – just unabashed fruit with surprising acidity that evens out the sweetness of the particular fruit. Available in Blackberry, Blueberry, Cherry, Cranberry, Elderberry, Peach, Pear, Pomegranate, Raspberry, and Strawberry, we proudly feature them in our stores for $8.99/bottle.

Hell, I actually take them home to drink from time-to-time, which says a lot – because after all these years in the business, I have gotten pretty picky about what I drink. So part the snob at the door, and try one of these wines at your next party or just for a lazy night in front of the TV.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


So this coming weekend (September 26th and 27th) at our stores, I have invited two fellow bloggers to come guide our customers through some of their recent favorites. Michelle Lentz [pictured left] (of My Wine Education) and Tim Lemke[pictured below] (of CheapWineRatings.com) will be by our stores to highlight what's been dazzling their palates and talk to you a bit about their blogs and wine writing as well.

Michelle will be at Covington on Friday and Fort Thomas on Saturday, walking us through a whirlwind tour of the world, while Tim will be in to regale us with Rhones on Friday at Fort Thomas and Saturday at Covington.

The tastings, as usual, are free, so come out and say hello, and taste some great wines with two of our good friends.


I can be a real S.O.B. when I want to be. It comes from my stints across the river in Ohio, where pretty much everything is available in the wine world (although there are things like Shafer, Harlan, Pride, etc. that are severely allocated). However, as I have said before, here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I would venture to say that perhaps half of what is available across the river is available here.

Which drives me at times to not take “no” for an answer, much like my recent request for Mischief and Mayhem, the fairly new Burgundian project from former UK wine retailer Michael Ragg and Australian winemaking superhero Michael Twelftree (of Two Hands). Produced in very limited amounts, these wines are born out of Michael² love of all things Burgundy.
I managed to eek out 4 of the wines from this quasi-“cult” producer:

1. Chardonnay Bourgogne 2005 ($24.98)
2. Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2005 ($29.98)
3. Chardonnay Chablis Premier Cru 2005 ($38.98)
4. Chardonnay Meursault 2006 ($71.98)

All of these wines, with the Bourgogne red and white derived from the Aloxe-Corton, are regionally correct, wonderful expressions of the grape. I received only an “eye-dropper-full” of these wines, so they shouldn’t last long.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Last night, I got to try a very limited bottle of Burnet Ridge Lou’s American Red NV ($17.98). ZFor those of you beyond the Greater Cincinnati area, Burnet Ridge is a local winery, generating some pretty good wines using California grapes brought in and crushed in a small Garagiste setting. Lou’s American Red comes to us via our good friend (and RNDC/Barkley Division rep) Lou Schnier and winemaker Chip Emmerich.

Before I talk about the wine, let me tell you about Lou.

I met Lou, strangely enough, at Chateau Pomije, some 7 or so years ago. I was actually Lou’s replacement as Pomije’s wine buyer. Lou had left to join the wholesaler side of the business, going to work for Commonwealth Wine & Spirits of Kentucky (which inevitably morphed into the current RNDC of Kentucky). It was only after I left Pomije to come to work here at Liquor Direct, did Lou and I actually become friends. Lou’s always had this very laid-back, dry sense of humor and easy-going attitude that makes dealing with him almost effortless. Anyone in my line of work comes across more than their share of the uptight, almost-manic salespeople that seem stressed to the limit with quotas, but Lou is, as the expression goes, is “as cool as a cucumber.”

So I was pretty intrigued when he came to me presenting a wine he inspired Burnet Ridge’s winemaker Chip Emmerich to make – a tasty, fruit-driven red blend of Grenache, Carignan and Petite Sirah. Only 100 cases of this wine were made, and apparently, will only be available in the Northern Kentucky market. By admitting that we brought in 40 of those 100 should impress you enough, because space is always an issue here, and I wouldn’t bring a crap wine in because I don’t have the room for it.

Anyway, my wife and I drank a bottle last night, which paired up nicely with the Barbeque Pork Medallions I made for dinner (though the spicy hash browns I served up with them overwhelmed the wine). This red is expressive, with dark cherry and spicy red raspberry aromas and flavors, mixed in with hints of cinnamon, red currant and cola. Its medium-bodied frame is meshed with a nice balanced acidity and presence of oak, and shows good concentration and depth. This wine is meant to drink right now, and does a great job at being just a delicious everyday drinker.

Stop in and give it a try. [Editor's note: Sadly, Burnet Ridge has opted to pull out of the KY market altogether, so this particular wine will be the last we can sell of Burnet Ridge.]

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a few seminars in Louisville for Republic/National’s tradeshow last week. One of which was “Taste of Tuscany” with wine writer Robin Garr.

Robin Garr is the creator of the oldest and most well-known wine-blogger website, http://www.wineloverspage.com/. We wine buyers visit his site regularly for research and shelf talkers. Robin’s site is great for all wine lovers from novice to know-it-all. He touches an array of topics such as how to taste wine to tasting notes for obscure wines.

Robin’s major topic of discussion during the seminar was the concept of super Tuscans. For those of you who are new to this concept, it was a new idea that globalized in the 80’s to make Italian wines more palatable for Americans while also attempting to acquire higher Parker scores. To do this, rebellious Italian wine makers decided to disregard the DOCG system by adding French/American varietals to the traditional Italian recipe. Some of these wines are even aged in expensive French oak barrels and a high dollar price tag was placed on them. Of course, this pissed off the regulators as they tried to label these “super Tuscan” wines as Vin de Table, which basically means cheap/everyday drinking wine. The rebels won and instead, these wines are commonly labeled as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica di Toscana). Sounds a bit more sophisticated, eh?

So what’s the controversy? Some may argue that if you do not like acidic, food-friendly, barnyard wines of Italy, stay the hell out of the Italian section. Robert Parker has also trained us Americans to like big, fruit bomb wines. The bigger the fruit bomb, the higher the score. “I only got dried cherries out of this wine, but it’s as big as a house! Let’s give it a 90!” On the flip side, some of us would like to experience the terrior of Italy in an easy drink’ fruity wine. Still, an experienced wine drinker should still be able to recognize that a particular wine is from Italy even if it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese.

I’m going to be annoying by saying I enjoy both ends of the spectrum. I appreciate the power Italian wine has over food and visa versa. There’s nothing like pairing a good Barbera d’ Alba with a light meaty dish (you know, the kind of dish your not sure whether to pair a red or white with). I also enjoy a super Tuscan like Fonterutoli Badiolo 2006 ($15.97) on it’s own on a cool night. It’s got that funky Italian taste with some big black fruit. MMMmmmmmm. However, I did get a chance to try the wine that started the super Tuscan craze in 1968; Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia. I loved it but my love was deeper for the good old Tenute Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2003.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


It seems like now is the time when everyone starts to think about the upcoming Presidential election. Seems like everyone and their brother has an opinion on this year’s crop of politicos. I even saw in the most recent Spectator, using election-like platforming to expound on his views for what the wine world needs (which I astonishingly agree with him on), and the recent Wine Blogging Wednesday topic of what will you drink after George W. leaves office. (I personally will go for something French).

I try not to inject my own political leanings into the fray here at the store because you don’t want to alienate anyone – hey, it’s a business, and we want to sell to everybody – that’s capitalism in a nutshell. But whoever you want to vote for, my only soapbox moments will be to question every last detail of your candidate’s stance on the ISSUES. Forget the scuttlebutt and media sensationalizing, what is painfully evident is that the economy sucks, we’re bogged down in Iraq, we don’t have enough troops in Afghanistan, Russia is puffing up its chest, there is always a lot of chaos in the Middle East, jobs are disappearing, and our government – on both sides of the aisle – won’t take their heads out of the Special Interest groups’ hoo-ha’s to do anything relevant and worthwhile about it.

It doesn’t take a genius to see there is a BIG problem, but it seems there aren’t any politicians willing to step up and make the tough calls – the ones the corporations don’t want to hear. It’s a mess, and though the upcoming Elections will be historic, don’t let that all fool you – take control and ask those running the tough questions, make them accountable for their parties’ failures, and tell them to get the job done right and right now, or find some other fools to aggravate.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Sometimes I surf Wine Blogs like laying out newspapers from various parts of the world, and mine the information strewn out before me. Thanks again to Tom Wark of Fermentation for turning me on to the latest article in the Sommelier Journal, entitled Navigating the Three-Tier System, by Master of Wine Robert Bath. I’ve spoken to you about various aspects of my job, the behind-the-scenes stuff, and this article certainly paints a more vivid picture for wine consumers.

I have this feeling that I am one of those Rock’Em-Sock’Em Robots (probably the red one) everyday at work, mainly because as the wine buyer for a “bridge” store, I have to not only be conscious of what my competition is doing, but the folks across the river are doing too. Especially in this day-and-age, price is the biggest selling point to worry about, and here in the Wild-Wild-West of Kentucky, it’s a quickdraw, shoot-‘em-up.

You never know what a customer is going to ask for, because the wine publications out there do not pay attention to what wines are available nationally. Many of the wines listed in Spectator, Parker and the others are more-than-likely available in the major metropolitan areas like NYC and LA, yet here in the Midwest, you’re S.O.L. And much of it is due to the 3-tier system put in place after the repeal of Prohibition and still going strong today. In Robert Bath’s article, he details the difficulty sommeliers face in navigating the stogy, archaic landscape of the system, and in its aging largesse, the system is growing rickety and obsolete.

What this means for the wine consumer is anyone’s guess. However, the push for online wine sales grows, what with the increasing amount of consumer-driven lawsuits challenging state laws, as well as Amazon.com and the Wall Street Journal entering the direct-to-consumers wine business. Tomorrow is a whole new day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I think I have Pinot on the brain, but I just tried the Montes Pinot Noir Limited Selection 2007 ($12.69) with my wife while unwinding in front of the tube. This new offering from Aurelio Montes and Co. is 100% Pinot Noir from the Colchagua Valley, not a place one would typically associate Pinot Noir coming from, but I love surprises, and this wine is certainly that.

In the glass come the very typical cherry and red berry notes, though they seem much deeper and richer, as if a black cherry marmalade. There are notes of strawberry, violets and slight flavors of Baked Alaska mixed up in there. Well-balanced acidity integrated in a mélange of vanillin oak, sundried berries and baking spices to give you a fairly supple mouthfeel and lingering finish. It seems to be both a Burgundian-leaning and California-styled Pinot Noir all in one, what with 14.5% alcohol and neutral French oak aging, which lends to a fusion that can only be described as a “best of both worlds” wine.

Give it a swirl and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Last week, at the annual Republic-National Distributing Company of Kentucky trade show in Louisville, the girls and I got to taste some pretty great new releases from all over the world. Yet one of my good friends in the business, John Erickson of Hahn Family Wines (formerly Wimbledon Wines) showed off some of, in my opinion, the best-in-show.

One in particular was the Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 2006 ($25ish), a new mid-tier release that is 100% Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. It is a multi-layered, voluptuous Pinot Noir with juicy red berry aromas and flavors, and just the right presence of oak aging (50% new French) to give the fruit a mocha/cinnamon quality that gives this medium-bodied red another wonderful dimension.

Plush tannins glide across the palate and the acidity is well-balanced, lending an excellent accoutrement to any style of cuisine. Look for this wine in our stores very soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Isn’t it ironic? Without sounding too whiny, like Alanis, allow me to proceed and regale you all with an unfortunate incident that happened to me last week.

Whether it’s the wonderful weather conditions of the Cincinnati valley or merely just allergy season, last week I was struck down with a cold in which my head swelled and ached like a huge canker sore. Not fun.

What made this even worse was the fact that I attended during this time one of the best tastings I have been too yet, with a plethora of fine, once-in-a-lifetime type wines to try. Too bad I felt as if I was sniffing the noses as if in a vacuum, and sipping delicate sips as if sipping cough syrup.

Seriously. If you asked me what I thought of Sassacaia, I could honestly respond, “It had absolutely no nose and tasted of Vicks, with a scratchy, mucus finish.” The elusive Champagne Salon? “The nose worked like nasal spray, and the palate was pure Alka-Seltzer.”

The only thing that I could actually taste all day was a spread of liver pate. And I wished I hadn’t.

So, what to do in this business when you’re sick? Just not show up? Just not try the wines presented to you?

My guess is that you soldier on, and trust your neighbor’s opinion. Luckily for me, my neighbors at the tasting were Jess and Kevin. They loved the wines. Perhaps the only thing they were sick of was listening to my pseudo-smoker’s cough and nasally complaints. But I thank them for describing the nose and palate of the wines.

Maybe imagining is better than the real thing anyway…?

Monday, September 15, 2008


Yesterday, I had planned on sitting down to a few wine samples and knock out some tasting notes for the blog, yet without much warning, the remnants of Hurricane Ike came to town and blew a Championship breeze up all our skirts, toppling trees and tearing off shingling and ultimately, knocking out the power for over a day (most in our area are still without power).

Now, I am certainly not comparing our plight to the recent storms that have pounding the Gulf coast this season. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the folks in Texas, Louisiana, Haiti, Cuba, and everyone in the Caribbean.

It made me realize how lucky I am and how lucky we all are to at least be land-locked (that is until the next tornado comes ‘round). I was grateful that my home dodged most of the flying debris (save for a chimney topper that came off our roof), and that my wife and “herd” was okay. I realize that many of us get enormously stressed-out during times of crises, yet it is during those times that we need to band together and help each other. On the way in, I heard a guy on the radio talk about how he ran an extension cord to his neighbor’s house so his neighbor could save the two hundred bucks worth of groceries he had just purchased due to the power outage. Things like that are what this community needs.

I only wish everyone could be like that.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Last night, we poured the Marti Fabra Selecion V.V. 2004 at our in-store Spanish tasting and it got me thinking about all the new wine regions coming up. I mentioned this particular wine and its new D.O. – Empordà back in August and there is always somewhere new.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a seminar led by Alfredo Bartholemeu, famed importer from Billington Imports (Catena, Cousino Macul) who brought up the Argentine appellation of Salta. His discussion of the area of Salta is that this is the premier region for Torrontés, Argentina’s chief white grape. He told the crowd of some 75 that buying Torrontés from any other Argentine region would be wrong, primarily because Torrontés doesn’t fare nearly as well in other parts of the country.

So, not knowing much about the region of Salta, I thought I’d look it up and report back to you on the matter.

Obviously, those familiar with Argentinean wines are most familiar with the region of Mendoza, which, according to Mr. Bartholemeu, is responsible for nearly 70% of all wine produced in Argentina, so the wines of the Salta pale in comparison of production. Salta, which is one of the two most northern wine regions in Argentina (it borders the southern portion of Bolivia), is one of very high elevations and varied soils. Known for producing excellent Cabernets, the subregion of Cafayate is chiefly recognized for its superior Torrontés, though the region is also known for Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah and Malbec.

One particular Torrontés that I have been enamored with is the Colomé 2007 ($9.99 special). A fragrant white wine with orange blossom, white flower and white peach aromas leading into flavors of juicy apricot, guava and mango, its clean, balanced acidity would match well with spicy foods.

This particular wine is grown at some of the highest elevations in the world (between 6500 and 7500 feet) which for wines from the Salta, is not terribly uncommon. The higher altitude allows for maximum sun contact, giving the grapes the optimum ripening levels for a more intense wine.
Some other Torrontés to try are the Crios de Susana Balbo 2007 ($12.99) and the Nicolas Catena Alamos 2007 ($8.98).

Friday, September 12, 2008


Making up for a lack of levity in this business, I just recently stumbled onto a new wine blog that I think, really stands out amongst the huge throngs of wine bloggers out there in cyberspace. Thanks to Tom Wark over at Fermentation, I discovered a very cool blog called HoseMaster of Wine, a fairly new blog by Sommelier Ron Washam, who leaves me with the impression of being Jon Stewart (of the Daily Show on Comedy Central), Dennis Miller and a little David Letterman, only with an obsession with wine and Hollywood starlets.

Sometimes, in this business especially, we get so impassioned with all the latest trends, and the different happenings, that we start taking ourselves too seriously. Ron Washam gives us a totally left-of-center bent on wine, injecting massive doses of pop culture references that makes you feel as if Gary Vaynerchuck and the folks at YouTube just sired a demented offspring drunk with delusions of world domination.

For those of you who want to be entertained, I highly suggest checking out Ron’s blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The August 2008 issue of The Wine Advocate just came out – the World’s Greatest Wine Values – and I would venture to say that at least half of the issue is reprinted reviews. My only problem with reprinted reviews is that many of the wines that are featured here are LONG gone. A lot of what is listed in the magazine is already on the next vintage. I normally wouldn’t care except that I have customers who use this and other publications to buy their wines, and when they are using expired information, you can see how frustrating it could be.

I would love to inspire the reviewers of the world to move up some of their timetables so that their reviews might actually be relevant to current releases, but then that would be a whole other dimension to the “Are wine reviewers really all that relevant anymore?” discussion – and yes that would include me (though I don’t SCORE wines). However, as it stands right now, and as difficult as it is for me to accept, wine reviewers are pretty much the only game in town right now, so most folks more-or-less HAVE to use them, so wouldn’t it be a great public service for wine customers all over, for the reviewers to be AHEAD of the curve and not BEHIND it.

Which leads me to the new horizon – Mr. Gary Vaynerchuk, and a host of others following suit, has decided to use the Internet to take his interactive approach to the masses. As featured in Jo Diaz (of wine blog Juicy Tales) begs the question “Is Gary Vaynerchuk the New Millennial’s answer to Robert Parker?”

Jo discusses Gary’s exuberant delivery of wine knowledge, making it more accessible to the new wine drinkers, and giving more credence to its social and cultural ties. For those of you who don’t have a clue who Gary Vaynerchuk is, Gary is a young, energetic Internet wine professor who runs a very large wine store called The Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey. What was once a small brick-and-mortar liquor store run by his family, Gary transformed it into a 40K Square Foot mega-wine store, its success fueled by his devotion and excitement for lesser-known wines like Muscadet and Monastrell, and his dedication to creating an interactive wine universe on the Web for his customers. The success has led to appearances on Conan O’Brien, Ellen DeGeneres, and many other syndicated TV shows, as well as spots on NPR and his own Web TV show at Wine Library TV.

Where Robert Parker took Bordeaux and Burgundy into the spotlight (albeit a more exclusive one), Mr. Vaynerchuk takes it to the masses, where both young and old, novice and expert, can appreciate all that wine has to offer, together. Check out Gary's Thunder Show every Friday, and you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I was reading the latest news that Altair, a big tobacco conglomerate has merged two of the biggest players in the tobacco industry – Marlboro and Skoal. Yee-haa! Now before you all get crazy, thinking I am all for big smoking, hold on – Altair actually owns Ste. Michelle and Estates, the big wine brokerage that pedals Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Snoqualmie, Erath and Antinori, just to name a few. With the big tobacco merger comes news that Altair is shopping around Ste. Michelle, which leaves me shaking in my boots.

I have been a huge fan of Ste. Michelle for some time – they are clearly making some of the best values in American wine right now. Selling this portfolio can only mean that it will be some big megacorporate wine broker like Constellation or Pernod picking them up, which means they most certainly will be moved to a less-desirable wholesaler here in KY (other states I am sure will share my pain).

Anymore, all I can do as a retailer is cross my fingers and hope for the best. A move to another distributor means dealing with a new set of idiosyncrasies and new bureaucracies, most of which I can live with, but there are those distributors out there that profess to be all about customer service, yet because they are big and vast and are in multiple markets, they adopt a “you’re-stuck-with-us-so-deal-with-it” attitude that really complicates doing business.

It’s a shady portion of the wine industry’s underbelly that no one really talks about – wholesaler-retailer conflict. It’s all just wait-and-see until the dust settles and the next big portfolio is in play.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I finally went and did it! After all these years, I finally succumbed to the blog bug full-on and now have a poetry blog (my double secret dream gig) called Smells Like Poetry. (All you yucksters out there will probably say it smells like something else.) Feel free to check it out.


Today, I had the rare occasion of actually being called out on a blog post. Dennis Cakebread, Director of Sales at Cakebread Cellars, called me in regard to my recent post about on-premise wines, in which I used Cakebread as an example of an exasperating item customers ask for that I cannot get. Dennis assured me that Cakebread was not entirely on-premise (they actually sell 30% of their production to retail) but they designate allocations state-by-state using per capita wine consumption. Obviously, us folks in Kentucky rank pretty low on the totem pole due to the vast majority of our landscape here in the Commonwealth is “dry.”

It wasn’t a harsh conversation though, and I have spoken to Dennis once before on this matter. He tells me that it is left up to the distributors in each state to decide who gets what, but I was quick to point out our geographical proximity to Cincinnati and that the majority of our customers come from the Ohio side of the river. It’s difficult to explain to every person from Ohio that comes into our store that wines that are available just two minutes across the bridge are not available here. That’s the beauty of working in a “Bridge” store – it might as well be another country.

We both laughed about it, and he left the conversation thanking me for mentioning Cakebread. I only wish I could have wrangled a bit of product out of him.


[Corey, our scholarly wine guy at our Fort Thomas store, submitted this "surprising" admission entitled A FRANCOPHILE CROSSES THE LIGURIA SEA.]

"This will burn Kevin’s eyes, but let’s be perfectly “franc” (hee-hee). I am really underwhelmed by Italian wine. I find it redundant, uninteresting, and without a lot of value. However, every now and again one comes along that has some character. At a recent wine staff meeting, we hosted reps from Palm Bay Imports. Along with their portfolio came Zisola, a Nero D’Avola from Sicily. It was dark, juicy, and above all, had some character. I was excited to find something that I could recommend, and feel even better about the recommendation because it is just over 20 bucks (my threshold for calling it a “value”). Its finish is exquisite, and the wine manages to hit the front, middle, and back evenly. To be honest, while good now, I would like to revisit this vintage in a few years. I might just even buy a few to try once a year to check out its progression. "

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I am often vexed by the wines available only to restaurants. I would not normally take issue with those wineries except that many of these wines end up reviewed, and most wine consumers, many of them new to wine, see the accolades dumped on a particular wine and winery by Wine Spectator et.al, and they immediately head to the store to track it down, unaware that the winery with said accolades is voraciously intent on selling their product only to restaurant (referred to in this business as “on-premise” accounts).

When I have customers ask for these wines, it becomes tiresome, not because they are asking for them, but because I have to tell them I can’t get them. I am in the business of customer service, and the last thing anyone in customer service, no matter what aspect of it, wants to do is tell a customer “no.” It’s bad for business. Certainly there is a level of understanding when you make them aware of just how limited a particular wine is, but if they just had it at a restaurant down the street, you cannot make them understand that it is a restaurant-only wine. They saw it available in the neighborhood so it should be available to buy.

Take Cakebread for example. Sure some of the larger markets have access to small amounts, and we even see a bit from time to time (it’s kind of like seeing a Solar Eclipse around here), but for the most part, forget it. We hear this story and that story, but in the end, we can’t get it, and that infuriates customers. It makes me wonder, if they aren’t able to buy it in a retail store, why would they want to buy it at a restaurant? Especially when most customers are savvy enough to realize the enormous markup restaurants put on wine.

Again, I can understand when a winery makes 300 cases of something for the year, and the demand is for 3000 or 30,000. It makes sense to limit it to “on-premise,” but it still begs the question, “Doesn’t wineries like that want some kind of brand loyalty? How can they expect customers to want their wines if they aren’t available, at least to some extent, to retail shops?”
And how can any winery expect anyone to pay over $100 a bottle in a restaurant these days? Restaurants are hurting as it is, and you think that a $300 bottle of Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon is going to sell at all, unless it’s to some Russian oil baron or the Sultan of Bhutan? It’s crazy. Merry Edwards and Cakebread are probably my two biggest gripes, yet there are a lot of them. I feel like every time I have to tell a customer that a wine isn’t available to retail, I want to call that winery up and tell them to tell my customer.

Nothing like the taste of sour grapes for the weekend, eh?

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Every now and again, you stumble across something that really impresses you. Case in point, on a recent visit with Devon Ward, our rep for local distributor Tramonte & Sons (and a former LD wine consultant), Shannon, Jesse and I tried a trio of Spanish blends from Bodegas Lomablanca, the largest producer in the Aragon region of Spain. Each wine brought a different blend, different levels of oak, and different styles for a unique tasting experience when tasting individually or side-by-side.

First up, is the Gabarda II 2004 ($12.59), a blend of 40% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo and 20% Syrah. The nuances of each grape brings depth and complexity to the wine, which exudes a light and lively fruit character that is smooth, balanced and expressive. Fresh red and black berry notes abound in both the nose and on the palate. Touches of mineral, earth, anise and black cherries add another dimension to the wine’s easy-drinking style.

Next, the Gabarda III 2005 ($14.98) is a blend of 34% Tempranillo, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot. Aging in American and French oak barrels provides a firm backbone to the stronger, firmer tannins of the Cab and Merlot. There is delicious toasty oak melding with a bouquet of red currants and black plums, lending to a plump, juicy, concentrated mouthfeel. The finish is plush and velvety, with much more body than the “II.”

Lastly, the Gabarda IV 2003 ($18.99) is a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot, coming together to form a more robust, densely concentrated red wine. Much longer time spent in American and French oak (19 months total) gives the wine a much more concentrated presence of vanilla and toast. Dark fruit aromas intermingle with mineral, earth and toasty oak tones, and the smooth, yet full-bodied texture of the wine lends to its lingering finish. This wine has the structure to age well.

These wines have just arrived, so come by and pick one of them up to try.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I’ve dove head first into Palm Bay Imports Italian portfolio, and have come up with another beautiful expression of classic Italian wine with the Tenuta Coppadoro Pescorosso 2006 ($14.97) from Puglia (the “heel of the boot”).

Coppadoro is one of the latest projects involving superstar Italian winemaker Riccardo Cotarella (Falesco, Sportoletti, La Carraia). Mr. Cotarella is considered one of the top consultants in the biz (alongside Michel Rolland, Heidi Barrett, Helen Turley and Paul Hobbs). This winery is very young (founded in 2001), yet has risen to the top of the producers in Southern Italy.

This is a dark, brooding red blend of 75% Nero di Troia and 25% Aglianico that show of earthy nuances of currants and red berry, with notes of fresh, cracked pepper, cloves and roasted game. Its color is inky purple and the tannins are firm and potent, due to 20 days of maceration on the skins. Malolactic fermentation gives it a rich mouthfeel, and there is a long-lasting finish of peaty red berries and spice, which would be perfect with a meaty lasagna. Give this unique Italian red a try.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring this up without mentioning one specific thing about it (forgive my crypticisms here) and I haven’t deduced the best approach so I am just going to say it…

Our good friend Michelle Lentz (www.wine-girl.net) has been putting on benefits in the name of her late sister Krystal Pepper all over town this past year. Krystal died of an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 21. She was studying to be a teacher at Thomas More, so Michelle and her family and friends have organized a scholarship fund in her name and honor.

Well, the last fundraiser for the scholarship is next Thursday, September 11th and features a wine tasting revolving around French female winemakers. For more information go to the Krystal Pepper Scholarship website and go! It’s for a great cause.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I used to say that American Syrah over $20 was the deadest wine category out there, but now, it figures to be anything Australian over $30. No matter what kind of scores they pick up – Parker still gives them 94s, 95s, 96s, and beyond – people just 1) can’t afford them and 2) have become bored with them. Sure, Australia makes more than just full-throttle Shiraz, but the mindset in American consumers is that that is all there is. And I think the slowdown is not just high-end Aussies, but the whole Aussie category. Even the inexpensive Aussie wines are not nearly the value they used to be. Wines from Chile and Argentina, as well as old standards from Spain and to a lesser extent, France and Italy, have recently surged in sales. Value brands such as Alamos, Montes, Pascual Toso and Diseno have really picked up speed here, and offer a great deal for customers on a tight budget.

On the whole, I wish producers would reexamine their thought-process in trying to sell consumers $20+ Syrahs. It’s ridiculous! I couldn’t care if the wine got 100 points; no one wants to spend that much money on Syrah – and you can thank Yellowtail for that one. I think it is burned in the American wine drinkers’ minds that Syrah is a cheap grape – which is complete misperception on their part – and they won’t even look at a Syrah (or Shiraz for that matter) that is over $20. What many thought was going to be the next big thing in wine, is just about D.O.A. – if not at least in a coma.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I get this all the time: a customer comes in the store, sees the various copies of wine reviews hanging from our shelves and asks, “Which magazine do you like the most?” The question refers to the various wine review publications out there – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator, Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine, etc., etc. I tell my customers the inherent biases that each one has, some more overt than others, and they tell me why they listen to this critic or that critic – the conversation winds through opinion after opinion, and it always gets me to wonder, “Who is the most trustworthy?”

I can certainly offer my opinion – I feel that Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar is the least biased – but what would that accomplish? It would be just MY OPINION, wouldn’t it? I feel that there is no pressure from advertisers, and that he just doesn’t arbitrarily give out a bunch of 99 point scores; you’ve got to earn your score. Still, that is just my opinion.
So what I would like to ask of you is to either post your reply here, or email me at thewineguy@zoomtown.com and let me know, who do you think is the most reputable, least biased wine publication out there? Tell me why you feel this way. If it is another magazine or online review site, tell me what it is and why they are more reliable and less tainted than the rest:

A. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
B. Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
C. The Wine Spectator
D. Wine Enthusiast
E. Wine and Spirits
F. Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine
G. Decanter
H. Santé
I. Quarterly Review of Wines
J. The Wine News
K. Wine Review Online
L. Another Magazine
M. They are all full of it!

I’ll post the results next week. Let's see what you think.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I am a big Cab Franc fan. I have had quite a few in the past decade, and know that it’s a variety done either very well or very bad. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of in-between. One of my favorite areas for Cab Franc is the Chinon appellation of the Loire Valley in France. Chinon is situated within the Touraine portion of the Loire, which is more noted as home to Vouvray (marvelous generator of Chenin Blanc). However, Chinon the most prestigious appellation for red wines in the Loire, is home to some extraordinary Cab Francs, ones with enormous sense of place.

The Domaine de Noire “Character” 2005 ($19.98) is a limited bottling done specifically for local wholesaler/importer Vintner Select. The color of this wine is deep purple, almost inky and the aromas of violet and blackberry almost spring from the glass. The nose is deceptive, leading one to believe that the taste will be dense and jammy, yet upon tasting, there is surprising amounts of chalk and flint across the palate. Fine minerality and firm, medium tannins mingle with fresh blackberry and blueberry notes, with hints of violet, earth and fresh herbs dancing throughout its lingering finish. It’s a delicious example of Loire red you should definitely try.