Friday, January 30, 2009

Whisky Tango Foxtrot Questions

There are many questions that we as wine staff are asked. We expect it, after all we are in retail and its our jobs to field these questions. Some are very easy to answer, some we need to consult with one another to find the correct answer. Some we have to try and maintain our composure even in the most dire or hilarious of circumstances. I'd like to take a moment to share with you some of my favorite questions that I have taken in the line of duty.

1) Is this strawberry wine sweet?

2) What color is the White Zin Grape?

3) I have a 1997 Yellowtail Chard, is it still good?

4) Do you have any grape wine?

5) Which was a better vintage for White Zin, the 2005 or the 2006?

6) I had a wine last night at dinner I don't remember what its called, do you have that one?

7) I have an 18yr old bottle of Andre Spumante, is worth anything?

8) That White Zin was too dry do you have anything sweeter?

9) Do you have a wine with a (insert any random animal) on the label?

10) Which is wine is creamier, the Crane Lake Cab or the Crane Lake Merlot?

While yes these are funny, they are people's legitimate questions. Just remember that everyone starts out somewhere and its better to ask us any and all of your questions. Even if they might seem silly. Besides there is not much out there that you could ask us that we haven't already been asked. Take care and thanks for reading.



Red Lion, Green Lion. For some oddball reason I want to think about Mission:Impossible, the first movie with Tom Cruise, with the chewing gum that is colored red and green, and when you press the two together - KABOOM! Tom Cruise says, "Red Light! Green Light!"

So with that murky intro, I had the opportunity to finally try the Green Lion Merlot 2006, which has been a heavily requested wine here in KY - Ohio seems to have it in regular supply. Also, I just tried the Red Lion Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. These two high-octane reds are part of the Grateful Palate's foray into California wines. For those of you familiar with the Grateful Palate, you'll recognize them as being huge purveyors of some of the most dynamic Australian wines to hit the market in the past decade or so, and that they are big-time Parker darlings - Marquis Philips, Paringa, etc.

I went ahead and fired up the Green Lion Merlot 2006 first, which carries with it a Napa Valley appellation. The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: Showing off classic cassis and black cherry notes in the nose, with hints of raspberry and milk chocolate carrying into the flavors. Good tannic structure with balanced acidity, this wine is pretty nice for the price ($12.99). All in all, a good value for Napa Merlot.

Then I tried the Red Lion Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from California. The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: From Napa and Lake Counties, this blend of 85% Cab, 13% Syrah and 2% Petite Sirah gives you black cherries, spice box and cassis notes gushing forth in both the aromas and flavors. Hints of cedar, black currant, mocha and black coffee notes intermingle within the well-nuanced tannins. The finish is long and satisfying and for the price - $13.49 - this is an impressive effort.

Next, I'll check out 2 new releases from R Wines - the Permutations Pinot Noir 2008 and the Luchador Shiraz 2007.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


All this crappy winter weather got you down? Fear not – the staff at Liquor Direct has concocted a wickedly decadent wine tasting this weekend, presented in 2 parts so as not to put you into sensory overload. Yes, it is time for the bi-annual staff showcase (or should we say “smackdown”?) at Liquor Direct Wine & Spirits.

The Covington staff has made their selections, and they are as follows:
1. Hendry Zinfandel Block 28 2005
2. Ridge Lytton Springs 2006
3. Atteca Armas 2005
4. O’Brien Seduction 2005
5. Mas de Can Blau 2005

And as for the Fort Thomas staff, the line-up goes something like this:
1. Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2007
2. Muga Rioja Reserva 2004
3. Tintara Shiraz Reserve 2002
4. Orin Swift The Prisoner 2007
5. Torbreck The Struie 2005

Strangely enough, no white wines were selected this time around. The staff is vying for bragging rights and a space in each store to call their own (for display purposes). It’s up to you, my friends, to select what you think is the best of the best. Come by, cast your vote, and shake off those winter blues with some powerhouse reds! Hope to see you there.
(Friday night - Jan. 30 - from 4-8pm it's Covington at the Covington store and Fort Thomas at the Fort Thomas store. Saturday afternoon - Jan. 31 - from 2-6pm it's switched.)

Monday, January 26, 2009


One of the biggest highlights for local diners and visiting foodies alike has been that one of the country's top restaurants is right here in Cincinnati. Jean Robert at Pigall's has been the highest rated restaurant in Ohio in Mobil's restaurant guide for some time now, and all that changes now that Chef Jean Robert de Cavel has left the group he began with partners Martin and Marilyn Wade and Pigall's closes its doors for good. As a former employee of Chef (albeit a very brief one, working as a server at the now-defunct Pho Paris), I can't imagine what is going through his former employees' minds. Working for Chef Jean-Robert inspired one to be the best they could be. You wanted him to recognize your abilities. You wanted him to see that you could bring your A-game every night of the week. The restaurant community will anxiously wait to see what he has up his sleeves in the coming months. I know he'll be back with an extraordinary place. Despite the sluggish economy, Cincinnati should have a restaurant the caliber of Pigall's, and the Maisonette before it (which Jean Robert was Head Chef as well). Until then, the economy claims another dining institution.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


So Australian wines have sort of fallen from grace with me these days, mainly because I personally have found a lot of them to be superripe, almost syrupy (thank you Mollydooker) and I tend to enjoy some acidity in my wines. Yet Dan Philips, the madman behind The Grateful Palate (an importer of Australian wines that have been Parker darlings for years), has continued to intrigue me with the mirth and mayhem he creates with his various wines.

For example, one of the most requested wines in our store is the Strong Arms Shiraz (currently 2007). This medium- to full-bodied red is very drinkable, supple yet showing some bright red berry and white pepper notes. It possesses blackberry, plum, violet and licorice aromas and flavors as well and finishes creamy smooth. Sourced from McLaren Vale, Riverland and Barossa, this inexpensive red is a treat. It is highly allocated – we only received 25 cases for probably the year so this is one you have to act fast on (our main guy Alfonse loves this stuff so it could already be gone).

Some of the other wines we are getting in are the new Green Lion Merlot 2006 and Red Lion Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – 2 new California projects, plus Marquis Philips Baby Roogle Red 2007, Shiraz 2007 and Riesling 2008, and new R Winery (Dan’s collaboration with Aussie winemaker Chris Ringland) Southern Gothic wines – the Poor Thing Grenache and Southern Belle Shiraz. I will have my tasting notes on these extremely limited wines all week this week as I climb back in the saddle.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Haven't posted the past few days... I've been out sick with a staph infection (yee-uck!). Really puts a damper on things. Will have a report on the newest Grateful Palate wines this weekend, and hopefully, my cohorts will pick up my slack just a bit. Oh, and drink a glass of wine for me, would ya please?

Monday, January 19, 2009


One of the emerging “new” wine regions for the American market is Portugal. Most everyone is familiar with Port, and sadly, to a lesser extent, Madeira, yet there are an ever-increasing number of terrific red and white Portuguese still wines coming to the U.S. And while I must admit I am still a bit of a novice to the region as well, one of the categories I hope to expand in our store is that of Portuguese wines, so consider this a small primer on the region and its wines.

The major appellations in Portugal are: Vinho Verde, Douro, Dao, Bairrada, Colares, Bucelas, Ribatejo, Setubal, Alentejo, Tras-os-Montes and Beiras.

Douro is the heart of Port wine country, where producers such as Niepoort, Graham, Dow, Warre and others are generating some of the country’s top still wines. Producers such as Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vallado and Quinta do Vale Meao are garnering huge acclaim for their reds and wines such as Dow’s Vale do Bomfin ($11.49) offer up exquisite value.

Vinho Verde is more associated with a style than a region, yet the white wines of this area (made from Alvarinho, along with grapes such as Loureiro, Trajadura, Avesso and Pedernao) provide clean, vibrant, petillant wines that are long staples of summer drinking. This region also makes some great, easy-to-drink reds as well.

The Dao lies south of the Douro Valley, and grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Northern Portugal’s mutation of Tempranillo) are the reigning grapes of choice.

The Bairrada is dominated by one particular grape variety, Baga, a thick-skinned red varietal that makes fairly tannic wines. The white grape Bical is used primarily for dry whites and sparkling wines.

The Alentejo is one of the up-and-coming wine regions and is turning out rich, full-bodied red wines made from the Aragonez (Southern Portugal’s mutation of Tempranillo), Periquita, and Trincadeira Preta, along with Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The Rothschilds’ own Quinta do Carmo, as well as our new favorite, the Callabriga Alentejo, show superb promise.

Some other Portuguese wines we have in our stores right now are: Callabriga Dao 2005, Prazo do Roriz 2005, Warre’s Altano Red 2005, and Quinta do Portal Reserva 2001. Try one of these next time you’re in, and be on the lookout for more.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Red Rock Merlot 2006 is a surprisingly good, almost-full-bodied Merlot that is easy on both the palate and the wallet. At 14% alcohol, it's not a wimpy, soft, cherry-laden Merlot like a lot of them at this price point ($8.99), due in some part to the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Syrah. Its soft yes, but lush with velvety tannins and a dense jamminess that again, defies the price point. This is one of those times that flowery descriptions really don't cut it - you should really just try this wine.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Under Pressure

Ah, the pressures of being a "wine guy". Once our wine staff leaves the confines of their respective stores, a new challenge begins. Handling the pressure of being the "wine guy" or "wine girl" amongst their circle of friends. I mean come on, Do you have any idea how hard it is to look your friends in the face after they serve you a lovely 2003 Beaujolais Nouveau they had been saving just for you. Or when your out on the town and at a lovely restaurant and the other diners you are with order a 1981 Mouton Rothschild when obviously the 1984 Petrus would have been a much better choice. I mean come on people. Does anyone else actually know anything about wine or do we have to do everything ourselves?

Now before any of you begin to think that I'm even remotely serious let me tell you that I am just being my usual sarcastic self. But, it was slightly believable. There was that possibility in your mind that "wine people" can act and think just like that. It is this belief that I wish to address and change. We are just regular people, we all started off drinking white zin from a box or a Boone's Farm strawberry daiquiri somewhere along the lines. We love wine. We really love wine, (sometimes too much making the next day around your co-workers a little embarrassing) which is what makes us good at our jobs, but we also enjoy other things.

I myself am a very profound lover of bourbon. I also am a fan of nice beers such as IPA's and not so crazy beers such as Miller Lite. If my friends bring me a bottle of wine we'll open it and drink it. Even if its not a wine that I might particularly go for its still fun to drink it and catchup with them. When put on the spot by our friends at a restaurant to make a wine selection or to suggest something for them we usually do so not with disgust or arrogance but with a gracious smile as we get to show off a little for them and hope that we get them a good wine that they will enjoy. When we bring a wine for a party or dinner, we are just as nervous as you would be that it will be the right wine for the meal and that all the guest will enjoy it. There is a lot of pressure to always have the best wine, or that what ever we suggest to a friend will be the best wine that they ever had. Fortunately, we are well equipped to handle that pressure due to our training and passion for wine and that is good thing not only for our close friends and family but for our customers as well. Well I have ranted long enough for today, but I do hope that I was able to change any negative connotations that you might have had about "wine people" but I promise we are just your everyday, normal, highly trained and educated wine professionals. Thanks for reading and take care.



Only 3 issues old, Mutineer Magazine has really struck a chord with me. Finally, a wine magazine that I feel, is actually worth reading. If for no other reason that it speaks to the relevance of wine in MY WORLD, not some hot shot collector who buys and sells wines at auctions around the world. This is the 21st Century wine mag for anyone who is passionate about wine and wants to drink WITHIN their budget.

Alan Kropf brings us a well-written, entertaining magazine that is not pompous or narcissistic, beating its chest of its own importance. Alan and his staff have something to say. His current issue has Gary Vaynerchuk, the Wine 2.0 bandleader who has almost single-handedly turned traditional wine writers upside down. There are interviews with writer Amy Reiley (the cookbook FORK ME SPOON ME), sommelier George Skorka of renowned L.A. wine bar Bottle Rock, a look at Washington State Breweries, and even our good friend, Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings is featured in the article on "Blogs You Should Be Reading."

We hope to carry it in our stores soon, so watch for it at both locations, and you can always check them out at Mutineer Magazine. Put the old-foagie rag down and get with the future!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

BRAG BLOG part 2

I've had my eye on a bottle of wine collecting dust for about six months in Kevin's office. He finally let go of it this week (maybe because he's feeling a little under the weather and didn't have the strength to argue with me).

I've always said that you don't need a special occasion to open up that fancy bottle of wine. Opening the bottle is a special occasion in itself. So, when do I decide to pop open my acclaimed 2000 vintage bottle of Piper Heidsieck Brut? Tonight is as good as ever while I reorganize my closet.

Any of our regular customers would know that I LOVE Piper Heidsieck Champaign because it is our best value high end bubbly. It can stand up against Veuve, Moet, Dom, etc. and is only around $30. They make a Cuvee Sublime (demi-sec) that is sexy, sexy, sexy. I love proving people wrong when they say they could never appreciate a fine demi-sec.


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: I’ve made no secret about it – I am infatuated with German Riesling. It’s the wine equivalent to Melinda Clarke (Lady Heather on CSI) for me – searingly sexy, decadent, and possessing shadowy, bewitching complexity that leaves me a wanton zombie. The Milz-Laurentiushof Riesling Kabinett Trittenheimer 2006 is a gorgeous, slightly-dry Riesling from the Mosel that demonstrates amazing depth, well-balanced mineral, white flower, white peach, nectarine, Rainer cherries, orange zest and a richness that goes on and on. It lends the impression that this wine has a long shelf life, with the potential for 15-20 years in the cellar, yet is very approachable now. It’s just gonna get better and better.


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: I have been a fan of Michael Honig and his wines for years. If ever there was a more dependable, more enjoyable Napa Sauvignon Blanc year-in-and-year-out than the Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2007, I’ve not found it. The wine speaks as if it were a classic white Graves, full of poised minerality, Meyer lemon, hints of star fruit, lime zest and green tea notes. I recommend that if you LOVE Sauvignon Blanc, and you HAVEN’T had this wine yet, try it and you will see that this wine is truly unbeatable for Sauvignon Blancs under $20.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: Michael-David Petite Petit 2006 is a great surprise from Lodi, an unique blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot that gives you one dark, dense, robust red with bold tannins that are dynamic yet smooth, and aromas and flavors of black raspberries, blueberries, loganberries, blackberries, acai berries plus hints of mocha, espresso beans, black tea, mushroom compote and cigar box. There is quite a bit going on in the glass, and this wine is definitely worth exploring. Give it a try alongside your favorite fare.

Monday, January 12, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Laroche Pinot Noir de la Chevaliere 2007 is a really nice surprise from Domaine Laroche's new Vin de Pays d'Oc project. This 100% Pinot Noir from Beziers in the south of France is what you'd expect from French Pinot Noir - light, bright cherry fruit flavors and aromas, touches of earth and roasted nuts, and well-balanced acidity. What you don't necessarily expect is the richness of the berry/cherry fruit on the palate, and the presence of soft, velvety tannins across the palate. It's a delicious Pinot Noir that clocks in under $20.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Perhaps it's just the geography of this business that makes things this way, but I just recently received the February 2009 issue of Wine & Spirits and on the cover is the new world of Syrah. Now, I love Syrah, but the thing I have been painfully aware of for years is that American Syrah, or any Syrah (Shiraz) for that matter has become a tough sell, particularly if it is over $15. And American Syrah over $30? Forget it! You might as well have your entire store stocked with first growth Bordeaux.

One of my favorites, one that only recently became available in this neck of the woods, Lagier Meredith, is I think indicative of this point. Here you have the 2006 Lagier Meredith Mt. Veeder Syrah, suggested retail $50, rated 94 points (and this wine usually gets high marks from Spectator and Parker as well), is one of a veritable cornucopia of over $30 Syrahs reviewed in this issue of W&S, along with high end Aussie Shiraz and French Syrahs. With the economy as damn dire as it is, will anyone bite on any of these wines? The suggested retail for 2003 Penfolds Grange (93 points) is $300! Are you f'n kidding me?! I truly believe that all of these magazines (W&S, Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, etc.) only cater to collectors, not consumers, and the unrealistic reviews of ultra-premium wines diminishes any potential for audience expansion.

Why not look at Syrahs under $20? I realize that the issue's content was predetermined, but even back in November, the economy was tanking - the editors should have made a better judgment call. Maybe I am being overly opinionated on the matter, but if I were to order these wines, blindly going on press alone, I would be crucified over the useless inventory, and probably fired for filling the shelves with wines that just won't sell.

Wine Spectator has been trying in vain for years to promote American Syrahs but to no avail. Maybe the current economic times will get all of these winemakers a massive dose of reality, not just the Syrah producers, but all those cult Cab producers, Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. But I doubt it. As long as there is someone gullible enough to buy them, they'll keep jacking up the prices. And the critics who review them will be nothing more than screaming groupies.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Broke as a Joke...

Well, the holidays are finally over for us retail work horses! I anticipated a relatively easy first day back in the office after the new year. Of course, I was denied when Kevin handed me a list of close-outs to create that was approximately eight inches thick. However, I stocked my wine cooler with some kick ass wines for dirt cheap so he was forgiven.

Is everyone as broke as I am after showering our loved ones with all the gifts we can afford? I've got some great wines in mind that will fit nicely into your tight little, umm, budgets.

Monte Oton Garnacha...fruity and spicy...$6.98

LVF white...delicate and well balanced white Rhone blend...$7.59

Avalon Cabernet...I dare you to find a better Cab for the price...$6.98

Windmill Zinfandel...jammy and yummy...$7.98

Arancio Pinot Noir...a nice under $10 Pinot, seriously...$6.69

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


So I have a huge confession to make - I LOVE BEER! Probably moreso than I do wine, simply because wine has become my job, and beer is but an every-now-and-then kind of indulgence. Working here at Liquor Direct, I do have opportunities to taste some very cool beers, thanks largely to our in-house beer guru, Brandon Cubbage, who has worked for breweries, beer distributors and he even home brews. Our selection has grown in the past year or so, largely due to his passion for the suds.

Now, my beer blogging will be more for fun than anything else, because I still feel like I am a bit of a novice, even though I cannot stand wimpy tasting pilsners, like Bud, Miller and most other domestics - they taste like water. I like beer like I like coffee - thick, dark and strong. So after the post-holiday decompression began this weekend, I opted to take home a few tasty brews. One that has truly blown me away is the Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 Year, which Brandon tells me is extremely limited. This tasty ale was fermented in oak barrels used to age Highland Park 16 Year Single Malt Scotch, and the result is flavors and aromas of smoky peat, bitter chocolate, and black truffles. The finish is smooth, balancing savory and sweet in a slightly toasted, mocha sexiness that rates this rarity one of the best damn beers I have ever had.
I have a link to the Queen of Beer, the Beer Wench and I have added links to The Beer Advocate, as well as The Beer Guy and new local beer bloggers Hoperatives. I might even try to coax Brandon out of his shell long enough to talk a bit about beer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


So for those of you who don't know me, I am a wine buyer who is simply bored to tears when it comes to Chardonnay. Unless it's a Premier or Grand Cru from Burgundy (or perhaps one of Ramey's single vineyard beauties), forget it. As a buyer I tasted dozens of Chards on a regular basis, and I am usually not impressed. The majority of them wreak of overtoasted oak, with a melted stick of butter, flabby, glycerol oils and heavy whipping cream aftertastes. Just what I want in a dessert, but not a wine. Where's the damn acid? And what about the fruit, people?!
The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: Anyway, a few months back I told you about a wine tasting with Sara Floyd, master sommelier who works for Jorge Ordonez. On top of the massive gamut of Spanish wines we ran through, she happened to show off her little side project from a winery called Bacchant Wines. The Luli Chardonnay 2007 ($17.99) is the result of her alliance with long time friends, the Pisoni family. What they deliver is an un-malo'ed Chard that is bright, lively and expressive of amazing citrus fruit and floral notes that are extremely complimentary to the palate.

Well, New Year's Eve, upon a wonderful night out at Chalk Food + Wine here in Covington, I was once again knocked out by the Luli Chardonnay, which was part of a 5-course tasting menu. Accompanying the Pan-Seared Sturgeon with lobster, pineapple sauce, daikon and ginger cream sauce (Holy Shiitake Mushrooms, Batman!), this pairing was absolute decadence. Aside from the food, this wine was something I could drink all night long - and that's huge praise for a Chardonnay coming from my palate. This wine is everything you really want when finding yourself in the midst of culinary hedonism. It's got gorgeous body, complexity, well-balanced acidity, and it just tastes really good.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I haven't even switched out of holiday mode yet. The hackles are still raised and I still have that volcanic feeling in the base of my throat. Yet my sights are set on a new year, with new changes and new challenges. We kick start our store wine tastings this week with a recap of the best value wines of 2008 (in our opinion), and I am looking forward to seeing our friends again, both old and new, and talking about one of the three things I love most in this crazy world - and that's wine.

I'll have some great new wines to talk about from Portugal, Austria and Washington State, as well as my renewed love affair with beer. We'll be slowly revealing a peak at our impending video feature, and the more interactive features of both this blog and the Liquor Direct Web site, and the staff at Grape Tree will continue to share their individual journeys into grape hedonism so stay tuned.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


We at Under The Grape Tree will ease into 2009 by taking a few days off so look for us to start up Monday, January 5th. We've got inventory to count and (the introduction of a new phrase to all of you) post-holiday decompression to enact.

Thanks again for a great year and we'll see you in a few days (after the bourbon hangover wears off - we are from Kentucky after all!)