Friday, February 27, 2009


In response to a post on Wicker Parker - one of the American Wine Blog Awrd finalists, the author made a seemingly backhanded remark about Hahn Pinot Noir 2006 that seemed for lack of a better word, "odd". I wouldn’t really think anything of this, although the folks at Hahn have been very, very good to us, and everything we have had from them has been impressive enough to get behind. For a retailer to say that off the bat, that’s strong! I realize that I have gone off half-cocked before (who hasn't really), but I am left a bit puzzled by his recent post.

And it wouldn’t have mattered if the guy had explained why he disliked it, or why he thought it was wrong, but instead, he just said:

“…if people stop buying Hahn Monterey Pinot Noir, that can only be a good thing. This was served at a dinner party I went to last Saturday, and that shit is nasty, with a really artificial-feeling mouthfeel, like something was added to increase glycerin levels. I suspect something worse than plain old oak chips. It quite literally made my stomach churn. I'd never say this to my friend who brought it (and sadly, it's his new favorite wine) so let's keep this thought between you and me, eh?”

The statement leaves the reader with the impression that the wine simply “sucks.” While he does allude to the fact that, in his belief, the wine was in some way adulterated, as to why it “sucked,” the bottom line is that it is opinion. And quoting the Oxford Companion’s specs on Pinot Noir to my friends Lisa de Bruin aka WineDiverGirl and Thea Dwelle of Luscious Lushes Blog isn’t a good angle to take on his argument, when there are upteen Syrahs, Cabs, Merlots, Chards, etc, from California and the world over that push the textbook boundaries in one way or another.

Adam LaZarre, former winemaker at Hahn (the reins have since been transferred to Paul Clifton) actually came to our store last year and put on a terrific seminar surrounding the Hahn Family commitment to Pinot Noir, and he demonstrated the different styles that the Hahn and Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noirs have. We had a capacity crowd that was knocked out by the quality and value that the Hahn Pinot Noir presents, and I didn’t hear a soul then utter the word “shitty” when describing this wine.

I’ve been in the business for some 20 years, and while I have to admit, I have tasted some shitty wines in my day, and none of them remotely come close to how the Hahn Pinot Noir tastes. And I most certainly would not commit this to print (traditional or electronic). The rub of “putting your balls” out there as Jerry Cantrell (as a Kinkos-esque copy boy) tells Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, is that, as Jerry Maguire does, get them stomped on. I don’t know the guy who writes Wicker Parker, so this isn’t a personal thing, it’s just that I don’t even understand why he even brought it up. The blog post was about something completely different – Grignolino grape and Football via Decanter and the French gov’t telling its citizens not to drink wine.

I just think that if he was going to talk about Hahn and his impression of the wine, he would have done it in a more constructive way. For laughs, I pulled my two assistant wine buyers and one of my beer buyers into the office and we opened up a Hahn Pinot Noir 2006, to see if we could see what Mike at Wicker Parker was talking about, and the overall consensus was that we couldn't taste anything in the way of flaws; this was a varietally correct, well-crafted wine with very nice cherry flavors, notes of candied fruit, spice and nuttiness. While it had a tiny bit of glycerol character, that certainly didn't take away from it recommendability. I wouldn't hesitate for a second to walk out into the store and single this out to any one of our customers as a good everyday drinking Pinot Noir. And by the way, Oprah even wrote this wine up in her magazine, and you know she wouldn't sell people crap, she's a fucking multimedia conglomerate for Christ's sake!

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the glibness in his delivery makes me wonder what the judges were thinking when they passed over the likes of 1Wine Dude or Wannabe Wino.

Personally, I don't have anything to be gained by chiming in on this debate, but I do have a bit of loyalty to the folks at Hahn, who have certainly had a hand in helping our stores become more successful. So for Paul Clifton and the winemaking team at Hahn, as well as to Lisa de Bruin (who works for the Marketing arm of Hahn Estates) - I got your back.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


This Saturday, February 28th, is National Open That Bottle Night, encouraging all wine fanatics to dig deep into their cellars and pull out that bottle you've been holding onto for one special occasion or another. These folks are saying, "now is the time."

To find out more about the night, visit You can read about stories of bottles opened last year from people all over, or contribute your own story. Wilson Daniels, importer and broker for such wines as Castello di Volpaia, Tardieu-Laurent, Silverado and Gundlach-Bundschu is hosting Open That Bottle Night on Twitter Taste Live, along with Vinquire and my good friend Thea Dwelle (of Luscious Lushes). Should be a great night all around. I've been eyeing either one of my 1997 St. Clement Orropas or maybe the Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc 1997. Let me know what you would do, and email us your stories, or post them at Open That Bottle Night.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Tom Wark of the terrific daily wine blog Fermentation, along with this year's sponsors Mutineer Magazine, Open Wine Consortium and Riedel glassware, have announced the finalists for this year's American Wine Blog Awards. Suffice it to say, we didn't make the list (hell, I'm just happy there are folks reading this shit!) but I have to say I am a bit shocked that none of my fellow local wine bloggers were nominated (Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings, Michelle Lentz and her husband Kevin Gerl of My Wine Education, Mike Rosenberg of The Naked Vine, Jonathan Seeds of Best Drink Ever and even Mark Fisher from Dayton Daily News' Uncorked).

It's understandable though because the literal ocean of wine bloggers out there these days is vast, so I am sure that this year's judges had quite the formidable task. My congratulations to all the nominees and best wishes to all - these folks are truly the cream of the crop.
The finalists are as follows:

To vote, please visit here.

The cool thing about this list is that there were a couple of blogs I hadn't seen before. Nominated in the best wine reviews category were Wicker Parker and Bigger Than Your Head both have tremendously insightful reviews without the overdependence on scoring. Wicker Parker's author is Chicagoan Mike (no last name that I can find) who gives us well-written but not long-winded prose and insight on each wine he reviews, while Bigger Than Your Head's Fredric Koeppel is a seasoned veteran wine critic having for years written printed reviews before beginning Koeppel On Wine in 2004 and Bigger Than Your Head in 2007.

I keep telling everyone that wine blogging is part of the whole social media revolution online, and with so many voices to hear, it's a good time to get into wine, or anything else for that matter.


Just saw an article in the Press Democrat yesterday that kind of blew me away. Korbel is suing Comcast to identify Internet customers who criticized the winery on Craig's List last year on a discussion forum. The anonymous discussion group, it looks like, are going to be outed, on the grounds that these folks sullied Korbel's reputation.

Now, I have a lot of love for Korbel. The past two trips to California, I have had the great pleasure of staying at one of their guest houses on the property (a perk of being in the business I guess). My stores sell truckloads of Korbel, and I personally enjoy their wines. I don't have anything bad to say about them. When my wife and I stayed out there the last time we were in Cali, it was a beautiful, tranquil stay at what they call the Railroad House, and it was arguably one of the best times my wife and I have ever had together.

So I was a bit taken aback by this article. I have heard that the Heck family has been having some issues with each other, and that things are a bit tense around there. It's hard to fathom, given the air of ease that seems to surround the Russian River Valley and its residents, some of the nicest people I've ever met.

I can't understand why they would really want to waste time, effort and money on what is really not all that big of a deal. So some folks voiced their displeasure at the company. People do this all the time, not just at Korbel. When they are seemingly wasting time pursuing the naysayers from Internet chat rooms, they should be ascertaining the sources of these forum participants' ire - Why were they pissed at Korbel in the first place?

You think that if they took the time to get to the heart of the matter, solve the problem, then everything else would be unneccessary. There is obviously more to the story.

I continue to wish the good folks at Korbel well despite this piece, and hope that resolution can be achieved with little or no collateral damage for all. I hope to get out to California soon and see the folks at the Korbel tasting room again, and visit the neighboring city of Guerneville, my home away from home.

Needless to say, this is a more somber edition of WTF Wednesday.

To read the Press Democrat article, go here.

Monday, February 23, 2009


One of my all-time favorite songs is by Alice in Chains, called "Rooster." It's Jerry Cantrell's exploration of his father's life in Vietnam, whose nickname was The Rooster. An all-together different kind of rooster is the one adorning one of my favorite wineries, Hahn Estates. Truly one of the most reliable producers in California, this Monterey County winery churns out one consistent value after another. And if ever there was a hidden gem anywhere in the wine biz, not just our store, it would most certainly have to be the Hahn Meritage 2006.

The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Hahn Meritage 2006 is a phenomenal value in California red wine. This kick ass Bordeaux-styled blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec saw 11 months in both new and neutral French oak barrels, giving it the perception and style of a top-notch cru Bourgeois. Possessing ripe, rich aromas of black and blue fruit aromas, intertwining with hints of cherry, cedar, and baking spices, the initial taste greets you with well-balanced, supple tannins, blackberry, loganberry, black cherry, red and black currant, spice box, tobacco and mocha notes, careening into a sturdy frame of juicy plum and blueberry flavors all the way into the lengthy finish.

Anyone looking for a great California red under $20, you need look no further. I would have to tell you, if it has a big red rooster on the label, there’s no need to worry – it’s gonna be great.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


A lot of wine bloggers that review wines these days are getting samples shipped to them straight from the wineries. It's causing a bit of a commotion amongst other bloggers in this online community. Why I am unsure. I am sure that many believe one's opinions can be swayed simply by becoming a source for free wine, thus influencing the reviewer. Sure, I can see that. And while that practice may or may not be controversial (in my book, screw it! Everything's expensive now, and since we wine bloggers aren't doing this for money, there should be some kind of perk), we aren't exactly doing it THAT way.

Being a retailer, our distributors provide us with samples, to evaluate and determine whether or not we want to sell them in our stores. And of course, we do actually buy wine and take it home with us (though we do get an employee discount, thankfully). So the wines that we review for this blog are provided for us either by our suppliers or by our own wallets. Either way, we write about what we WANT to write about - no one begs us to review their wines. The reviews we post are born out of a desire to inform our customers and their friends what we have found to be stunning wines, be it for price, style or just overall craftmanship. So while some bloggers wonder why there is a short supply of negative reviews, for us there really isn't any point to talk about bad wine, because honestly, we aren't in the business of SELLING bad wine, so why the hell would we talk about it? Right?

Now, we taste a lot of GOOD wine, and we do taste some BAD too. But it is the REALLY GOOD, KICK ASS, INCREDIBLE wine that makes it to the Grape Tree.

So keep reading and we'll keep bringing you the best wines we've come across each week.

And speaking of kick-ass wine, the Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Ynez 2005 is one such wine. The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is arguably the best damn California Cab I have had so far this year. A blend of 93% Cab, 5% Cab Franc and 2% Malbec, this plush, fruit monster is lush from start to finish. Aromas of blackberry, black cherry and pencil lead greet you immediately in the nose, followed by intense notes of mocha powder and fresh sage. There is a ton of juicy black fruit flavors and rich chocolate, espresso and vanilla tones. For a California Cab under $20, you won't find it's equal.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Today has been a whirlwind. I feel like, as I do most days, that there isn't enough time in the day to get everything done. I know you know what I am saying - it's just crazy. I always think of that commercial line: "moving at the speed of business."

I finally got off my duff and decided that this year, I was going to take my Certified Specialist of Wine exam this summer. I opted to wait on my Certified Sommelier test until next year so that I can work on my palate some more. I spend so much time tasting wines on the premise of whether or not my customers will buy them than I do analyzing them and determining their taste profiles.

Also, I have become particularly motivated in becoming a veritable PR nightmare for the likes of KY Governor Steve Beshear and KY Senator Elizabeth Tori, the primary culprits in the latest tax hikes on alcohol in our state. As you can see on the right side of this page, you can sign up to voice your ire at their impetuous, reactionary taxing, regardless of whether or not you live in the Commonwealth of Kentucky or not. The citizens of bordering states Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia all have a stake in what's going on, because many citizens of these neighboring states have come to Kentucky to purchase wine and spirits, thanks to the huge price advantage we've held over these states for some time. In one signal signature (Gov. Beshear's) that advantage has been minimalized considerably and especially here in Northern Kentucky, where the advantage has been biggest, is the threat at lost businesses and jobs the greatest.

This Monday, we also begin a new era at our newest store in Fort Thomas, KY. Ray Burwick, who has been something of an all-star utility player, moonlighting a few days a week, will become the new store manager there. Ray brings with him over a decade of wine wholesaler experience, and a phenomenal palate and love of Spanish wines. Most of our regular customers already know Ray, yet those who do not should make it a point to say hello. Stop in, or email him at

And this year, I missed the opportunity to judge the Cincinnati International Wine Festival. I am at once, miffed and at the same time, relieved at the prospect. I was upset (if for only a few moments) because the night I was to attend the mandatory training seminar (the one where they tell you to "choreograph" your scores due to the apparent quotas for medal winners), much of the area was still under a snow emergency, and on top of that, my wife was getting out of the hospital after having her pacemaker replaced. I figured, "there's no way they are meeting on a night as shitty as this one" so without any way to contact them, I simply stayed home to care for my wife. Fast forward to this week, and I am out. Too many candidates. To be honest, after last year, I really didn't want to go back. Most of the wines that my group had judged were scored pretty low (only 2 out of 60+ wines received scores worthy of medalling), yet nearly half of them received medals. ??? The CIWF has also been hijacked by Lord knows who, opting to pair what they deem exceptional, exciting wines, with supermarket catering. And in the insult to injury dept.: an additional charge if you want to taste anything truly remarkable - a considerable one at that. I don't know what is on the agenda this year, and it really doesn't matter. It's really of no interest to me anymore.

And last but not least, we are coming up on our first anniversary here at Under the Grape Tree and on behalf of the staff I'd just like to thank you all for tuning in and reading all of our commentaries. I realize that the landscape of wine bloggers out there is quite vast, and opinions are wide-ranging, but I think our perspective is something different and something everyone can relate to and enjoy.

Comments are always appreciated so feel free to chime in (even if it's to tell us we suck).



Thursday, February 19, 2009


Crying over spilt milk, isn’t that what we seem to do more than we realize? There is a turbulent, crazy-ass world out there, and the wine industry is no different than any other business (except when you speak of us in the company of politicians and puritanical). Yes, Kentucky just jumped to the forefront of ridiculously high alcohol taxes by giving you the ol’ 1-2 punch of 11% wholesale and 6% sales tax. This increase is their desperate attempt to balance a state budget they have been screwing hard and bankrupting for decades. It would have been much simpler and certainly more fair and just to the retailers in Northern Kentucky to have made the ENTIRE state “wet,” instead of using tax revenue generated by the 30 out of 120 counties that our wet to bear the burden so that the 90 dry counties can continue to use religious beliefs to shield the many bootleggers running roughshod over the law to further their own nefarious business ventures, and thus forsaking tax revenue they could be contributing to state coffers instead of padding their slimy little pockets (oh, this is hearsay of course).

The issue of all state governments is that they are run by lawyers and not businessmen. Businessmen with any concept of simple economics would not allow people who do not work, or do not perform to the expectations given them by said business owners, to continue to stay in their jobs. They would be fired.

The dynamic of the wine business is already volatile. Every day, another winery is sold to another big conglomerate, another wholesaler merges with their competition, and another brand jumps ship from one distributor to another. There should seriously be a scorecard of sorts to keep track of all of this, yet we retailers have to shoulder the burden of mediating the gripes of the consumers (tax increases, price increases, limited availability, exclusivities, etc., etc.). The consumers are right to be upset at times like these, when the economy is in the cesspool, and their elected officials do nothing but bicker like little schoolchildren. The logjam is getting mighty fierce out there, and the end is a long way down the road, due in large part to the astronomical incompetence allowed to run the show.

These politicians honestly have no right to even be in this world with the rest of us, who slog around from day to day, doing our jobs, paying our bills, looking out for our families, yet every obstacle they (the government) can put in our way, they find the most overtly cumbersome and infuriating way to do it.

The latest anger point for us here in Kentucky is that some of this newly generated tax revenue (which really hasn’t happened yet) is that some of the money will go to improving the Kentucky Speedway so that a NASCAR event will be held there – so NASCAR fans can come and get taxed to death for beer, bourbon and smokes.

Now, they already have their eyes on money that is not even collected, much less generated – the very crux of the dilemma that faces us as a nation. And God forbid, there is a backlash to this increase, and hundreds or even thousands are put out of work due to this increase – Ohio and Indiana consumers staying where they are and spending their money on beer, wine and tobacco in their own states, thus showing negative revenue where there should have been growth. That $180 million they thought was going happen suddenly becomes -$50 million – oh shit! Now what!

Well, they’ll go back and raise taxes some more, WTF?

I know that currently, the Governator in California, and Gov. Patterson in NY are socking it to wine lovers and other states are following suit. Hey, I know that when times are tight, and people are struggling, they turn to alcohol to drown their sorrows and forget they can’t pay their rent/mortgage/car payment/electric bill so let’s tax their only method of escape? Why not? But haven’t they ever heard the expression “you can’t get blood from a stone?” I think the government has been giving us the Medusa stare for far too long.

What can we do?

Vote, that’s what. You saw what it did this past election season. Do that every single time. If the guy in office in your town/county/state isn’t doing his/her job, give them their pink slip and get someone in that will. Keep doing it until the blowhards who run the political parties get the idea – no mediocre milquetoast candidates, give us someone, anyone who will get the job done, regardless of political ideologies or bank statements.

Is that too idealistic? Sure. Is it realistic? Probably not. The reality is that not only the wine industry, but the common folk in general will continue being gang-raped by our political leaders until the next Revolution. Or until someone comes along and lays the smack down on these troglodytes and exiles the whole lot of them to some floating turd in the Pacific.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


So this Wine Blogging Wednesday, Mr. David McDuff of McGuff's Food and Wine Trail has corralled us bloggers to discuss one of my favorite subjects – Piedmontese wines. You see, I love Italian Wines. It’s my favorite section in our stores, and, as I tell all my customers, I would if I could, sell nothing but Italian wine. Piedmont in particular, produces some of the most exceptional wines in the world (Barolo and Barbaresco should spring to mind in all wine lovers), as well as terrific values with such grape varieties as Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Moscato.

The wine landscape of Piedmont is just as vast as that of its mother country, and just as exciting. Which is why I wanted to talk to you about a very ancient grape variety called Arneis, a grape saved from extinction by locals who wanted to placate the international demand for dry white wines, and known in Ancient times as the “White Barolo,” Arneis is an exciting varietal that has a lot to offer all you foodies out there.

For centuries, Arneis was actually used to soften the harsh tannins of Nebbiolo in Barolo (hence the white Barolo moniker) before 20th Century demands of straight Nebbiolo saw to its decline. Prodcution diminished to the point where in the 1970s, only 2 producers were doing anything with the grape. However, in the following decade, a resurgent interest in the grape has seen the number of acres in the Roero region of Piedmont increase to over 1500 acres.

One example in particular, the Valdinera Arneis 2006 (resulting from grapes harvested right in the heart of the city of Alba) is a beautiful example of this undiscovered grape. Completely unoaked, the stainless steel fermentation is the perfect canvas upon which its aromas and flavors come to life, with scores of fresh peaches, apricots and hints of honey and white flowers. There is superb presence of mineral and balanced acidity throughout this delicious white wine, finishing long yet dry. An ideal aperitif wine, this 100% Arneis would also fair well with chicken, fish and vegetarian dishes.

I love this wine, though drinking it is bittersweet. This post for WBW is my homage to the late Italian wine importer John Given, who passed away last year. I feel indebted to John in a lot of ways, since it was me, in at least a small part that helped bring John’s wines to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. John’s love of classically-styled Italian wines that drew me to his portfolio, and it was his dedication to the traditional producers of my favorite wine region that has made me a fan for life. His wife, Anne-Catherine, continues to manage and expand the company they founded together, out of their love of Italian wine, of Life, and of each other.
Italian wines, and Italy in general, seems to inspire that level of devotion in anyone who accepts the invitation and I invite you to do the same.

Always remember: La vita viva ed ama bene.

Monday, February 16, 2009


We'll soon have a veritable triumvirate of beer gurus (with Brandon, Ray Burwick, our new Fort Thomas manager, and our store MVP Matt Corley) here at Under the Grape Tree but until that time, you just have to contend with my "quasi-Hannah-Montana-fan-esque" approach to the brews.

Last night, plowing through leftoversand watching "Disaster Movie" with the Mrs., I opened a 22 oz Stone Smoked Porter from Stone Brewery in San Diego. A good dark beer, this brew had just the right amount of hops and malted barley tones, with elements of chocolate, caramel, and smoky, peat undertones. This drinks like a pureed Snickers bar, and tasted perfect with the beef, potatoes, carrots and onions of my homemade pot roast. A truly satisfying beer I split with the wife (who completely out-of-character, LOVED this beer). And at only 5.9% alcohol, it wasn't one that knocked me on my ass.

The perfect beer after a long Sunday at the office (as if any beer wouldn't be).


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Three Rivers River's Red 2006 is another in a long line of great values from the unsung wine region of Columbia Valley. If California could only turn out this kind of consistency. Blended differently each year, this year's Syrah-dominant mix (with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) is a winner, showing medium-body and juicy, fresh red and black berry fruit flavors and aromas of black cherry, fresh ground cinnamon, plum and hints of white and black pepper. There is a lot of depth for a really affordable red wine. Definitely check this one out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Wasn't it the Senate that did Rome in?

Not that it really matters, now that the King of all Liars, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (“No tax increases!”) has signed the alcohol tax increase into law (and put the final nail in his governorship), I present to you the 24 assholes (new synonym for Senators) who voted to pass this stupid, ill-conceived, lazy, misinformed piece of crap legislation:

Walter Blevins Jr. D-West Liberty
Charlie Borders R-Frankfort
David Boswell D-Owensboro
Perry Clark D-Louisville
Carroll Gibson R-Leitchfield
(Majority "Wimp")
David Givens R-Greensburg
Denise Harper Angel D-Louisville
Ernie Harris R-Crestwood
Tom Jensen R-London
Ray Jones II D-Pikeville
Dan Kelly R-Springfield
Alice Kerr R-Lexington
Vernie McGaha R-Russell Springs
Gerald Neal D-Louisville
R.J. Palmer D-Winchester
(again, the ghosts of my great-grandfather and grandfather are coming after you, R.J. – does that stand for Royal Jackass?)
Jerry Rhoads D-Madisonville
Dorsey Ridley D-Henderson
Tim Shaughnessy D-Louisville
Brandon Smith R-Hazard
Robert Stivers R-Manchester
Johnny Ray Turner D-Drift
David Williams R-Burkesville
Ken Winters R-Murray
Ed Worley D-Richmond

All the NKY Senators actually stood strong and voted no, not that it mattered. We needed two extra votes from the losers down state to say "nay" (The senate required a majority vote of 23 to pass.) Those who didn’t bother to vote because they were too busy hanging out in a cheap motel with cheap Canadian Whisky and some hookers were:

Joey Pendleton D-Hopkinsville
Mike Reynolds D-Bowling Green
(okay, I’ll cut this guy a bit of slack sense he was just elected in a Special election on Tuesday of this week – still should’ve voted no, slacker!)

What I am extremely intrigued about this vote is that the woman I have hung the “I’m Responsible” sign around – Senator Elizabeth Tori – actually voted no. WTF?!!! Why did she open her big mouth in the Appropriations committee if she was going to stick with her first instinct and vote no. I don’t get it. Seriously, does anyone trust anyone who can’t make up their mind when it REALLY COUNTS? If I was living in her district, I would have my doubts right now, no question.

I hope to have the Recall Tori! page up soon as well as a Recall Beshear! page to go along with it. I think they deserve to stand in the political unemployment line together, don’t you?

Saturday, February 14, 2009


A few things to recap...
  • Yes, the KY legislature passed an alcohol tax increase and yes the Governor signed it into law.
  • Yes, I promise that aside from my crusade to see Senator Elizabeth Tori ousted, I won't get political any time soon.
  • Yes, our Fort Thomas store manager, Sean, is departing for greener pastures as a gourmet food sale rep for a major national company.
  • And yes there are some big changes afoot.

So first off, thanks to all of our customers, fellow bloggers and friends of the industry who rallied to fight the bill, despite the loss. This just means that our work is now really cut out for us, and we'll have to work THAT MUCH harder to keep our prices down.

Stay tuned for the Recall Tori! movement.

Sean Glossner has been with us for several years, and we are truly gonna miss the big guy. We wish him all the best and continued success.

And joining us here on Under The Grape Tree, soon will be Sean's replacement, Ray Burwick (this may take some coaxing) who brings years of insight as an on-premise sales rep for wine wholesalers and his unique perspective and exceptional palate. Also soon to join the team is our resident beer guru, Brandon Cubbage, whose experience as a beer wholesale sales rep and a home-brewer will give us terrific reviews on some of the world's top beers, as well as an uber-geek perspective on that marvelous beverage.

Wishing everyone a Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Real Big THANK YOU!!!!!

I wanted to take a moment to step away from talking about wine, politics, and other general retail nightmares and follies. I am sad to say that my time here at Liquor Direct has come to an end. This weekend will be my last here. I am getting into the gourmet food industry and while I am sad to be leaving behind what after 5 years of service has turned into a small family to me; I am excited to begin a new career in a new industry.

I have learned a lot working here. I originally started at this company working part time during my summer break from UD. I graduated the following semester and was offered a full time position here, and its been a wild ride ever since. I greatly enjoyed developing my palate and wine knowledge and now that I'm hooked I intend on continuing my wine education. I have made many friends here, both employees and customers. I will miss all of them.

I will still be around from time to time, as I do enjoy wine and I will be able to enjoy our weekend wine tastings without the added stress of running the store at the same time. I would not have been able to get my new position without the experiences and skills I gained in my time here. I think this reflects highly on the staff here at all levels. The owners, buyers, managers, cashiers, and everyone in between all have helped me to grow not only professionally, but personally as well. I only hope that I am blessed with the same amount of support in my new career. I just want to again thank everyone here at Liquor Direct and at this company as a whole. I will truly miss everyone here. Thank you again and take care.


Sean Glossner


So it's official. The KY Senate passed the tax hike 24-12.

The official word can be found here, courtesy of WLWT-TV here in Cincinnati:

Instead of posting the misinformed troglodytes that voted in favor of the hike, I am singling out one person. Senator Elizbeth Tori (pictured below - I will keep her picture on the side of this blog as a reminder that SHE is Wine and Spirits Industry's Public Enemy #1 in Kentucky).

This is a declaration of war: I am declaring a PR War on Senator Elizabeth Tori of Louisville, who single-handedly got KY HB 166 (144) passed by changing her vote in the KY Senate Appropriations Committee from nay to yea. This "See-You-Next-Tuesday" (it's an acronym folks) has single-handedly assured us in Northern Kentucky an express ticket to being out of business. Might not be tomorrow. Might not be a month from now. But she's done it. To us, to our competition, and to all the businesses that exist around us. Not to mention the Kentucky Distilleries and Wineries, the businesses that get tourist dollars because of them, and anyone else directly or indirectly involved with us.

She did it. It's her fault.

I'll be waging a guerrilla PR war against her - YouTube, political blogs, calling the KY and Louisville Chambers of Commerce every single day to remind them that a call for boycotting the city of Louisville and its corresponding areas and tourist attractions, etc., etc. I will do all I can to make sure she never holds public office ever again.
It's on.
[Added @ 4:57 EST] Thanks to my good friend and fellow wine blogger J. Seeds ( we'll be whipping up Recall Tori! t-shirts and bumper stickers real soon. Get yours today! Just drop me an email and we'll get it to ya ASAP. We're going viral with this so look out.


This past week I have been on a massive tirade push to get our legislators in Kentucky to come to their senses and vote No on the new alcohol tax hike proposed by some of the less-informed politicos down state. Yet I am going to actually spend time on this post with subject matter I normally discuss here at Under The Grape Tree: wine.

So in honor of the recent turn of events here in KY, here's a wine that is an homage to the lawmakers seeking to put me out of a job: The Evil Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from South Eastern Australia. The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Evil Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, one of the madcap releases from the stable of R Wines, the brainchild collaboration of Dan Philips (owner, Grateful Palate Imports) and Chris Ringland (superstar winemaker in Australia, Spain and California), is a medium-bodied, fruit-driven Cab full of rich black fruit and spice. It's a fruit bomb that doesn't feel like napalm on the palate, just juicy, baked blackberry and black currant, with hints of rhubarb, mocha, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and cinnamon. Really good stuff for the price (we currently have it for $9.99). A good wine when you want to forget about impending doom, get some Evil tonight!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Just got updates on the ongoing saga of premeditated tax rape going in the KY Capitol. Won't waste time with my epithet-laced commentary so take it away Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association:

"We had the alcohol tax bill killed this morning in the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee. The vote was 8-8 – which means it would have failed – but Sen. Elizabeth Tori changed her vote at the last minute. This means that the bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote tomorrow.

However, the closeness of the vote has sent shock waves throughout the Capitol. Senate Leadership is working its members hard, trying to change votes. I’m sure the Governor will begin twisting arms soon. He testified this morning at the Senate A & R Committee. (Let me quickly thank Don Berg of Brown-Forman, Mark Brown of Buffalo Trace & Bill Samuels of Maker’s Mark for their incredible testimony this morning, plus all the other Master Distillers and representatives who attended).


E-mail Senators here:
Leave a message for all Senators at 800-372-7181 – “VOTE NO ON HB 144! STOP THE ALCOHOL TAX INCREASE!”
Here are some key Senators who we must contact to sway their votes, with their direct office lines & extensions:

Sen. Julian Carroll (represents Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Beam in Frankfort, Four Roses and Wild Turkey)
Office phone: 502-564-8100, ext. 651

Sen. David Boswell (Owensboro – Constellation Spirits/Medley)
502-564-8100, ext. 62

Sen. Tom Buford (Lexington)
502-564-8100, ext. 610

Sen. Kathy Stein (Lexington)
502-564-8100, ext. 608

Sen. Perry Clark (Jefferson County)
502-564-8100,ext. 715

Sen. Julie Denton (Jefferson County)
502-564-8100, ext. 646

Sen. Ernie Harris (Jefferson and others)
502-564-8100, ext. 605

Sen. Denise Harper Angel (Jefferson County)
502-564-8100, ext. 633

Sen. Gerald Neal (Jefferson County)
502-564-8100, ext. 718

Sen. Dan Seum (Jefferson County)

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy (Jefferson County)
502-564-8100, ext. 621

Sen. Elizabeth Tori (Jefferson County)
502-564-8100, ext. 645

Sen. Dan Kelly (Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Constellation Spirits and others)
I must place the emphasis on contacting the Janus wench, Sen. Tori, who seemingly took cues from a pro-tax crazed teleprompter somewhere under skirt perhaps. Regardless, we've got to kill this friggin' thing before the beginning of being taxed to death in this state becomes a reality!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The votes on HB 166 (actually HB 144) are in and the damage is done. 66 to 34 votes in the KY House for the dreaded liquor tax hike. [I hope they have factored in provisions for the KY allotment of the President’s Stimulus package to be immediately diverted to Northern KY come May 2nd, otherwise, this side of the river will be one BIG FRIGGIN’ ghost town.]

It’s one small step for simpletons and one giant coffin nail for Northern KY. We’ll await the Senate vote, but here are the 66 assholes who blindly and recklessly offered up this area as a sacrificial lamb to save the budget they themselves screwed up. Oh, and as of today, I am officially declaring myself a Republican (only been Democrat for 20 years):

Royce Adams D-Dry Ridge (traitorous bastard!)
Rocky Adkins D-Sandy Hook
John Arnold D-Sturgis
Eddie Ballard D-Madisonville
Johnny Bell D-Glascow
Thomas Burch D-Lousiville
Mike Cherry D-Princeton
Larry Clark D-Louisville
Hubert Collins D-Wittensville
Leslie Combs D-Pikeville
Will Coursey D-Benton
Jesse Crenshaw D-Lexington
Robert Damron D-Nicholasville
(this coward has no email)
Mitchell Denham D-Maysville
Bob DeWeese R-Louisville
Ted Edmonds D-Jackson
Tim Firkins D-Louisville
Kelly Flood D-Lexington
Danny Ford D-Mt. Vernon
Jim Glenn D-Owensboro
Jim Gooch Jr. D-Providence
Derrick Graham D-Frankfurt
Jeff Greer D-Brandenberg
Keith Hall D-Phelps
Richard Henderson D-Jeffersonville
Melvin Henley D-Murray
Charlie Hoffman D-Georgetown
Jeff Hoover R-Jamestown
Dennis Horlander D-Shively
Joni Jenkins D-Shively
Dennis Keene D-Wilder
Martha King D-Lewisburg
Jimmie Lee D-Elizabethtown
Mary Lou Marzian D-Louisville
Thomas McKee D-Cynthiana
(another turncoat!)
Charles Miller D-Louisville
Harry Moberly Jr. D-Richmond
Lonnie Napier R-Lancaster
Rick Nelson D-Middlesboro
Fred Nesler D-Mayfield
Sannie Overly D-Paris
Darryl Owens D-Louisville
Ruth Ann Palumbo D-Lexington
Don Pasley D-Winchester
(my great-grandfather’s and Grandfather’s ghosts are coming for your ass Donnie boy!)
Tanya Pullin D-South Shore
Rick Rand D-Bedford
(the lead a-hole instigator)
Jody Richards D-Bowling Green
Steven Riggs D-Louisville
Tom Riner D-Louisville
Carl Rollins D-Midway
Charles Siler R-Williamsburg
Dottie Sims D-Horse Cave
John Will Stacy D-West Liberty
Kent Stevens D-Lawrenceburg
Jim Stewart R-Flat Lick
(are you kidding me?)
Wilson Stone D-Scottsville
Greg Stumbo D-Prestonburg
(the KY Speaker of the House DEACTIVATED his email since yesterday morning - HUGE COWARD!)
Tommy Thompson D-Owensboro
John Tilley D-Hopkinsville
David Watkins D-Henderson
Jim Wayne D-Louisville
Robin Webb D-Grayson
Ron Weston D-Fairdale
Susan Westrom D-Lexington
Brent Yonts D-Greenville

To all the Grape Tree readers, commit these names to memory and make certain to spread the word: help the wine & spirits industry and all of their patrons (that’s you) in giving these folks their pink slips come next Election Day. Whether it is this fall, next fall, or the Fall after that, they are toast, unless the Senate saves them from the biggest blunder of their political careers. And those cowards aren't informed enough to try to illustrate their side of the argument, which to most I've talked to, amounts to a so-called moral argument, not an economic one. Far be it from me to get in the way of salvation, but it's a lot harder to go to church when you can't afford the gas to get there, or cab fare (because you've lost your car) or for a hotel (because you've lost your home). I guess they're gunning for more foreclosures and double-digit unemployment.

My prediction for tax revenue generated by this bill is -50 Million Dollars by years’ end 2010. We’ll see. But us folks working in the biz in NKY will more than likely be in other jobs out of state.


I wish I could take joy in the impending “I told you so” mantra I know with 100% certainty I will be saying 6 months from now, but knowing that I will be out of a job thanks to a bunch of backward-thinking tax-addicted Democrats (I can’t believe you assholes are gonna make me go Republican!) who are, by weeks’ end, going to turn the booming Northern Kentucky area into a friggin’ ghost town.

Yet here it is, as reported by Tom Loftus of the Louisville Courier Journal, who says that the House Budget Committee has voted 19-9 in favor of the proposed tax hikes to cigarettes and alcohol. Thanks to glaringly gargantuan blunders in past legislation, the state budgetary shortfall will be made up by putting thousands of folks in Northern Kentucky out of business and out of work. It is what you can come to expect from those who spend so much time out at the horse track, imitating the horses by wearing blinders to the world.

At this juncture, after having spent the entire evening emailing every good-for-nothing KY Senator and State Rep. down state (though I have to say thank you to both State Reps. C.B. Embry of Morgantown and Addia Wuchner from the 66th district said they were against this bill, and State Rep. Arnold Simpson, the one committe chairman put his chairmanship on the line by voting no), there really is nothing left to do but wait for the inevitable economic Apocalypse that is to come and curse the whole lot of them for allowing this to happen.

The puritanicals that exist throughout the state, who have relied on taxes from the “wet” counties to pay for THEIR roads and THEIR schools are set for a rude awakening when the tax revenue they BELIEVE will be generated will disappear when the Ohio consumers who have come to KY to spend their money and contribute tax from that money to OUR STATE’S coffers decide KY taxes are too high and shop in THEIR OWN STATE. We’ll more than likely hear them singing a different tune come next year when they realize just how badly THEY screwed up.

And all you Republicans out there, start lining up your candidates now, because I am most certain that the Dems have sounded the Death Knell of their party in this red state.
Oh, and those keeping score: responsible parties for this impending clusterf@#$ are State Reps. Harry Moberly of Richmond and Rick Rand of Bedford. And by the way, on the fence are LOCAL State Sens. Jack Westwood (R-Crescent Springs), John Schickel (R-Union) and Katie Stine (R-Southgate). Let your voices be heard. Call them, email them, tell them Vote NO or they’re an asshole and out of a job come election time. And before it gets too bad in NKY, "I told you so..."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


It's getting pretty bleak here in NKY. The word from Frankfurt is that the State House of Reps is going to pass the alcohol tax increase. Not sure where the KY Senate is leaning, but more than likely, it will pass there too. I used to think that the wine & spirits industry was bulletproof in hard economic times, but that just isn't the case anymore, is it. What will result in this tax hike will be the loss of hundreds if not thousands of more jobs in an area already hard hit with layoffs and closings.

[For those of you who haven't heard, take a look at this ad we've posted at]

Instead of trying to do our jobs for the past several days, our owner has us all in a fever-pitch, writing emails to our local Congress folks, and calling down state, leaving messages to staffers that really don't care - they are more than likely getting paid minimum wage to screen calls and tabulate information that will be ignored by the villianous cretins that we elected.

To be reduced to petty namecalling is just about all we have left. I personally have felt defeated for a long time, simply for more personal reasons, but the compounding of failure by those elected officials who choose to ruin their constituencies instead of saving them, there really isn't much left to do other than call them tyrannical, neanderthal ASSHOLES who would rather get paid in clandestine business deals with shady special interest groups who would rather save us from sin than the unemployment line.

To all our customers and fellow wine fans, we will all just have to wait and see how it turns out. To Governor Beshear and the State Senators and Representatives who I am almost certain will do the wrong thing - Eat Shit you bastards.

Monday, February 9, 2009


[Note: This is a copy of the letter I personally sent to the KY State Reps., State Senators, and the Governor in response to a proposed 6% Sales Tax on Wine & Spirits. The state already commands an 11% Wholesale tax already factored into retail prices here in the state.]

To our elected officials:

Dear sirs and madam, I first should begin by saying how infuriated I am fast becoming with the whole lot of you. I came to Kentucky 6 years ago to work for a very successful wine store group here in Northern Kentucky because of the great opportunities it presented me in the industry that I have been passionate for ever since I entered the food and beverage business in 1989. During my nearly 7 years with this company, we have become one of the premier wine and spirits retailers in the region, with much of our business coming across the river to enjoy the savings we are currently able to offer them. Our stores have worked diligently to provide these customers knowledgeable service, phenomenal selection of wines from around the world, and prices that are far and away cheaper here than in Ohio. I would venture to say that 60-70% of our business is derived from Ohioans thanks largely to their state being a “control” state – where pricing is set by the state and is considerably higher than here in the great commonwealth of Kentucky.

And while I understand the potential increase in the tobacco tax, I do not comprehend the rationale behind increasing the alcohol tax to a total of 17%, which should make our state the highest tax rate on alcohol in the country. The loss of jobs – something I think you should be fighting to preserve for your constituents – will be significant and your areas of representation will be extremely burdened due to your obvious shortsightedness.

I am personally vested in this legislation. My wife is on disability and my financial situation is already substantial due to rising health care costs. My company is forced to drop me from their group policy thanks to health care spiraling out of control, problems born at least in part to glaring incompetence in regulating the industry here in the state.

The businesses here in Northern Kentucky always seem to have to shoulder the load so to speak for the counties that fail to rise above their archaic principles and join the 21st Century. Seems to me that it would make more sense to turn all of the “dry” counties that still exist (which by my calculations is approximately two-thirds of the entire commonwealth) to wet, enabling the state government to gain more tax revenue off the already-existing 11% that you get from us retailers in the existing wet counties. Why should we taxpayers in Northern Kentucky have to do more when those that live in dry counties do virtually nothing to help with the economic shortfalls of the state? And why do we who do business in alcohol have to feel guilty for what we do by shelling out more taxes when other industries are not subjected to this obvious political bias?

And do you seriously want to send people back across the river because they can no longer afford to patronize business here in Northern Kentucky? People just don’t come here to shop for wine and spirits. They buy gas, fast food, dine in area restaurants, shop in area shopping centers – it’s not sound business what you are about to do.

It would be colossally na├»ve of me to believe that there will be any response to this letter in any other form than the standard “form” letter, professing the myopic benefits you believe this tax increase will yield so I will be posting PDF copies of this letter on our wine store’s Web site, my wine blog page, and I will be forwarding this to all of my fellow bloggers and reporters across the country in the hopes of at least, creating a problematic media issue for you all.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kevin Keith
Wine Buyer/Blogger
Liquor Direct Wine & Spirits
670 W. 3rd St./90 Alexandria Pk. #1C
Covington, KY 41017/Fort Thomas, KY 41075

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Wild, wonderful Lodi

Napa... we all know Napa. Sonoma... been there, done that. Santa Barbara had its own movie (Sideways) for corn sakes. Let me tell you where the good juice is, drumroll please... Lodi, California. Lodi has been doing all the work and getting none of the credit in California for years. Lodi leads the golden state in grape production. Neat huh? There happen to be 60 wineries in the Lodi region both small and large and more to come as the word gets out. I'll do my part. A short day-trip south of San Francisco, Lodi shares the same cool nights and hot days. Cabernet and Zinfandel thrive in Lodi with a quite distinctive style unique to the region, fruity and concentrated and always bright and lively with zingy acidity. The majority of the growers in Lodi are 4th to 5th generation on the same land. Positively Iberian. Artisan style wine making and growing are the norm and not the exception. Old school trellising and a noticable lack of chemists in the wineries make most Napa fans mildly uncomfortable. 'I say Dyson, where are all the white coats and clipboards?'

Try some different wines all from Lodi and compare the flavors and textures. Price points vary from $7 to $30 and you can try to pinpoint the terroir. Practice makes perfect... oh what fun.

2006 337 Cabernet Sauvignon Bright raspberry and chocolate notes with a smooth finish and no bite. If you haven't had this one yet 'give it a shot.'

2006 Windmill Old Vine Zinfandel Jammy and lively with a heavy mouthfeel and a strawberry frisson. Big and bold and inky dark yet surprisingly velvety and soft on the finish. There's alot going on here for a little.

2006 Petit Petite An honest to goodness fruit bomb with heavy currant and boysenberry notes. Red fruit and cedar notes complement the soft acidity in this fantastic pizza wine.A blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. Yummy.

2005 Mettler Family Cabernet Sauvignon A complex concentrated silky wine with a dark deep color and a fruit forward style reminiscent of a quality Zinfandel. Double Gold Medal winner by the San Francisco Chronicle this year. In my opinion one of the best under $25 cabs in the store.

There are a few more Lodi wines in the store that you might already have tasted without being aware of the Lodi connection:

7 Deadly Zins

Earthquake Zin

Campus Oaks Zin

6th Sense Syrah

All for now,


Thursday, February 5, 2009


Our illustrious owner has I think finally seen the need to change the name of our store from Liquor Direct to something more wine appropriate. Our newer customers have always wondered why we are called "Liquor Direct" when our focus is clearly wine.

Well, for a brief history, Liquor Direct has been around for nearly 20 years, yet it was maybe 8 years ago that our owner saw that his business was shifting toward wine. After a couple years of doing the wine buying himself, he felt the need to hire a buyer who was a bit more wine savvy (why he chose me I'll never know).

I always thought it peculiar that with wine dominating our business model, that we haven't changed our name already, but at last the time has come to give ourselves a new moniker.

So this is where we need your help. We'd like suggestions for a new name. Obviously, it has to be something marketable (so M.F. Wine & Spirits and Dirty Bastard Wine & Spirits are definitely out of the question). There may even be some sort of prize involved (though not sure how we'll work that out with the Kentucky ABC). Email your suggestions to me at and this Spring, we'll present the best ones for you, our friends, to pick from.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All in Good Fun

First of all, I would like to congratulate Shannon and Sean on their stellar performance this past weekend with our "battle of the wines" competition. Even with my sometimes abrasive competitive nature, we can't win them all. ;-)

Speaking of competitive nature, I play volleyball every Monday with a good group of girls. I'm not talking about back yard v-ball, folks...more like competitive in your face type of ball. Not only is it a nice work out but also the way I know best to channel my stress into something I love.

This past Monday, we played against a pretty kick ass team that couldn't be older than a bunch of high school girls. Allow me to break down for you what playing a team like this is all about.

  • They have stamina like nobodies business (the first game was a warm up for them when we already gave it all we got)

  • They can jump so high their elbows are above the net (I think I can still clear about a foot)

  • They tend to get a little mouthy (we're laid back and you'll even find us cheering for the other team at times)

  • They chug water/Gatorade (we chug beer)

  • They are extremely inconsistent because they haven't quite grown into their skinny little bodies yet (we are capable of serving/spiking the ball right at the worst player on the team)

  • They're just not quite as strong (lifting cases of wine all day long sure as hell doesn't hurt)

  • They get intimidated easily (all you have to do is even pretend to block and they barely ding it over the net)
Now, how do I tie this into vino? A young/new wine drinker may run into some of the same issues.

  • Stamina. For might be their first time at the International Wine Festival (which is coming up) so they try to taste and swallow every wine there. They wouldn't even make a cab ride home without opening the door half way there. So much for remembering any wine you tried.

  • Practice makes perfect! The more you taste wine, the more you know. You could sit at home with your nose in a wine book every night but if you don't taste, it's a waste.

  • Intimidation. Young/new wine drinkers may feel intimidated. Don't!! There are always people out there that will get off on it so let them make an ass out of themselves.


It’s a WTF Wednesday! And what do I mean by that? Well, today is just another reminder of how volatile and confusing the spirits business is. The other day, I received a phone call from one of my sales reps (name withheld to protect the innocent) and the rep informed me that one of the local wine bloggers had written about a certain wine, and that said blogger had it listed at a price that the winery was not pleased to see. (Are ya with me so far?)

It seems that wineries, like most other businesses, have a certain price in mind for retailers, and they ABSOLUTELY HATE seeing it less than the desired price. Say a winery, let’s call it Chateau X, wants to sell their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon for $18. But let’s say that the distributor who sells Chateau X in your state can sell it to the retailer for $10. Using the Ohio Mandatory Markup practice (Ohio is a control state), that product would be sold in ALL retail stores for $14.98ish. Now, in Kentucky, the rules are different, and after the wholesaler tax is factored in, the bottle cost would be $11.10, and most retailers here in the state would probably be around $15. Not much difference in price, right? At Liquor Direct, we would work on a smaller margin, so we would probably sell it for a buck less.

Well, so let’s now say that the distributor has a special buy-in, putting the Chateau X Cab at a bottle cost that would be DRASTICALLY less, and we could potentially sell it for $6.99. Crazy right? An $18 bottle that we could sell for $11 off. Our customers would love that. Yet, God forbid, the retailer has the stones to ADVERTISE that price. It would bastardize the brand.
The laugh factor here is that, given the state of our economy, a winery would even have the audacity to bitch that their product is getting SOLD, yet along at what price. While I can understand the cheapening of a particular brand, what I do not understand is that brands that are obviously overpriced and not selling, fight to keep their product at an unsellable price when they could lower the retail, and move more product.

I don’t have an MBA, but doesn’t it make better sense to move product than jack up prices and sit on inventory? Call me crazy. All I can say is "Are you kidding me?" and move on with my day.


So I have been meaning to talk about this great new beer I had from New Holland called Dragon’s Milk Ale. It’s a creamy smooth brew with vanilla and caramel notes. It makes me think I am drinking a Milky Way candy bar. It’s sweet up front, with a warm, roasted character. Aged in oak barrels, the wood isn’t too noticeable, and the alcohol (8.5%) is not overwhelming. You could almost qualify the alcohol content as “sneaky” because after finishing, I had a nice buzz working.

This 22 oz. bottle of ambrosia hit the spot after a hard day at of slingin’ wine. As most of you will come to find, I like a good dark beer, and this one certainly met all the criteria. It pours dark, smells of baked chocolate and vanilla, has good carbonation, and possesses great toasty flavors of caramel, toffee and baking spices. It finishes smooth and never turns harsh. I’ll definitely pick up more for the house.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Old Friends, New Friends by Shannon

I’ve been feeling quite nostalgic lately. This nostalgia was mainly brought out by a bottle of wine, Castello di Poppiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2001. I brought this bottle back with me from a study abroad trip to Florence, Italy.

Recently, looking at this bottle reminded me of that hot, but beautiful, day in Florence two summers ago when a group of people and I decided to rent motorinas and explore Tuscany, just south of the city. What an experience! We zipped around narrow curves, marveled at the cypress trees, tried to make sense of directions on the autostrada, and even stopped at a gas station that was closed at noon for siesta. Finally, we made it to the castello, where a kind older woman tasted us on some wines.

What a wine amateur I was! I tasted some grapes growing on vine (bitter!) and bought a bottle to sneak home in my luggage for my dad. We hopped back on our motorinas slightly buzzed and I held multiple bottles for other people in my lap, while taking a backseat as someone else operated the foreign vehicle. I still can’t believe all the bottle made it back safely to Florence, especially after one of my friends took a (luckily!) unharmed wipeout.

So, to celebrate moving out of my parents’ house and joining the adult world as a home owner, I decided to throw a small Italian themed dinner. Not only was I excited to open up the Italian bottle, I was excited to break in my kitchen and share some of my memories with new friends.

Well, the wine paired perfectly with Chicken Saltimboca and Sicilian penne. It also felt really great to drink wine in my new place while thinking about that past magical trip to Italy. That experience became real to me again as the nose opened up to fresh lilacs, and the palate, complemented by the spicy tomato sauce, reminded my of hot and balmy nights in the city sipping red wine with friends.

Everything about that bottle and my new friends reminds me again of the connecting power of wine. It can illustrate a cultural connection, an emotional connection, or maybe just making a connection with new people. I look forward to collecting and cherishing more bottles like it the future.


First off, I would like to thank everyone who came in and participated in our 2nd Staff “Smackdown” at Liquor Direct this weekend – it was a big success. All of the wines were well-received, and the favorites were selected. Winning the overall competition (with 22% of the votes) was our assistant wine buyer, Shannon, choosing the Bodegas Ateca Armas 2005. Placing second (and winning for the Fort Thomas crew) was store manager Sean with the Orin Swift The Prisoner 2007.

The overall results are as follows:
1. Shannon: Ateca Armas 2005, 22%
2. Sean: Orin Swift The Prisoner 2007, 16%
3. Corey: Torbreck The Struie 2005, 14%
4. (tie) Brandon: Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2007 and Matt: O’Brien Seduction 2005, 10%
6. Tom: Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel 2005, 9%
7. Ray: Tintara Reserve Shiraz 2002, 7%
8. Jess: Mas de Can Blau 2005, 6%
9. Mike: Muga Reserva 2004, 5%
10. Alfonse: Ridge Lytton Springs 2006, 2%

It was a spirited battle royale, which yielded the following prospect for our next showcase, which will be in June. Corey suggested we let the winner choose the premise for the next showdown, with the last place finisher getting first selection. Look for June’s dates soon.

Monday, February 2, 2009


[It's been a bit since Alfonse - LD's main wine guy - has chimed in with some of his "Alien" picks for February. Always guaranteed good values - give one of these a try!]

NV Shooting Star Sparkling Syrah $16.99 Cal, USA The perfect cold weather sparkler... it's a red! Serve well chilled and let 'er rip.Refreshing, crisp and appealing. Perfect for book club or after pilates.

2007 Yellow Jersey Sauvignon Blanc $10.99 France Citrus, nectarine and tropical notes pervade in this well built wine. Great acidity helps seal the enological deal, while green packaging helps seal the environmental deal. Perfect with Amish chicken or Halibut Almondine.

2007 Geyser Peak Alexander Valley Chardonnay $8.99 Cal, USA A fantastic Chard for the fan of the Rombauer style with butter and vanilla notes and a nice hint of oak. Not over done or sweet like many chardonnays these days. Built for a nice Ahi Tuna Medium Rare please. Buy it by the case at this special price.

2006 Windmill Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel $7.98 Cal, USA Bright jammy fruit with raspberry and boysenberry notes. Medium acidity and a hint of cinnamon and spice complement this old vine gem. Fruity yet a little sophisticated and concentrated. Perfect with Skyline Cincinnati Chili.

2005 St. Francis RED Sonoma County Blend $9.69 Cal, USA Cab, Merlot, Syrah and a bit of Cabernet Franc combine to form this lithe yet robust charmer from the folks at St. Francis. A big hearty Bordeaux style for less than $10 from a highly reputed Sonoma winery? FUGGEDABOUDIT! Spicy and flexible for any meal or occasion. Capische?

2005 Callabriga DAO $14.97 Portugal Polished and concentrated red and black fruit with a big body and a delicate nose. Austere in the mid-palate (still a youngster) but the finish is what it's all about... long and lingering, simply yummy. Great spice-box and sweet tart notes remain long after the filet mignon is gone. all for now, Alfonse

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Permutations is known – in mathematics – as an ordered sequence of elements given from a finite set, without repetitions, and not necessarily using all the numbers in said set. An interesting name to choose for a wine, but then again, nothing can be surprising from the madmen behind R Wines, the Aussie venture by Grateful Palate founder Dan Philips and winemaking superstar Chris Ringland. And so it goes with the Permutations Pinot Noir, a brand new wine from Ringland and winemaker William Downie.

The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Permutations Pinot Noir 2008 is a light and lively red with aromas and flavors of Bing cherries, ripe plum and fresh strawberries. There are hints of rosemary, Golden Beet and nutmeg, finishing up with creamy berries and toasted oak. A nice PN for the price.

What fascinates me about Luchador is the label, which is masked wrestlers with names like “Inferno” and “Gato Loco.” I wonder what these wrestlers infer. Is the wine wrestling your palate to the mat, beating your senses into submission? Regardless the inference, the outcome is another kooky package from the winemaking team at R Wines.

The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Luchador Shiraz 2007 is a blend of fruit from Barossa Valley and Langhorne Creek. 100% Shiraz, this red clocks in at a somewhat subdued 14.5% (that’s subdued?) to showcase rich textures of blackberry and kirsch with flavors of oak, cocoa powder, loganberry and espresso leading into a long, robust finish. Textbook Aussie Shiraz with well-nuanced tannins, this is a nice little Shiraz for under $20.