Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: This tiny producer in Piedmont has been introduced to the U.S. courtesy of our friends at TGIC Importers. A remarkable medium-bodied effort, the Angelo Negro Barbera d'Alba Nicolon 2006 has bright red berry and red currant aromas, with hints of spice, light-roasted coffee, garrigue and light oak. The flavors are awash with more red berries, cinnamon, nutmeg, semisweet chocolate, and hints of roasted meat. Reminding you of both an exquisite premier cru red Burgundy AND a Vacqueryas all at once, the finish goes on and on, making this a superb match for pastas, beef and pork dishes, and Brick-oven pizza. Not a lot of this is available so it's one to check out quickly.


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: From Bodegas Nekeas in the Navarra, and imported to the U.S. via Jorge Ordonez, you need say nothing more about the Vega Sindoa Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo 2006. 60% Cab and 40% Tempranillo, this red blend is medium-bodied, with expressive, black berry aromas and flavors, with significant grip, medium, plushed-out tannins, and a supple yet dry finish. In the last decade, I haven’t had a bad bottle of this wine yet. Always consistent, it will never let you down.

Monday, March 30, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: From Valentin Bianchi in Mendoza, comes this lively, delicious slightly-sparkling rosé that is just in time for springtime fare. A 50/50 saigneé blend of Malbec and Merlot, the wine screams its raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors out loud, with hints of frosted berries and violet petals leading through its petillant finish. According to the winemaker’s notes, the juice first goes through 12 hour cold maceration and pressing, then the juice is inoculated with yeasts during fermentation. Halfway through, the wine is spun to halt fermenting, producing a semi-sweet, slightly fizzy wine. Really great value!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: For all you eco-friendly fans, here is a real treat. Mike Benziger and family have created a delicious, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, molded in the vein of terrific white Bordeaux, with aromas of lemons, honeydew, grapefruit and fresh cut grass. Slightly sweet lemon and lime fruit are up front on the palate, and the solid backbone of acidity lends to its light, lively finish. It’s really like a sunny Summer day in a glass. Derived from 60% Lake County fruit and 40% Sonoma County fruit, this Sauvignon Blanc is completely tank-fermented, and the wine itself is a product of the Benziger family’s continuing efforts at certified sustainable agricultural methods – no chemicals, no machines, nothing but farming as Nature intended. This wine is a testament to their resolve, and a showcase of how being eco-friendly doesn’t mean sacrificing quality or integrity.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ode to Liquor Direct...

That's right, folks! My last day here at LD is next Saturday. Maybe I'll dress up like Betty Page and bake cookies for my last tasting.

Am I selling my soul to the "evil empire"? Whatever. All I know is I will have fun, work hard, kick butt, and take names. I also have a book challenging enough to keep me on my toes and always learning. Maybe someday Kevin and his Angels will be meeting every Wednesday for a Master Sommelier study group. I am sure we will all get along fine if there is no physical labor involved. ;-)

And, for my ode...

Cavanaugh: I appreciate all the opportunities to release some aggression by letting me beat you unmercifully.

Kelly: Thanks for all the love notes and smelling like candy every time you walk by.

Amy Triv: Did I ever thank you for beating up that bouncer for me?

Tom: What will I do without your gangster attitude?!

Shannon: Sharing that position was sometimes worse than the most annoying college group project. I can't think of anyone else I would have rather shared it with.

Kevin: I owe my knowledge, empowerment, wisdom, and motivation to you. You have set the stage for becoming the best I can be in my future endeavors and would absolutely love to sit in one of your wine classes someday.

Mark: Not sure I will ever be able to get all your bird/farting/whistling noises out of my head.

Greg: You always made me feel like I am part of the Depenbrock/LD family. Thank you for hiring me even though I didn't know what grape was in a white Burgundy. You must be doing something right if your employees are getting kick ass gigs!

Alfonse: Thanks for dish pan hands and laughing at my sadistic jokes. I'll miss you man!

Matt: You are all around a cool dude. I SO wish I had a single friend worthy of you.

Corey: You already know you're the best one we've got. Thanks for carrying us at times.

Christina: YOU are Corey's wife?! I really didn't mean anything bad about that. You're just hot, that's all.

Brandon: Way to watch the table for me sometimes even though you hate it and making me try some pretty kick ass beer.

Ray: Good luck at LD2. I'm sure Greg will love you even more than he did Sean.

Jimmy: Thanks for not ever wearing Carharts to work. ;-)

Rob: You better buy a shit ton a liquor from me!

Friday, March 27, 2009


A few things are swimming through my head these days so forgive me while I dump them out into cyberspace to clear the way for more stuff...

First off, one of my two assistants (more commonly known to my sales reps as Kevin's Angels), Jessica Stambaugh, has taken a sales position with the Crane Division of Southern Wine & Spirits in Kentucky. Her last day I believe is the 6th of April, which is quickly approaching. Jesse's been here for a few years now, and (trying not to sound too arrogant) I have considered her one of my proteges. I realize I am no Kevin Zraly or Robert Parker, but I have always hoped my passion for this business is infectious, that mad striving for ultimate wine geekiness that becomes contagious in this industry.

Jesse has defined that passion for wine and has become a favorite amongst our customers and staff. I've come to rely on her no-nonsense approach to things, and her tomboy personae has helped take on some of the product-moving burden we have around here; she is never afraid of heavy work and doesn't mind getting dirty. I can count Jesse amongst my most trusted colleagues and friends, and have to say (without caring if I sound arrogant about this now) I am really proud of her and all she has accomplished. We'll all miss her around here, but I think me (and my back) will miss her most of all.

Second, I've been dealing with the recent change in distributorship for TGIC Importers here in KY and still as nervous as being left alone with my prom date. Still not sure what to make of the new partnership, but fortunately, old friend Larry Gurner has taken over the reins as regional manager here in the Midwest. Initiation of our first order isn't quite finished - pricing is still being negociated.

April 1st is days-away and there are two things happening (Not just April's Fools Day, or maybe that is all it is) - one good and one REALLY F-n bad.

The Good? Under The Grape Tree's first b-day. Hard to believe it's been a year already since I started publishing this self-depricating schlock but oh, how time flies. I appreciate all the folks who tune in almost daily to read my latest soapbox rantings.

The REALLY F-n Bad? April 1st begins the moronic endeavors of our corrupt, greedy, pinheaded Bureaucrats downstate instituting the latest sin tax increase on wine and spirits. I know that this is just to cover up the gross ineptitude and mental and fiscal deficiencies (as well as alleged bootlegging) in all those dry counties that can't seem to get up and take care of their own shortcomings, that they must rely on the hard-work of 25% of the counties in KY. It's a really ingenious thing that wasn't solved when they increased the wholesaler tax to 11%, now we get the added bonus of a 6% sales tax. Fuckin' genius I tell ya.

April, to quote one of my favorite poets, is the cruelest month, but hopefully, that will prove nothing more than poetic allegory.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


It’s great to see the critics realizing that in as crappy of economic times as these, high-priced, highly-allocated wines are meaningless to the majority of wine consumers out there. For the most part, at least from the vantage point of our little stores here in the Greater Cincinnati area, most of our trophy wine buyers are trading down, buying less (or none) of those $75-and-up Cabs and looking instead for those under-$30 (or more like under-$20) Cabs.

What many of our consumers don’t realize is that, and maybe I am wrong here, but the majority of these more affordable wines usually don’t garner the type of press they normally gravitate toward (90-points-or-higher). Often, these great bargains are scored at an 87, 88 or 89, which by the definition of the 100-point scale, is a really good wine, but like in school, we were taught that these scores constituted a LOW B. And a lot of these affordable wines don’t even get press, because they are often dismissed by the reviewers because they’re not as prestigious as those expensive counterparts. Sure, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits are more consumer-friendly, more apt to review the inexpensive wines, but we’ve been conditioned to look for Parker and Spectator press because as far as most consumers are concerned – those two are the pinnacle of wine critique.

I’d like help in understanding how, because honestly, coming up in the restaurant business, as well as my first retail gig, press wasn’t even an afterthought. No one seemed to care about whether Parker thought this or Laube scored that. It wasn’t until I got into the Cincinnati market that I would here a customer say, “If it doesn’t score above 90 points, I am not interested.”

I would always think to myself, “Wow! Are those schmucks missing out on some good stuff!” But what can you really say to them, other than, “Okay. Let’s take a look at this 91 point wine…”
I’ll give you a few examples of some top-notch wines under $20, but with low scores or no press at all.

1. Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. The second label for Star Lane, this beautifully-crafted Cab from the Santa Ynez Valley is everything a Cab drinker looks for: rich, concentrated fruit, good tannic grip, full-bodied flavor. 87 points in Connoisseur’s Guide, would you take a chance on this wine? We have convinced many to do so, and they’ve come back to it again and again. But as for the points hounds out there, it’s anybody’s guess.

2. Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. A remarkable Napa Valley Cab for under $20. Again, all a Cab drinker looks for in a Cab, especially a Napa Valley Cab, yet no press. The 2005 scored 88 points, but is that any better for the points freaks?

3. Havens Merlot 2005. I’ve always considered Havens to be THE Merlot producer in Napa. Hasn’t failed me in 10+ vintages. The press? 88 points in Wine Advocate. Are you kidding me? What is it that prevents it from cracking the 90 point barrier? Higher alcohol? More extraction of fruit? Less Merlot characteristics?

4. Hahn SLH Chardonnay 2006. A stunning Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Balanced, elegant, extremely well-made – nothing wrong with this one. And the press? Nada. Why when here is a beautiful effort that will please many a Chardonnay fan.

5. Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2007. The benchmark of how California Sauvignon Blanc should be done in my opinion. I’ve known Michael Honig for years, and the guys does SB right. Reminiscent of a solid white Graves, yet the scores? 87 in both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. Due to the inherent bias of the 100-point scale (which ranks on BIGNESS, not quality – as I have said a million times), you won’t see this one rated above 90. If it gets that 90 point score, there’s going to be some Chardonnay or Viognier blended in, making it taste like a rich white wine blend, NOT a Sauvignon Blanc.

5 wines – great wines, yet without the accolades that many people feel they need to look for. It’s sad really, because for every one wine that gets that 90 point review, there are literally dozens that score lower or not at all because the producers didn’t submit the wines, the critics passed on the wines, or who knows. Don’t rely solely on the reviews. It’s like being a baseball fan and only watching the Astros. Or being a “gourmet food fanatic” and only eating chicken.

You get the idea.

Think outside the box – there’s a whole other world out there, and it’s beyond an arbitrary numerical score.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Sokol Blosser Meditrina NV is a fairly new, unique concoction that serves as the red counterpart to one of our favorite white wines, the Evolution. The Meditrina is an interesting blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel that gives the consumer a vibrant, fruit-forward red that is slightly sweet yet with enough acid to balance things out nicely. Lots of raspberry, cherry and red plum aromas and flavors abound throughout this lively red wine, and the finish is sure to please even the most discriminating palate. Perfect for lighter meat dishes or just hanging out on the patio with friends.


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Steltzner Claret 2006 is an inexpensive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that comes from Napa Valley, yet doesn’t have that Napa Valley markup. Intoxicating aromas of dark plums and black cherries intermixed with cola, mocha and cedar in the nose. Its presence on the palate demonstrates rich, concentrated plum, blackberry and black cherry notes, followed up by hints of vanilla bean and creamy, toasty oak. The tannins are supple yet dry, and the grip is substantial for this under $20 red. This wine could certainly be heralded as a recession-buster, mainly because there isn’t a lot of good wine out there with the Napa Valley name, and a price tag under $20.

Did I mention this was under $20?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I stumbled across this last week, but have only gotten around to commenting on it now…
For those who know me, know how much I hate points. I think that by enabling a select few individuals to have an extraordinary level of power over an industry as much as people like Robert Parker (Wine Advocate) and James Laube (Wine Spectator) have over the wine industry, you have an extremely stilted view on this business.

Recently, Tina Caputo, the editor-in-chief for Vineyard and Winery Mgmt. Magazine, put together a documentary entitled, Robert Parker’s Bitch, exposing the debate on the influence critics like Parker and Laube have on the business, and what that influence means to winemakers. Aptly titled, and posted by Josh Hermsmeyer of http://www.pinotblogger.com/, the short documentary features interviews of Randy Dunn, Karen MacNeil, Tom Eddy, and several others, asking them to weigh in on the debate.

Interestingly enough, Karen MacNeil, the Wine Studies Chairperson at the Culinary Institute of America, is also a contributing writer to the Parker’s Web site, so knowing that, viewing the clip is even more fascinating.

You can watch the clip at http://www.vimeo.com/3519159. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. While I agree with Karen MacNeil in that it’s probably a debate that should just be dropped, the fact of the matter is that winemakers ARE artists, and as a fellow artisan myself (if you want to call my writing art), the critics should NOT be dictating how artists create their works.

Just remember, those who can, do, those who can’t, teach, and those who can’t teach, CRITIQUE.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I haven’t had much to say the past few days, which is a rarity for me. For as introverted as I can be at times, I usually let my passions run amok whenever and wherever wine is concerned. Lately though, I’ve experienced a bit of burnout. Not a complete and utter burnout, but just a slight case. The recent tax increase legislation got us all fired up around here, and we were trying very much in vain, to change people’s minds. In the world of politics, the smaller groups usually win out and all things fair are vanquished to the four winds.

So not to keep riding a dead horse, I have been shifting my focus on ways to counteract the damage our Kentucky lawmakers are doing to this region’s fiscal stability and growth, by embracing the Internet in the best ways possible (without trying to sell online, because the dinosaur lawmakers have deemed that illegal).

We’ve begun utilizing email as optimally as possible, and we are slowly retooling the Web site so that we can get as much and as concise of information as possible to our customers, and beyond. And this past weekend, I’ve opted to use Twitter to help draw attention to our store, by simply posting one wine per day, a wine that for one reason or another is a great buy in these crappy economic times. Thus far, we’ve promoted Franciscan Chardonnay from Napa Valley, Rawson’s Retreat Chardonnay from Australia, and today’s wine, the Frei Brothers Zinfandel 2007. In the future, we’ll use Twitter to feature extra-special deals, only available on Twitter. Just another interesting way to drive traffic into our stores, perhaps, but in my mind, another way to encourage people to explore all of the various new social mediums, such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, and others. It’s all part of the whole Wine 2.0 phenomenon, which incorporates the wine bloggers and online wine magazines, and virtually anything non-traditional.

While our Twitter promos are in the experimental phase, other wine stores across the country are exploring the possibility as well. You could call it part of our undiscovered country.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


So I have decided, as we approach the April 1st D-day (the addition of sales tax to all our wine prices), to hang up the Recall drive on Gov. Beshear and Sen. Tori. Didn’t really take off all that much. You could definitely say the push was ineffective, but there have been bigger fish to fry, so to speak. With the state of the overall economy being tenuous at best, it’s hard to take a stand on something that “supposedly” will help education reform here in Kentucky. [Honestly, the only thing that is going to help education here in the state is if the national education philosophy is dramatically revamped – but that’s a rant for another time.]

The fact of the matter is – I hate politics! I think every last one of those bastards who hold public office is just a narcissistic crotch puppet, feeding off the scraps of the rich and gluttonous – oh, I’m sorry; wrong meeting. The anti-establishment anger management meeting is next week down by the docks.

Like it or lump it, I’ve got to just go with it. So the petition is off the blog, and the venom I let loose upon the politicos down in Frankfurt will be silenced for now. I want to spend my energy on wine and all its accoutrements, not on donkey/elephant sadism.

We know return you to your regularly schedule wine buzz.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Remy from The Wine Case put forth an interesting challenge – same wine from a Northern (cooler) and Southern (warmer) climate. Easier enough, or so I thought. I went out into the store to look around and see what sprung up at me, trying to visualize a world map in my head while I went from section-to-section, place-to-place. As always, when I play in the WBW game, I try to go out on the furthest limb possible because I’m weird like that. Yet what I eventually came up with was pitting a Northern Rhone Syrah – the Domaine Faury St. Joseph 2006, against a Sicilian version – the Planeta Syrah 2005. These beauties are a bit pricy (in my store the Faury runs $33.98 and the Planeta costs $33.96) yet they were evenly priced so I thought I’d at least remove that much from the equation.

So with a level playing field, let the game begin.

For starters, Syrah is a beautiful grape that seems to have gotten a lot of love from the critics in recent years, yet that love isn’t shared with the consumers. Used to be, for me Aussie Shiraz (the more southernly to its French counterpart), should much better at any price point, with the upper tier Syrahs from California, France and anywhere else just served to collect excessive amounts of dust. Hell, even the inexpensive domestic Syrahs do not do very well; it’s one mystery I don’t think I will ever solve.

That being said, let me introduce you to our first wine for the challenge: the Domaine PhillippeFaury St. Jospeh 2006. I have always loved a good St. Joseph. A relatively young appellation by most standards (established in 1956), this small area has always produced some stunning reds (100% Syrah of course). However, expansion in the region has caused those wines to be hidden amongst a bevy of mediocre ones. Kermit Lynch, one of the world’s top importers, always saves the day, and brings to the states the Faury, which is one Syrah you should definitely seek out.

The aromas leaping up from the glass suggest a bit of anise, some violets and lilacs, and even a touch of new leather. The color is intense purple, and its body voluptuous. There are just layer upon layer of plum, blackberry, blueberry, acai and black raspberry notes, sassafras, black pepper, roasted game, rhubarb, and even something of a brown sugar/butter reduction. Crazy. There is certainly a noticeable presence of earth, with the fruit flavors coming off as freshly-picked.

The second participant in this contest is the Planeta Syrah 2005. This winery has always impressed me, in that they have a very American approach to wine, yet still touting their local varietals above their more international counterparts. Known for their penchant for native grape, Nero d’Avola, the winemakers at Planeta were quick to show off Sicily’s versatility in growing grapes such as Chardonnay, Merlot and the aforementioned Syrah.
Planeta, one of the rising stars coming out of Sicily, shows more in common with California ilk: a warm-climate, jammy, expressive wine, the type I believe may have seriously impressed Robert Mondavi. Sicily has idyllic growing conditions: warmer weather, light rainfall, cooling tropical ocean breezes blowing in at night to prevent the grapes from ripening too quickly. Yet the more equatorial weather lends to its big, concentrated framework of blackberry and black cherry aromas and flavors, with the presence of root beer, tobacco, and even slow-cooked pork belly (why do I always have to be hungry when I write my notes?). The tannins here are arid and dusty, more granular than the Faury. Its presence on the palate is certainly more akin to an Aussie Shiraz.

I always try to tell my customers that in cooler climates, the grapes ripen slower, more naturally, so usually the flavor profile comes across as fresh, clean, and new, like eating fruit right off the vine/tree/etc. Yet hotter climates tend to ripen the grapes more quickly, usually lending to their almost-baked flavors in the wines they produce, sort of like a fruit pie, fresh from the oven.

In the end though, these two beauties, thanks to their winemakers, created two somewhat similar wines, with the Faury demonstrating the massive power of the Northern Rhone, and Sicily showing off its muscle and Italy’s adeptness at growing virtually anything.

I’ve got to thank Lenn of Wine Blogging Wednesday and Remy from The Wine Case for this very cool exploration. It certainly gets one to think outside of the box.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Today, my Bacchus sales rep, Renee, brought with her Kent Savitt of Vine St. Imports. For those of you that don't know, Vine St. brings in some really cool Australian and New Zealand wines from some pretty incredible winemakers, some of whom just moonlight here while they work at some of the bigger producers from across Oz.

One wine in particular struck me as pretty amazing: The Squid's Fist 2007 from Some Young Punks. Winemakers Jennie Gardner and Colin McBryde share both their passion for winemaking and their love of 60's era B-movies with this apparent hommage to Jules Verne (or maybe Ed Wood). This fantastic blend of 61% Sangiovese (from the Kalimna area of Barossa) and 39% Shiraz (from McLaren Vale) is rich, full-bodied and creamy with loads of ripe, concentrated red and black fruit aromas and flavors, hints of spices, chocolate, white and black pepper, and espresso. This remarkable wine looks kitschy (label-wise) but the wine speaks for itself - it kicks some serious ass. Look for it soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I don't know if anyone remembers that old commercial from Paul Masson. Orsen Wells delivered that tag line (okay I am seriously dating myself). For those of you who are movie buffs, Mr. Wells directly what has been called the greatest film ever made - Citizen Kane. Yet in the twilight of his career, he was pegged to deliver that famous ad for wine. And I think it was that line that led to one of the greatest misconceptions in the wine business today.

Let me explain.

Today, Shannon told me about a phone call she received from a customer who asked her, and I am totally serious here, if she had older vintages of Beringer White Zinfandel. She had heard on some show or in some article that it would be fun for someone to try several vintages of their favorite wine back-to-back to get an idea of how the wine ages. At no fault to the customer, poor Shannon was holding back the laughter, but I know that this customer didn't really know any better. Most people are truly under the notion that all wine ages.

That my friends is where they get it wrong.

The fact is that more than 90% of all wine produced in the world is meant for near-term consumption, meaning anywhere between now and 6 months. 90%. Very little is actually built for aging so something like Two-Buck Chuck, or Beringer White Zinfandel should be drank right away.

Heaven forbid if anyone actually HAD some five-year old White Zin, or even older. Man that would probably be some of the shittiest wine that could ever be tasted, probably something akin to strawberry viniagrette. Yummy.

So for all of those from my generation, and anyone who may have learned about the concept of vintages from the man who narrated War of the Worlds on the radio, drink now or you'll be dumping it down the drain later.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


One of my favorite wine reps (and an LD alum) Devon Ward brought by Greg Graziano, winemaker for the Graziano Family of Wines, who was in town for the CIWF. We tasted through several of Greg's fantastic Mendocino wines, such as the Graziano Sauvignon Blanc, Saint Gregory Pinot Noir and Enotria Barbera, but the one that really stood out for me (aside from the Graziano Late Harvest Chenin Blanc) was his Graziano Zinfandel 2006. The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: Here's a shining example of why Mendocino arguably makes the best Zins in California. Cooler climate allows for the grape to ripen evenly, without a green streak running through the middle like Zins from Napa and Sonoma can have. There was fantastic aromas of black and blue fruit and hints of spice and red flowers. Across the palate, sweet, brambly blue fruit gushed forth, like loganberry jam, with hints of dark chocolate, espresso, coffee bean, blackberry, and cinnamon. This is a fabulous Zinfandel for those crazy about America's grape, and even for those who just appreciate a well-made red wine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Last month, I think that the Kentucky Legislature set on a path to create two states – Northern Kentucky and Southern Kentucky. I don’t think that any of these civic individuals realized this, yet they have seriously begun creating a fiscal schism within the state by raising tax on alcohol and cigarettes. The reason I sound, maybe a bit melodramatic over this is the gross imbalance and injustice caused by applying this system of sin tax because of the fact the majority of the revenue from this tax increase will come from Northern Kentucky (and yes the metropolitan areas of Louisville and Lexington) while the counties in the Southern and Eastern portions of the state (roughly the 90 out of 120 counties) that are dry, will be reaping the benefit without having to do a thing.

There isn’t really much anyone can do about this tax issue at this point. The guilty ones: Senator Elizabeth Tori, Governor Beshear, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Representatives Rick Rand, Eddie Ballard and Tommy Thompson – these will more than likely be the folks remembered as the ones who drove a wedge between the North and the South, and ultimately divided the state into the more progressive and expanding North and rural impoverished South. Though Lexington and Louisville will continue to bare the burden of supporting the more rural counties who refuse to modernize and will forever be mired in cronyism and shady backroom “good ol’-boy politics,” failing their constituents for not recognizing the need to actually make the entire state wet.

I was reading a statistic the other day saying that only 40% of the country actually drinks (maybe that percentage is even lower) yet alcohol consumption is suppose to support a dying education system that is in desperate need of an overhaul, a clumsy, quagmire Health Insurance system that only enables 4 of the umpteen insurance companies in the country to do business here in KY, and a pork-filled agenda that dominates legislation on both sides of the aisle.

You could almost hear preachers evoking the word “conflagration” in symbiosis with the Kentucky government, as in, “the Kentucky Legislature sure could use a fiery cleaning out.” But talk like that leads people to believe that you’re a crazy whacked-out nutjob in need of incarceration in a rubber room. Yet didn’t we elect a President on the premise of real change, change we can believe in. I am not sure, but I think the Kentucky bureaucrats missed that memo. Here in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, legislators take the easy way out, because all that money spent on their Law degrees never afforded them the luxury of a clue on how to do things in the real world. Not many blue-collar workers involved in running the state these days, that’s for sure, if ever.

Maybe we could find somebody to help finance a real secession from the state, creating something akin to the District of Columbia – call it the District of Covington, or just Northern Kentucky. Or maybe we could just get Ohio to take us over? Pipe dreams to be sure. The simplest answer would be just to pack up and move to a more hospitable state, one where, as a wine drinker, you wouldn’t be associated with drunken sociopaths and crack whores. Maybe we could expect a bit more from our representatives other than always looking to the fewest to pay for the most – you’d think that was ass-backwards, but what do I know?


My good friend Lou also showed me the out-of-this-world Seghesio Home Ranch Petite Sirah 2006, another glorious example of why I love Petite Sirah. The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: This delicious, seductive red has lots of body - the density in the glass is remarkable. And the color? Dark and mysterious. I revert back to poetry, and my favorite romantic poet Pablo Neruda, who really had the sensuality of a woman down, and I think his affinity for this wine would be known right away. Smoldering, luscious fruit - raw, exuberant grip - superb balance - artful presence on the palate - it truly had me at hello.

There are just breathtaking notes of red flowers, rich spices, hints of espresso, tobacco, roasted game, leather, earth, blackberries, black currants, plums, etc., etc. Flavors are more of what I mentioned, plus an infinite procession of layer upon layer upon layer of fruit character and depth. Just absolutely gorgeous stuff. I have special plans for this little number so stay tuned.

Friday, March 13, 2009


My good friend and RNDC/Barkley sales rep Lou Schnier brought by about 20 wines to taste on Wednesday (reason #34 why I really love my job), and one of the tops of the flight was the Dona Paula Shiraz/Malbec 2006 from Argentina. The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: This sexy beast is a smoking red, full of vibrant red and black fruit in the nose, followed by hints of spice and oak. The flavors of red and black raspberries, dark plums, blueberries, tobacco, mocha and cinnamon abound, with juicy, jammy baked razzleberry pie flavors headed toward the lush, smoke-filled finish. It's dark and concentrated, with good tannic grip and excellent balance. Just a wonderful red clocking in under $15.


Today begins the latest edition of the Cincinnati International Wine Festival, billed as one of the biggest wine festivals in the Midwest. Big boast, but they are probably right. After all, they've got the full weight of the supermarket juggernaut, Kroger's, as main sponsor. I hope that for the sake of all those participating and attending this year, that there will be marked improvements.

To say that I was colossally disappointed last year would be a profound understatement. Yet doing some recon for my crew, who will be attending the trade event Friday before the Grand Tasting, I am not all that impressed.

There are 134 booths for the local winos to visit, including several food vendors and informationalists like Wine Cellar Innovations and Cincinnati Magazine. However, with the inclusion of food vendors like Dole, Heinz and Carr's Crackers, hold on to your hats my fellow foodies, you are all in for the culinary equivalent of American Idol.

There are bright spots in the lineup - I was visited by both winemaker Greg Graziano (from Graziano Family of Wines) and winery owner Barton O'Brien of O'Brien Estate, both of whom have some fantastic offerings from California. Our friends at Vintner Select will be manning booths for Marc de Grazia (phenomenal Italian wines), Reininger from Washington State, Robert Whale Selections (featuring Seifried, Tamar Ridge and Coriole), Eric Solomon, and Alain Junguenet's Wines of France. I trust my dear friend Audrey Wood will be there from TGIC Importers, as well as Megan from Quintessential and Lisa from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Diamond in the rough, Joseph Carr wines are not to be missed. And there are others from Vintage Point, Wente, Don Sebastiani & Sons, Michael David Winery, Row 11, and Terlato. There is a lot more that will be there, and a lot I am probably missing here, but from the cheap seats tomorrow, those mentioned will be my desired short list.
If you are going, drop me a line at thewineguy@zoomtown.com and let me know what you thought of it. Maybe my expectations are too high, but for the price of admission they are charging this year, $65 for Friday night + $35 for the additional Special Room (where the wines you really WANT to taste are hiding out) this is definitely the ANTI-RECESSION wine event of the year around here.

All I can say is "cheers! Or is it "jeers?"

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I’ve been noticing a lot of blog posts regarding customer service in the past few weeks (my friend Lisa at WineDiverGirl has touched on the good – Roger Smith Hotel in NYC – and the bad – the restaurant at Domaine Chandon as well as Bottega restaurant in Yountville) and it got me thinking: How is our customer service here at Liquor Direct? I mean, our selling points have always been low prices, great selection, and a knowledgeable and friendly staff. I think that our customer service is pretty darn good, but I know that like everyone living and breathing in this world, we all have are good days and bad.

The best marketing tool that anyone can use, regardless of your business, is word of mouth. And that applies to both good word of mouth and bad. Nothing sinks your company ship worse than bad PR. You treat your customers like shit, and they won’t be coming back. In our stores, we work are butts off to take care of our customers, because they’re really more like friends and close family than just customers. A lot of our regular shoppers are known to our crew by first name, and most of them can tell you what car which customer drives, how many kids they have, what part of town they hail from, and of course, what their favorite wines are. It’s the attention to detail that is important, and we are always striving to be better.

Granted, our Covington store is old, claustrophobic and dirty (thanks to being right beneath one of the busiest overpasses in the Midwest), yet our customers keep coming back to their “favorite little liquor store.” Believe me when I say that keeping that store clean is a full-time occupation.
I worked in restaurants for over 15 years, and have spent the last 9, and I’ve done all sorts of other jobs where customer service is an integral part of the business (trucking company, landscaping, data processing, even some construction) and the bottom line is you have to take care of the customer FIRST, otherwise, you might as well go ahead and close the doors.

It always blows me away every time I read bad customer reviews like the ones Lisa posted on her blog, and it just blows me away. I think of the time my wife and I went to a chain restaurant (I know my first mistake) and we were sat in a section that seemed to be devoid of any life whatsoever. After 15 minutes of waiting without anyone coming by to take our order, say hi, or tell us they’ll be right with us, we left, went to the restaurant next door, where we were greeted, and treated with way more respect than the first joint. It is remarkable that anyone lacking simple yet good customer service skills expects to be open for any length of time, and expects to make any money. It’s amazing. But there are countless businesses running with the personae of pond scum that seem to be plodding along though I am sure they want to make more of a profit.
Simple answer: Be the best you possibly can to your clientele, and then strive each day to be better. It’s not any plainer than that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


There I said it - it's all out in the open. Any chance I get to be on TV, in the paper, on out here in cyberspace - BAM! There I am. No fear, I just love it. Maybe it has something to do with not getting enough attention as a kid, or being a closet star junkie, I don't know, but thanks to Lisa Mattson of Wilson Daniels, and Susan Sueiro of Gundlach Bundschu for asking me to contribute a poem to help kick of Gun-Bun's 151st Anniversary Poetry Contest. For those of you who don't know, I aspire to be the next Bukowski, yet without all the mistresses and hangovers, and Lisa and Susan asked me to submit a poem to help them kickstart this commemorative event. Rules were simple, a 151-word poem on what wine means to you.

Check out my poem, "Drunk In The Memory Garden," at http://www.blogschu.com/151/guest-poems.html. And feel free to submit your own paean to the grape. Help Gun-Bun celebrate 151 years of making great wine and riding shotgun on this great journey called Life.


Continuing with the trend of praising Kendall-Jackson's wines, the Long Boat Sauvignon Blanc 2008, imported by K.J.'s Sovereign Wine Imports, is a terrific new Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand's Marlborough region. The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: Bright and invigorating, the Long Boat Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is full of exuberant grapefruit and lime aromas, with hints of fresh herbs, kiwi, more grapefruit, green apple and star fruit on the palate, showing off a bit of roundness (thanks to 80% being fermented in oak barrels), yet finishing lively and clean. This is a remarkable SB at any price, though clocking in under $20 certainly helps.

Monday, March 9, 2009


This past weekend, our stores put on a Kendall-Jackson tasting, and the reaction was pretty astonishing. At least it was to me, in that, after so many years of selling the wines of Kendall-Jackson, I realize that this is one brand I have seriously taken for granted.

Everyone knows KJ Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay - it's one of if not the best selling American Chardonnay on the market here in the U.S., and it is surprisingly good considering how mass produced it is (a million plus cases a year). Yet what I think I lot of us forget in this industry are the other wines that they make or have a hand in making/marketing.

One such example was the over-the-top amazing Highland Estates Syrah Alisos Hills Syrah 2003. The Grade: AMAZING (of course). The Mojo: This brilliantly produced Syrah from Santa Barbara County is remarkable, showing loads of dark black fruit and smoky oak in the nose, with (Parker's favorite word) copious amounts of black currant, dark plum, roasted meat, black truffles, tobacco and spice box all through to the thick and jammy finish. It's simply a gorgeous wine, and should really warrant new-found respect for all that they do.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Our main wine sales guy, Alfonse (aka the Alien) has his featured selections for the month of March. These wines are always ones that I will have difficulty keeping in because he's busy sending them home with the customers. Check 'em out:

2008 Sebeka Chenin Blanc South Africa $6 Crisp and refreshing with lemon zest and zingy acidity.Perfect spring refresher with a chicken ceasar or shrimp.

2007 Mac Murray Ranch Pinot Gris Sonoma $15 The perfect complement to spring fare with melon andhoney notes. A long, soft finishand plenty of citrus.

2007 Souverain Chardonnay Alexander val. $13 Buttery and expressive with honeysuckle and fresh apple pienotes. Perfect with rare Ahi tuna.

2007 Sebeka Shiraz/Pinotage South Africa $6 Blackberry jam and currantsmesh with a hint of mocha andspicebox. Perfect with a shitakemushroom sandwich or a burger.

2007 MontGras Carmenere Chili $12 Poweful and complex with darkchocolate and mint notes. A uniquetwist on this hard to find bordeauxvarietal. Great with braised ribs.

2005 Three Saints Cab Santa Ynez Ca. $20 One of the best wines in the store under $50. The perfectcelebration wine. A cellar selectionthat can be consumed now or in10 years. Perfect with a porterhouse with sauteed mushrooms.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Another product of my visit with Jen yesterday was the Mezzacorona Moscato 2007, again from the Dolomiti in Italy. Normally the minute one hears the word "moscato" they are bombarding with images of sugary sweetness dripping from their teeth as the enamel slowly melts away, as if covered in sulphuric acid or something. However, Surprise! Surprise! Here's a stunning Moscato that is reminiscient more of an Austrian white than an Italian. (Not a coincidence Austria is merely on the opposite side of the Alps from here).

The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Mezzacorona Moscato 2007 is a delicious, lively white wine that gives you all of the fresh peach and nectarine gusto you come to expect in a Muscat, yet there is no real syrupy sweetness at the finish. What you get is lots of honeysuckle and apricot tones in the nose, scores of stone fruit flavors up front and in the middle, with a surprisingly balanced melding of mineral and acidity to give you a refreshingly, uncloying white wine that is bright, lively and clean. Coming very soon to our stores!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


My first review of the month is a terrific new white wine from the folks at Mezzacorona of Italy, the Tolloy Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Jen Thieman, our current RNDC-Cumberland Division sales rep (and my former assistant/protege - is that a narcissist thing for me to say - protege?), brought this wine by Wednesday afternoon, a small recess from an otherwise hyperbolean day.

While we tasted several wines - including the Tolloy counterparts Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir - I have to say that this one stood out simply because it is not often you get to taste a really good SB from Italy for under $15. So the grade: OUTSTANDING. And the mojo? Here is a stunning effort in SB from the Dolomiti area of Northern Italy. There are notes of fresh peach, pineapple and star anise, with fresh cut orchids and hints of mint and basil. The flavors are crisp but not piercingly so, with delicate citrus and elements of tropical fruits and mineral leading to a vibrant and sassy finish. Look for this wine in our stores soon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I have this ongoing issue with Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. No, I am not talking about wine ratings (that's the other 800 lb. Gorilla in the room). And not with Mr. Parker per se, but with one of his current contributing reviewers, a Dr. Jay Miller. I have written a few emails to the magazine, complaining that Dr. Miller's coverage of Australia, South America, Spain and pretty much anything he does, is a bit frustrating, because of all these wines he scores, yet offers no tasting notes whatsoever.

In a response on the first go-around, I was actually told that he DIDN'T EVEN PROVIDE THE MAGAZINE WITH HIS TASTING NOTES! I responded, "Why does he even bother? And more directly, why do you?" I can't understand how somebody can do their job half-ass and still keep it (insert joke about a politician or corporate executive here).

I was then told that they're isn't enough room in the magazine. I told them to do at least what Spectator does, whatever content doesn't fit in the print medium, list it as WEB ONLY. Hell, that alone is why I subscribe to the online versions of all these wine mags.

Isn't that the smart thing to do?

Which brings me back to my complaining to RP, this whole compulsion to dole out "LISTS" of "VALUE WINES." The fact that it is simply the low end of the economic spectrum shows you that the intended audience of this magazine is the high-end trophy wine buyers who couldn't give a crap about a good $10 wine. The fact that said $10 wine scored 90 points should be enough right? But in using these reviews to help sell wine (which I unfortunately am forced to do in this market), I need more than points. Customers want to see what it was that earned the wine such a score, or at least see where the taster's mind was when trying said wine.

It's tough for me to bash on RP. For years, I have looked up to David Schildknect, Wine Advocate's resident reviewer of German and Austrian wines (since going full-time for RP, he has added Alsace, Loire, South Africa and other regions to his duties). David is considered one of, if not THE authority on German and Austrian wines in the world (so much so that Jancis Robinson had David rewrite the German section in the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine), so it pains me to be complaining to his employer, but if Mr. Parker is trying working toward turning his magazine over to a younger generation, or just wanting to move into a Publisher's role (like Marvin Shanken at WS), then he should expect nothing but the best from his reviewers. David, along with Antonio Galloni, who is arguably one of the best Italian wine reviewers out there, and Neal Martin who works on New Zealand, as well as wine writing illuminaries Kevin Zraly, Karen MacNeil, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Mark Squires and Lettie Teague, I have to say that Dr. Jay Miller - you are the weakest link.

Monday, March 2, 2009


A few things are on my mind today:

I had posted the nominees for the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards, and over the weekend, some of my twitter friends were discussing the surprises on who was and who was not nominated. I imagine that the judges had a helluva time narrowing the field down to 4 for each category, given the crowded landscape of literally thousands of wine bloggers out there. Yet, everyone is going to have something to say about who got it and who didn't, and the term "sour grapes" will most assuredly be bandied about in some fashion.

I'm sure however, as the nominees now become reliant upon their peers to actually win the award, the best of these will most certainly be picked, right?

Secondly, the whole tax increase thing on not just here in KY, but all across the country, we "sinners" are being penalized for our passion for the grape. Anyone who has been following us here at Under The Grape Tree, will know that I have been railing against the pricks and demons in our state house who chose impracticality and temperance-driven philosophy over fairness and reason. And I have learned that our KY House Speaker, Greg Stumbo, is really sticking it to all the Northern KY legislators that voted against the tax increase but effectively killing any bill they may be presenting on behalf of the good people here in the Northern part of the state. Good to see that partisanship will never die.

And the truly baffling thing is that you would think folks would actually want to sell their product in a time of economic shit such as this - you know, lower prices and all that. Nope. I have spent the better part of the day raising prices because the costs to me have increased. It's frustrating, and for certain brands, it is their death knell. If you have been buying a $4 wine that is suddenly $6 or $7, would you still buy it at the new price? What about a $10 wine that now costs $15? Some of these wineries are pricing themselves, at the very least, right out of our stores.

Anyway, these are just a few more reasons to hate Mondays.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Recently, Steve Heimoff, writer for Wine Enthusiast as well as a blogger and fiction writer, posted on his own wine blog a piece about relationships. He spoke of a particular cult Cab producer that, while he was at Wine Spectator, should him the respect and courtesy one should to the press, when being dependent on them to help market thier wares. Well, Steve spoke of leaving WS for WE and this producer subsequently snubbed him until recently, where, now that the economy sucks and no one can really afford to spend lavish amounts of cash on high-dollar wine, this guy is looking for a review.

Needless to say, Steve was not impressed, and essentially told the guy to fuck himself/herself.
Right on, man!

Steve was stressing the importance of maintaining relationships in any business, but in the wine industry especially. And I agree with him wholeheartedly. Yet unlike Steve I will share with you my own story, and I won't be discreet and omit the wineries' name.

When I first started working in the restaurant business, just around 20 years ago, I was an aspiring singer in a rock band, "daylighting" as a busboy/server at a small bistro in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The place was primarily a bakery, yet served lunch through the week and dinner on select evenings. The wine list was small but offered terrific house wines by E. Guigal - their Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge, Blanc and Rosé. This was my first introduction to French wine, and it stuck with me for years, as I developed a real affinity for these wines and all wines from the Rhone (my humble little cellar today is made up of nearly 50% Rhone).

Wherever I was in this industry, inevitably moving back to Ohio and from restaurant to retail, I found myself always selling the wines of E. Guigal, and selling them proudly.

Fast forward to my present gig, which began 7 years ago, here as the wine buyer for Liquor Direct. You see, Kentucky is plagued by all of these exclusive agreements with various producers, importers and brokers, and the wines of E. Guigal (represented by Ex Cellars Wine Agency) is one of those wines, which if you simply travel across the Brent Spence Bridge (which links Ohio and Kentucky in the heart of the Cincinnati Metropolitan area), virtually every wine store in Ohio sells these wines. Yet here on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, no dice! Only 3 stores carry these wines, two of them our competition, one chain downstate in Louisville and Lexington. This exclusivity agreement was put in place long before we had gotten into the wine business, and for the life of me I cannot understand why it still stands.

Now exclusivities are fine when a brand - such as Quilceda Creek from Washington State, or Ken Wright from Oregon, goes exclusive with one store, because production is limited and there is just not enough to go around. Yet E. Guigal is quite large -275,000 cases of their Cotes du Rhone Rouge are produced in a year (as opposed to someone like Quilceda Creek, who produces only a fraction of this for all of its wines), so it begs the question, "why is it exclusive?"

I asked that very question not long after I started, calling the owner of the Ex Cellars Wine Agency, Fred Ek. Not really caring one iota of my curiosity, I was dismissed, rather rudely by Mr. Ek, evidently because I was with some pissant wine store who didn't merit the time or day. After the frustration of the initial call had passed, I decided to phone his partner, Patrick Will, to see if I could change his mind. No dice! Though Mr. Will was at least much more professional in his rejection. His reason behind not opening things up was that their was not enough wine.

Eventually, I spoke to distributors of Guigal in Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina - all of whom said they had tons of Guigal to sell, and I realize I was once again getting the shaft.

Guys like these take the easy way out - they fill a purchase order of considerable amounts and without having to lift a finger (or visit a particular market) - they make their money. Easy-peasy right? But at what cost is that for the producer they represent? I admit that US consumers have been tough on French producers this past decade, but I still get calls for their wines. I just know now that for wherever I go in this business from now on, I won't bother even acknowledging Guigal's existence since they certainly could care less about my stores.