Thursday, April 30, 2009


I’ve been a big fan of South African wines for a long time. A lot of folks will often ask me “why?” mainly due to the pronounced earthiness a great many of their wines impart. I’ve heard “rustic” and “earthy” and “funky” used to describe South African wines, yet there are a great many “diamonds in the rough” out there in the market today.

Most people are surprised to hear that winemaking has existed in South Africa for over 350 years, dating back to 1659 when Dutch colonists made wines from native African grapes and began shipping it back to Holland. Within a decade, French cuttings of most likely Chenin Blanc and Muscat of Alexandria were planted, and have thrived ever since. The appellation of Constantia was even at one time, considered one of the world’s greatest wine regions. It was even said to have been Napoleon’s favorite wine during his time in exile.

In 1918, growers in the Western Cape (the predominant portion of wine production occurs here) established the KWV (Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt), an organization that sought to redefine quality standards and control production in South Africa, which ruled over winegrowers up until the end of Apratheid. Restrictions on selling the “white man’s liquor” ceased in the 1960s and the quotas enforced by the KWV ended in the 1990s. The election of Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid meant a new beginning for the wine industry in South Africa.

There are around 60 appellations in the W.O. (or Wine of Origin) system, which had been implemented in 1973 to established a hierarchy of regions. Wines must be 100% from grapes from a specified label. “Single vineyard” wines must be derived from an area of roughly less than 12.5 acres. There are a few confusing laws but most of the rules and laws governing the industry are comparable to our own.

The majority of wine from South Africa comes from the Western Cape, which includes the appellations Walker Bay, Robertson, Paarl, Swartland, and Stellenbosch. And while the predominant wines are white wines, there are a great deal of bold, dynamic reds coming from South Africa as well.

The primary white grape is Chenin Blanc (known as Steen locally), but other white grapes in abundance are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling (often called Rhine Riesling) and Hanepoot (Muscat of Alexandria). The primary red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cinsaut (still referred to as Hermitage), and the African cross grape known as Pinotage (Pinot Noir X Hermitage).

Over the course of May, I’ll spend a great deal of time tasting through a lot of our South African wines, to highlight the many great values that are out there from this unsung region.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


So logistically, our stores sit on the south shores of the Ohio River, which, for those of you who know your geography, finds us right at the very top of Northern Kentucky. The significance of the river is not only a boundary between states, but between two completely different systems of alcohol distribution. Ohio is what is called a control state, thereby all alcohol - wine, beer, liquor - must be sold at a MANDATORY MINIMUM PRICE, which equals to 33% above the cost, so a bottle that costs $6.66 will be approximately $10 retail. Kentucky on the other hand, is not a control state, which means that technically that $6.66 wholesale cost would (after the 11% wholesale tax is factored in) could be sold, theoretically, for $7.40 a bottle if we were so inclined. Obviously, with the tax included, the bottle cost is $7.39 so at one penny profit, we would not be making any money, but you get the point.

The benefits of being in this market are, well, quite nice. As a "bridge" store, we find ourselves selling to Ohians often - it's cheaper for them to come across the river than to shop their local wine stores. Yet the drawbacks are that A LOT of the wine in the market today usually doesn't come to Kentucky, thanks to the state's aversion to direct shipping, and with beer moreso than wine, there are many instances where the price for a particular product is the same.

What is really infuriating to us, is that when a product is retailing for $5.99 in Ohio, and it's the same price here, usually what that infers is that Ohio retailers can buy one bottle of that product, yet for us to get to the SAME price, we may have to buy 10 cases, 20 cases, 50 cases, maybe even 100 cases. Inventory management takes on a whole new level of stupidity at that moment.

Beer wholesalers are especially nonsensical in this regard. And the sad fact of the matter is that, they just don't care. Ultimately, it's the consumers getting screwed, no matter where you make your beer purchases here in Kentucky, and thanks to the antiquated 3-tier system, there is nothing that can be done about it. Except bitch and moan. Or tell the Buds and Millers of the world to go screw themselves and drink better beer like Sam Adams, Newcastle or microbrews from Bell's, Goose Island, Great Lakes or many others. You could also opt for wine if so inclined, but the point I am trying to make is - is there a point? - that there needs to be a revolution of thought behind modernizing the liquor laws in this country. We need to get beyond the sticking points of underage drinking and Blue Laws, and treat the industry as any other. Yes, you don't have to tell me about underage drinking - it's stupid and dealt with appropriately by current regulations and though can be improved, is for all intensive purposes, of sound implementation. Yet each state, in their need for inconsistency, confounds even the most temperate of individuals; anyone with good business acumen knows that the current model is inadequate, inane and just plain ridiculous.

Some forward minded folks within and outside of the industry should put aside agendas and differences and come up with an adaptable construct that will work in any state's government schematic, and streamline things for the sake of the consumer. Will it be difficult for the current 3-tier system? Hell yes! But will it be more efficient? Who knows? But anything has got to be better than what we've got working now, right?

Monday, April 27, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Irony Monterey Pinot Noir 2006 is a wonderful example of how good, affordable, varietally-correct Pinot Noir can still be made in California. Light-to-medium-bodied, with mild tannins, cherry and berry aromas with hints of spice, soft cherry and red berry fruit flavors with notes of roasted nuts, fresh herbs and spices, and a touch of vanillin oak give plenty of character to a wine that clocks in under $15 a bottle. All-in-all, a delicious red wine that won't break the bank - now that's news you can use.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Batasiolo Moscato d'Asti Bosc Dla Rei 2007 is a wonderfully light, effervescent white wine, with lively white flower, white peach and nectarine, and hints of mineral and spice that lift up the palate without bearing down with unnecessary sweetness. While there is the presence of sweet stone fruit, the balancing acidity that follows gives you an easy-drinking white wine with just the right amount of frizzante that makes this perfect for starting, accompanying, or finishing a meal, particularly a simple Spring picnic. The low alcohol (only 5.5%) makes this very light and easy to drink on the progressively hotter days without weighing you down. Give it a go!


Something outside the norm. Saw this and saw a hopeful day ahead.

"Stand by Me" performed by musicians around the world from SKAT on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary, and I decided to take her to a staple of the Cincinnati restaurant scene - Jeff Ruby's Waterfront. Neither of us had ever been there - the bright pink riverboat docked on the south shore of the Ohio River, in Covington, KY - yet we've heard many great things about the place.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jeff Ruby, the man has built a small restaurant empire based on an American staple - steak - and he has done it well for a really long time. With 5 restaurants in Cincinnati (including Waterfront), as well as his signature place in Louisville, KY and his place at Belterra in Indiana, the empire is solid.

My wife and I went to dinner early - because we don't do well in the nightlife these days - and were greeted warmly at the door. Good friend Tommy, longtime staple of the Cincy restaurant scene and manager at Waterfront, took us to our table, overlooking the Cincy skyline, and got us good and comfortable. Our server team of Jennifer and Rory took excellent care of us from start to finish, and Tommy graciously dug around the wine cellar to find us a nice Aussie red. At the Waterfront, steak is the specialty, however they have a phenomenal sushi bar and the chef turns out some top notch sushi. We were overwhelmed by the precision of service and the knowledge and teamwork displayed. Jeff Ruby and his managers should be proud of the exemplary ethic and care taken of each and every customer.

The only complaint my wife and I had last night was that we were completely full. Not a bad complaint I might add. The food was delicious, the atmosphere sublime, and Tommy, Jen, Rory and the staff were fantastic. I don't do restaurant reviews but I have to thank them all for a great evening. And I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking to have an equally wonderful dinner, to try Jeff Ruby's Waterfront. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I am going to be selfish this Earth Day. Not because I am a ruthless jerk or anything like that, but because today is my nine-year wedding anniversary. Today marks the day that nine years ago, I married the love of my life. It was the second marriage for both of us, and maybe the first relationship either of us have gotten right.

What the heck does this have to do with wine? Well, everything actually.

The wine business has become my life during the coarse of our marriage. It's the career path that led me out of a dead-end restaurant career, and the conduit for some very cool travel memories for us both. And then there was the wine that brought us together in the first place: St. Clement Oroppas.

For those that know me, you'd find that pretty hard to believe, because I am not a big California wine fan; my passion revolves around the reds of Piedmont and the Southern Rhone predominantly - generally Italian and French wines. So when I credit a Napa Valley red with influencing one of the most pivotal points in my life, that is a huge statement for me to make.

St. Clement Oroppas is a Napa Valley red that is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (usually with small portions of Merlot and Petit Verdot) that sees 19 months of aging in new French oak, giving it amazing depth and baking spice characters. It's always been a sublime amalgamation of red and black fruit aromas and flavors that for at least my wife and I, hit all the right points, and pushed all the right buttons.

I still have bottles of this beautiful red blend in my so-called cellar, and the particular night I manage to convince my wife to marry me, there was not 1 but 2 bottles of the stuff drank between us. Needless to say, I got her significantly drunk (I don't think she'd have said yes if she were sober) and the cheesy romantic poet in me was naked and in full-display (I mean that literally).

It was great that we were able to visit St. Clement a few years later, though our pilgrimage there wasn't anything memorable. Yet it was the wine that set us on the path we continue on this very day. And it is the wine that gave us one in a long, succession of happy memories that we both hope will continue long into our golden years.

I hope to pick up a few bottles of the new 2006 vintage to add to our collection, but in the meantime, I can at the very least, send out my undying gratitude to the folks at St. Clement for contributing to the life that my wife and I continue to enjoy, together.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Wingnut Zinfandel 2006 is the latest release from Rebel Wine Co. (aka Three Thieves). This medium-bodied Zin is full of brambly red and black berry flavors, alongside chocolate, black pepper, mocha, with medium tannins and a slightly sweet fruit finish. Many thanks to my former assistant wine buyer and current SWS/Crane sales rep Jesse Stambaugh for bringing this by. We here at LD are always on the lookout for a great-drinking Zin that doesn't break the bank, and this one delivers. Give it a go!

Monday, April 20, 2009


For some reason, it seems like last week was just a 6-day tornado and now it's time to clean up the damage done. There are a lot of those times in this business for some reason. I don't know why. Middle of the month always means gathering up information and intel for next month's marketing, next month's newsletters and email blasts, next month's wine of the month programs and next month's new features.

It's the fun that never ends, y'all.

On deck for May, there are the new wines of the month, brand new Argentine wines from Legado, the Malbec 2008 and Torrontes 2008, as well as the latest Snu (our bi-monthly 6-page flier), our latest email blast (hopefully due out by week's end - sign up at our website at, prep for our Memorial Day tastings with Gallo (Domestic wines from Frei Brothers, MacMurray Ranch, and others one day, and international wines from Starborough, Alamos, Da Vinci and more the next day), incoming 2004 Barolos, direct imports from South Africa, South America and Italy, expanding our Web presence on ning, training new staff members, Wedding season orders, round 2 of our special guest blogger tastings with Tim Lemke of and Jonathan Seeds from, and so much more. I live for challenges such as these - keeps the blood pumping, you know.

Lots to do and seems so little time to do it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I was really thrilled a few years back when we were able to wrangle into our stores a wonderful new Zinfandel called “Wild Thing,” by Carol Shelton, a winemaker some were calling Helen Turley’s heir apparent. A big, bold statement, yet one taste of the Wild Thing Zinfandel, and you too would be impressed. However, the excitement was short-lived as the distributor that brought them here retreated back to the east coast due to unforeseeable reasons.

Fast forward a couple of years and the Carol Shelton wines are back courtesy of the big boys in beverage wholesale, Southern Wine & Spirits, who probably don’t even know what kind of gem they truly represent here in Kentucky.

For those of you who don’t know who Carol Shelton is, Ms. Shelton, along with her husband/partner Mitch MacKenzie, established the Shelton-MacKenzie Wine Company, after years spent as UC Davis protégé to Professor Ann Noble (creator of the wine aroma wheel), and apprenticing at Robert Mondavi, Saltrams Winery (in Australia), Buena Vista, and finally as winemaker at Windsor Vineyards for 19 years.

Her passion for Zin is apparent in the three Zins we currently stock, the Russian River Valley Karma Zin 2005, the Mendocino County Wild Thing 2005, and the Cucamonga Valley Monga 2005. All three are from old vine Zin vineyards, and both the Monga and Wild Thing are predominately organic (Wild Thing is certified organically grown).

We have a small amount of the 2005s, and the 2006s are on the way. I feel like this is the beginning of something very cool, like when I first heard Nirvana’s “Bleach” album. These are amazing, small-production Zins not to be missed. To learn more about her and her wines, visit

Friday, April 17, 2009


Every now and again, I get a surprise visit from one of my distributors, one that always seems to come very late in the day, yet is one I will be glad to have stayed longer for many moons to come. So it was yesterday, when my good friend Mark Maher – owner and operator of Cincinnati’s Cutting Edge Selections, came by with Blake from The Rare Wine Co., an world-renowned importer of wines from Spain, Italy, and France. Blake and Mark came by with some fantastic Italians from Tommaso Bussolo, Enzo Boglietti, Agostina Pieri and Montepeloso.

I was in shock, even after they left, and I kept thinking about two wines in particular from Montepeloso, all night. Hailing from the Tuscany subzone of Suvereto (which lies just east of Bolghieri) and sitting adjacent to acclaimed producer Tua Rita, this fairly young estate came under the ownership of proprietor/winemaker Fabio Chiarelotto (pictured below). Scaling back production in order to exemplify the incredible lime-rich petrified clay and gravel soils, has become a remarkable producer of his own renown, gleaning high marks from Gambero Rosso, Antonio Galloni of Robert Parker and James Suckling of Wine Spectator.

I had the good fortune of trying two of Montepeloso’s wines, the Eneo 2006 – a phenomenal blend of 40% Montepulciano, 40% Sangiovese, 10% Marselan and 10% Alicante Bouschet, and the Gabbro 2005 – the astonishingly complex 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with only 200 six-bottle cases produced each year.

The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Montepeloso Eneo 2006 is a powerfully constructed red blend filled with an harmonious balance between red and blue fruit prowess and elegantly refined minerality. Aged in 2- and 3-year French barriques, the tannins are soft and velvety and do not overpower or outmuscle the fruit, showing dense, dark lushness throughout its amazing finish. It shows well immediately, yet demonstrates the complexity that lends to a long life in the cellar. I love this wine!

The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Montepeloso Gabbro 2005 is arguably one of the best Cabs I’ve ever had, and certainly gives my all-time favorite Cab, Sassicaia, a run for its money. Giving you dynamic concentration of black currant, blackberry, mocha, espresso, tobacco and cedar notes, it also shows off the exquisite minerality the Suvereto region is known for (see Tua Rita Redigaffi). Powerful, dense and well-balanced, there are just layers of fruit, spice and mineral. It has the structure of a California Cab, yet with many old world accoutrements. This wine definitely has what it takes to age well in the cellar, yet shows remarkably well right now.

The unfortunate part about these wines is that they are unbelievably limited. Production of the Eneo is only 2000 cases a year, and as I mentioned earlier, the Gabbro is only 200 6-bottle cases per year. I received only 12 bottles of the Eneo and 5 bottles of the Gabbro so they should not be around for very long. Look for these and give them a try. In this economy, you deserve a treat.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Every now and again, I manage to find a KILLER value in wine. Usually, I find those values in some fairly uncommon regions, but this time, I find one from a place not so uncommon to me, and after you taste it, it shouldn't be uncommon to you anymore. The place is South Africa's Western Cape, and the wine is the Sebeka Shiraz Pinotage "Cape Blend" 2007. This blending of South Africa's signature grape, Pinotage, with Shiraz, actually creates a red blend that marries the best that both have to offer separately, yet deletes all the negatives, yielding a wine that is serious about its fruit character, with juicy black cherry and jammy blackberry notes, along with hints of white pepper, hickory smoke, red currant and slight minerality that gives you balance, velvety presence on the palate, and a smooth finish that would lend itself to any type of cuisine. The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: This wine is a serious best buy, clocking in under $6 a bottle (on sale here for $5.98) - that is ridiculous. I highly recommend buying this by the case.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Kosher Wine, I must admit, is something I am always skiddish in stocking in my stores – not because I look down at Kosher Wine, but because it’s just so damn hard to get here in Kentucky. It can be a frustrating thing to get the distributors to look past the Manischewitz, but every once in awhile, we get lucky. So for this Wine Blogging Wednesday, I actually get the chance to talk about a Kosher Wine, not from Israel, but further south, the Backsberg Kosher Pinotage 2007 from the Paarl region in South Africa.

Pinotage, for those of you who don’t know, is South Africa’s creation, a cross between the Pinot Noir grape, and a grape South Africans for a long time referred to as Hermitage, which most of us know as Cinsault. This much-polarizing grape is a “love-em-or-hate-em” kind of grape variety that usually demonstrates loads of dark black and blue fruit flavors, some robust herbs and spices, and that ever-present “earthy” funk that is often known as “terroir.” There is smoke, petrol, and oily minerality represented well in most Pinotage wines, and the Backsberg is no exception. I like this particular one, because it possesses a bit of boysenberry and loganberry fruit, and tends to be more fruit-driven than “terroir-driven.”

Yet here is the rub – it’s Kosher, Mevushal for those really paying attention. What does that mean? Well, to be labeled Kosher, the wine has to be made from beginning to end, in observance of Jewish dietary laws (known as kashrut). The wine must be made at all times, in the presence of a Sabbath-observant Jew, preferably a rabbi. Any ingredients used, including yeasts and fining agents, must be kosher. Egg whites can be used, but they would not be used for Vegan Kosher Wine. If they are deemed Kosher for Passover, the wines must be kept away from any grain, bread or dough.

Mevushal is a term applied to Kosher wines that can maintain kosher status, even in the presence of non-Jewish people (in researching the definition, many used the word “idolater”). These wines tend to be flash pasteurized, also known as “High Temperature Short Time,” is a method of pasteurizing perishable beverages such as wine without destroying the flavor or color of the wine. Even this process must be overseen by the mashgichim (an orthodox rabbi appointed to oversee kashrut law.

The complexities of making wine are incredible. Yet what it takes to make Kosher wine is even more incredible. Yet the trick, if you want to discover what Kosher wine is all about, is to find a Kosher wine, that is simply a well-made, flavorful wine. Backsberg accomplishes this. And hopefully, you’ll go out and discover a bottle soon.

Thanks to the Cork Dork for the great idea and Lenn at Wine Blogging Wednesday for continuing the exchange of ideas. Check out my blog roll to see some my fellow bloggers Kosher posts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


So in prepping for my CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) Exam, I went to Borders to try and pick up a new text to help me study. I am almost as passionate about books as I am about wine (ask me about my 1st edition Mark Twain or my Mercury Theatre playbooks). And though I have most of the more popular wine books out there, I came across a new, beautiful work by Andre Domine, simply titled WINE.

WINE is one of thost big fat textbooks that reminds me of all the Literature books I carried around for college. Extremely comprehensive, and boasting a large list of contributing writers (mostly German it would seem, it was originally published in German and entitled WEIN).

Weaving a brief, concise history of wine with the methodology of tasting wine, as well as breaking down the various wines of the world, it is compiled with wonderfully-constructed photographs and arranged quite elegantly.

Obviously, the section on Germany is well-done, and is explained carefully and thoughtfully, as is the sections dedicated to France, Austria and South Africa. Being the Italian wine geek though, there were portions of the Italian section that were stark and vague (see Southern Italy). However, overall, the book does spend a significant amount of time on just about every wine region in the world.

You really should take a look at this great book, which I have been reading while being somewhat sick (stomach bug or something). You can find out more about it here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Recently, my good friend and sales rep for Vanguard Wines, Jeff Hickenlooper, came by to taste Shannon and I on two new rosés. The first of which was from renowned blush winemaker Charles Bieler. The Bieler Rosé Coteau d’Aix-en-Provence 2008 is a spectacular blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache that possesses exceptional red berry fruit flavors and aromas, with a touch of mineral, garrigue, and floral notes. A stunning effort from the Provence.

Monsieur Bieler also makes a rosé on this side of the pond, in collaboration with fellow Charles, Mr. Charles Smith of K Vintners and the Magnificent Wine Company in Washington State. The Charles & Charles Rosé 2008 is made entirely from Syrah, and demonstrates juicy strawberry and cherry notes, with a clean, fragrant presence on the palate that is lively, light and dry.
Both of these wines would make great accompaniment to your Easter dinner, or just anytime with any meal, particular when the weather starts warming up.

Friday, April 10, 2009


In my little “series” on the Loire, I’ve mentioned Muscadet, the Anjou-Saumur, and the Touraine. Now the one with which most of us U.S. consumers are familiar – the upper Loire, or sometimes referred to as the Centre. It is here where some of the world’s greatest Sauvignon Blancs are produced, in communes such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, and smaller areas such as Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly.

The most famous of the communes is Sancerre. Resting on the western bank of the Loire, in and around the town of Sancerre and 14 of its neighboring villages, there are at least 6400 acres of vineyards dedicated almost solely to Sauvignon (Blanc). While there are still small amounts of Pinot Noir and Gamay grown there, Sauvignon is King. There are three terroir types in Sancerre: clay/chalky marl (west), flint (around the town) and gravel/limestone (in between the two aforementioned regions). Each area lends its own special aromas and flavors to their particular Sauvignons, and almost all are aged in stainless steel tanks to show off all the fruit-and-mineral glory of the wines.

Pouilly-Fumé is the appellation, yet the wines are derived from the area in and around the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire. Not to be confused with the village of Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais in Burgundy, here the region cultivates nothing but Sauvignon. The wines from this appellation tend to be rounder, softer and less aromatic, and the best wines are aged in barrel. These wines tend to be much longer-lived than Sancerre.

To the west, lie the villages of Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly. These regions produce Sauvignon just as good as the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, at a fraction of their prices. There are some reds produced in the Menetou-Salon yet again, Sauvignon is King.

One of my recent favorites is a wine from Reuilly, the Domaine des Reuilly “Pierres Plates” from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. A wonderfully balanced, lively white with lots of flinty characteristics, hints of guava, lime and lemon zest, and just a touch of starfruit. It has become one of our most popular French white wines in the store.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a little more about this glorious wine region, and with some luck, I hope to have enticed you to explore the wines of this great region.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Spring has sprung, opening day in Major League baseball is behind us and the snow is almost melted.... Time for some spring time wines.

Mulderbosch Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, South Africa $10.99. A wonderful summer quaff, dry and expressive. Strawberry jam and cinnamon notes pervade, with great acidity and a citrus zing on the finish. Built for a sunny afternoon and a Cincinnati Reds pitching duel.

Irony Chardonnay 2006, Napa Valley $10.99. Buttery and opulent with light hints of oak and apple. Well integrated tannin and acidity make for a lovely summer Chardonnay. Perfect with a rare Ahi Tuna.

Seven Daughters White NV, California $11.49. A knockout! the perfect wine for Conundrum and Evolution fans. A dry refreshing blend that captures all that is good about california fruit.Perfect for happy hour with honeydew melon and watermelon notes that will refresh.

Clos Otto Boxhead Shiraz 2008, S. Australia $8.99. A heavy, inky shiraz with black berry and currant notes and a bit of black pepper and chocolate on the long, lingering finish. The perfect steak wine.

Seven Daughters Red NV, California $11.49. Syrah, merlot, zinfandel, carignane, sangiovese, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon combine to make an award winner. Big and bold with raspberry and mocha hints. Finishes with a bing cherry zing.4 stars and 2 puffs in Alfonse Spectator.

All till next month

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Tuesday night (last night) we invited 80 of our best customers (all of our customers are our best customers!) along with some appetizers and camaraderie, for an evening with our friend Bruce Neyers, owner of Neyers Vineyards in Napa and the national sales manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. This was our second such event, the first being last year's terrific night with winemaker Adam LaZarre (formerly of Hahn Estates).

To fill you in on why these events are so special, for starters, they are of no cost to the customer to attend. Yes, that is right. It was free. For zero dollars, all you had to do was accept the invitation, RSVP, and show up. That was it. Our owner feels that a few of these events each year is a better marketing tool than any print ad campaign, so we absorb the cost, give the customers a great time, expose them to some great, interesting wines, and provide them with a speaker who will serve as catalyst to their continuing wine adventure. Ultimately, our customers will bring new customers in, and potentially become more loyal to us than our competition.

That's the business aspect of it. The nice part about putting on events like these is that our customers get to see just how passionate we are about this business by bringing our inspirations to them. Tonight, Bruce Neyers cleaved a few hours out of his whirlwind schedule to lead us through just a small microcosm of his wines and Kermit's French and Italian wines. Quite the tall order (he produces just shy of 20 wines alone, and Kermit Lynch is probably responsible for 500+ "SKUs" imported to the U.S. each year). We were legally only allowed to taste 6, which really doesn't scratch the surface. Yet Bruce, in the wisdom and joy befitting a family patriach, Bruce shared his passion for organic winemaking, Old World sensibilities, the much-misunderstood concept of "terroir" and the connections we make in this business, the ones that last the majority of our lives, you could tell as the customers were finishing up the conversation, making their purchases, and heading home or out to dinner, there was a greater understanding for what true winemakers put into their craft, and how quality still matters.

I want to thank Bruce Neyers for coming in and sharing a great evening with us, as well as Wendy Huff, Kymber Henson and the staff at Heidelberg Distributing of Northern Kentucky for giving us the opportunity to host Bruce and all of his wines (as well as finally delivering us a phenomenal French importer). Thanks to all our staff for really kicking ass, and to all our customers - our extended family - for coming in and participating in a great event.

Time to start planning the next one...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I’ve touched on Muscadet, Anjou, Saumur and Coteaux du Layon, so this post, I’ll go over Touraine, Bourgueil, Chinon and Vouvray. It’s tough encapsulating such wonderful wines from such a diverse region like the Loire, yet any more information and I may put our fair readers into systems overload.

So the Touraine is what could constitute the central Loire with over 34,000 acres under vine. The majority of these vines will produce wines to be released under the Touraine AOC with red and white equally divided amongst the production. The region encompasses the city of Tours, and lies adjacent to the Saumur. This subregion is the largest within the Loire, with its most notable wine regions being Vouvray and Montlouis.

Red seems to be the dominant – ironically enough (because as consumers in the U.S., Vouvray would be the most notable commune we know, and that is entirely Chenin Blanc) - with the principal grape being Cabernet Franc. The appellations that best exemplify Cabernet Franc are Bourgueil, Chinon and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. The Bourgueil lies on the northern bank of the Loire River, and boasts over 3400 acres of vineyards, entirely planted with Cabernet Franc. The largest of the three, Chinon, lies across the River and boasts over 4400 acres. Higher elevation vineyards in both communes usually produce the richer, dense Cab Francs, while vineyards closer to the river banks tend to produce lighter styles.

The appellations of Vouvray and Montlouis boast wonderful Chenin Blancs, ranging from very dry to slightly-sweet, with even some extraordinary sparklers being made there. Vouvray is the most important commune within the Touraine, claiming around 4400 acres of vineyards. Montlouis, which lies to the south, on the opposite bank of the Loire, offers up terrific value alternatives to Vouvray.

Other AOCs to look for include Coteaux du Loir and Cheverny.

One of my favorite wines from the Touraine is the Domaine Pichot Couteau de la Biche Vouvray 2007. Clocking in at under $16, this glorious white possesses great notes of ripe Golden Delicious apples, golden raisins, hints of salt, smoke and mineral with a note of honeydew melon. Its slightly sweet upfront, but finishes long and dry. It’s a great example of Vouvray.

Later in the week I’ll finish up with Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and the rest of what is often called the Centre region of the Loire. Wednesday I'll have a recap of our in-store tasting with Bruce Neyers and Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants.

Monday, April 6, 2009


So last time, I spoke to you about the Muscadet AOC within the Loire Valley, which is often referred to as the Pays Nantais (which takes its name from the city of Nantes). Today’s post, we talk about the Anjou-Saumur. The Anjou-Saumur inhabits the area surrounding the cities of Angers and Saumur in the Maine et Loire department. There is a broad spectrum of wines produced here – red, white, rosé and sparkling wines. The red grape varieties are primarily Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec (known here as Cot). The primary white grape is Chenin Blanc (known here sometimes as Pineau de la Loire), with some Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown as well.

The red appellations include Anjou Rouge and Saumur Rouge, both comprised of the Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, Anjou-Gamay (made with Gamay grapes), and Saumur-Champigny (made also with Cabs Franc and Sauvignon). The latter appellation is considered the best amongst Loire Valley’s red wines.

The white appellations include Anjou Blanc and Saumur Blanc, made up of at least 80% Chenin Blanc, and Savennières, 100% Chenin Blanc and considered one of the world’s best dry Chenin.
Rosés abound here, for there are 4 major appellations for blush, with each region boasting different styles: Rosé de Anjou, comprised mostly of the grape Grolleau and somewhat sweet; Cabernet de Saumur and Cabernet d’Anjou, both a bit sweet and made up of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon; and Rosé de Loire, a dry style that must contain at least 30% Cabernet.

There are sweet wines of great renown as well, coming from the Coteaux du Layon, and it’s subregions Bonnezeaux and Quarts-de-Chaume. All of the wines from these AOCs are made up entirely of Chenin Blanc, and can be quite long-lived. The area of the Coteaux du Layon lies along the Layon tributary of the Loire River, and is comparable to Sauternes, in that it possesses the right climate and conditions for noble rot.

Saumur is the AOC known also for its sparkling wines. Saumur Mousseaux AOC is comprised of at least 80% Chenin Blanc, while the rosés are made entirely of Cabernet. These wines can be dry or semi-sweet. There are also some pétillant versions with have the CO₂ of the sparklers.

Within the Savenniéres, one particular producer, the much venerated N. Joly produces some of the world’s most remarkbable Chenin Blancs, and Joly himself is hailed as the preeminent leader of biodynamic farming. His most affordable wine is the Les Clos Sacré, a stunning Chenin Blanc that usually possesses a cellar potential of 5-10 years.

Next installment, we’ll touch on the wines of Touraine, Bourgueil and Vouvray.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


One of the most fascinating wine regions, to me, is the Loire Valley in France. There is such incredible diversity in style – from dry to sweet, still to sparkling, red, white and rosé, that it is always one of my favorite regions to recommend wines from, yet so many people don’t really know or understand the wines of the Loire. The region is defined by the Loire River, the longest in France, rolls from the East across the Northern portion of the country, through what many call “the garden of France.”

Though most of us here in the States are somewhat familiar with the white wines (Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Muscadet and Vouvray), there are red wines being produced there, such as the Cabernet Francs of the Anjou, and Pinot Noir from Sancerre. Yet to truly understand what goes on in the Loire, you have to have a sense of their geographical breakdown.

The principle areas within the Loire (from West to East) are:
1. Muscadet
2. Anjou-Saumur (comprised of the Anjou, Coteaux du Layon, and Saumur)
3. Touraine (comprised of the Touraine, Bourgueil and Vouvray)
4. Eastern Loire (comprised of the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre)

I want to first start with the Muscadet, simply because often thought of as a grape when in fact it is moreso a region of profound significance in the world of wine. Muscadet is the most western portion of the Loire, and borders the Atlantic Ocean. Its biggest boast is that its wines are perfect pairings with seafood. This region is known for one wine, Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape).

The Melon grape was first introduced into the area by Dutch traders in the 17th century, cultivating it as the base for their own style of Brandy known as brandewijn. The typography and proximity to the ocean made it ideal from growing and cultivating grapes.

There are nearly 32,000 acres of vineyards, covering rolling coastal hillsides, lying to the south and northeast of the city of Nantes. Though soil composition varies, the best vineyards reside in a combination of granite, gneiss and schist. One significant subregion is the Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, which lies between the two tributaries, the Sèvre and Maine Rivers. Most of the best Muscadet wines originate from this region.

One significant point you will see on the labels of most Muscadet wine is sur lie, which denotes the fact that the wines remain in contact with the yeast lees for several months before bottling. Though most Muscadet sees stainless steel fermentation, the contact with the lees leaves some to misinterpret the flavors as being derived from newer oak. These wines have surprising depth of character and some can improve in the cellar for several years.

I have carried a couple of different Muscadet wines over the years, the Domaine Guindon, Chateau de la Ragotiêre, and most recently the Sauvion Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine 2007. A wonderfully vibrant, minerally, crisp white wine, Muscadet in general has a slightly nutty, salty characteristic that one would connect instantly with the sea. Perfect for salads and seafood, Muscadet is a wine you should really explore.

Friday, April 3, 2009


No, I am not talking about something eco-friendly. What I am talking about is Vinho Verde, "green wine" from Portugal. The wine is called Vinho Verde simply because it is a young wine, made to be drank right away. There is no connection between its name and the rich Portuguese countryside from which it is derived, a nod to unripened grapes or the wine's color. The fact is, and this is much to even my surprise, most of Vinho Verde produced these days is red wine. (I did not know this.) My mind usually gravitates toward Vinho Verde at first sign of warmer weather.

Typically, Vinho Verde (red and white) is highly acidic and possesses a slightly fizzy character. The Vinho Verde appellation spans from Portugal's Spanish border to just South of the Douro River. The Vinho Verde is Portugal's largest DOC.
Some of the grapes used to make Vinho Verde are:
For Red V.V.: Azal, Vinhao, Espaderio, Sousao, Borracal, and Pedral

For White V.V.: Alvarinho (Albarino), Loureiro, Trajadura, Perderna, and Avesso

Grape vines in the Vinho Verde are trained high in a pergola style, meaning that the vines are trained to grow up columns places in the vineyard, up and across some sort of trellising over head, giving the grape clusters maximum exposure to the sun. This canopy pattern prevents the buildup of moisture on the foilage, which could lead to mildew, rot or other vineyard maladies.

There are 9 subregions within the Vinho Verde, and they are divided according to microclimate and grape variety. They are: Amarante, Ave, Baiao, Basto, Cavado, Lima, Moncao, Paiva and Sousa. Unless made with straight Alvarinho, no V.V. can be higher than 11.5% alcohol. If a wine is higher in alcohol, it must be classified as Vino Regional Rios do Minho.

One of the most impressive Vinho Verde whites I have stumbled across is the Aveleda Fonte Vinho Verde, a light, lively white wine that speaks of warm summer days spent on the patio, hanging out with neighbors or daydreaming with the better half. With its yellow-green color, light hints of citrus and kiwi, and crisp, resfreshing stone fruit flavors, it's a great way to welcome the greenery back from a long absence.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


So comments on my post yesterday got me thinking: I have spent an awful lot of time dwelling on the recent tax increase here in Kentucky. Part of my problem is that when I take a job (regardless of the company employing me) I throw myself completely into the gig. It comes from being raised to work hard and commit myself to the task (commit being the operative word, I guess). I've always allowed myself to become completely immersed in the job, and sometimes, more often than not, I dissolve any restraint when dealing with any part of the business.

With this job, I have become an absolute geek about wine - trying to learn about producers, importers, brokers and such like I used to study bands and their members, songs, albums, tours, etc. I get a bit obsessed. True too, that the political aspects of this job tend to push me to extremes.

The proximity to other states (they don't call this area the Tri-State for nothing) creates unique problems to our business model, in that we have customers from all three states, and they bring with them expectations created for them by their respective home states (those being Ohio, Indiana and our state of Kentucky). It's more than frustrating for us as buyers to have to constantly explain to our customers why our pricing is different than Ohio's, or why we cannot get certain wines here that are available just across the river in Cincinnati. It is being a "bridge" store" that makes being here exciting yet inordinately challenging.

A lot of folks who enter into this blog may or may not completely understand where we are coming from when we happen to drone on about, in this case, the KY alcohol tax hike. But if there is one thing I am trying to hammer home to our readers and customers, is that most people here in Kentucky and the surrounding area have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that there is an 11% tax already built into the prices they pay for wine, beer and spirits. NOW, they must pay an ADDITIONAL 6% so that they are actually paying 17% taxes.

Is this overkill, when I continue on about this point? Or is it necessary to remind folks that their elected officials should be held accountable for this come the next election?

I get irate about a lot of things in this business, primarily because there are a lot of really bad decisions being made in all facets of this industry (as is in every industry). And while I hope that this blog is informative and helps our readers want to learn more about wine in general, I tend to also have a bit of a consumer activist approach, trying to let people in on the mixed up and often ridiculous dealings we contend with at the retail level.

Is this the New Yorker? Forbes? Harper's? Not hardly. I am just a neurotic wine geek with a habit for melodrama, and a drive to get people as energized by the grape as I am. I also am not interested in bullshit, and I will tell you what is going on, and how it is going on, whether you like the news or not. It's how I am with my customers, and it's how I am with my sales reps. I can be agreeable, and can be very diplomatic when presented things rationally. But tell me something ludicrous, and I cannot help but protest in my own, sometimes crude way.

I appreciate the comments made, and am really thankful for them. Sometimes I can be a real bore when I am teetering on my soapbox. Sometimes I need someone just to knock me off, pour me a glass of Chateau Shutthehelluup, and get me to move on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


April Fool's Day. Strange that this is the day that Under The Grape Tree turns 1. Honestly we should consider ourselves a miracle, largely due to my enormous powers of procrastination and the externally tugging gods of distraction. It's so easy for me to become disenfranchised with a project that I often find myself rebelling against the very concept I was championing just a few weeks ago.

But alas, it's been one year ago to the day that we started out under the tree and we are still going strong. I want to thank everyone who has tuned in to read what often times crazy things we (more often than most I) have to say. It's easy to become so impassioned by this business that one can become consumed, and often become the very thing one rails against. Sad but true. Hopefully, my fellow bloggers will rise up to smite me if I become too arrogant or cocksure of myself.

Today, while something to be proud of, is also a reminder the Life plays some pretty cruel jokes on its people. Take our fair state of Kentucky (I use the term "fair" quite loosely). Today marks the first day of a new sales tax on all beer, wine and spirits, instituted by the fiscally-incompetent folks in our state capitol of Frankfurt (Gov. Beshear, you sad bastards in the State House and Senate). The goal of this tax is to compensate for the shortfall that, oddly enough, was created by the inept spending practices of both the Republican and Democratic legislators who we have so gullibly elected over the last, perhaps two to three decades. After failing to generate decent revenue with a 9% wholesale tax, then only within the past 5 years, raising that to 11%, and now concluding that we should be taxing alcohol a total of 17% - one of the highest in the country I might add.


And all for Education and Medicaid right? Except for the dollars going to help expand the Kentucky Speedway so they can attract a NASCAR event, don't forget that.

Oh, and did I mention that only 30 out of 120 counties are paying for this extra tax revenue, because the other 90 counties are still living in the 1920's - they are all DRY counties - no booze (not counting the gov't sponsored bootlegging of course. Oh that's just a rumor, WINK WINK.)

Anyway, I am not going to let the KY legislature take a runny dump on the festivities so, our goals for this coming year are as follows:

1. We will bring you at least a dozen reviews each month.

2. We'll be giving you insight into all things beer with our beer fanatics Brandon, Ray and Matt.

3. More from our new, sole assistant wine buyer, Shannon, on her road into the business of wine.

4. More smarmy, soapbox-y commentary from yours truly.

5. And the addition (in the near-future) of some video commentary and special guests at our stores.

We are looking forward to the coming year of constant changes in this business because, it's the best business to be in - the wine business that is. Where else can you be a wino and get paid for it?