Sunday, May 31, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: Just arrived, Emilio Moro Finca Resalso 2007 from Ribera del Duero is a fantastic red wine, 100% Tinto Fino (aka Tempranillo). From 5 to 15 year old vines, this entry-level Ribera sees around 4 months in oak, giving it a more youthful presentation of red and black fruit aromas and flavors. It seems almost chewy, with prominent, silt-like tannins, well-balanced earth and acidic tones, hints of tobacco, dark chocolate, espresso and cinnamon. Near full-bodied, with a refined finish, this remarkable red is a true, fine expression of the Ribera del Duero.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


For the past few years, we here at Liquor Direct have more-or-less adopted the Hahn Family Estates wines (including Cycles Gladiator, Huntington, and Smith & Hook) as our house wines. We've been extremely pleased with the entire portfolio, represented here by Wimbledon Wines, and our good friend John Erickson (who has begun his own endeavor called Lamara Wine Brokerage).

Last year, John brought in Hahn winemaker Adam LaZarre to treat some of our customers to an in-store Pinot tasting, featuring some great wines and Adam's madcap personality. Our owners had met Adam at the winery earlier while enjoying some wine and golf in California, and had hoped to get Adam to share his passion for wine with us back home. And that he did. And in the process, made us all friends and "minions" for good.
Recently, Adam was asked to take over the reins at a fairly new winery in Paso Robles called Villa San Juliette. Begun as a reality TV show project called "Corkscrewed" by executive producers/fledgling winery owners Nigel Lythgoe (of Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance" fame) and Ken Warwick (of Fox TV's "American Idol"). While the "Corkscrewed" show was a flop, the winery had potential, and needed a skilled winemaker to take control. Enter Adam, who has the winery headed in the right direction.

We've selected two of their wines to feature as our June Wines of the Month: The Petite Sirah 2007 and Sauvignon Blanc 2008. The Petite Sirah is fruit-driven, with substantial blue fruit in the nose and on the palate. It possesses lively spice notes and well-balanced fruit, acidity and oak. It's a really nice introduction to PS for those who haven't discovered how great this varietal is. The Sauvignon Blanc (coming from Paso Robles) is a really nice surprise, showing off character reminiscent of a white Pessac-Leognan: mineral, citrus, fresh herbs, fresh cut hay (a little less on the herbaceousness and more prominent fruit here though). Delicious, vibrant, and very easy on the palate, a perfect white wine for the summertime.

Look for the rest of the Villa San Juliette lineup next month. And if you're in Paso Robles, drop in and tell Adam and the gang Kentucky says "hello."

Friday, May 29, 2009


Don Sebastiani & Sons are leading the charge of value-conscious California wines with releases like the new The Crusher Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. A remarkable, single-vineyard designated Cab from Napa Valley (the Wilson Vineyard in Clarksburg), this medium- to full-bodied red is extraordinary for the price. Boysenberry, blueberry and cassis notes in both the nose and on the palate, these nuances mingle with vanillin oak, cherry, and spice notes for an exquisite, palate-pleasing wine.

A touch of Petite Sirah gives it a dark red, almost purple tint, and brings with it a rush of juicy, jammy blue fruit to boot. With only 8400 cases made, this wine will indeed go quickly. Avoid the rush and pick up The Crusher today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I have always been amazed by the wines of South Africa, particularly this gorgeous Bordeaux-inspired blend from Stellenbosch, the Tokara Red 2003. This stunning, full-bodied red is a blend of 73% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Petit Verdot. It spends 20 months in French oak (mostly new), and demonstrates the best in South African winemaking to date. Tokara (the winery is pictured left), is winemaker Miles Mossop's endeavor at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains in Stellenbosch.

Rich, dense and powerful, you get beautiful aromas of red and black fruits, hints of smoke and oak and just a touch of warm cocoa. The palate reveals layers of cherries, currants, blackberries, tobacco and spice box, with robust tannins and hints of earth for a multidimensional red that will stand up to barbeque and steaks on the grill. It's a bit of a splurge, but well worth it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Brampton is the second line of wines from South Africa’s famed Rustenberg Winery in Stellenbosch. I have been a fan of these wines for some time due to the enormous value they represent. Two of my favorites in the line are the Chardonnay and Viognier, both offering great value for the impending summer weather.

The Chardonnay 2008 is completely unoaked and showing clean notes of mineral and spice in the nose with flavors of stone fruit, slightly citrusy tones and clean, crisp acidity. A refreshing style of Chardonnay that would lend well to grilled fish and chicken dishes.

The Viognier 2007 is somewhat unique in that there isn’t a great deal of Viognier coming from the Cape. This particular white Rhone-styled wine sees 7 months in French oak barrique and French oak hogshead, lending to the creamy nuances experienced on the palate. Peach, melon and apricot aromas and flavors abound in this delicious white wine, and would be great with spicier fare.

We’ve been proud to carry these and all the wines from Brampton and Rustenberg for some time. Drop in and pick some up to try.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Wrapping up the Palm Bay tasting notes isn’t very easy. There was so much great wine, and really not enough time to review. I was truly impressed with the Portuguese ventures, and the Italian portion of the portfolio goes without saying.

Yet these wines were the supreme standouts of the event:

Jean Luc Colombo is a renowned producer in the Rhone and Provence of France. The highlight of his lineup was his single-vineyard Cornas. The Terres Brulees” 2006 was beautiful, medium-bodied with blackberry, black currant, licorice and tobacco notes; an elegant Syrah. The “La Louvee” 2006 scores fuller body and lusher fruit, with more power and complexity throughout. And the remarkable “Les Ruchets” 2006 is multi-dimensional, full-bodied, and concentrated with black fruit, herbs, spices, and a touch of vanilla for good measure. Jean-Luc was there, and I had hoped to meet with him, but when I saw him, he was having an intense conversation (in French of course) with his wife so I thought not to intrude. It was the wine world equivalent of standing next to Jeff Beck in my book.

Anselmi, once one of the big 3 in Soave, has since used Chardonnay to give richer, fuller flavor to their wines (and subsequently following Gaja in becoming a declassified, single-vineyard producer). The Capitel Foscarino 2007 is a blend of Garganega and Chardonnay that is full of honeyed tropical fruits and citrus notes, with stone fruit flavors carrying through to the finish. The Capitel Croce is 100% Garganega, showing creamier textures and denser fruit character. The I Capitelli is a sexy, hedonistic dessert version of Garganega, with supple honey and baked apple flavors, intermingling with apricot and white peach. All three of these, along with the entry-level San Vincenzo, are phenomenal Italian white wines not to be missed.

A couple of stunning Italian wines: the Ferrari Reserve Giulio 1999 is a spectacular sparkling wine from Trentino. One of the best sparklers I have had from anywhere (including Champagne) in quite awhile. The Feudi di San Gregorio Patrimo 2005 is a remarkable 100% Merlot I would put against Cheatau Petrus anyday. Just had the most exceptional finish. The Zisola Doppiozeta 2006 is brand new from the Mazzei family’s Sicilian venture. Powerful blend of Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Cabernet Franc! Their first vintage of this soon-to-be-classic. And from San Patrignano, the Montepirolo 2003 is a straight-up Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that was big, bold, dense and absolutely delicious.

Going back to San Gregorio, the winery rep showed me a picture of a grape vine not unlike the one which inspired the name of this blog - a colossus that looks every bit like a tree, found in the Taurasi portion of Campania. Just really cool.

Many thanks to all at Palm Bay International and all of the winemakers who presented their wares to a overly-enthusiastic throng of winos and devotees.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Not often we Kentucky winos get to check out Israeli wine – not sure why but there really isn’t a lot of it available here in the state. So I was excited to try the wines from Recanati, a fairly new winery located in Israel’s primary wine region, Galilee.

Manning the Recanati table was winemaker Gil Shatsberg, who was eager to show off the wines he makes to the crowd at the Palm Bay Winemaker show. I have to admit that for the most part, I don’t like it when a winemaker tells me what I am tasting. I got a fair amount of that at the show, but not from Mr. Shatsberg, who chose to let me make up my own mind about each wine, only giving me the technical specifics of each wine and allowing me to taste at my own pace (which I hate to say is almost mach 10).

Recanati has two table wines – the Yasmin White and Red. The White is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Emerald Riesling and Colombard, and shows off a slightly-sweet yet very balanced white wine that is ideal for warmer weather quaffing. The Red is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, and shows off considerable red fruit flavors and a soft, easy-drinking finish.

The Diamond Series boasts Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, each one varietally correct, demonstrating good fruit character and balance. I’m looking forward to having these wines in our stores soon.

The Reserve wines feature a Cabernet Franc (remarkably good, reminiscent of a St. Emilion yet with hints of herbaceousness), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah (drinks something akin to a Bandol), Shiraz, and their Special Reserve (a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from two single vineyard sites).

All of these wines are Kosher for Passover, and are remarkably craft to equal anything coming out of California right now. These wines were the big surprise of the event for me. Look for all of them soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


So continuing with my expanded coverage of the Palm Bay Winemaker’s Portfolio tasting I attended in Chicago (my apologies, I feel a bit like I am gloating, most annoyingly), I have to mention the wines from Germany’s S.A. Prum in the Mosel. Winemaker Saskia Prum was at the helm, and pouring some remarkable wines.

Beginning with the two “entry-level” wines, the Essence Pinot Blanc 2008 and Essence Riesling 2008, you get a definite sense that “terroir” plays a role, but doesn’t overshadow the fruit; Saskia wishes the fruit to be equally demonstrative. Both wines should very well, with the Pinot Blanc exhibiting terrific balance of mineral and stone fruit characteristics. The Riesling wasn’t cloying at all, just satisfying and just slightly sweet.

The Prum Blue Riesling 2007 is a Kabinett-style Riesling with expressive apricot and peach notes, and excellent minerality throughout its lush and lingering finish. The fruit originates from steep hillside vineyards found atop blue slate soil, lending to the elegant mineral components of the wine.

From there, Saskia highlighted her wines from the prime sites Graacher Himmelreich, Urziger Wurzgarten and Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

The Graacher Himmelrich wines were the Riesling Spatlese 2007 and the Riesling Eiswein 2001. Both were showing remarkably well, with the Eiswein obviously being my favorite, having yielded exquisite honeyed peach and carmelized apricot flavors. The Spatlese was bright, slightly sweet, rich and vibrant.

The Urziger Wurzgarten Kabinett 2006 was still youthful, with lots of stone fruit vigor and balance. On the lower end of the sweet spectrum, this beautiful white was medium-bodied with a stunning finish and lots of peach, Rainier Cherry, and quinine notes.

From the Wehlener Sonnenuhr comes both the Riesling Spatlese 2007 and Auslese 2005, and I was duly impressed by both.

It’s tough to find fault with wines that show extremely well, in an atmosphere of congenial passion and animation shared by winemakers, salespeople, and fans alike. I had not tasted the wines of S.A. Prum before, and being as big a German wine fan as I am, I felt somewhat ashamed in that knowledge. Yet now I know, and you can look for them coming your way soon.

I still have a lot of ground to cover, what with Jean-Luc Colombo’s impressive single-vineyard Cornas wines, the surprising complexity of Israel’s Recanati wines, and the vast array of spectacular Italian wines that were on display.
Stay tuned, there is more to come.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Palm Bay International is a growing importer of wine and spirits from around the world, and it was never more apparent than when I attended their Winemaker Portfolio tasting in Chicago this week. I had already made mention of their brand new Austrian line from the Pfaffl family, and this in this post, I will touch upon their increasing number of wines from South America.

Currently, Palm Bay represents Argentine wineries Salentein and their second label El Portillo, as well as new addition Cailla. They also currently represent Chilean producers Mont Gras, Amaral, Intriga and of course, Santa Rita.

Over the past few months, I have renewed my interest in MontGras, as their Reserve Carmenere has become a staple best seller in our stores, yet I did not retaste their wines, having tasted through the majority of them quite recently. I chose to taste through the fairly new wines of Amaral and Intriga, as well as try the upper-tiers of Santa Rita, including all the Medalla Real line, as well as the Floresta, Triple C, the new Pehuen, and the Casa Real Cab.

Amaral has just two wines – the Chardonnay 2007 and Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – both from the emerging Leyda region in Chile. Founded by the Gras family (of MontGras fame), these two nicely-priced wines offer delicious examples of this up-and-coming region. The Chardonnay is a New World style, with lively pineapple and citrus, intermingling with creamy butterscotch and vanilla textures. The Sauvignon Blanc is zesty, with bright citrus tones and well-balanced acidity. These wines will probably be here in the next few months.

Intriga is strictly Cabernet Sauvignon, and is another new venture for the Gras family. Coming from the Maipo Valley in Chile, this exceptional Cab holds its own against its Napa peers, showing off elements of cocoa, cassis, currant, mint and vanilla, all with substantial body and power, yet demonstrating elegance and firm grip on the palate.

The Santa Rita Medalla Real line consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz. The winery has been working to elevate all of the varietals up to the level of quality they have consistently achieved with their Cab. And with the coming vintages, they have really succeeded with the Carmenere, while the others boast equally good characteristics. The Medalla Real Carmenere 2007 is a beautifully-crafted, full-bodied red with rich, dark aromas and flavors of black and blue fruit. A remarkable example of what this grape variety can do in capable hands.

The Pehuen 2005 is a new blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon that shows both power and grace on the palate. It’s a silky, smooth red with supple tannins, loads of dense black fruit in both the nose and on the tongue, and has a long, lengthy finish. Look for this wine in our stores soon.

The Triple C 2005 is a blend of Cab, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc – which really got me going with the Cab Franc addition (most wine geeks are big Cab Franc fans). Again, lots of power and lots of elegance are accounted for here in this dynamic, but unfortunately small-produced wine.
The Casa Real 2005 showed amazing depth and character. Well-built, with layers of dark fruits, spices and vanillin oak, with smooth, supple tannins, and a multi-dimensional finish.

I was truly impressed with the Chilean wines from Palm Bay. I am currently putting together an order and hope to have these wines in very soon. Tomorrow, I’ll touch on some of their German selections from winemaker S.A. Prum, and wrap things up with my favorite wine producing region, Italy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I recently went to the Palm Bay Imports’ Winemaker Portfolio tasting in Chicago, a terrific event showcasing winemakers from their star-studded portfolio. There were a number of very impressive wines – many that my stores already carry. As per my usual M.O., I opted for not revisiting many of my store favorites, but instead, looking for wines I have yet to try. There were many of those, and while I have a lot to report back on, one producer in particular stuck out, due largely to the fact that they were only one-week old with Palm Bay – Austrian producer Pfaffl, which was being represented by young Roman Pfaffl, son of winemaker Roman Pfaffl (yes, Jr. and Sr.).

Truly a family affair, the two Romans run the operation with mother Adelheid, and younger Roman’s sisters Elisabeth and Heidemarie. The approach to their wines is both modern and traditional, with the 3 single vineyard Gruner Veltliners (the Haidviertel, Hundsleiten and Altenberg) and their excellent St. Laurent, as well as two very unique, more modern releases – the Austrian Pepper (a clean, inexpensive GruVe) and the Austrian Cherry (a fruit-friven Zweigelt – one of Austria’s premier red grapes). The wines overall, showcase the wonderful, clean, racy and vibrant style that is Austrian wine, perfectly balanced and well-built for food pairings. Having just come from a sushi restaurant and these being the first wines tasted at the event, I could see the harmonious coupling of the two vividly.

As I said, these are brand, spanking-new wines for Palm Bay, so look for them sometime in the Fall.

More notes on the way, including some stunning German Rieslings from S.A. Prum, a phenomenal Merlot from Campania that would give an expensive Pomerol a run for its money, something new from Fonterutoli’s Sicilian venture, and breathtaking efforts from Anselmi, San Patrignano, Chile’s Santa Rita, Israel’s Recanati, and much more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Ah yes, one of my favorite blues songs. And one of my favorite cities. I must admit, I have not been there enough, but I love going to the “big city.” Earlier in the week, I was invited to attend the Palm Bay Imports Winemaker Portfolio tasting at the River Arts Center in Chicago, and was able to take in a bit of the Chicago restaurant scene as well.

I’ve got a lot of notes to assemble on some of the great wines I will be bringing in, as well as the wonderful winemakers I was able to meet and speak with at the event, but I have to first do a couple of shout-outs to some incredible restaurants I visited while there.

First was Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge on E. Illinois St., just down the street from the River Arts Center. Needing to fuel up before a big wine tasting, my companions opted for the sushi, we stumbled onto Niu and darted in for a quick bite.

Sitting out on their streetside patio, we were served up some wonderful maki rolls (like their Mellow Yellow, which is Norwegian Salmon, Tempura Crunch, spicy mayo and topped with a mango and orange sauce, or the more traditional Rainbow, with eel, Tempura Crunch, and wrapped in salmon, tuna and avocado.) It was pretty quick for a sushi bar, and lunch was pretty reasonable. For more info, check out

Dinner was an unbelievable treat, thanks to the our local Palm Bay rep, Ed Chalupa, who invited us to a remarkable excursion into culinary decadence at new restaurant, Province, on Jefferson St. between Randolph and Lake.

Executive Chef and owner Randy Zweiban is the purveyor of “Nuevo Latino” cuisine, marrying elements of Spanish, South American, Mexican and American styles of cooking in a unique and impressively delicious menu. To be honest, I had no idea what we’d be in for that evening, but after a long day of tasting wines from Austria, Argentina, France, Italy and all over the world, I was ready to eat. And eat we did.

A meal that assembled a group of wine lovers from distributors, retailers, and Palm Bay folks, we sat down to a nearly 4-hour trip into gourmet nirvana, led eagerly by the amazing staff (thank yous to our server, Bryce, and all the staff).

I was blown away by the Fluke Ceviche appetizer, the Artichoke and Romanesco Salad with Serrano ham and black peppercorn romano cheese, the 10-hour Braised Lamb with eggplant, homemade chorizo and spicy roasted pepper corn bread, and the Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake with melon compote and lemon yogurt. Wine was flowing, although I indulged in a great beer from Three Floyds, their Robert The Bruce Scottish Ale (Province only serves Three Floyds on tap and no other beer, bottle, can or otherwise).

For more info on Province, check out

There are so many restaurants in Chicago, so it’s truly a gourmand’s paradise. If you have a free weekend, it’s not that far a drive. Many thanks to Candy and Jeff for the invite and all the fabulous hospitality; I really needed it.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Recently, one of my sales reps, Tom Stephen, from Cutting Edge Selections here in Cincinnati, turned me onto a very uniquely-packaged Sangria from a friend of his out of Illinois called Glunz Wines. Their de la Costa Sangria NV is a surprisingly well-made wine using California juice and brandy made by themselves. Light, semi-sweet, and full of lively, fresh fruit flavors, a slight chill on this red would be the ideal summer beverage.

I am not a real big fan of Sangria, but my wife adores the stuff. It's uncomplicated, easy on the palate, and very enjoyable when all you want to do is unwind. I would highly recommend this particular Sangria, which comes in a liter bottle reminiscent of Grolsch (for all you swing-top bottle fans).

Tomorrow and Wednesday I'll be coming to you from Chicago, to report on Palm Bay Imports Annual Winemaker Portfolio tasting. Wines from Italian winemakers such as Poliziano, Planeta, Feudo di San Gregorio and Fonterutoli, as well as Rhone superstar Jean-Luc Colombo, and much more, will be on tap. So tune in to find out more.


Sunday, May 17, 2009


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Hahn SLH Pinot Gris 2007 is a beautifully-crafted white wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands in California. From one of our favorite wineries, the folks at Hahn have come up with a stunning effort in this medium-bodied white wine. 100% Pinot Gris and aged completely in stainless steel tanks, it's all about the gorgeous single-vineyard fruit, with its soft, supple notes of honeysuckle and white flowers on the nose, followed luxuriously by hints of nectarine, pineapple, star fruit, lemon and slight splashes of herbs on the palate. It leads you toward a cresendo of smooth, supple spice and balanced fruit and acidity on the finish for a wine that is perfect for oyster roasts, grilled fish or just a hot, summer night on the deck.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Arganza La Mano Roble 2007 is 100% Mencia from the Bierzo region in Spain. A fairly new appellation, at least to the U.S., this significant region is in the northern portion of Spain, just north of the northern border of Portugal, east of Rias Biaxas. The signature grape Mencia, which is present in all its glory here, is a medium- to full-bodied red, with blueberry, mulberry and boysenberry aromas and flavors. It almost reminds me of the old syrup carousel at IHOP, but without the sugary afterwards. Surprising layers of earthiness, dense fruit, and spices are aloud and proud declaration of just how good a value this one is. Wholeheartedly earns the BUY IT BY THE CASE endorsement.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Ever since I began blogging last spring (which sounds a bit dirty don't you think?), I have heard about the controversy surrounding wine samples. It is the practice that many critics do or do not engage in, where a winery/importer/etc. will send you - the reviewer - wines to critique and review. Many against the practice feel this invokes the same kind of problem payola has in radio. Many of my wine blogging brethren receive samples from wineries, as do many of the traditional print media (such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits).

Purists believe this taints a reviewer's perspective, creates a more bias attitude toward the winery/importer in question, thus creating a "deceptive" review.

I really don't have issue one way or the other with the acceptance of samples when it comes to my fellow bloggers - many of them are writing blogs simply for the love of it, which means they aren't making any money off of their blogs. I do take exception with the magazines solely because advertising is involved, and wineries can "influence" the reviewers simply by increasing their advertising spending with a particular magazine. Even if it doesn't actually exist, the "air" of its existence is there, creating a sense of skepticism amongst their readership.

In my case, it's a bit out of the ordinary.

For this blog, while I do get samples, they aren't really for review in the journalism/blogging sense of the word. I receive samples to determine whether or not I will carry these wines in our stores, so the determination I make is not to give the wines some arbitrary numerical score, but whether or not my customers will want to BUY the wines in question. It's quite simple. My reviews are born more out of the necessity to provide some extra information to our customers in store about wines that may or may not have traditional print reviews or other types of point-of-sale references. The fact that I post them online is just extra exposure for the wineries themselves (another Google hit online perhaps?).

I have had people contact me, wanting to submit wines to review, but I think that due to the legal intanglements that are presented to me by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I would be prohibited from accepting these wines if they were shipped via the Postal Service, UPS, and the like. I have told some of them that if they wish to arrange samples to come via their distributors in the state, that would be fine, but the overall goal of my reviewing wines is more for my store's commerce than to just become the next Parker. The reviews available here at Grape Tree are primarily born from a passion for sharing tasting experiences with my local customers and my online audience, and are in no way meant to be anything more than my very subjective and often outspoken opinion.

By the way, to get a better understanding of wine reviewing, one of the premier wine writers, Jancis Robinson, has written a terrific essay called the Ethics of Wine Writing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Paso a Paso Verdejo 2007 is a delicious white wine from a grape more asscoiated with the more northernly Spanish region of Rueda. This particular 100% Verdejo comes from La Mancha, a region in central Spain which lies just south of Madrid. Less maritime influences and more humid weather lend to a richer, riper style of this normally very austere, crisp white. Elements of almost-meringue aromas and flavors abound with notes of lemon custard, lime zest, kiwi, guava and grapefruit. It's a light- to medium-bodied white wine that is ideal for warmer weather grilling, including seafood, chicken and turkey dishes. Another wonderful value from importer Jorge Ordonez.


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Vinum Cellars CNW 2007 is 100% Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg in California. It is a light, fragrant white crafted in the spirit of the Loire Valley Vouvray, with lime zest and orange blossom notes in the nose, and flavors of lemon, melon and slight spice notes. Aged 100% in French oak for 9 months, there is significant structure combining with well-balanced acidity and fruit character for a delicious, lively white wine that is just in time for the warmer weather.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


This month's topic for Wine Blogging Wednesday comes courtesy of Jeff at Good Grape, who in paying respect to the late great Robert Mondavi, asks us bloggers to share with all what from California inspired us in the business - what holds special memory and inspiration.

I've mentioned before that I haven't really been the biggest California fan, though having been in the restaurant and retail side of wine for almost half my life, I give credit where credit is due. I have lived in California very briefly (lasted just two months in Los Angeles) and have only vacationed there twice (both times with the wife). The duality of my California experience is night and day. I moved to L.A. right after it seemed the Apocalypse had struck, with the city still rebuilding after the Northridge quake, the flooding, mudslides, fires in the canyon, etc. so there was so much cleanup happening that the city looked and felt a mess. Yet my two trips to California, one the obligatory trip to Napa, and the other, a more relaxed, intimate journey into Sonoma, I really love thinking about driving down PCH from Guerneville back to San Francisco, stopping at Lucas Wharf for lunch and taking pictures at Goat Rock while a storm was just blowing past.

Jeff, in posting the topic for this month, said we COULD take the easy way out and write about a Mondavi wine, and believe me, I could have written about the 1997 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cab I still have in my cellar. I could have talked again about the St. Clement Oroppas and how that wine helped get my wife to marry me.

Yet the wine I think that really did it for me was revisiting the 1998 Verite on my last trip to Sonoma. I had tasted it when it had first been released, as a buyer for a small wine shop in Cincinnati back in 2001. I remember telling the winery rep that I couldn't really describe how good it was using simple wine descriptors (oak, fruit, etc.) but instead likened the wine to a poem by Pablo Neruda called "Body of a Woman." Definitely one of the most sensual poems ever written. You get the idea. The wine was absolutely incredible.

Fast forward to 2006, with my wife and I paying a visit to Verite out in Alexander Valley. With the hospitality manager and the vineyard manager, we tasted through the three 2001s - Le Muse, Le Joie and Le Desir. Each one a gorgeous California version of three different styles of Bordeaux. All three very young, yet still very expressive.

Then, for a treat, we tasted the inaugural 1998 release. I looked at my wife, knowing that I had been building this place up the whole trip over up to this point. I could see that up till now, she was extremely impressed. Yet here was a finale that I honestly don't think will ever be duplicated, at least not in my lifetime.
Tasting the 1998 was an ethereal experience. Time actually stopped. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it was simply just "wow!" I looked at my wife, and at our hosts, and it seemed as though the world outside just melted away. Layer upon layer of complex, concentrated red, black and blue fruit flavors, with a veritable pantry of spices dancing back and forth across the palate. It was sublime.
We proceeded to take a walk through the vineyard outside, the glass of ambrosia still in our hands. You always read excerpts from wine geeks who wax poetic about this wine or that, and you always find them at least fractionally ridiculous in their geekspeak. You think, "get a life, would ya?" And then a moment like this happens, and you finally understand where they are coming from; it was one of the best days I can recall.
Thanks to Jeff at Good Grape and as always, Lenn Thompson at WBW and Lenndevours for this great monthly ride.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


A lot of folks close to me know that I am continually studying for my Master Sommelier certification, as well as my Wine Educator certificate and my Master of Wine. It is a never-ending process of home schooling, like I am prepping for Finals every single day. I am not complaining, mind you, because in a lot of ways, I really miss school. Particularly college, because I went back later in life, and I was able to appreciate its significant impact on my life. I really liked being challenged to approach things in new ways, and think in manners I hadn’t imagined before.

Next month, I take my Certified Specialist of Wine exam, which is the first step in becoming a Certified Wine Educator. And in preparing for the exam, I am finding it in many ways, a more thorough and specific curriculum than when I took the 1st level MS test.

For starters, I find myself going over more of the specifics of general viticulture and how those processes pertain to the various winemaking grapes. There seems to be more time spent on the common traits of grape personalities (their general aromas and flavors in their resultant wines) and specifically how still, sparkling and fortified wines are made.

What I really enjoy about the study guide provided by the Society of Wine Educators (the organization charged with certifying the CSW and CWE students) is that each chapter on a given subject is authored by an expert in that particular field. For example, Alfredo Bartholomaus, president of Billington Imports, which represents such brands as Catena and Cousino-Macul, pens the chapter on Argentina, and Sharron McCarthy, VP of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, writes the chapter pertaining to Italy.

Currently, I am going over Fortified Wine Production, and specifically Sherry. I am not a fan of Sherry, though I appreciate and respect the level of difficulty that goes into Sherry, which not unlike Champagne, is one of the most difficult processes in winemaking.

The production of making sherry is completed in 13 steps: Pressing, Acidification, Racking (also known as Debourbage), Fermentation, Classification, Fortification, Aging, Growth of the Flor in Fino, Aging the olorosos, The solera process, Working the scales, Blending, and Finishing.

The main grape used for Sherry is Palomino, and typically, a bladder press is used to extract the juice from the grapes gently and cleanly, preventing bitter tannins to leech into the juice. After acidification, the Palomino juice goes through wild yeast fermentation which lasts anywhere from 3 days to a week at temperatures between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Afterward, malolactic fermentation is done.

The juice is then tasted and classified either fino or oloroso. Fino sherries are much drier, and can be either manzanilla, amontillado or fino. Oloroso sherries are sweeter and are broken down as oloroso or rayas. These wines are classified by a simple criteria of color, clarity, aroma and flavor. The lots that are the palest, clearest, most aromatic and least bitter are the highest valued and end up as finos.

Fortification begins with the addition of a grape spirit mixture, and the alcohol is raised to 15 to 15.5%. Olorosos go as high as 18%. The aging process is then begun in barrel, and depending on it being fino or oloroso, the wine takes a different path to bottle. For fino, the flor – a thin layer of yeasts on the surface of the wine that forms after fermentation – remains in contact with the juice to lessen acidity and increase density in the wine. In the case of oloroso, there is more direct oxygen contact with the juice, and oxidizes more rapidly to darken the color and add to its body.
The solera system comes into play after these processes. The solera is a gravity-flow tank system that feeds the wine from tank to tank, one below the next, feeding the youngest juice into the next oldest, and so on, until the resultant blend is the winemaker’s desired consistency.
At bottling, 5 to 33% of the oldest wine is removed from the solera and replaced with younger wine, called “scale” to balance out the wine, in each tank, so that the first tier is topped off with the current vintage wine, referred to as anada.

At blending, the wine is completed with what is can either be vino de color or vino dulce. The vino de color mix contains the darkened must of the Moscatel grape, while the vino dulce is that of the Pedro Ximenez. The wine is then fined with egg whites, filtered and cold stabilized before being bottled.
Granted, that is a pretty simple explanation, and there are details left out, but it gives you the general idea of how complicated the sherry winemaking process is.

There are six types of sherry:

Fino is thought of as the driest. It is light and delicate, with a salty, nutty quality.

Manzanilla is only slightly sweeter and darker than fino. There is more body, color and alcohol than fino.

Amontillado is even more maderized in flavor and aroma. And thanks to Edgar Allan Poe, is probably the most known of the sherries here in the U.S.

Palo Cortado is an extremely rare sherry that results rom no flor. It possesses the aromas of an amontillado yet the color and flavor of an oloroso.

Oloroso is a sweeter style and can be quite dark in color. It possesses a higher alcohol content and more glycerol notes than a fino.

Raya is more aromatic and seems more oxidized and maderized than oloroso.

For those of you who have always wanted to try sherry but have always believed that these are just cooking wines, a really unique food pairing is sushi and fino. It really works well together. It also goes great with omelettes and fritattas. And a chilled fino or manzanillo may be the best aperitif on earth. Give it a try.

Over the month of May, I’ll be filling you in on what I am reviewing next, and maybe you too can learn a bit more in the process.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Over the weekend, at one of our in-store tastings, I had a regular customer pose a question I hadn't really given a lot of thought to, with regards to my career in the wine business. It's one of those questions you never want to think about because you don't have any idea where those thoughts might lead you.

The question was: "Do you ever get sick of wine?"

The simple answer, unfortunately, would be yes, because when you deal with something on a day-to-day basis, you will naturally become a bit bored by it, no matter how hard you deny it. Yet in thinking, really thinking about it, I found it hard to come to the simple conclusion for a number of reasons.

It really got me thinking about something my father told me a long time ago. He always told me not to concentrate on one thing because you'll eventually burn out from that one thing, no matter how much you love it. I thought he was crazy because at the time, I had discovered music and wanted nothing more than to be the next David Lee Roth.

Inevitably, he was right, because after years of actually singing for rock bands, and living and breathing rock 'n' roll everyday as if nothing else existed or mattered, I was burned out completely.

These days, I juggle my wine job, writing, my wife, my cats, and all the crazy nuances of Life that we all deal with, making it almost impossible to focus on one thing. And while there are days where I'd skip drinking a glass of wine or a beer at home after work, I haven't tired one bit about my passion for the grape. I still want to know all there is to know about wine, yet I am not obsessed about it. There's more to Life than wine - wine should enhance Life, not be a substitute for it.

Everyone gets tired, and they need to take a break from things, recharge their batteries, get a fresh perspective. It happens to all of us. So answering a simple yes is really too simplistic. I will always be passionate about wine and the wine business, but often, Life comes first.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Thursday, another wine that Shannon and I tasted with Jen Thieman (our RNDC/Cumberland rep) was the Quinta do Vallado Douro Red 2006, a medium-bodied, fresh-fruit blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca and Sousao.

One of the difficult things about Portuguese reds are that most are expensive. There are very few out there under $20. Fortunately, this is one that will come in around $11.

Herbaceous and floral in the nose, you are met on the palate with loads of ripe red berry fruit flavors, coupled with hints of spice box, white pepper, violets, and fresh herbs. There is just a hint of oak present (85% the wine sees 14 months in stainless steel tanks and 15% sees 14 months in French oak) so there is just the added vanillin nuance from the wood. A really nice surprise in this day and age of rising prices, this red is definitely worth a try. Look for it this summer.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Yesterday, my former assistant and current RNDC-Cumberland rep Jen Thieman brought in some very cool samples sent to her by Megan Cushman, our regional rep for Quintessential Wines, a fairly new importer that currently handles the Henry's Drive and Pillar Box brands. Megan and I had been talking about bringing in some of the more esoteric stuff they carry from Italy and Portugal, and in particular, the wines of Malhadinha Nova.

Located in the Portuguese wine region of Alentejo, this amazing winery produces just two wines (both of which will be in this summer). There is a lovely white wine, and then the Malhadinha Nova Tinto 2005 - a rich, dense, complex blend of Aragones (Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

An elegant nose of dark black and red currants, acai berry, blackberry and spice notes greets you, luring you in slowly. The seductiveness that you encounter on the palate is immediate and unrelenting. Thick, rich and concentrated, the ripe berry flavors intergrate with more spices, some oak, splashes of earthiness and minerality, and more fruit on the finish.

Though this wine hovers above the $80 price tag, it beats the pants off a $200 Napa Cabernet anyday. Word to the wise - Portugal is not just about port wine anymore.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Wrapping up my little excursion into South Africa, there are a lot of undiscovered wine regions there that you should keep a lookout for:

Constantia is the renowned wine region that put South African wines on the map centuries ago, when legend had it that their sweet wines were some of Napoleon’s favorites. South of Cape Town, the region is highly-regarded for its Chenin Blancs of all levels of sweetness, though it also boosts some extraordinary Hanepoot (Muscat de Alexandria) wines.

Franschhoek is a small region that means “French Corner,” and is located just south of Paarl and east of Stellenbosch. Virtually surrounded by mountains, it possesses a cooler, wetter climate than its neighbors, lending itself much better to Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay.

Robertson is further east of Stellenbosch and is becoming more significant as more South African wines come into the U.S. market. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Colombard are the major grape varieties here, yet the sweet Muscadel wines are a regional specialty.

Worcester is situated directly east of Paarl and to the west of Robertson, is home to massive vineyard plots, providing up to ¼ of the wines produced in South Africa. Though a much hotter, more humid climate due to being further inland, water sources allow for constant irrigation and greater yields.

Swartland lies to the northeast of Paarl, following up along the Atlantic coastline. Meaning “black country,” this is reference to its dark, rich, fertile soils. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage are the primary grape varieties, yet Shiraz also fares well.

Olifants River adjoins Swartland in the north and is nearly 300 miles from Cape Town. Though very dry, the proximity to the coast provides a more temperate climate. Though small in yield, the cooperative in Vredenal produces around 50,000 barrels after harvest each year.

Other regions such as Wellington, Klein Karoo, Durbanville, Tulbagh, Douglas and Orange River are also becoming more productive. The trend in the industry is seeing many more wines from South Africa coming to American shores.

Some wines to look for from this great nation are the wines of Mulderbosch, Raats Family, Thelema, Rustenberg, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, Klein Constantia, Rudi Schutz, Columella, and Warwick Estates. Try a South African wine and you too will be a believer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2007 from the Paarl in South Africa, is a remarkably affordable "best-of-both-worlds" style of Chardonnay, giving you the elegance and fruit panache of a white Burgundy, with the creamy oak presence you'd find in a California Chardonnay. 100% Chardonnay, this wine sees a majority of French oak aging, 30% of that new, with some new American oak aging for depth and character. Lots of green stone fruit in the nose, with a touch of roasted nuts, maple toffee, spice and butterscotch. The flavors on the palate are splashes of Golden Delicious apples, honeydew melon, notes of pineapple and nectarine, with a well-balanced finale of tropical fruit and vanillin oak. Though quite fruit-forward, the hint of malo- as well as the rich, creamy oak make this a real crowd pleaser.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Paarl is one of the largest wine producing areas in South Africa, boasting the second-largest town in the Cape region, also called Paarl. Typically, the low-lying vineyards in Paarl have been used almost exclusively for Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Palomino (the primary grape used in Sherry). South African fortified wines come almost exclusively from the Paarl, due to the almost-exact latitude in the Southern Hemisphere as the Jerez in Spain, which means idyllic conditions for fortified wine production.

Paarl’s microclimate is Mediterranean in nature – hot and dry summers and usually damp winters. It is a warmer climate than Stellenbosch, with no real Maritime influences. The wines produced here typically are riper and richer than their counterparts in other parts of the Cape, with some producers opting for the legally allowed process of acidulation to balance out the sometimes-overpowering fruit.

There are a wide range of grape varietals grown in the Paarl. White varieties include: White Riesling, Cape Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Bouquet (a hybrid) Hanepoot, Muscat de Frontignan, Semillon and Pinot Gris. Reds include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Robust (a hybrid), Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Mourvedre, and Pinotage.

The town of Paarl is the headquarters of the KWV, which is the governing body that oversees wine viticulture and production in South Africa. The KWV was set up in 1918 to help reorganize the wine industry after a massive collapse caused by overproduction near the end of the 19th Century and the outbreak of phylloxera soon after the turn of the century. The umbrella corporation of numerous wine cooperatives, this legislative body implemented regulations to control the amount of grape vines per vineyard, the amount of tonnage cultivated per hectare, the amount of wine produced, and so on. Not until 1995, when restructuring occurred, did a number of estate producers begin producing better quality wines.

Look for some Paarl wines this week, as well as a look at some of the other regions of South Africa.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Mulderbosch Rosé 2008 from Stellenbosch is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Always one of my favorite wines, this dry Rosé is vibrant, lively and full of strawberry and cherry fruit aromas and flavors. Rose petals and fresh herbs are in the aromas as well, welcoming you with a beautiful Spring-like scent. On the palate, more red berry fruit flavors mix with floral, herb and mineral tones, leading you toward its bright, invigorating finish. This would be the perfect wine for lighter fare, or just cooling off on the warmer days.

Friday, May 1, 2009


In yesterday’s post, I spoke to you about South Africa’s Wine of Origin, mentioning it briefly. The establishment of the WO in 1973 was to follow the examples set forth in the wine trade by the French and Italian governments, in the hopes of better controlling the quality of South African wines, and to arrange a kind-of “quality” hierarchy.

If W.O. status is awarded to a winery, it guarantees to the consumer that the location on the label is exactly where the grapes originated. It also guarantees that if both grape variety and vintage on presented on the label, the wine is at least 75% of that varietal and that vintage year. Yet W.O. status is not granted automatically. Wines must be submitted by the winemakers themselves in order to be eligible, so a vintner can determine he doesn’t necessarily want W.O. status, and can thereby use the freedom of being unlabeled to blend as he/she sees fit.

There are 5 subdivisions under the general term of “origin:”

1. Estate = This refers to an estate that may consist of one or more farms, the estate uses grapes only for its own production of wine and the vinification process takes place ON THE ESTATE.

2. Ward = Small, defined growing area such as Constantia and Franschoek.

3. District = A large, contiguous area such as Stellenbosch or Paarl.

4. Region = A vast viticultural area such as the Breede River Valley in Stellenbosch.

5. Wineland = Not official; denotes the importance of the wine regardless of origin.

The major wine regions of South Africa are: Swartland, Tulbagh, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Worcester, Robertson, Darling, Walker Bay, Constantia (ward), and Durbanville (ward). The largest of these is Worcester, yet the most recognized worldwide is Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch, the region, boasts approximately 44,000 acres of vineyard, as well as the top enological and viticultural university on the continent, the University of Stellenbosch. Pinotage, the crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (known at the time in South Africa as hermitage) was created there in 1925 by Abraham Perold. For decades, there were only a few producers who treated the grape as a major variety, with most winemakers poorly vinifying or overproducing the grape, turning it into the polarizing grape it has a reputation for today. Many South African winemakers these days are establishing its benefits in blending, creating “Cape Blends” with either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Shiraz to maintain its unique winemaking identity in the world, and its proving to be a great combination.

Stellenbosch is where many of the best Pinotages are found, as well as the rise of world-renowned Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs. Also grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Semillon.

This weekend, I will have some tasting notes from a couple of Stellenbosch wines so stay tuned.