Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Half the year has gone by as of the end of business today. I am trying to collect my thoughts, get together wines for advertising, prep the wine dept. for Shannon’s trip to Bordeaux this week, and otherwise catch up on the little things that slip through the cracks.

I haven’t discussed much about the added sales tax our brilliant KY legislature added back in April. For the most part, people have dealt with it the best way they can, and we’ve adjusted our buying in order to offset the damage they (the KY legislature) have done. The upside is that we have maintained our price advantage over Ohio for now. The downside is that our warehouse is now busting apart at the seams. Our work has multiplied in trying to balance efficient inventory maintenance with competitive pricing – I would really like to get those bureaucrats to come down and help me move a couple pallets of wine every now and again. They could probably use a bit of “real people” work.

A post over at Fermentation by Tom Wark discusses the state of Wine Blogging after 5 years. A fairly new frontier in wine promotions and communications, Tom points out that, despite calls to the contrary, there is no real threat to traditional print media, and there is no clear leader in the wine blogging community. I agree with him on a lot of what he states, yet I feel that there are some bloggers out there who really do have something to say – despite the fact that there are literally thousands of wine bloggers out there (myself included). Joe Roberts from 1WineDude, Jeff Lefevre from GoodGrape, Megan at Sonadora, and the aforementioned Tom from Fermentation, along with the founding wine blogs of Vinography and Dr. Vino, and Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff are clearly the leaders to a great many of us in the blogosphere, though there is a veritable kaleidoscope of voices in the world of wine blogging that should be given a chance. While there is no real empirical data on readership of blogs (is it an incestuous readership or are the neophytes paying attention too?), the possibilities for wine blogging are still undetermined. It is my belief that, if implemented well, the wine blog can be a useful tool in connecting with wine fans, not just locally, but globally. Will we make money blogging about wine? Who knows. I do know that our little blog, while primarily focused on a local audience, still hopes to offer something to readers from wherever in this big world, and while we are relatively young, we hope to improve continually, and raise ourselves to the levels of the previously mentioned group of bloggers.
The quest for recession busting wines is endless, thanks to the recovery/no recovery going on in today’s economy. The wine business isn’t entirely recession-proof, and nowhere is that more evident than the “luxury brand” category. The Opus One customer is now looking for more affordable alternatives, and overall, most wine consumers we see are spending less per bottle than they used to, and with good reason. Yet despite this trend, there are wineries that have in the past, commanded ridiculously high prices, and show no signs of changing the ongoing price increases now. Particularly with Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont wines, the rationale for taking brands up in price when the times are already proving difficult to sell them at current retail prices, just baffles me. After attending the Penfolds seminar two weeks ago, learning that Grange was up to the $400-$450 range meant that only the super-elite could afford this one now. Maybe that is what these guys are going for – the super-elite. Ultimately though, you are making 1000 bottles of 50 people? Just numbers off the top of my head, but you get the point – is there really ANY point to that at all?

And change is coming for our stores – a name change that is. We’ve narrowed it down to a couple, and we will be unveiling the new name soon. With that, means changing the Web site name, our Facebook page, our staff phone numbers and email addresses, and a whole laundry list of stuff. But change is good, as I have often said, and our new name will give us a better identity and a better understanding for our customers of what it is we do around here. Until them, Liquor Direct it is. And Liquor Direct is where I am.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Yesterday I had one of those days that seem rare in these modern times. I spent the day with my wife, one that was free of worry or argument, and spent just living in the moment. I can’t speak for everybody, but I for one live in a pretty busy world, constantly working myself to the bone, taking virtually no vacations or personal days, and pretty much running around like a chicken decapitated.

What does this have to do with wine? A lot actually.

When you take the time to consider that wine has become a “life condiment,” and I am in the business of selling such a thing, in order to be believable, you have to sort of, participate in it. And yesterday I did just that.

My wife and I spent the day shopping for flowers and plants for the back terrace, a bit of antiquing, and finished things off with a couple of grilled steaks, some grilled veggies, and a bottle of Aussie Shiraz. I won’t bore you all with the details, because on days like yesterday, they aren’t important. What is important is recognizing how lucky you have it, even though with all the crap we all contend with on a daily basis, it is sometimes hard to see.

It was really one of those days where, as I laid in bed, getting ready to fall asleep, I thought to myself, “maybe if people could spend more days like this and less worried about things beyond their control, maybe the world would be a better place.” And maybe if they had a little wine to wash it down, it might even be better.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2005 is referred to as the “Poor Man’s Grange.” Derived from much of the same vineyard sources as its big brother, this amazing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (52% and 48% respectively) is a very impressive effort considering its price tag. Aromas of dark berry fruits, soy, malt, dates, bay leaf, rosemary, oak and sage slowly emerge from the glass as it aerates. The palate is awash with Darjeeling tea, olive tapenade, blackberry compote, cassis, camphor, tar, chocolate, espresso, cinnamon, mocha, coffee, and so much more. Layer after layer of complexity is revealed, with so much left to the imagination even after it’s finished. For coming in under $30, this is a helluva lot of wine for the price. And extremely ageworthy too.

Friday, June 26, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre 2007 is a wonderful blend of 75% Shiraz and 25% Mourvedre that is considered by the winemakers at Penfolds to be one of their best ever Bin 2’s. Really ripe and fairly complex for a wine of this price point, with hints of fresh blueberries, rhubarb, and fig, along with notes of black olives and smoked meat in the nose, continuing with the olive tapenade, figs, blackberry and boysenberry flavors. The nuance of aging in French and American oak for 12 months comes through, lending well to the long-lasting finish. I am really impressed with this wine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


One of the most interesting things I learned while studying for my CSW test (besides the fact that the study guide is in desperate need of updating) is that the Muscat grape is thought to be the ancestor to ALL grape varieties, not just white grapes, but ALL grapes. Very cool to know that this wonderfully aromatic, seductively sweet grape has mutated into different forms over time, transforming into the powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, the tannic Nebbiolo, the elegant Pinot Noir, and the vibrantly clean Gruner Veltliner to name just a few of the thousands of varieties out there.

There are several varieties of Muscat:

1. Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (also known as Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Frontignan, Moscato Bianco, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d’Alsace, Muskateller, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Moscatel Rosé, Sárgamuskotály, and Yellow Muscat.

2. Moscato Giallo (also called Goldmuskateller).
3. Moscato Rosa (also called Rosemuskateller).

4. Moscatel de Setúbal and Moscatel de Favaios

5. Muscat of Alexandria (also called Moscatel, Moscatel Romano, Moscatel de Málaga, Muscat Gordo Blanco, Hanepoot, Lexia, Gordo and Zibibbo).

6. Muscat Ottonel (also called Moskately).

7. Black Muscat (also known as Muscat Hamburg, Moscato di Amburgo).

8. Orange Muscat.
9. Muscat Crocant.

10. Moravian Muscat.

Muscat grapes are used for table wines, sparkling wines (as in Moscato d’Asti, made with the Muscat Canelli grape), dessert wines and fortified wines (like the Moscatel de Setúbal from Portugal), as well as Brandies and liqueurs (such as the Pisco from Peru and Chile, and Metaxa from Greece).

Muscat grapes have high concentrations of flavonoids, an antioxidant, in quantities at least as high as in many red grapes. There are a number of compounds in these grapes that give them the distinctively “muscaty” taste – peaches, apricots, honey, orange peel. They aromas and flavors of muscat are easily recognizable and very complex. Even the most ordinary muscats have significant aroma character.

One of my favorite Muscats has always been the La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti Vigneti Biancospino 2008, a fresh, vibrant example of the grape with frizzante, bright aromas of orange blossoms, honeysuckle and fresh apricots in the nose, followed by delicious, fresh white peaches, white plums, apricot, hints of honey, star anise, Rainier cherries and followed up with just the slightest sweetness on the finish. At 5.5% alcohol, it’s a very light and refreshing wine. Just a great wine for those nights on the patio with your significant other, watching the sun go down, and just unwinding after a long hot day.

Many of the Muscat wines are not dessert sweet, and are pretty satisfying as food wines, and not just dessert. Give the Spinetta a try with a light shrimp salad or some raw oysters on the half-shell. Sushi wouldn't be too bad either.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Saké is a beverage that has always fascinated me. I do not claim to be a true connoisseur of sake, yet I have always enjoyed the drink from afar, if that makes any sense. Until recently, this beverage made from fermented rice, has really been an anomaly in the spirits world, yet that has changed with a bit of a sake renaissance.

The history of sake goes back to around the third century in Japan, when during the advent of wet rice cultivation, farmers soon discover that rice left out uncovered after harvest would be apt to exposure to natural, airborne, enzyme-producing mold spores. The result would create a euphoric elixir for anyone who consumed it, and sake was born.

Saké is actually a very generic term used to describe all alcoholic beverages in Japan. In 1973, the Central Brewers’ Union (the governing body of sake producers) started to use the term nihonshu, which literally translated, means Japanese sake. Legally, sake is known as seishu, which loosely means “refined sake.

There are generally 9 types of saké:

Futsuu-shu, or regular sake. 2/3 of total production of sake falls into this category.

Honjozo-shu is made from rice that has been milled to 70%, meaning 30% of the outer grain has been removed. A small amount of alcohol is added to this blend. Junmai-shu is the same except made only with rice, koji (the mold that breaks starch into sugars), water and yeast. This makes the sake lighter and more fragrant.

Tokubetsu Honjozo-shu is made from higher quality rice or above average polishing of the rice grains. Tokubetsu simply means special. Tokubetsu Junmai-shu is again, made only with the rice, koji, water and yeast.
Ginjo-shu is a slightly more fragrant grade of sake, more complex and more delicate. The grains are milled to at least 60% but often higher than that. Again, with the Junmai Ginjo-shu, there is no added alcohol, which lends to a more sturdy, more acidic beverage.

Daiginjo-shu represents the pinnacle of the brewer’s craft. Made from the best sake rice, milled down to at least 50% (and as far as 55%) and results in a typically clean, fragrant and very delicate beverage. Junmai Daiginjo-shu usually tends to be a fuller-bodied sake, more complex and more intricate. This is often the highest designation of sake.

Some terms to remember:

Nama-zake – Unpasteurized sake.
Genshu – Undiluted sake.

Nigori-zake – Cloudy sake, with a good amount of the fermenting mash still inside.

Funa-shibori – Pressed from the lees in the old manner, by filling meter-long canvas bags with moromi (fermenting mash of water, rice, koji and yeasts), laying them in a large wooden box or fune, and cranking down the lid to squeeze out the liquid.

Shizuku – sake that has been separated out from the lees by allowing the sake to drip out from the bags, with no pressure applied.

Tobin-gakoi – sake separated into 18-liter bottles upon pressing, usually produced through the funa-shibori or shizuku methods.

Ko-shu – Aged sake.

Nama-chozo – saké that has been stored for 6 months and then pasteurized right before it is shipped.

Hiya-oroshi – Similar to nama-chozo yet this saké has been pasteurized before the 6-months in storage.

Yamahai Shikomi and Kimoto – Centuries-old techniques for creating the moto yeast starter mash.

Shiboritate – Younger than most sake, this has been brewed and pressed, and bottled without the customary 6 month maturation period.

Saké is made beginning with the key ingredient: rice. Only sake rice can be used for making sake. There are dozens of varieties of sake rice, yet they must meet the best of standards for the toji, or head brewer. The other major components of sake are: water, koji (a mold – the technical name is Aspergillus Oryzae), and yeast.

This weekend, I hope to post some tasting notes from some of the sakes we carry here at LDWS. It, like many other members of the wine and spirits world, offers some amazing aromas and flavors, characters to your senses that you should experience. I haven’t really even begun to scratch the surface of sake, yet plan to add to this “primer” if you will, over the next few weeks.

Cheers, or声援.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: I don’t usually start a review with an “oops, my bad!” but seems I was telling the folks at our tasting last weekend that the Torres Vina Sol 2007 was 100% Viuda. Well, it is actually 100% Parellada, a very light, delicate grape grown in Catalunya, and in Penedes as one of the main grapes used in Cava. Light and crisp, it demonstrates very mineral qualities in the nose with slight fennel notes. On the palate, hints of pineapple, apple, star anise, more fennel and mineral characters, with balanced acidity and a crisp, clean finish that lends itself well as an aperitif or a companion to salads and grilled shrimp.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


The Grade: AMAZING. The Mojo: The Botani Moscatel Seco 2008 is a remarkably dry version of the Moscatel de Alexandria from the Malaga region of Spain, a grape that usually when produced here, is of the dessert variety, very sweet. This delicious white wine shows off pretty white flower, apricot and honeydew aromas, followed by flavors of peach, more apricot, mineral, canteloupe, star fruit, and hints of cilantro and basil. It's a wonderfully refreshing wine that would pair well with some spicy prawns or an oyster roast.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Yesterday, Shannon and I were invited to a seminar on Penfolds, hosted by our Penfolds distributor, RNDC of Kentucky, and conducted by Jamie Stewart, Director for the Estate Wines of Fosters Wine Estates, Penfolds American importer. Jamie is a well-travelled, well-educated sommelier who has worked and studied in his native Australia, plus Japan, Russia and here in the states. Listening to him from start to finish, I was amazed at the expansive vernacular he used in not only describing the wines of Penfolds (there were 14 in this tasting line-up), but imparting a deep sense of pride and passion about the winery, both as a wine professional, and an Australian patriot. We were set to learn that Penfolds is regarded as a National Treasure in Australia, and there winemaking philosophy has been second-to-none for over 160 years.
Our good friend Lou Schnier, from RNDC-Barkley Division, chauffeured us down to the event, and it was extremely appreciated – the lineup was very impressive, beginning with the Thomas Hyland series Riesling 2007, and ending, remarkably, with the 2004 Grange.

[Oh yeah.]

In the first flight of four wines, we tasted three white wines, something Penfolds isn’t as renowned for as their reds, but nonetheless, well-made wines, and a limited-edition Pinot Noir. The Thomas Hyland Riesling 2007 is indicative of Australian Riesling in that it isn’t that sweet, cloying German version that most people think of when one says “Riesling,” instead opting for an Alsatian style, dry, with a well-balanced acidity and a good sense for food. Perfum-y and minerally in the nose, with a slightly glycerol mouthfeel and notes of baked Brioche, melon, fig, apricot, a bit of paraffin on the back in, and remarkable presence throughout its multilayered finish. The Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2007 is full of nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice in the nose, along with notes of Golden Delicious apples picked fresh from the tree. The palate exhibits toffee, butterscotch, more apples, pears, marscapone, some lemon zest, and caramel. There is lots of bright acidity to offer balance and just a very pleasing finish. The Yattarna Chardonnay 2006 is much more fragrant than the Thomas Hyland, with just a whole spice rack full of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, star anise, nectarine, tangerine, pear, apple, marsacpone, buttered toast, vanilla, Meyer lemon, gingerbread cookies, glycerol, it just goes on and on and on. It’s a full-bodied, sinfully-decadent Chardonnay (and an equally decadent price tag). The Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 is a small-production, experimental release, with fruit primarily coming from Tasmania. There are red flowers, fresh herbs, and candied berries in the nose. Cherry, red currant, pomegranate, hints of cinnamon and allspice all show up right away, with elements of Kirsh, bitter chocolate, beetroot, rhubarb, strawberry, cranberry, Bing Cherries, and smoke intermingling, with balanced acidity and an almost tart sweetness on the finish.

The second flight were four of the infamous Bin wines, some of Penfolds’ most recognized wines. Up first, the Bin 2 Shiraz/Mourvedre 2006 was impressive, with hints of Blueberry extract, fresh baked Rhubarb pie, roasted venison and smoke in the nose. In the mouth were notes of blueberry syrup, hickory smoke, mineral, olive tapenade, blackberries, black currants, cloves, cinnamon, dark chocolate, coffee and tar. A very nice red for the money, I reminded myself I needed this one back in the store. The Bin 138 Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvedre 2006 is somewhat limited, and a slight homage to the wines of the Southern Rhone. Here you get aromas and flavors of blackberries, blueberries, loganberries, mulberries, boysenberries, red flowers, rose petal, mineral, peat, smoke, dark berry compote, black tea, Kona coffee bean, and a sundry of herbs and spices. It was quite impressive, but I learned right away it was a hard one to come by; only 7 cases for the state of Kentucky. The Bin 128 Shiraz 2006 is of a Coonawarra appellation, which usually guarantees a prominent eucalyptus character, but not here. Rich, supple, with rhubarb, roasted game, black cherry, blackberry, cola nut, espresso, chocolate, coffee, Cherries Jubilee, raspberry petits fours, baking spices, herbs, petrol and boysenberry just for starters – this wine just gives you layer upon layer of character. It is a beautiful wine. The Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006 is primarily a single-vineyard Shiraz, and often stark contrast to the Bin 128. Dark berry fruit abounds with red flowers, vanillin oak, fresh-baked blueberry pie, raspberry compote, garrigue, red tea leaves, candied red fruits, cassis, black plum, French Roast coffee, and chocolate covered almonds. It’s a more robust, masculine counterpart to the Bin 128, offering up more robust tannins, and presenting a much chewier, more brawny presence on the palate.

Drifting into the sexier realm of Penfolds’ portfolio, our next flight featured first, what has often been called “the Poor Man’s Grange”: the Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2006. Revisiting this wine was a real treat, and I was reminded of just how good this wine really is. Aromas and flavors of soy, blackberry, blueberry, mulberry, boysenberry, loganberry, fresh herbs, cola nut, brine, olives, oolong and Darjeeling teas, cassis, cedar, chocolate, espresso, olive tapenade, the stuff just kept coming. Jamie remarked, “this is just a destructively good wine.” Truer words never spoken. The Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is really their top Cabernet from vintage to vintage (the 707 doesn’t come out every year). Aromas and flavors of menthol, mint leaves, cocoa, cola, currant, blackberry, baked cherries, chicory, cedar, mineral, suede, rosemary, dill, marjoram, camphor, bay leaf, coffee – notes of a kitchen come to life just oozed from the glass. The Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 delivered even more and bigger notes, a crescendo of dark berry fruit, plum, coffee, black teas, peat, thyme, mint, basil, almond biscotti, cassis, and just the gamut of savory and sweet. I was really impressed with the depth of flavor and the personality that seemed as though it could evolve and age with the best of Bordeaux.

Our last flight finished up with three of the real jewels of the Penfolds family of wines. The first is the unsung St. Henri Shiraz 2005. A gorgeous, Claret-style Shiraz that really shows a completely different side of Penfolds. Nutmeg and cinnamon in the nose with root beer, licorice, blackberry, black and red currant, pomegranate, chocolate and coffee aromas and flavors, intermingle with menthol, cedar, plum, clove, and even a hint of that rhubarb that is evident with most Aussie wines. Always overlooked, this touching homage to a disheartened winemaker’s lost child and the lost wine made in his memory. The RWT 2006 is a relatively new wine for Penfolds, and a continually evolving project. Standing for “Red Winemaking Trial,” this wine has become a huge cult hit. Blackberry, blueberry, cassis, licorice, coffee, espresso, cocoa, beef brisket, forest floor, roasted gamy, thyme, black olives, tar, mint, raspberry – it’s all there, in a multidimensional display of ethereal winemaking artistry.

The finale of course, was the Grange 2004, which as even our guide, Jaime, indicated, was a bit like “statutory rape.” Quite young, but still able to communicate its pedigree, this phenomenally awe-inspiring wine came at you with curry, cumin, black tea, milk chocolate, coffee, blackberry compote, black currant, cedar, maple nut, soy, malt, eau-de-vie, menthol and vanillin oak. Tasting this wine, despite it being opened for nearly 2 hours, was still muted and shy, even with all those layers of aromas and flavors sneaking in. You knew that there was far more in store for this wine, but we had come to the end of the presentation.

We were given a book called “The Rewards of Patience,” a summation of tasting notes compiled by Australian wine writer James Halliday, along with wine writers Ch’ng Poh Tiong of Singapore, Joanna Simon from the U.K., Huon Hooke of Australia and Joseph Ward of the U.S. Compiled by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, with notes from winemaker Peter Gago, it is a wonderful history of Australia’s most renowned and treasured winery, and a look inside the various wines they produce – warts and all. Penfolds is never one to shy away from criticism, and as we learned in that seminar, their overall goal is not conformity or the latest trend, but consistency and excellence.

I have discovered a new respect and appreciation for Penfolds and the wines they produce. My only negative point of the tasting was Jaime’s declaration of the Grange’s dramatic increase in price, due to counterfeiting and auction pricing concerns. I didn’t wish to know that Grange is now, essentially out of reach for most of us – it is simply a luxury item like Krug, Romanee-Conti and Petrus. I felt that Jaime ended what would have been a completely astonishing seminar with an almost-elitist punctuation. At least the Bin series is affordable enough for us common folk to enjoy.

Still, I have to thank Jaime for the really informative seminar, and all our friends at RNDC for hosting the event.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Trying to take a few minutes to collect myself after what has been a whirlwind week of things, I simply wanted to recap a few of the goings-on in and around the wine world, and not really think so much about the stuff here at the store.

Reading wine blogs has become as much a part of my daily reconnaissance as picking up the newest print media, from Wine Spectator to the Wall Street Journal. Whatever information I can get from any source is of major benefit to me and my wine buying position because here in the Tri-State (the metro area of Cincinnati where Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana come together), it’s a dog-eat-dog world of wine retail; you always want to be first with something.

First of the items I came across was the unfortunate passing of Paul Avril, owner of famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer Clos des Papes. I am a big lover of the wines of this region, so the news was a big shock. Monsieur Avril spent a quarter-century elevating his family’s estate to one of the top wineries in the world, dedicating the estate to the perfecting of just one wine – no single-vineyard or reserve wines. Paul succumbed to a long bout with cancer. He will truly be missed.

Reading 1WineDude, wine blog of Joe Roberts, one of the coolest writers on the Web right now, he mentioned a recent post by renowned wine writer Alice Feiring, who while alluding to another writer’s lamenting of the state of PAID writing jobs disappearing, hinted that she may be hanging up her career very soon. The article is shocking, in that I don’t think I could think of a single wine writer not influenced in some way by Alice, including me. She has a phenomenal perspective on the wine world and the world in general, and her commentary would be missed deeply. Her post got me to evaluate my aspect in all of this, which is miniscule at best. I write a wine blog, as an extension of my position here at Liquor Direct, but also out of the sheer love of this business. I am truly blessed to have found this career path, even though I have no idea where exactly I will end up in the twilight of it all. While I do not get paid for this blog, I can technically quantify it as part of my job so thereby technically I do get something for it. Yet I also write this blog because ever since I was 10 years old, I have wanted to be a writer. Fiction, poetry, whatever – I have always wanted to write. The reality of that point is that you have to be extremely lucky to get a book contract or position with a magazine or newspaper these days, and even then, you may lose that job quicker than you could imagine thanks to the rotten economy right now. So I do this, not in hopes of scoring a big book deal a la Gary Vaynerchuk, but simply out of the love of writing. I hope that Alice will reconsider her stated intentions and continue to bless us with her wisdom. She is the faerie queen of this wine world, and bestows upon us a magic that only the truly impassioned can possess.

On the business aspect of things, the megacorps like Constellation Brands and Winebow continue to morph and change, with Constellation Brands jettisoning underperforming vineyards in Australia, and consolidating distribution into one wholesale house in most states. Winebow continues to grow, despite the economic downturn, adding famed Argentinean producer Catena to its non-Italian stable of brands. Sutter Home has entered into a marketing arrangement with Joel Gott which has unforeseen consequences on pricing in the future. Fosters Wine Estates has eliminated Seaview, a terrific Aussie sparkling producer, from the American market, as well as Yellowglen another sparkler from Down Under. Dead weight castoffs, mergers, and acquisitions, it's a brave new world.

As I patiently wait for my CSW test score, I wonder “what’s next?” and contemplate the continuous string of changes that occur almost daily in this industry. It’s a remarkable thing, change. My psychology professor would always tell us, “life is change, stagnation is death.” For nothing to change, and everything to remain the same, that is most certainly a death warrant. I used to think that was crazy talk, but now, I see, that’s just the way it is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Beringer Alluvium Blanc 2007 is a wine I don't often get to, sadly I must admit it is simply due to the name. Everyone in this business has a jaded outlook on the Beringer White Zinfandel, though, despite all the protesting one can do in this industry, it is far-and-away one of the main reasons why we are all still in business. Yet because of the White Zin, I most certainly am guilty of overlooking the amazing wines they can make thanks to the success of their White Zin. Case-in-point, the Alluvium Blanc is a delicious blend of predominately Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (with 9% Chardonnay and 1% Viognier) that delivers a light- to medium-bodied white wine with some barrel fermentation for depth and density, displaying an overall character of creamy lemon, apple, toast and nut aromas and flavors that lead into a crisp, dry finish. It's a wonderful wine for anytime, but the summertime is ideal for it's clean, refreshing style.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Kind of going with the Twitter flow, and much thanks to Katie at Gonzo Gastronomy for the recent music and wine WBW, I had the crazy idea to do a regular Monday Music and Wine post. For those of you who know me, it's really not that far a stretch - it combines my two biggest passions - wine and music - into one nice piece for Under the Grape Tree.

So this week, ironically enough, the good folks at Wine Expedition and our good friend Michelle at My Wine Education tipped me to the upcoming documentary called "Blood Into Wine: The Arizona Stronghold." The movie chronicles Tool/Perfect Circle lead singer Maynard James Keenan and his business partner/winemaker Eric Glomski, and their efforts to start a vineyard in Northern Arizona. Done by the producers of other musically-themed documentaries "Moog" and "My Heart is a Drum Machine," the film is due out in 2010. You can check out the trailer here or visit http://www.wineexpedition.com/ for more details. Until then I will be trying very hard as always to score some of their award winning wines from Caduceus, Page Springs and of course, the Arizona Stronghold Vineyards.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: What I really love to find whenever I am searching for new wines for the store, is an incredible value in French wines. Let me introduce to you the Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie Rouge 2007, a remarkable value red blend, comprised of Merlot and Tannat from the VDP des Cotes de Gascogne appellation. I was just blown away by this wine, and immediately ordered 2 pallets of the stuff (I don't normally do that) because it's awesome, and I can sell it for $6.99! Unfortunately, my sales rep wasn't told it was sold out - so I have had to wait for almost three months to finally have it in the store. It's a really well-balanced wine, with the softness, subtle tannins, and red fruit and spice notes carried from the Merlot, washing together effortlessly with the unctuous, jammy notes of black fruits from the robust Tannat grape. Some oak aging gives it a velvety and vanillin quality, and it shows astonishingly well with grilled pork chops, burgers, pizza and other easy fare. This is one to buy by the case.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: In continuing my coverage of South African wines, I sort-of rediscovered my favorite South African Sauvignon Blanc producer, Neil Ellis. A few years ago, the winery introduced their "Sincerely" line, and I've been hooked ever since. The Neil Ellis Sincerely Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is a delicious, light-bodied SB that comes from several vineyards spread between the Groenekloof and Stellenbosch districts and is a completely tank-fermented, crisp, brazen SB full of lemon zest, fresh grapefruit, guava and kiwi notes, hints of herbaceousness, and well-balanced acidity. It's a terrific pairing for the deck this summer, and would marry well with raw, chilled oysters, chilled shrimp, or light salads.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Chile has been a fairly easy wine subject, in that my store’s Chilean wine section continues to grow and grow. It is arguably one of the best selling categories for us right now, and is certainly based primarily in Bordeaux varietals. Carmenere, Chile’s signature grape, is one of the hottest things on our shelves right now, thanks to our wine madman, Alfonse, as well as the entire LD team.

Studying for the test (which I will have taken earlier this morning – I love posting ahead of schedule), here are the review questions the SWE study guide has given me:

1. Define the Chilean borders and describe their significance. There is a desert to the north, the Andes to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and Antarctica to the south. Their geographical location has cut them off from the world, and has subsequently kept their vines, all of which are pre-phylloxera vines from Europe, are actually impervious to the threat of phylloxera.

2. What is the largest fine wine region in Chile? Maule Valley

3. What is Pais? A red grape variety also known as Mission in the U.S. and Criolla in Argentina.

4. What influences Chile’s weather patterns? The Pacific Ocean and its cold Humboldt Current.

5. Rainfall increases and temperatures decrease as you progress south and east down Chile’s Central Valley, true or false? True.

6. Describe the “rule of 75 percent”. The minimum requirements for Varietal, estate bottling, vintage and place of origin.

7. In Chile, much of what was believed to be Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot actually turned out to be something else. What? In the case of Sauvignon Blanc, it is actually Sauvignon Vert (a clone of Sauvignon Blanc also called Sauvignonasse or Tocai in Italy). For Merlot, the grape is actually Carmenere, which is fast-becoming Chile’s signature grape (as Malbec has for Argentina).

8. A fourth of Chile’s Chardonnay hails from one wine region. Which one? The much colder, more coastal Casablanca Valley.

9. Name three growing regions within Chile’s Central Valley. Maipo Valley, Rapel Valley, Curico Valley. Also Maule Valley.

10. What wine growing district lies at the southern end of Chile’s Central Valley? The Bio-Bio Valley.

Hopefully, this and all the other info I have been swallowing has paid off. I will let you know in 6-8 weeks. (Wha?!)

Thursday, June 11, 2009


One of the toughest wine regions for me to understand fully is Austria. As a category in our stores, it’s quite small; there isn’t a big demand for them in this area. With that being said however, the wines from Austria are remarkably compatible with food, particularly the white wines made from Gruner Veltliner (Austria’s #1 grape) and Riesling (a much drier style than their German counterparts). Indeed, a great deal of Asian-fusion-themed restaurants the world over have embraced Gruner Veltliners for their clean, fresh flavors and bracing acidity – a perfect combination with the plethora of exotic spices in Thai, Indian, and Pan-Asian fare.

In the countdown study mode, my review questions for the chapter on Austria are as follows:

1. What is Ausbruch? In Germany, the tiers of sweetness from driest to sweetest are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese. Austria has a similar stratification of “levels of sweetness” with some additions, Ausbruch being one of them. Ausbruch falls between the BA (beerenauslese) and TBA (trockenbeerenauslese) categories, sort of taking the place of Eiswein, although there are Austrian Eisweins. Ausbruch wines are made from the must of late-harvest but NON-BOTRYTISED grapes to a must of grapes AFFECTED BY BOTRYTIS. The two are combined and fermented together, and the grapes must all be from the same vineyard.

2. What is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria? Gruner Veltliner, a grape variety almost entirely Austrian, with a flavor profile of arugala, pineapple and hints of white pepper.
3. What is the significance of the Heurige culture in Austria? “Heurige” is translated as “this year’s” and refers to both new wine and the vintner-owned taverns and wine bars that serve food alongside proprietary wine.
4. Describe the cause and effect of the Austrian wine scandal. In 1985 (the year I graduated high school - coincidence?), several winemakers were discovered to having adulterated their wines with diethylene glycol to give them more body. After exposure to the scandal in the international press, the exporting of Austrian wine was decimated. Having been infamous for some of the most lax regulations in the world, Austria used the scandal to get tough, initiating what has been regarded as the strictest regulations in the industry today. Because of this change in wine laws, Austria is now amongst the highest in quality wine production.

5. Are the following grape varieties white or red? Blauer Zweigelt, Portugieser, Zierfandler, Morillon, St. Laurent, Rotgipfler, Blauer Wildbacher, Gruner Veltliner. Blauer Zweigelt (referred to as Zweigelt) is red, Portugieser is also red, Zierfandler is white, Morillon is actually the Austrian term for Chardonnay (so white), St. Laurent – red, Rotgipfler – white, Blauer Wildbacher – red (though it usually produces a rosé), and Gruner Veltliner – white.

6. Which Austrian wine region has its own classification system? Wachau. There are 3 tiers (ranked from lightest to fullest-bodied): Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd.

7. What is Sturm? What is Schilcher? What is Uhudler? Sturm is the tradional drink of the Sudsteiermark region made from grape must and roasted chestnuts. Schilcher is a tart, herbal rosé from the Weststeiermark region made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape. Uhudler is a wine from the Sudburgenland region made from an almost-extinct Vitis labrusca grape.

8. Where does Kabinett fall in the Austrian Wine Pyramid? Unlike Germany, Kabinett actually falls outside the Pradikatswein designation; it is a qualitatswein, which is of lesser quality than the Pradikatswein (the top tier).

9. It is illegal to add Sussreserve to Pradikat wines in Austria, true or false? False. Sussreserve is translated as “sweet reserve” and refers to grape must with all natural sugars. It would be akin to chaptalization (the addition of sugar and water to grapes not reaching their optimum levels of sweetness), which is illegal in the making of Pradikatswein as well.

10. Name three wine regions within the Niederosterreich (Lower Austria). Wachau, Kremstel and Kamptal. Also in Lower Austria, Wagram, Traisental, Carnuntum, Weinvertel, and Thermenregion.

11. What is Austria’s largest wine district? Weinvertel in Lower Austria.

Hopefully, I can wrap my head around Austria before Friday morning.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


FINALLY! Thanks to Kate at Gonzo Gastronomy and Wine Blogging Wednesday #58, I get to marry my two favorite passions, wine and music. As a third-generation musician and “retired” rock ‘n’ roll singer, music has always been the stabilizing force in my life. I have always been an uber-geek about music, and much to my friends’ and families’ surprise, when I dove into the wine business, I became equally as dorky about wine.

Now the super-hard part… trying to choose the music AND the wine to write about for this post. For the wine, I choose the American expat husband-and-wife winemaking team of Domaine de la Gramiere. For the music, I choose the retro-rock pop of up-and-coming band Spy For Hire, and the blues rock shenanigans of my good friend Eric Jerardi.

I was recently turned onto La Gramiere Rouge 2006 by my good friend Wendy Huff, from Heidelberg Distributing. After having landing the Kermit Lynch portfolio for Kentucky, Wendy went a bit crazy (she describes Kermit as her “Mick Jagger”) and began bringing by a little bit of the KLWM book at a time, eventually bringing by the La Gramiere Rouge 2006, a delicious, robust medium- to-full bodied blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. From start-to-finish, this wine is created by two people working with one beautiful vision: to make wine that is born out of love, the love of the land, the grape, and each other. Amy Lillard and Matt Kling do everything from vineyard management, harvesting, crushing and bottling their one wine which is a wonderful red for all you New World wine fans who want to love a good French wine. It has definitely become one of my favorite wines of late, and another reason why I’ve become such a huge supporter of Kermit Lynch wines. Check out winemaker Ann Lillard’s blog, http://www.lagramiere.typepad.com/.

Spy For Hire is a band that reminds me of all that was really good about the 80’s, with a modern-day spin. Their new album, Speak in Numbers, is produced by one of my oldest friends, Dale Adams, with whom I started my first band back in high school. Dale has gone on to producing a lot of up-and-coming acts in the Atlanta area, with this band being, at least up until now, his tour de force. Drinking the La Gramiere along with this disc, not to sound like a big cornball (all though I am, really), but I feel like life has suddenly become some John Hughes movie, with me back in high school, trying to win over the prom queen while dodging some nefarious bully. To hear them for yourselves, check out http://www.myspace.com/spyforhire.

Eric Jerardi has been playing a hard rock version of blues for some time now – I can still remember seeing him in his old cover band 18th Emergency back at Katz Night Club in Kettering some 15 years ago. Eric has gone on to open for Robin Trower, Buddy Guy, and a host of others, and has on his last two records, played with two of rock’s best keyboardists – Chuck Leavell and Al Gamble. Listening to Eric’s latest disc, “Restless,” I feel a bit more like I am in a Bruckheimer movie, with way more action and a lot less comedy, although listening to his songs “My Dog (Ain’t Gonna Fetch No Stick from Your New Man)” and “Don’t Bring The Bail,” I break out laughing between swallows. To hear more from Eric Jerardi and the Eric Jerardi band check out http://www.myspace.com/ericjerardiband. [I credit Eric with a lot of my passion for wine as he has one of the best palates of anyone I know, and when he's not playing, he has a wine store called The Little Store in Vandalia, OH (it's where I got my start as a pro wino).]

It is honestly a difficult thing for me to equate feelings with experiences, because every moment is different than the one before, and had I done this on a day when work sucked, or my wife and I just had a fight, I would be sucked into some sort of Scorsese mode, or have the feeling I am a bit extra in a David Lynch movie. If it was a better day, it might as well be a Kevin Smith flick. (Oh, I love movies too.)

Thanks again to Kate at Gonzo Gastronomy for hosting this month’s topic and as always to Lenn at Wine Blogging Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap 2008 is a very cool red blend from the Franschoek Valley in South Africa. Comprised of 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, and 2% Viognier, this Rhone-inspired red is rich, dense and bordering on full-body characteristics. Loaded with aromas and flavors of blackberries, smoke, black pepper, roasted game, blueberries, tobacco, earth, chocolate and oak. It's a big wine for just under $10, and it's ideal for barbeque ribs or grilled steaks.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I’ve been cramming for this Certified Specialist of Wine exam for a couple weeks now (it’s basically Level 1 of the Certified Wine Educator course) and I found myself stopping for a few minutes to reflect on this long, strange trip I’ve been on the last two decades. What started as a part-time job as a busser and dishwasher at a restaurant in Evendale, Ohio called the New Orleans House, meandered into the plan to get my various wine certifications and be a wine know-it-all for hire. I drifted in-and-out of restaurant jobs, even entertaining the idea of owning my own restaurant (which I had envisioned to be called “Vermilion”), which I quickly abandoned after returning home to Ohio to go back to college.

It honestly wasn’t until my last full-time restaurant job, as bar manager for a little place called Café Boulevard back in 2000 that I entertained the idea of biting the proverbial bullet and pursuing a career in wine. Leaving that restaurant behind, I found myself at a small wine shop in Vandalia called The Little Store, where blues guitarist/fellow wino/good friend Eric Jerardi showed me the promised land – that being the great wines of Italy and France.

Thanks to another good friend/mentor Mark Maher, owner of Cutting Edge Selections in Fairfax, OH, for helping me get into what many in the biz have called “Wine University” in these parts, Chateau Pomije, in O’Bryonville. I have to thank Tim Shumrick for giving me the opportunity to learn the retail buying side of things, and exposing me to many of the great wines I have come to love today.

I ended up here at Liquor Direct Wine & Spirits, across the river in Covington, in September 2002, and it has been a non-stop whirlwind ever since. The winemakers, importers, brokers and sales reps that I have met over the years have had a profound impact on my ever-burgeoning love of wine, and I can honestly say, without a doubt, that despite all the headaches and frustration that comes around in this business, I truly have one of the coolest jobs on earth.
Many thanks to the cast and crew of the now defunct restaurant/night club Night Moods in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the amazing folks whom I helped to open Dick’s Last Resort in North Myrtle Beach as well, the good people of Twin Lakes Seafood Restaurant in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (not sure if they are still open) and Marina Raw Bar, in Little River, South Carolina for exposing me to the Food & Beverage business in a big, dramatic way! Special thanks to Joey Sacco, Mike LaPlante, Jeannie Reid, Daniel Clopton, Ralph Hunn and everyone at Night Moods who helped save me from myself.

Big thanks to everyone at Damon’s, Country Club of the North, Sycamore Creek Country Club, and most importantly, the Bayou Café, all of Dayton, Ohio, for being as supportive as possible to a daydreaming oaf like myself. Especially to the folks of the late Bayou Café, who were the closest thing I could have ever had to extended family – I miss you all.

To all those involved with Café Boulevard in Dayton, Ohio – I stayed there longer than any other restaurant I worked at, and most importantly, to Chefs Chris Velden and Justin White, for being two of the most impressive, creative people I had ever worked with up to that point.

I was privileged to have worked, though briefly, for Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel, when I served part-time at the old Pho Paris in Oakley. Jeff Hickenlooper, Mary Le, Jared Whalen and all the folks I was able to work with, inspired me to be the best I could be, even though I was moonlighting there while still running the wine department here at LD.

I’ve got to meet a lot of great people in this business, from David Schildknect (the world’s foremost authority on German and Austrian wines) and Sara Floyd (Jorge Ordonez’s superstar sommelier) to winemakers Michael Honig, Laely Heron and Luis Reginato (of Luca and Tikal). I am truly blessed to be a part of this business and hope to inevitably make the kind of contribution to this industry that so many of my peers have done. The list is truly massive, but here are just some of the folks that helped me along the way (who I haven’t mentioned above):

Sean McKown, John Drake, Hootie, Frank Braddock, Mike Frazier, Paul Shaw, Scott Davis, Mike Bowman, Jim Sheets, Wendy, Patty Click, Eva Christian, Audra Huelsman, Shanna Ramsey, Sara Staloch, Craig Cooper, Heidelberg Distributing of Dayton, Ohio, Ohio Valley Distributing, Bob Bowditch, Rick Dearworth, Julie Szabo, Maureen Hunley, Brian Scott, L.R. Hunley, Steve Dinnerstein, Marty Piazza, Rich Collins, Lisa Sweeney, Kevin Chaney, Todd Williams, Cory Nordhof, Jamie Dickerhoof, Matt Baugher, Ed Chalupa, Audrey Wood, David McDade, Christine Ahern, Ed Travis, Jeff Bundschu, Lou Morelli, Eugenia Keegan, Liz Rutherford, Jim Teegarden, David Kantor, Todd Brill, Patrick and Connie Allen, Brian Talley, Shirley Brooks, Pat Kerrigan, Stephane Brocard, Amelia Ceja, Catherine Timmins, Pat Hanna, Gordon Hullar, Todd Nikolai (RIP), Jeff Bodnar, Larry Gurner, Chris Webb, Tom Cartlidge, Bruce Robson, Christophe de la Fontaine, Linda Taylor, John Erickson, Matt McCormack, Richard Tiedemann, Harrison Jones, Jill Leslie, Laura Ginn, Wayne Dutschke, Michele Jordan, Pat Henderson, Colleen Glennon, Antonio Morescalchi, Pam Starr, Drew Neiman, George Hendry, Trent Moffett, Walter Schug, Nicole Roth, Michael J. Phillips, Richard Bruno, Isabel Fernandes, James Hutton, Susie Selby, Liz Hugo, George Geris, Dave Schumann, Artie Bonanno, Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, Morgan Hartman, Adam LaZarre, Michael DeLoach, Bruce Neyers, Greg Graziano, Roy Cloud, Jose Pastore, John Given (RIP), Josefa Concannon, Theda Doane, Eric Danninger, Kristin Freund, Joy Merrilees, Giampaolo Cherubin, Thomas Halby, Megan Cushman, Jody Bogle VanDePol, Kent Savitt, Matt Citriglia, Jeff Lefevre, Joe Roberts, Thea Dwell, Lisa De Bruin, Michelle Lentz, Mike Rosenberg, Tim Lemke, Jonathan Seeds, and the list goes on and on.

Of course, I have to thank the Depenbrock clan and everyone at LD for continuing to give me the motivation I need to keep striving toward getting better. And my wife - that goes without saying - the reason I get up every morning and the big factor in why I want to continue in this business (besides the passion for it of course).

It feels good sometimes to just stop and thank those that have helped you along the journey to wherever it is you may be going.


Sunday, June 7, 2009


Robert Johnson and the DOCG wines from Italy: What the hell do these things have in common? The number 29. That’s how I am going to remember the 29 DOCG wines of Italy. Robert Johnson, arguably the greatest blues guitarist of all time, wrote only 29 songs before he died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 27 in 1938. “Crossroad Blues” could equate to the Franciocorta wines of the Lombardy region, and “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” could be Moscato d’Asti. I could designate “Hellhounds On My Trail” as Carmignano, and “Come On In My Kitchen” as “Sagrantino dei Montefalco.” I am just being arbitrary, but I think it’s a pretty effective way for my musically-dominated mind to work for this upcoming test.

For those of you that don’t know what DOCG means or even stands for, the DOCG designation on Italian wines simply delineates the highest quality levels available. This means that wines that are DOCG-designate are the best of the best. There are 29 wines that have been ceritified DOCG (which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Grantita or “controlled and guaranteed origin”):

From Piedmont: 1) Barbaresco, 2) Barolo, 3) Brachetto d’Acqui, 4) Gattinara, 5) Gavi, 6) Ghemme, 7) Moscato d’Asti;

From Lombardy: 8) Franciacorta, 9) Valtellina Superiore, 10) Sforzato (Sfursat);

From Veneto: 11) Bardolino Superiore, 12) Recioto di Soave, 13) Soave Superiore;

From Friuli-Venezia Giulia: 14) Ramandolo;

From Emilia-Romagna: 15) Albana di Romagna;

From Tuscany: 16) Brunello di Montalcino, 17) Carmignano (red only), 18) Chianti, 19) Chianti Classico, 20) Vernaccia di San Gimignano, 21) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano;

From Umbria: 22) Sagrantino di Montefalco, 23) Torgiano Rosso Riserva;

From Campania: 24) Taurasi, 25) Greco di Tufo, 26) Fiano di Avellino;

From Sardinia: 27) Vermentino di Gallura;

From Abruzzo: 28) Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane;

And from Marches: 29) Vernaccia di Serrapetrona;

The wines of Italy are a complicated topic to cover. Believe me I know. Italian wines are my truest passion, and I have a hard time with them. There are at least 2000 grape varieties used in Italy to make wine, and there is 1 winery for every 1000 Italian citizens – that’s a lot of wineries per capita. Hopefully though, I can load up all of Robert Johnson’s tunes on my MP3 and on the way to Atlanta and my test next week, I will be one step closer to passing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Fermentation, according to my Society of Wine Educators Study Guide, is “a biochemical process involving about thirty successive chemical reactions, each catalyzed by a specific enyme – an organic substance capable of causing a chemical change.” I never imagined while I was falling asleep in my Chem class back in high school, dreaming about Catherine Bach from Dukes of Hazzard, that I would miss out on what would become a surprisingly integral part of my beloved once and future wine career.

The chemical formula for the fermentation of grapes into wine is C₆H₁₂O₆ + yeast = 2 C₂H₅OH + 2 CO₂. This breaks down as grape sugars converting through the action of the yeasts introduced to the juice into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Also, heat is generated and expelled through this process. It’s easy to forget the simple chemical mechanics of making wine when you’re swirling your favorite red or white amidst friends at a dinner party, but there it is.

The sugar in grapes is measured in degrees (referred to in the U.S. as Brix – in France, it is called Baume, in Germany, Oechsle). Grapes harvested at 24 Brix will result in a wine potentially possessing alcohol of approximately 12%.

Fermentation, according to my guide, is difficult to start if the must (unfermented grape juice) is cooler than 57° F and problematic to control at temperatures above 95° F. Conversion of sugar into alcohol accelerates as the temperatures rise, yet at very high temperatures, the yeasts shut down and die. The irony is that ethanol, created during the fermentation process is actually toxic to the yeasts that help produce it. Warmer fermentations subsequently produce wines of lower total alcohol.

Yeasts have very simple nutritional requirements: sugar, minerals, nitrogen and vitamins – the same we humans need. Yeast cells are anywhere from 25-60% nitrogenous material, they require nitrogen in order to reproduce. Obviously, nitrogen is a key ingredient to a healthy fermentation process.

There are several types of fermentation: carbonic maceration, malolactic fermentation, inoculated fermentation, wild yeast fermentation – each process a different device in the winemaker’s toolbox. While carbonic maceration is simply a process involving the entire cluster of grapes, using all the parts to ferment naturally (a process used primarily in Beaujolais production), and malolactic fermentation is a “secondary” process used to transform malic acid (which is the natural acid in grapes) to lactic or dairy acid (giving the wines a creamy, buttery texture), the initial fermentation processes of inoculated (or cultured) fermentation versus wild yeast fermentation generates pros and cons as well.

Inoculated fermentation gives you a quick start to the process, with a predictable outcome of alcohol, higher alcohol production due to high alcohol-tolerant yeasts, the ability to ferment at lower temperatures, fewer by-products, a resulting clean wine with few off-odors. Wild yeast fermentation however, gives you more acetic acid (lending a rustic tone to the wine), more ethyl acetate (in small amounts, adds complexity), more glycerol, increased phenyl alcohol, H₂S, acetaldehyde, and overall, a less-efficient, less-predictable alcohol production. Sounds like inoculated is the way to go right? Yet there are many winemakers who choose wild yeast fermentation because of the style it creates. It’s almost like a painter choosing oils or acrylics, it all depends on their inner palette (palate).

I think my High School Chemistry teacher would be shocked that I would be so enthralled by chemistry now. I wish I wouldn’t have been daydreaming about girls so much, and I wish I would have paid more attention. Hopefully, Mrs. Osborn would be at least a tiny bit impressed now.

Friday, June 5, 2009


So the countdown to the exam is on… my Certified Specialist of Wine exam. Like most of us, I get all tense about exam, have all of those weird, neurotic dreams about that final exam that you realize you haven’t studied for is happening that day – the kind of anxiety that is pretty ridiculous when you really think about it, but you can’t because you’re too anxious about taking it. Round and around and around we go.

In my typical fashion, I nonchalantly study, reading a page here, a page there, until two weeks before the big day, and then it’s nonstop cram jam! This week, in preparation for the section on varietals, I spied a few things I hadn’t realized (or just needed refresher on):

1. Pinot Noir has the propensity to mutate constantly, and over time, has morphed into Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and even Pinot Meunier.
2. California Gamay is really either the grape Valdigue orjust inferior Pinot Noir.
3. Zinfandel and Primitivo are descended from the Croatian grape Crljenak.

4. Syrah is not originally from Persia (hence the Australian version named Shiraz) and is French in origin; a cross between ancient varieties Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.
5. Sangiovese takes its name from the Latin “sanguis jovis” or “blood of Jupiter.”

6. Sangiovese is prone to oxidation, hence the brickish hue it often acquires in the bottle.
7. Tempranillo has several pseudonyms, including Ull de Llebre (Cataluna), Cencibel (Valdepenas), Tinto de Toro (Rueda and Toro), Tinta Roriz (Douro), and Aragonez (Alentejo).
8. Muscat is thought to be the ancestor to ALL grape varieties.

Pretty cool, eh?

Of the most fascinating major grape varieties, Pinot Noir tops the list, due to its extremely temperamental responses to various climates, soil compositions, viticultural practices, and so on. The perfect way to understand the difficulty of growing Pinot Noir is in the monologue Paul Giamatti’s character in the movie “Sideways” delivers, telling Maya, played by the lovely Virginia Madsen, how it requires just the right amount of warmth and cold, and the proper soil conditions, and the right amount of tender loving care by the vineyard manager and winemaker, and all the vineyard workers who come in contact with it (just paraphrasing of course). Learning about its tendency to mutate over time is not surprising. It’s a bit like watching the old Sally Field movie “Sybil” with her characters multiple personalities, each one different from the one before it. Maybe Pinot Noir suffers from the plant kingdom’s own version of MPD, who knows.

Discussing wine with friends last night, the mantra of the talk was that, and I say it to customers all the time, with wine, you are always learning something new. I guess that's what makes wine such a great adventure, that element of discovery in every bottle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


One of the least glamorous portions of my gig as a wine buyer is managing our warehouse. It might sound really easy, but there is always something that goes wrong and I find myself spending half-the-day sorting it out.

It was at least a fortuitous event in my previous work history that I spent almost 2 years working for R&L Transfer, a trucking company based up the road in Wilmington, Ohio. I joke with my boss that I am the only one in his employ that boasts previous job experience as a “loadmaster” (which sounds pretty vulgar upon reflection). This past job, along with a lot of “temp”-ing as a furniture mover, delivery driver and dock worker are all valuable tools now in my current job, despite my co-workers believing is quite "glamorous" is actually a arduous, time-consuming job I wouldn't trade for the world.

Now, most wine buyers aren’t really required to move product around so much, or at least, none that I am aware of – there are part-time and third-shift employees for that I am told. However, with the business model our owner constructed some time ago, it’s a requisite for functioning to see the product and touch the product and physically move the product in order to better understand how things turn around here, which is a big reason why my wife can’t get a lot of work out of me when I get home.

As our business continues to grow, the need for a more efficient system – whether it is product tracking, requisition forms, and the like – to aid in positioning our inventory becomes more apparent, but modern ways are just not our style. And since everything is done by hand, we obviously miss a few things. And you know what that means – the wrath from on high reigns down with great regularity. Never a dull moment. It crushes me to realize once a customer asks for a wine I have ample supply of at the warehouse has been missed on the transfer because of the other 120 or so cases I just trucked over and had no room for in the van, blah blah blah. I hate excuses yet I become trapped in a few of them daily. Should there be a resolution to it? Yes. Can there be? Sure, but it would cost a considerable amount of money to remedy the problem. Or will it? There are those that would argue if I just wrote things down, I wouldn't forget, to which the reply is "I do write it all down." Often it's a matter of, "I have several cases and I should be okay for the day," and then a customer comes in and buys up all my back stock at a time when I am finishing up for the day and am unaware that that situation happened. It can be my own little danse macabre in a way, and utter frustration to think about when I get home (to the chagrin of the Mrs.).
One of these days, we'll create a better system, but until then, I can't forget to eat my Wheaties in the morning.

Just a slight muse on a dark and stormy Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Yesterday, I received a group of wines that have been hard fought to get in this state over the past 7 years. I haven't been able to fully comprehend the reasons why, except to say that a certain retailer downstate has been a real pain in the ass about "exclusivities" - the concept of one retailer selling a specific brand for the entire state - and given our logistical situation, that prospect has always proven untenable.

So the store welcomed back to the shelves, one of my favorite wines, a rose from Montes called Cherub. 100% Syrah from Montes' Archangel estate in Marchigue (in the Colchagua Valley), this delicious blush has been one of my go-to wines for summer the past 4-5 years. It possesses aromas of red fruit and flowers, and on the palate, it delivers notes of spicy strawberry, red raspberry and orange peel. There is plenty of balance between fruit and acidity, which makes this wine very enjoyable with food, or just a chilled glass after a long day working. I baked some red snapper filets and made white beans and tomatoes with cilantro, which paired up well with the Cherub.

I know a lot of folks are a bit skittish when it comes to "pink" wines, but this would satisfy any red drinker, no problem. Give it a try.