Thursday, July 30, 2009


I am finding my opinion ship is drifting into familiar waters yet again. Just when I have become comfortable with the big Leviathan of the wine world - Southern Wine & Spirits - I am being told that just after the creation of a fourth division within the company, the three previous divisions of SWS here in Kentucky were Crane (mainstays are Fosters, MMD, Pasternak, part of Constellation, Ste. Michelle and Estates), Crown (Empson, Palm Bay, another part of Constellation, Pernod Ricard) and Bluegrass (Diageo and LVMH). Number four was created for Beam Estates. Now, number five represents the new consolidated Constellation Brands (what was represented by rival RNDC of Kentucky, as well as from both Crane and Crown divisions).

5 separate sales reps for one company? That is suppose to be good customer service? This is a joke right.

Apparently not.

Why should this matter to you? I like to think of myself and my wine department here at LD as a buffer, shielding customers from unnecessary bullshit and bad wine. My guy Alfonse says it best when he tells the customers, "we taste all the bad wine so you don't have to." However, in an age where time is a commodity we have less and less of each day, the suits up the distribution line think it smart to clog things up further by giving me more portfolios to wade through, and more sales reps to find time for - not what you would call sound, efficient business, but what about the three tier system is actually logical, right?

What infuriates me the most about this is that there isn't a damn thing I, or any of my competitors can do about this. We are, in laymens' terms, screwed.

I don't want to be a Republican or Democrat about this and start bitching before anything has actually changed yet, but having been in this business for some time, and while remembering when Diageo did this brilliant move maybe 10 years ago - arguably the dumbest thing ever executed in this business to date, forcing wholesalers to create a separate division within whatever house they were in, hiring morons for a sales force, and jacking up prices so only a handful of supermarkets wanted anything to do with their brands. (You smell that? It must be those f'n sour grapes again!)

I was reading Steve Heimoff's blog today, and he continues to stir the proverbial pot with another "painting wine bloggers with a bad brush stroke" post. I stated I wasn't going to blather on about it and just do what I do and not worry about the naysayers, but, man, Steve - you need to prove nothing to the wine world - why keep going on about this crap? Seriously. You are one of the few wine writers who will maintain their relevance in the future because you live in both the print medium and the virtual one. Just keep doing what you do and it will all shake out in the end.

Got an invitation to attend this year's Road Trip Washington Wines - Washington State's version of Oregon Pinot Camp, where wineries host a group of rag-tag wine industry types (retailers, wholesalers, restauranteurs and the like) to experience firsthand all the great things that Washington state wines have to offer. I haven't gotten the full itinerary yet, but having spent years earlier on, envisioning a little town of Prosser, WA as the place I'd hoped to retire (before the cost of a house their went through the roof), I can't wait to see it all. Due to depart in October, for 4 days of blog and Twitter fodder.

Most of the blogging world is returning to normal as most of my blogging brethren are returning home from the second American Wine Bloggers Conference (representation locally came from Cheap Wine Ratings' Tim Lemke and My Wine Education's Kevin Gerl). Gathering from all the various tweets from the more infamous of wine bloggers, a good time was had by all. The next WBC was announced, and unlike the previous two (which were held in California), next year's is in, you guessed it, Washington State. Yee-haw! I am there.

The next couple of days are a bit harried so I probably won't be posting until Monday. I've got a supergroup to talk about, alongside Tequila and a bit of Burgundy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


So yesterday, Shannon, Ray (our Fort Thomas store manager) and I drove to Louisville for one of our distributor’s trade shows. Vanguard Wines represents some terrific California and Oregon producers, as well as the importers Martine’s Wines, Terry Thiese, Eagle Eye Imports, Jose Pastore, and their own Vanguard Wine Imports, among others.

Good friend Drew Neiman, a winemaker himself (Kongsgaard, Arietta, Neiman Cellars), is the owner of this distributorship, based out of Columbus, and doing business in both Kentucky and Ohio. Holding court at Louisville’s 21C Museum Hotel – which is a very cool mix of art and hospitality, Drew unleashed his cohorts and special guests such as Jim Clendenden of Au Bon Climat, Michael Dashe of Dashe Cellars, Elizabeth Pressler of Elizabeth Spencer, John Kongsgaard, Peter and Deanne Franus, Carole Meredith of Lagier Meredith, and – as I stated on Twitter yesterday – Mia Klein of Selene, my Eric Clapton.
At any trade event, you have to economize both your time and your palate. Trying to taste every last wine there is ridiculously exhausting, and halfway through, your palate is dead and you cannot taste anything except mud, or worse, doo-doo. Instead, take a look at the tasting list and put a plan together – you cannot taste everything and get something out of each one, unless you’re a superpalate monster like Robert Parker, right? There were wines I had recently tried with Jeff, my sales rep from Vanguard, so I scratched those off the list and focused on one’s I hadn’t tried, or haven’t tasted in awhile.

I started with the wines of Elizabeth Spencer, a fairly new line of wines from California. Owner Elizabeth Pressler was there to present them: Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2007, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007, Sonoma Coast Syrah 2006 and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. The Sauvignon Blanc, an organically grown SB, was really nice, with a slightly rounded finish. The Pinot Noir was probably my favorite – tasting more like a Premier Cru Burgundy than a California Pinot Noir, much more finesse and elegance. I liked the others, and the Syrah was nice, but at around $25 retail, it would prove an impossible sell. The market really shies away from $20+ Syrahs anymore, even from Australia. (Everyone should probably thank Yellowtail for that one - making everyone believe Syrah/Shiraz is a cheap grape).
Speaking of high-end Syrahs, one of the best California has to offer is the Lagier Meredith Syrah from Mount Veeder in Napa Valley. Carole Meredith explained the rationale for growing Syrah in an otherwise Cabernet Sauvignon dominated area. The west side slope of Mount Veeder leaves it open to more coastal breezes, making the land more conducive to growing Syrah, which appreciates the cooler climates those breezes bring. And of course, the wine is extraordinary. Medium-to-full-bodied, with loads of red fruit flavors and aromas, this is a gorgeous example of California Syrah, something akin to a Northern Rhone. However, the price tag – it would run around $49 retail – would leave this bottle on the shelf catching dust for sometime before having to be closed out months later.

There were some exceptional Italian wines from Vanguard’s own import catalog: La Palazzetta Brunello di Montalcino 2004 and Rosso di Montalcino 2006 – both longstanding faves of mine for years – were incredible. The new acquisitions of the Tuscan wines of La Massa – just awesome! The Passopisciaro 2006, a remarkable 100% Nerello Mascalese from Sicily showed every bit an exceptional Premier Cru Burgundy. I was really impressed with these wines and others, including the Barolos of Mauro Veglio and Gianfranco Alessandro, and the Umbrian stars from Antano.

Good friend Patrick Allen of the small French importer, United Estates, was back on the streets after he and his wife Connie had welcomed their first child into the world several months back. He was revisiting the attendees with the Chateau Virgile wines from the Costieres de Nimes, as well as the always-stunning Terres Falmet Cinsault, the Tabatau St. Chinian Cuvee Camprigou and Joel Falmet Brut Champagne. I love the Cinsault, a remarkable value in this 100% Cinsault, soft, fruity, and very approachable.

Trying the Oregon wines form Soter and Domaine Serene, I was blown away by both producers’ level of quality, with the Soter Brut Rose (due out in September) and the Domaine Serene Winery Hill Pinot Noir 2006 the true highlights of their tables.

Then of course, one of my big heroes in this business, Mia Klein, of Selene Wines. Mia is one of those rare people in this business that exudes that rock star personae without acting like it. She is a quiet, radiant soul that radiates the passion for this industry you know she possesses, and you can taste it in her wines. The Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is a consistent winner in a long succession of great Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley. The Frediani Vineyard Merlot 2006 is arguably the best Napa Merlot you are going to buy, and even with a $40 price tag, it’s well worth it (this wine outshines Pride, which is at least twice the price of Selene). The Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is an amazingly well-built, full-bodied red, on par with Caymus Special Selection, Joseph Phelps Backus, and Robert Mondavi To-Kalon – and a LOT less pricey. The true star was the Chesler Red, a predominantly Cabernet Franc driven wine that really blew me away. Clocking in at around $50, it wipes the floor with wines like Opus One. The former winemaker of Araujo, Viader, and Dalla Valle shows us that exceptional wines do not have to run three figures on the shelf. She also shows us that loving what you do can easily translate from vision to finished product.

My cohorts were able to taste wines I couldn't get to for one reason or another, yet all-in-all, it was a fine show. Thanks to everyone at Vanguard and all the winemakers and sales reps who participated in showing their wares, and to everyone at 21C for being such gracious hosts. It was a great time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Boutari Moschofilero 2007 (say it like MO-SKO-FEEL-ER-O) from the Mantinia region of the Peloponnese of Greece is, what my friend at Terlato Wines International (the importer of this beauty) calls "their Greek Pinot Grigio." Certainly reminiscent of one, this 100% varietal from Greece is crisp, clean and of lightly balanced acidity. Aged just 3 months in stainless steel tanks, the canteloupe, Meyer lemon, and ripe grapefruit aromas and flavors are complimented with hints of orange blossom, star anise, and starfruit. Ideal for light salads, shellfish and seafood dishes, chill this one and make it a part of your next patio gathering. Pretend it is a flavorful Pinot Grigio, then revel in the knowledge that you've most likely given your friends their first taste of Greek wine.

Monday, July 27, 2009


So my better-late-than-never installment of Wine and Music for Twitter’s “#musicmonday” is a look at one of my wife’s favorite artists, Damien Rice. I was only vaguely familiar with the dark and dirgy folk singer when my wife started buying every CD the poor bloke has out. One of the songs that stuck in my head, even to this day, is “Volcano.” The Irish folk singer is a troubadour in the truest since, with stark, open soundscapes and brooding, poignant lyrics that reveal human nature in all its fallacies. Peeling back the onion of human idiosyncrasies, the music lays the soul bare, exposing all those dark secrets you never really wanted anyone to know, giving you the freedom to be who you truly are.

I took my wife to see Damien Rice in Louisville a year or so ago, at a great little theatre downtown (the name is now escaping me), and I was simply blown away, not only by the ration of women to men in the audience (I think I may have seen 20 or 30 other guys there), but the level of intimacy Damien Rice and his bandmates could achieve in that fairly large venue. It was a beautiful show, and I am forever impressed by the man and his music.

Check out “Volcano” here:

As for a wine that similarly inspires me, the La Gramiere Rouge 2006, which I have mentioned previously, was sired by the wife-husband winemaking team of Amy Lillard and Matt King, two American ex-pats that are single-handedly running a vineyard and winery in Southern Rhone.

Their love child, this delicious blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre is a rich, medium-bodied seductress in a bottle. Supple, intimate, and ethereally sexy, this red wine has become a big favorite of mine, and reminds me of my wife and I connecting to the music of Damien Rice, and each other.

Try them together, Damien Rice and La Gramiere, with the one you love, either with an intimate dinner, or just a low-lit night on the deck/beach/mountaintop/wherever.

Friday, July 24, 2009


It has been going on back and forth for some time now, the seemingly clear cut battle between traditional wine writers (Robert Parker, James Laube, et al) and the rising tide of wine bloggers out there (with such blogs as Vinography, Dr. Vino, The Pour, Fermentation, 1 Wine Dude, Good Grape and Sonadora). Now not everyone is participating. Most of the wine bloggers, myself included, have pretty much been writing our blogs without any artillery lobbing at bystanders or critics of our ilk. The latest traditional writer to chime in is Anthony Diaz Blue from The Tasting Panel. I don’t know the guy myself, and I have only recently begun skimming their magazine – I read virtually every wine magazine out there.

In a recent article, Mr. Blue lumps all of us bloggers into one bulk statement by saying:

“And who are these bloggers anyway and, more important, what is their motivation? It would be comforting to find that they are altruistic wine lovers who see their purpose as bringing insight and valuable information to like-minded consumers. But the image that presents itself is of bitter, carping gadflies who, as they stare into their computer screens and contemplate their dreary day jobs, let their resentment and sense of personal failure take shape as vicious attacks on the established critical media.”

I recognize that there are a host of wine bloggers out there that are far superior to myself, as well as a veritable ocean of bloggers who do not have the formal training or knowledge of a wine professional, just someone who loves wine, yet to paint us all with a broad stroke of “burnt siena” and “umber” colors (you know, the colors of “poop”) is a bit over the top, harsh, and extremely uncalled for.
While my inner rebel is hoping beyond hope that the Tower of Parker comes tumbling down sooner rather than later, my experience in this business of selling wine prohibits me from doing anything more than voicing concern and caution to our customers. I have been in the business of selling wine in one capacity or another for around 20 years – restaurant and retail. I earn my certifications, study hard, and take in all the knowledge and wisdom I can from winemakers, importers, and fellow wine geeks each and every day. As a blogger, my mission is to convey that acquired knowledge and experience to both my customers locally, and my readers wherever and whoever they may be.
Do I brag about my knowledge levels? No. Do I pretend that I have a bigger audience than I actually do? No. Would I like to exert the same level of influence the likes of Parker and his ilk do on this business? Not at all. Do I wish to contribute to the conversations on wine? Absolutely.

The overall goal of anyone in this business is to facilitate the journey that the wine experience truly is. Everyone has to start somewhere, whether it is Bartles & Jaymes Wine Coolers, or Beringer White Zinfandel; there has to be a starting point. And like all voyages, once you start, you only want to keep going out, venturing into new frontiers, stopping along the way to revel in a new found favorite – be it a Napa Cabernet, an Australian Shiraz, a German Riesling – it doesn’t matter. And everyone takes a different path, meeting up along the way at different points, swapping stories, sharing experiences – that is the real beauty of wine.
Yes, I think that wine scores take away from the journey. I think that the critics distract people from the journey. But all of this petty bickering over nonsensical ownership of “who will be the bigger influence in the future” debate is just as much a distraction. The individuals like Parker have been king of the mountain for so long, they have no idea that the pathway to the future goes right past them, but we are not there just yet. Those writers like Mr. Blue are simply chiming in for the sake of controversy and selling magazines, and are not offering anything constructive to the debate. As for us bloggers, we all just need to concentrate on our intentions and goals for our respective blogs, do them the best we can, and hope for the best. In the end, this controversy is truly “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Thankfully, aside from the stinging barbs traded between the writers and bloggers, it hasn’t yet turned out to be the finale of “Titus Andronicus.” Something about the vision of Parker grinding bloggers into meat pies makes me shudder.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Ever since I came across the river in 2002, I have tried in vain, to convince a great number of importers and producers to re-examine their ventures in our state of Kentucky. Most of these wine companies tend to roll their eyes at the mere thought of coming to KY without tying themselves up in an exclusive agreement with one wine store – and not ours. Sour grapes? Perhaps, but I think ultimately, the disservice is being done to the customer, considering this particular market, which I have explained on a number of occasions, should be considered part of Cincinnati, Ohio, and not part of Kentucky. The reason is we ARE part of the metropolitan Cincinnati region, and many of our customers our from the Ohio side of the Ohio River, where a great deal of the wines in question are available EVERYWHERE; these customers do not understand why they cannot buy them in our stores like they can in Ohio. They want to buy them here because of our price advantage over Ohio. Losing that sale is not only bad for us, but bad for the winery in question.

Such used to be the case for Bookwalter Wines of Washington State.

While not a large producer, and not readily available in Ohio, you could still find them there. However, a trip across the river, and they were completely absent from the market, unless you drove to Lexington or Louisville, where one particular retail chain had them locked up in exclusivity. (I know, I am whining again.) Well, thankfully, along with a sort-of relauch of the brand, with new packaging for their wines, comes a new distribution model, at least for Kentucky. And we are proud (and relieved) to finally add these astonishingly good wines to our store.

Currently, we’ve added 4 of their wines: the 2006 Foreshadow Cabernet Sauvignon ($36), the 2006 Foreshadow Merlot ($33), the 2006 Protagonist Red ($43), and the MV Subplot #22 Red Blend (the most affordable of the bunch, at $16.99/bottle).

These wines are exemplary of what is coming out of Columbia Valley: rich, concentrated reds that overdeliver in quality. I can only hope that other Washington State producers, and indeed other purveyors of exclusive wines re-examine their approach to this market, and open themselves up to new and appreciative customers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tour du Vin de France Part 3 by Shannon

Allow me to back track a bit and venture South, away from Bordeaux, towards the French Riviera. My mom, sister and I spent a glorious day in Cannes, sunning ourselves, watching the beautiful people, and tubing on the Mediterranean. Which wine served as the perfect complement to these adventures? Why, rose of course!

Taking a break from the sun we ventured from our striped sunchairs around lunch time, looking for some shade and a nice, light lunch. Roaming around the streets we tried to venture as far away as possible from anything that said ‘Louis Vuitton’ or ‘Chanel’, as we knew that cafes around such destinations would be pricey. We did find a cute little place, very traditional, with the plat du jour and the offerings of the day displayed on chalk boards, instead of on a menu.

Sitting down, we noticed that most people at tables around us were enjoying rose. We decided to follow suit, and ordered a bottle of Chateau Miraval Pink Floyd 2008. A blend of Cinsault and Grenache, this was crisp and refreshing. Chateau Miraval has an interesting clientele, and this wine is named after the band, who apparently recorded part of their album The Wall at the estate. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie even recently stayed there! So back to lunch, I ordered the plat du jour, which happened to be fresh pasta in a rabbit-stew. I don’t traditionally eat cute critters, however I went with the theme, “When in Provence…” I’m glad I did, because it was delicious, with fresh herbs that went perfectly with the rose. Truly a taste of Provence!

Back at the beach we decided to keep up our rose theme, since we had found the Miraval so pleasing and light. We ordered a simple rose from the Cotes du Ventoux, and it was equally delicious. Light, crisp and dry, with just a touch of strawberry on the finish. (It even had a nice nose which accented the smell of coconut body oil drifting around!)

We continued our love of rose throughout much of the trip, opting to have a bottle at dinner most nights. I think it’s interesting that the three of us could always agree on this, since my mom is typically a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc drinker, and my sister just starting to enjoy wine. It proved to me that rose can really be a crowd pleaser, capable of satisfying multiple palates. The wines were always regional, and if we ordered a bottle of rose in Bordeaux, we were served a Bordeaux rose.

In Paris I bought an interesting wine, a Sancerre rose! I had never seen one before, although Kevin tells me that we do have some available here. It wasn’t very expensive, about 12 Euros, and it was extremely dark in color for a rose, I suppose from the Cabernet Franc. Although we drank this wine in our room a little warmer than I would have preferred out of plastic hotel cups, it surprised us with its body and complexity. It even stood up nicely to our Chinese take-out. (Yes, we had take-out in Paris, but just once I promise!)

Monday, July 20, 2009


Back when I started singing in clubs, it was right around the end of the ‘80s, and like most rock star wannabes, I wanted to sing my own music, not copy others. I scribbled lyrics on everything and had a particular vision in my head of what I wanted my band’s music to sound like. And then, almost magically, I heard them. Alice in Chains. They sounded exactly how I had wanted to sound, and wrote the songs I always wanted to write. Jerry Cantrell was everything I could have ever looked for in a collaborator, and the music was dead on where I was coming from at that time. I can still listen to them with the same kind of envious revelry that I had for them 20 years ago.

Lead singer Layne Staley, long sufferer with addiction, succumbed to it a few years ago, and like most fans of the band, I thought they were over. But the buzzing in recent years of comeback shows with guest vocalists fueled speculation that they were returning to the scene as Alice In Chains, and indeed, they are back now, with new lead singer William DuVall from the band Comes With The Fall out of Atlanta. A relative unknown, yet he served as guitarist and backing vocalist to guitarist Cantrell’s solo work, so a rapport has long been established. I know a lot of die-hard rock fans always grimace when a group picks up the pieces after losing a frontman (to death, ego, or whatever), and replacing him or her with someone else. It changes the dynamic of the band, and many find it unforgiveable, but I have never been one to jump on that bandwagon. Hell, I thought John Corabi was the best thing to happen to Motley Crue, but in this instance, AIC singer Staley was a double-edged sword for the rest of the band – a great singer, but limited to rarely performing, much due to his addictions. Now, with a different singer, a fresh perspective, and after a long hiatus, they sound terrific.

I first caught a glimpse of the new video, “A Looking in View,” while cracking open a Pascual Toso Reserve Malbec 2007. (I know, how do segue from grunge metal to Malbec?) Like starting in music, when I started in the wine business, I tried to figure out what wines did I really enjoy, and what producers and what importers do I want to support? Obviously, in the wine business, we cannot play favorites because it’s all about selling wine, which is different than being a music fan. However, I can honestly say I have never been so committed to a company as T.G.I.C. Importers, the company responsible for bringing Pascual Toso to the U.S. A hard fought liaison would be a complete understatement here. I’ve discussed before in this blog and with my customers the degrees of difficulty I have encountered trying to get these wines in the state, and keep them in the state, for all consumers to enjoy, not just the consumers who shop a certain wine store chain down state.

Anyway, the Pascual Toso Reserve Malbec 2007 is a rich, complex Malbec with almost an entire gamut of IHOP syrup aromas (blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry), plush plum, smoky vanilla, mocha, espresso, and loads of blue and red fruit flavors throughout its long finish. It is a fine red wine that makes me glad I fight tooth and nail to keep it in the store.

And in an odd-sort-of-tie-in, it makes me glad that Alice In Chains are coming back to kick our asses again. Unlike some of the talking heads in the news today, these guys don’t quick, regardless of tragedy. Look for the new CD, “Black Gives Way to Blue,” due out September 29th. And check out Pascual Toso Reserve Malbec, in our stores right now.


Saturday, July 18, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Brazin Zinfandel 2007 from Lodi is, like it states on the label, a (b)old vine Zinfandel. I have to tell you though, if I didn't know better, I would almost swear this was a Cab. It's full-bodied, with big, pronounced tannins, and has a robust flavor profile of dark plums, chocolate and black currants. The "pluminess" gives it away as a Zin, and there are loads of brambly blue fruit aromas and flavors, with racy, spicy, black pepper tones for good measure. This is a pretty impressive effort from the good folks at Delicato Family Vineyards, and a lot of wine for the price.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Talking with our Fort Thomas store manager the other day about the results of our recent 3rd Staff Showdown, one interesting fact arose: The winning wine in all three contests, as well as the second or third place in each, were wines imported by Jorge Ordonez. Our first showdown, held last year, yielded the Alto Moncayo 2005 from Campo de Borja as the winner. This past January, it was the Atteca Armas 2005. And most recently (although the wine is now represented by LVMH here in the U.S.), it was the Numanthia 2006. Other wines to show well (in the top three), were the Cellers Can Blau Mas de Can Blau 2005, Merum Priorat Ardilles 2004, Muga Reserva Rioja 2004 and the Borsao Crianza 2004.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t really seem to come up with a bad bottle from this energetic importer of Spanish wines. Indeed, I have blogged about great values like the Borsao Monte Oton and the Boutani Moscatel, and it seems like there is an endless supply of exceptional wines – red, white, sparkling, fortified – from Mr. Ordonez’s operation, and we wine lovers are the better for it.

The only thing that frustrates me in this Digital Age, is that the man doesn’t have a Web site for all of his wines. While other importers shine in providing all the information they can to their wholesalers, retailers, and oenophiles everywhere, it seems that Jorge has opted not to have such a resource. I can’t really complain a lot about that; it would seem he is using the savings he gains from not paying for IT people on to those who buy his wines by providing the lowest pricing across the board. That fact alone makes the Ordonez portfolio beneficial to any wine store, big or small. But when customers are still learning about all the grape varieties and all the new wine regions coming to us from Spain, it would be a huge asset to us Web geeks and neophytes alike to have a resource like a “”.

Locally, our Jorge distributor has a listing of his wines on their site – – yet I think it would be a big benefit to all for the folks at Jorge Ordonez Selections to take the IT plunge.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tour du Vin de France Part 2 by Shannon

Tour/Tasting/Overnight Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron
Heading south from Cos d’Estournel we pass through the town of Pauillac, which looks like a miniature Bordeaux. Sitting on the Gironde river it is easily recognizable as a port city, with lots of boats and docks to our left. To our right is a pleasant and typical French array of cafes and shops. The day had turned out to be crisp and sunny, despite earlier showers, and as we approached Pichon everything looked bright and green around us.

Chateau Pichon Longueville is an intimidating place. When we pulled in we were almost scared to make noise, and I remember being embarrassed by the all the rucus our rented mini fiat was making on the gravel pavement! The place literally demands reverence, from its meticulously manicured lawns and ponds, to the stoic nature of the chateau itself. Probably one of the most well known chateau of the left bank, Pichon has an interesting history. For more than 250 years the property was managed by the same family, and was part of a larger parcel of land. In 1850 the Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville decided to split his estate between his five children, leaving his three daughters three fifths of the land and his sons two fifths. This devision was decisive and complete, leaving Chateau Pichon Baron forever split from its sister chateau directly across the street, Chateau Comtesse de Lalande. (Which has a very similar appearance.)

A low and modern building sits to the right of the chateau, and this is where our tour and tasting were conducted. We were again amazed at the size of the undertaking happening before us, and were shocked to realize that most of this building and the winemaking process happens underground. Part of the barrel room is directly underneath the pond that sits in front of the chateau, and there are small windows installed in the ceiling where you can look up through the pond! After our tour we were escorted to the tasting room. Here are the wines we tried through and my notes:

Les Tourelles de Longueville 2008: 60%Merlot, 30%Cabernet, 10%Cab Franc. An elegantly styled merlot. Characteristicly complex, smooth and present tannins. Somewhat short/abrubt finish.

Chateau Pichon Longueville 2008: 31%Cabernet, 29%Merlot. Again our guide refers to 2008 as a ‘miraculous’ vintage for Bordeaux, and for the Pichon. The grapes fought botrytis, spring was very difficult, but the autumn proved perfect and saved the entire vintage. Big, chewy tannins. Quite dry with a lot of grip. Needs plenty of time, but we could tell this would be a substantial wine.

Chateau Pichon Longueville 2004: 60%Cabernet, 35%Merlot,5%Cab Franc. Earth and leather on the nose. Much softer than the 2008, oak and red fruits on the palate. This wine was our favorite of the tasting.

After the tasting we were led into the Chateau itself and given a tour. Renovations had been done through out the 60’s and 70’s, and the interior just exuded old world luxury. The walls and carpet are a light blue, the windows are adorned in plush drapery, heavy wooden furniture and brass light fixtures are present in every room. The ‘library’ was full of old reference books, portraits of men hung on the walls, and there was a multitude of glass encased stuffed birds on all of the shelves. This room certainly gave the whole place a feeling of masculinity. I noticed a feminine touch as well, with an old piano positioned in a music room in which hung a beautiful portrait of a young lady playing the very same piano. The bedrooms were up a spiral flight of stairs. Each one had its one personality, and since my mom was a bit of a scaredy-cat we decided to all share the largest room, which was in the front of the house and looked out towards the river. After giving us a tour our guide left us with the key to the front door, and that was it! We were the princesses of our castle for the night. We shared wild ideas about the history of the place, and what people had lived and been there before us. My sister and I especially loved leaning out the front windows and waving a 'Miss America' wave whenever a tour bus would pull over to take pictures. We ended up being a little afraid of being left alone by ourselves, and camped out in our room for the rest of the night, sharing a bottle of rose.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tour du Vin de France Part 1 by Shannon

Some big things happening in France this month: Bastille Day, the Tour de France…etc. But, even bigger and more importantly, my trip to Bordeaux!!! I believe my jet-lag has sufficiently receded leaving me feeling ready to recount for you the magnificent trip I took to France last week.

In a whirlwind 2 day trip, my mother, sister and I, (that’s right, all ladies!) managed to fit in 5 estate and tours, 2 amazing lunches, an overnight stay to top the charts, and Bordeaux-city exploration. Oh yeah, did I mention we tasted some of the best wines in the world? Look for some of the highlights over the next few days…

Tasting/Tour/Lunch at Cos d’Estournel.
Leaving Bordeaux early in the morning we made our way north towards Pauillac. To arrive at Cos, we had to drive through Margaux, St. Julien and Pauillac, until we reached the border between Pauillac and St. Estephe, which is exactly where
Cos lies. Sitting at the top of a shallow hill,(cos literally means hill of pebbles)we were immediately stunned at the regal stature of the chateau, but more importantly, how unique it was. The original owner, Louis-Gaspard d’Estournel, had a passion and love for Indian culture, and manifested this in his building of the chateau. Rounded curves, steepled window frames and a huge, intricately carved wooden door, along with the image of elephants everywhere, give this place a truly exotic feeling. Our tour was given by the head winemaker, which was quite an honor, Dominique Arangoits. We were led into the chateau, which he explained to us was always a palace for the wine, with all of the winemaking taking place inside, instead of being used as a residence. The interior had recently been renovated, and although it was beautiful and modern, it hadn’t lost its traditional feel. While walking through the wine-making process with Dominique, we were in awe of the sheer size of the undertaking and the quality that was being produced right in front of our eyes. The stainless steel tank room( they had 40), and the barrel room containing 2008 Cos looked like beautiful works of architecture themselves, and we could tell Dominique was quite proud of their modern appearance. We witnessed some of the racking process happening in barrel, which he explained would happen two or three times. I just kept thinking about the 2008 vintage that was sitting in barrel(all new French oak) right in front of me, and how we wouldn’t see that wine in that states for another two years! However, Dominique informed us that all of the 2008 vintage was already sold, due to pre-sells around the world.
After our tour, it was time to taste some wine!
Goulee Medoc 2008. The third label for the estate, the first vintage of this wine was 2003. The grapes for this wine come from north of the medoc, where the vines take root in deep layers of gravel. Because of this select terroir, this wine is vinified by the team at Cos like it is a grand cru, and that attention to detail certainly comes through in the finished result. Here are my notes: 80% Cab, 20%Merlot. Fuschia color on the rim, almost new world on the palate. Still, tannins are present without being overtly so. Licorice finish. (Special note: I was so taken with this wine that I bought a bottle of the original 2003…can’t wait to try it out at home!)

Cos d’Estournel 2008. A barrel tasting! As Dominique explained to us 2008 proved to be a roller coaster of a year. The first half of the year was cold, the summer was overly dry. At this point they thought they had a disastrous vintage on their hands, until September came in and saved the vintage with perfect weather. Yields were the lowest every since 1991. Dominque called this vintage a ‘fighting vintage’. My notes: 85% Cab, 13% Merlot, 2%Cab Franc. Nose of tar and leather. I think the palate is shy, showing that this wine is still a baby. Finish of nuts. (My sister said nutella!)

After trying these outstanding wines we continued to a lunch where were served excellent wines throughout the meal, including Cos d’Estournel blanc 2006, which I thought was excellent(a grassy, herb-like sauvignon blanc/Semillon), Cos d’Estournel 2001 (Dominique’s first vintage at the estate) and finally Cos d’Estournel 1995. The 1995 was absolutely singing!! It had a gorgeous, plush mouthfeel, with little to no tannin present, just the complexity of charater that they had left behind. Cinnamon and earth were the key components. A wine and an experience I won’t soon forget!


Almost 7 years ago, I came to the Kentucky side of the river to start work as the Wine Buyer for Liquor Direct Wine & Spirits. I have been here longer than I had been at any job in my life. It takes a lot for me to stay somewhere for any length of time, because I bore easily. I love change. Thrive on it.

A year or so into my gig here, a particular importer, one that shall remain nameless, called me one day, to complain about the prices we were posting on our Web site, prices on their brands. We were too low, they said. Accounts in New York and New Jersey were fuming because they were buying containers of product, and we were still beating them in price. I couldn’t understand why they were upset, because these “accounts” were not competing against us. When I informed the importer we worked on a lowe margin than most retailers, “he” explained that when they (the importer) are privy to such information, they often charge those accounts “more.”

Isn’t this price fixing, I thought?

Before I could say anything, he stated that they couldn’t control what we charged, but I knew that proceeding with business dealings would be futile. I pulled the plugged, and up until now, we have not carried their products.

I was always angry at this fact, because for anyone who knows me, knew that up to that point, I had actually hoped to finish my wine career working for “them.” I had always been a big fan of their portfolio, and it really pissed me off that we could no longer sell their brands in these stores.

Well, I have been contemplating reversing that fact, and recently let the importers know we were interested in doing business again through our wholesale rep. The ball is rolling again, as they responding in kind that they want to sell us some “cases.” It is almost like seeing an old friend for the first time in years. I am awaiting a new price list, and hopefully, the import portfolio version of the prodigal son will be returning very soon.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Buying for a retail wine store is an interesting endeavor. You are constantly barraged by deal after deal, and brokers, importers and distributors are almost beating you up to take their product and put it on the floor, on display somewhere in the store where our customers can see how great the deal is.

Well, for the most part, that approach has been fairly simple up until this past April, when the Kentucky legislature added a sales tax on alcohol (we already had a tax at the wholesale level of 11%). The complication to this is the simple fact that, in our portion of the metropolitan Cincinnati area, our stores and our competitors have been able to maintain something of a price advantage over our Ohio rivals, one that has now been drastically diminished.

So now, when a supplier approaches me with a deal, it REALLY has to sing. A wine that is listed at a $9.99 retail, and is typically $10.99 in Ohio, should be at least $8.99 retail here. And we truthfully seek the price to be even lower than that, as I am sure our counterparts in Northern Kentucky do as well.

The problem is when the winery is trying to maintain a specific price point. It’s an image thing, they tell me. And yes, we have been something of a brand killer around here, trying to hold pricing to perhaps 1980s levels on a lot of brands. Ridiculous, some might say, but the ultimate winner in this price battle is the customer. And there is the big rub. The customer, one could argue, is the unspoken “fourth” tier in this three-tier system. In a lot of respects, the customer is the one really getting the shaft. And it is the retailer who is often made the bad guy. Believe me, if we could sell something 50% off of what the suggested retail is, and still make enough money to pay the employees and keep the lights on, we would do it in a heartbeat. Yet we contend with the exchange with the Euro, wholesaler and importer shipping costs, brand expansions, wholesaler overhead, excise taxes, state taxes, etc., etc. All this, and the suppliers still have the audacity to tell us at what price we can sell the brand.

Price has never been more important than it is now. Especially with this economy still stinking the way it does, we cannot afford to carry a product that does not meet the combative price criteria that this market needs. Hell, every market really needs more aggressive pricing. And these suppliers wonder why sales are down and why people are trading down, buying cheaper wines? Someone really needs to explain to the middle tier that the bubble really has burst, and that the runaway price escalating party is over and done.

Monday, July 13, 2009


For July’s installment of Wine & Music Monday here at Under the Grape Tree, I wanted to talk about giving credit to both a wine and a band that deserve some serious love. For the wine, I thought long and hard about what is really a misunderstood grape variety, and it didn’t take me too long: Riesling. I have been a big fan of the varietal for years, yet every time I go and recommend one to a customer, I get nowhere. They either 1) cringe at the thought of drinking what they perceive to be a sickly-sweet white wine, or 2) just stare at me blankly like I have just spoken to them in Cantonese.

One of my all-time favorite wines is the Donnhoff Riesling QbA, which is a bone-dry representation of the grape from the Nahe region in Germany. I’ve often thought of Donnhoff as the Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases of Germany, exceptional, evolving, and always superb, from the entry-level QbA, to the priciest TBAs. I’ve been stocking a few bottles of the QbA for years, and until recently, had them as far back as 2000, but alas, my wife and I like drinking them too much. Always blessed with mineral and Rainer cherry notes, hints of apricots, figs and even a bit of white peach, these wines usually keep for 5-7 years (at least that’s as far as I have managed to keep them at my house).

So how does a German Riesling tie in with a rock band (how did you know it was a rock band?)? Well, the walk is not as far as you might think. One of my favorite bands these past 20+ years is a power trio out of Texas called King’s X. Ever since I had joined a rock band myself back in 1989, and my rhythm guitarist Clay had played Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, King’s X’s second disc, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe it was just three guys making all those sounds. You can ask just about any rock musician, from the God of Thunder himself, Gene Simmons, to Alice In Chains’ guitarist Jerry Cantrell, to legendary producer/musician Nile Rodgers, to the guys in Pearl Jam (bassist Doug Pinnick has subbed for PJ bassist Jeff Ament many times) they will tell you that King’s X is one of the best bands around.

What got me thinking about King’s X was a recent documentary I had caught on Ovation TV called “Electric Purgatory.” It dealt with racism in rock music and how black rock bands really couldn’t get too far in the business. Jimi Hendrix was the exception. And this ties into King’s X because Doug Pinnick, the singer/bassist who was one of several musicians interviewed for this documentary, is black. What does that mean? To me, nothing. King’s X is heavy rock’s answer to the Beatles, with phenomenal vocal harmonies, incredible arrangements, and to go one up on the Beatles, extraordinary musicianship. I just downloaded their newest CD from Amazon, called “XV” and in my humble opinion, every song on it should be tearing up the radio. Check out the lead track here, called “Pray.”

I invite everyone to check these guys out because, good music is good music. Maybe the music industry can look past one’s skin and just accept the talent within. All I can say is “Thank God for the Internet.” These guys have been around for 25+ years, and continue to make great groove-heavy rock 'n' roll. Check them out at

And while you’re listening, try a nice German Riesling. And say, “screw the suits, King’s X rocks!”

Sunday, July 12, 2009


This weekend was Liquor Direct’s 3rd Staff Showcase Tastings where the staff simply choose what they feel to be the best wine for under $50 we have in the store, and then we line them up for the customers to vote, determining who indeed, selected the best. This time, we decided to keep it completely secret, not even telling the customers after they had tasted, what the wines were or exactly how much they cost. All that was really known, was that the wines were all red – all 10 of them.

Well, the votes have been cast, and the winners have been determined. In dividing the tasting in half, with 5 wines from both store “teams” – Covington and Fort Thomas – here is the list of wines tasted in order from 1 through 10:

(1) Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Santa Ynez Valley. Selected by Tom, our Covington store manager. $39.99/bottle. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
(2) Carol Shelton Karma Zinfandel 2005, Russian River Valley. Selected by Alfonse, our senior wine salesperson at the Covington store. $30.96/bottle. 85% Zinfandel and the remaining 15% a mixed field blend.
(3) Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf du Pape Perdrix 2006, Southern Rhone. Selected by Shannon, assistant wine buyer. $39.98/bottle. 69% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 1% Cinsault.
(4) La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’di Pian 2005, Pidemont. Selected by Matt, wine salesperson at our Covington store. $24.79/bottle. 100% Barbera.
(5) Merum Priorat Ardilles 2004, Spain. Selected by Corey S., our newest addition to the Covington team. $47.99/bottle. 45% Grenache, 34% Carignan, 18% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.
(6) Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2002, Barossa Valley. Selected by Ray, our Fort Thomas store manager. $43.98/bottle. 100% Shiraz.
(7) Trinoro Passopisciaro 2006, Sicily. Selected by Mike, wine salesperson at our Fort Thomas location. $38.99/bottle. 100% Nerello Mascalese.
(8) Numanthia Numanthia 2006, Toro, Spain. Selected by the Corey B., the “O.C.”, wine salesperson at our Fort Thomas location. $43.98/bottle. 100% Tinto de Toro.
(9) Domaine Ligneres Notre Dame 2003, Corbieres, France. Selected by Brandon, beer buyer and wine salesperson at both locations. $22.98/bottle. 95% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre.
(10) Dei Sancta Catharina 2006, Tuscany. Selected by yours truly (due to a shortage of wine staff this time around). $36.99/bottle. 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 30% Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese), 10% Petit Verdot.

Thanks to the voters – 214 votes were casts – we have determined the winners for each store and the overall top wine. What is up for grabs is more bragging rights for the staff than anything – this tasting is more about putting a lineup of really kick ass wines together for the enjoyment of our customers than anything else.
Covington’s wines rank in the following order: First place - #1 Star Lane Cab, Second place - #5 Merum Priorat, Third place – #4 La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’di Pian, Fourth Place – #3 Charbonniere Chateauneuf du Pape, Fifth Place – #2 Carol Shelton Karma Zinfandel.

Fort Thomas’ wines rank in the following order: First Place - #8 Numanthia, Second Place – #6 Penfolds RWT, Third Place (tie) – #9 Domaine Ligneres Notre Dame and #10 Dei Sancta Catharina, and Fifth Place – #7 Passopisciaro.

Overall, the winner was the #8 Numanthia, followed by the #1 Star Lane, #5 Merum Ardilles, #6 Penfolds RWT, #9 Domaine Ligneres Notre Dame and #10 Dei Sancta Catharina, #7 Passopisciaro, #9 Charbonniere Chateauneuf, and #2 Carol Shelton Karma Zin.

It was a pretty tight race for the most part – with each staffer’s pick receiving at least 7% of the total vote. I think this was the best yet. Next one is in January, right after our December hiatus, and will be a bit more thematic (to be determined by the winners of this competition, Corey B. and Tom.).

If you would like to order any of the selected wines, just email me at Thanks to all who came out on some pretty muggy days to taste big, full-bodied red wines with us. Cheers!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I was talking to a customer this week, who is in a bit of a spirited challenge with a friend. This friend of his believes that the only good wine is expensive wine. He has a burgeoning cellar of high-priced wines, and, according to my customer, seems to think he knows what he is talking about. The gentleman in question has his heart in the right place, but I kinda feel he’s taken the wrong information and run amok with it. My customer seems to agree, and is going head-to-head with several selections from several appellations, a high-priced trophy wine vs. one of his more-bang-for-the-buck surprises.

I’d like to be a spectator to this one, because most people are always under the impression that “the more it costs, the better it is.” Especially in these dark times, that’s just crazy talk. With the WSJ discussing the whole “trading-down” trend in the wine world, everyone seems to be looking for a good value – except my customer’s friend.

One of the best surprises I have come across is the Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from Santa Ynez Valley. With winemaker Paul Hobbs serving as consultant, it is going to be good, but I dare you to put this wine up against the Caymus Special Selection, or the Joseph Phelps Backus, and see if you can taste a difference. If you can’t, and you think that the Caymus or Phelps is a better wine, you my friend, have been paying WAY too much for a bottle of California Cab. (We currently carry the Star Lane Cab for just $39.99, Caymus SS is currently $120 and Phelps Backus is hovering around $200.)

There are a lot of amazing bottles of wine out there for a helluva lot less than you would expect to pay for one of those “marquee” brands. Think outside the box for once, and you will most assuredly be pleasantly surprised. Hell, you might even start believing that less truly is more.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Our semi-annual Staff Showcase, or should I say, Showdown, begins tonight at our two stores. These tastings involve a simple task I give my wine staff – find what they believe is the best bottle we have in our stores for under $50 – and with their choices, we line them up, and let the customers vote which one is truly the best.

It’s not as easy a task as it sounds.

Our simple selection of around 3,000 different SKUs is just barely scratching the surface of all the wine out there (maybe 250,000 different SKUs (or types from all the various producers) on the market, maybe more) so what we have is certainly not a “BEST EVER” kind of event. No, we are a humble lot, in a small market (Cincinnati, Ohio) that simply wants to give our customers the best product we can, at competitive prices. An admirable goal we strive for everyday.

Yet getting back on point, the two stores have been divided into two teams – with 5 wines each, and this time, we brown bag them, and cloak them in complete anonymity. At no time will anyone know what we are pouring, other than the hints I dropped on Twitter earlier today ( I can sum up by saying that the wines break down like this: California, France, Italy, Spain and Australia are represented in this lineup. (That’s all you get.)

We provide ballots for the customers, with a separate sheet for note taking. If the customers wish to purchase these wines, they must PLACE AN ORDER with our tasting hosts, simply by denoting what wine they wish get pricing/order (the wines have been numbered 1-10). There will be no reveal whatsoever. No pricing will be given. You are completely in the dark. We may do this each time we hold these tastings (which are semi-annually, as I mentioned before).

Let the games begin.

[NOTE: I will post the results on Sunday.]

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Dievole Rinascimento 2006 is a very cool red blend consisting of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo and Foglia Tonda from the Tuscany, based upon the Chianti model, yet with very traditionalist leanings. Medium-bodied, with mild tannins and well-balanced acidity, it is the perfect red table wine for any time of the year. Plummy aromas lead off, with scents of white pepper, black cherry and violets, transitioning into flavors of dry red fruits, spices, fresh herbs, notes of light-roasted coffee, earth, and roasted peppers, this wine is made for pasta, pizza, burgers on the grill – just a great table wine.

BTW, Part 2 of my Italian Wine Primer is up at my friend Michelle Lentz’s blog,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Arceno PrimaVoce 2005 is a surprisingly good "non-traditional" blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah that is medium-bodied, and possessive of velvety smooth tannins and aromas and flavors of red and black currants, dark cherries, blackberries, tar, smoke, espresso, bay leaves, sage, thyme, forest floor, cinnamon, mocha powder, violets and so much more. It is a way for non-Italian wine drinkers to ease their way into the Italian style, without having to try a Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Aglianico or anything else that is "weird." Just a great Bordeaux+Rhone blend that speaks its mind, and satisfies your senses.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: The Tormaresca Chardonnay 2007 from Italy's Puglia region is a really nice surprise for those of us (like myself) who find Chardonnay (other than Premier and Grand Cru white Burgundies) flabby and boring. Here is a remarkably light, crisp Chardonnay, aged completely in stainless steel tanks so that there is nothing but the fruit to showcase. Aromas of fresh sage, star fruit, guava, pineapple and Meyer lemon come through with an inviting pitch, followed by notes of Bartlett pear, Fuji apple, fresh herbs, and lemon zest, to give you a refreshing style of Chardonnay that will match up well with grilled chicken and seafood dishes. The slight hint of malolactic fermentation gives it depth and richness that is usually lacking for the under $12 category. This is definitely worth a taste.

Monday, July 6, 2009


This weekend, my wife's cousin and her family were in town for a 4th of July family reunion. My wife hasn't seen her cousin in over 12 years - which means I have never met the woman. So, always the bold-and-adventurous type (you can hear my wife laughing hysterically right now), I opted to check out our good friend Matt Buschle's new restaurant, Virgil's Cafe in Bellevue, KY (just east of Newport).

Matt was taking a break from the restaurant biz, working at a jewelry store next door to our Fort Thomas store. He'd tell us he was getting ready to open a new bistro down by the river, and months later, his new joint, Virgil's, is going strong. Specializing in using local produce and refurbished furniture and restaurant equipment, it's a really good place to eat, and it's really affordable too. And that goes a long way these days.

So my wife and I took her cousin, her cousin's husband and father-in-law, Friday night, and the restaurant was packed (though it is a very small restaurant). We were greeted warmly by the staff, including our bartender AND waiter, Chris, who was terrific throughout the night (though my wife gave him a jovially hard time). We sat next to the window in the kitchen, and Matt gave us a shout, and told us to sit back and relax.

My wife and her cousin caught up on things, while I got to know the family a little more. Dinner was fantastic, and the wait was not long at all. With a glass of Marquis Philips Holly's Blend, I delved into Matt's Huevos Rancheros, which was delicious from start-to-finish (I could eat Breakfast 24-7 anyway), while my wife had the signature BBQ Ribs with a cherry and cola BBQ sauce, and what her cousin's father-in-law called "Georgia Ice Cream" - cheddar grits. Everyone seems very happy with their choice in dinner, and the restaurant in general. Husband and father-in-law, both Cajun, praised Matt's shrimp and sausage gumbo as authentic cajun style.

It was a great evening made better by Chef Matt and the folks at Virgil's. You should definitely check it out at

Saturday, July 4, 2009


For the 4th of July, I opted to go with something that could maintain my Italian tangent, as well as exemplify something truly American. The Pietra Santa Zinfandel 2005 is both a prime example of “America’s Grape” and an homage to its Italian (albeit truly Croatian) lineage. With notes of ripe red cherries and dark plums in the nose, you can almost sense it will marry well with burgers and steaks coming right off the grill. The red and black fruits persist on the palate, alongside touches of black pepper, sage, brambly blue and black berries, a splash of chocolate, Tabasco, and even a hint of espresso. There are earth and mineral notes in there for good measure, and the ripe, even-handed approach lends itself to a very satisfying, lingering finish. Fly those stars-and-stripes, shoot off some fireworks, grill out some meat, and celebrate Independence Day in style.

Friday, July 3, 2009


The Grade: OUTSTANDING. The Mojo: Continuing with an Italian theme, I recently revisited the Cusumano Insolia 2007 from Sicily. This indigenous white grape creates a wine that one could say (and the importer, Vin Divino, does) is like a cross between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay in flavor. Indeed, the wildflower aromas you get when you first smell this wonderful white wine is quite nice. There are hints of lemon zest and fresh herbs as well. On the palate, you are greeted with lush, ripe tropical fruits like guava, mango, pineapple and orange, with notes of star anise, butter cookie, and even a sprig of thyme. It’s a lively, refreshing white wine that pairs up well with light white fish, shellfish, light chicken, or even some eggplant parmesan. It cries out for a warm summer night on the deck.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I am back on a big Italian kick these days. The wines that lured me down the dark, seductive path of Dionysian pleasures is tempting me once again. One of the latest attractions is the Luigi D’Alessandro Cortona Syrah 2005, a vivacious, alluring 100% Syrah from Tuscany. Aged for around 8 months in 2-3 year old oak barrels, it maintains a youthful vigor that seems lost in a lot of its Australian brethren. Tuscany is certainly not renowned for its Syrah, yet Luigi d’Alessandro makes the astonishing Il Bosco, the big brother of Cortona, and is considered one of, if not the, greatest Syrah coming out of Italy today.

Filled with red flowers, clove, allspice and crushed red berries in the nose, the allure of this Syrah is much more sublime than the high-octane Shirazes, and even some of the weightier Northern Rhones. It romances the olfactory, bewitching the senses. On the palate comes juicy red raspberry, red currant, strawberry and fresh rhubarb, along with medium-bodied tannins, a pleasurable backbone of acidity, some hints of cinnamon, white pepper, and earth, all leading toward a lingering crescendo of flavor. It’s a really well-made wine that shows there is more to Italy than just Sangiovese.

BTW: Over at my friend Michelle Lentz’s blog – – my guest post is part one of an Italian wine primer, something to fill in the gap while Shel and her husband cruise the Alaskan coastline. Lots of great posts all this week and next. Check them out!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


A lot of times I think I can be too nice when it comes to dealing with importers and distributors. I mean, being a part of the wine business, everyone should be happy, easy-going, and cooperative, right? And usually, most of the folks are. Yet every now-and-again, I get someone who gets me so angry, that I wonder, “What is the point?” Especially when it comes to selling me wine, why would I want to buy from someone who is nothing but problematic? It doesn’t make any sense. Yet today I find myself in such a situation.

A few months back, I was told that the distributor I had been buying this particular portfolio from, was no longer representing the brands for either Ohio or Kentucky. Soon, I learned that a distributor I with whom have a great working relationship, was going to be representing the wines for our state. Awesome, I thought. And supply, which had been an issue before, was now not going to be even a hiccup. Then, a thorn in my side.

A retailer down state, who operates under the belief that it is 1979, protested the move, and the deal fell through, and a distributor that also operates archaically, is now the portfolio’s representation for Kentucky. It took a lot of hand-holding and reassurances for me to believe that things were going to be the same, if not slightly better.

Today was my rude awakening.

Pricing, which is a really big deal around here (our price advantage over Ohio retailers has to be maintained at all times in order to stay competitive), has been revealed to be upside down and backwards on this portfolio’s brands, with Ohio being cheaper on a random sample of items – which leads me to believe that we have just received a massive “shivving” at the hands of both importer and distributor. Why the jury is still out, and neither side has gotten back to me, I have to say, I am fuming. You would think that this kind of behavior in business would be avoided on the side of the suppliers, seeing as how everyone is hurting for business. Yet I am never really too surprised when this happens. There will always be someone somewhere who needs to screw somebody over.

How will this work out? Stay tuned.