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.


Page said...

Hey Matt,

I agree that visitors to wine trade shows, or any vendor event for that matter, really do get more out of the day when they make a plan. As trade show marketing consultants, it's our job to get the word out about our clients' offerings and to help them get on their prospect's dance card.

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