Monday, August 31, 2009


The first time I heard classical music, I was staying over at my Grandma Brennaman’s house in Dayton. She would play it while Grandpa was at work, just softly in the background. I never really thought about it all that much until later in life, when I was introduced to what would be my favorite composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, considered the last of the Russian Romantics (along with Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov). One piece of music I always count amongst my favorites is his Piano Concerto No. 2, which I will listen to often while writing.

Yet the piece that fascinates me, as it does with so many musicians of any ilk, is his Third Concerto, which is often considered the most difficult piece to play. It was even rumored that Rachmaninoff himself declared if anyone was to play it better than he did live, he’d never play it again. And that day did come, when Vladmir Horowitz accomplished the feat while performing for Rachmaninoff in the basement of Steinway & Sons in 1928. Rachmaninoff was so impressed, he never performed it live – only once recording it with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1939.

If you have seen the movie “Shine,” the docudrama of pianist David Helfgott, then you would know it is Concerto No. 3 (often called “Rach 3”) that drives him to a psychotic break. Helfgott was one of only a few who actually performed the piece live, along with Horowitz, Rachmaninoff himself, and Martha Argerich (the only woman to perform it ever). Check out her performance below with the Berlin Orchestra:

A difficult wine region to understand is Italy, due to the vastness of the wine producing landscape, as well as the overwhelming number of grape varieties cultivated for grape production, as well as many grapes with regional pseudonyms – I always find it difficult to talk to customers without a little information overload on my part.

One particular region I really get into and enjoy promoting to customers is Sicily. Due to its almost perfect climate of warm summer days and cool coastal breezes on all sides at night, the wines emerging from this region are breathtaking, and many at a terrific value. The Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2007 is a 60%/40% blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, two indigenous grapes that are really getting a lot of attention. Nero d’Avola often promotes itself as Sicily’s answer to Merlot, with bright red fruit, well-balanced acidity, and a soft fruit finish. Frappato is a less-known grape that lends its spicy, juicy character to this blend, which is the newest DOCG appellated wine from Sicily (the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – which denotes the highest quality in wine from Italy). Soft, medium-bodied, with a great deal to offer, this uncomplicated wine in the guise of something quite complicated is something to enjoy at almost any time. Likewise, Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 is a gorgeous piece of music that, once you get past its reputation, is something you can enjoy anytime.

Try them together. It may be an unconventional pairing, but it will be pleasing nonetheless.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


According to Wikipedia, “In economics, a monopoly (from Greek monos / μονος alone or single + polein / πωλειν, to sell) exists when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.[1] Monopolies are thus characterized by a lack of economic competition for the good or service that they provide and a lack of viable substitute goods.[2] The verb "monopolize" refers to the process by which a firm gains persistently greater market share than what is expected under perfect competition.”

Recently, it was announced that Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors were hiking prices in the fall, though it was unknown how much prices would go up. The AP reports that Pete Marino, spokesman for MillerCoors, said the increases would be determined regionally, depending on market trends. The logic behind this, according to Marino, was that pricing was competitive enough that the company could stand a moderate price increase. Call me another crackpot conspiracy guy, but methinks me smells a Monopoly.
Obviously, none of these guys at A-B and MillerCoors are struggling to make ends meet. Most folks have little or nothing when it comes to disposable income, yet the six-packs and 12-packs that most working folk buy on the way home from work on Friday perhaps could sacrifice a gallon of gas or shave $10 off their credit card payment?
I am always baffled by the logic these corporate individuals in the beer, wine and spirits industries use to justify any kind of price increase, let alone one during economic down time. Maybe John Nash can come and explain it to me, or some other whiz Economist, but pricing should remain static for now.

The real problem I have with price increases of any magnitude is that, working in a “bridge” store environment like Northern Kentucky - along with the triple dip taxing that our state government has inflicted on consumers - people who come across the bridge into our store or one of our competitor’s, they will find that beer pricing is actually higher than it is at their neighborhood convenient stores. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about it. The beer guys have the canned “blank stare” when our beer buyers press them on the reasons for any price increases. It is as if the beer guys simply turn on some subliminal radio station playing “Tubthumping” or “Mambo #5”, this voiding out any logical inquiry into the obvious Monopoly gamesmanship going on.
It is interesting to note that, according to the AP article, sales of both A-B and MillerCoors are down during this recession.

I still say, even though the price for it has gone up as well, people should abandon A-B and MillerCoors altogether and support Sam Adams, the only real large-production American brewery anyway, or get into Micros and good import beers. The crap A-B and MillerCoors sells isn’t technically beer anymore anyway, not with all the additives used to allow for those “Born-On” dates. Or maybe we can stage something akin to a Boston Tea Party, chucking Budweiser in the river or driving Miller Beer trucks off ocean piers. Would that make a difference? Probably not. But maybe, it would be another excuse for a party.

Friday, August 28, 2009


In this business you taste a bazillion wines and while you would like to carry them all, there is always the large, overbearing factor of limited shelf space you have to consider. One winery that I’ve always liked, but I have never been able to find the room for them in this store is Dry Creek Vineyard from California. The founding winery that bears the name of this distinguished California AVA has always been a constant figure on restaurant wine lists, yet for one reason or another, I just haven’t gotten around to putting them in our stores.

Good friend Matt McCormack, the regional sales rep for Dry Creek Vineyard, came around this past week, and once again, pitched the wines. And after clueing me in that the new winemaking team at DCV is the former duo of Chalk Hill Winery’s team – Bill Knuttel and Lisa Bishop-Forbes, along with assistant winemaker Nova Perrill, formerly of Mount Eden Vineyards. The result is the wines in general are neck-and-shoulders above what they were when I had the Fume Blanc and Heritage Zinfandel on the wine list at Café Boulevard of Dayton, OH 12 years ago.

The Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2008 is one of California’s most consistent white wines, and has seemingly gotten better and better with each vintage. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, completely tank fermented, this dry white wine possesses the kind of peach essence that makes you think of a Sunday drive through the Georgia Mountains. It's crisp, clean, and vibrant with all the fruit and liveliness you need.
Matt, with our former co-assistant wine buyer Jesse (now with SWS/Crane) chauffeuring him around, reminded me the quality and the natural accoutrement to food this wine is, and after years of prodding, the Chenin Blanc, along with its brethren, have found a home here at LD.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I was just reading Steve Heimoff’s latest post on more perimeter wine regions in California like Suisin Valley and Lake County, and it occurred to me that, especially Lake County, just doesn’t get enough attention in the media. Granted, if you spoke of this region 5 years ago, most folks would either shrug or cringe at the thought of it. Yet I recently stumbled onto a terrific Cabernet Sauvignon from the region from Line 39.

The Line 39 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is one of those great wines you cannot wait to tell customers about: full-bodied red, great flavors, and really affordable. Long-time friend Vern Shoemaker came by a few weeks ago along with our SWS/Crane manager Harold Greenman, and we tasted the Line 39 wines, and some of the sister wines from Redtree. All of these beauties, being produced by Cecchetti Wine Company in California, are really great values, coming down the pike at a time when we could use more wine values. Vern has this old Wolfman Jack-inflection in his voice, raspy and rich in baritone. The Line 39 Cab too, lends itself to a smoky, dark red fruit character, with elements of sitting in an old cedar chest being up to one’s eyeballs in red currant and wild raspberries. There is surprising density for this wine, which clocks in at the $10 price point.

I was impressed enough with this wine – as well as the accompanying Lake County Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – that I made them both our September Wines of the Month. It has proven difficult, if not impossible at times, to find a good under $10 red from California, but luckily, good friend Vern and the folks at Cecchetti have delivered one sure to generate repeat consumption.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am not a really big fan of television anymore. Too many of my favorite shows end up getting cancelled (My Own Worst Enemy, Life, Millenium, etc., etc.) and I absolutely abhor reality TV – the machination of Satan himself (anyone who doesn’t think the Bachelor or Survivor wasn’t a vision of Beelzebub is deluding themselves). Which is why if I am going to watch anything anymore, I want to get something out of it. My wife and I watch a lot of cooking shows, home improvement shows, and some stuff on History Channel and NatGeo, but she stumbled onto a very cool show, starring Zane Lamprey called Three Sheets. It airs on the Fine Living Channel, which is where all you Emeril, Wolfgang Puck and Martha Stewart fans can find them these days, as well as stuff like The Thirsty Traveler, Pairings with Andrea (as in Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson) and NapaStyle (with chef Michael Chiarello).

Anyway, Zane Lamprey is the ultimate international barhopper, migrating from one exotic locale to the next, whether it be Moscow, New Zealand, Croatia or Las Vegas. Along with his cast of characters including Jim the Cop, Steve McKenna, Curtis the Cameraman, and Pleepleus the stuffed monkey, Zane finds the wildest ways to get drunk, and the equally bizarre ways to cure those monster hangovers.

Check out the Three Sheets page on the Fine Living Network’s web site and watch full episodes, get the drinking lingo, learn drinking games, and get into the spirit of things. It is a really fun show that shows the remarkable universality of imbibing, and brings right into your living room.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Woman vs. Weber (Grill That Is) by Shannon

Continuing my culinary self-education, over the past few weeks I’ve been trying out my hand at the grill. I figured it’s the perfect time to learn, since the weather is nice and my friends are always hungry and ready to reap the benefits of my foodie experiments.

Now, I’ve always thought of the grill as a kind of man machine. Which is why I usually stay far, far away. However, after taking a few notes from my mom I’ve realized that women can be just as good, if not better, grillers than men.

Last week I tackled the ultimate grill challenge: steaks. After quite a humorous conversation with the butcher about selecting the perfect piece of meat, I seasoned them down with Montreal steak seasoning and set to work. I must admit the smell of sizzling meat is quite intoxicating. About 4 minutes on each side and I had the perfect medium steaks. (I know the cool kids are eating their steak medium-rare, I’m just not ready for that yet.) These steaks were accompanied by some grilled red-skinned potatoes and blue cheese, and a grilled zucchini/squash salad.

Although my steaks were very delicious, I think they were outdone by the wine we chose to accompany them, Burly Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004. If the name ‘Burly’ evokes in you images of big, hairy men, don’t be alarmed. The wine, although big and fairly masculine, is not hairy. It was rich, well-structured, with plenty of dark fruit flavors and subtle tannins. It paired perfectly with the meal, but was still the star of the show.

On Saturday the weather was a bit chill and overcast, so to liven up the mood I tried Hawaiian chicken. I let the chicken breast marinate all day in a Caribbean Jerk sauce. These were actually much easier, but took a bit longer on the grill than the steaks. I also drizzled some teriyaki sauce over pineapple slices and grilled these, too. Whether they were just being nice or not, my friends raved about this combo. For wine we did something simple, Black Box Chardonnay for the white drinkers and Coppola Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. To me, Black Box is the best when it comes to simple, clean box wines. The Director’s Cut Cab is probably my favorite wine in the Coppolas series; it has a nice smokiness on the finish which went perfectly with the slight spiciness of the chicken.

Since these two grilling adventures were a success, I look forward to more great meals! Maybe it’s not such a man machine, after all.

Monday, August 24, 2009


“Give me a Leonard Cohen afterlife/So I can sigh eternally” – Nirvana, Pennyroyal Tea.

I wanted to take a detour for this week’s Wine & Music Monday, because, for those of you who don’t know me, I love pretty much all kinds of music (except for newer Country music, which on the whole, I don’t get a lot of anything other than glossed-over production and ridiculous lyrics). I have been a big jazz fan for decades thanks in part to my father’s affinity for it, and of course, I am a big time Metal head. But one thing I picked up on late in life was the incredible lyricism and smoky voice of Leonard Cohen.

The first time I heard it was from the movie “Pump Up the Volume” in 1990. The song “Everybody Knows” was played in its original form, as well as at the end, covered by one of my favorite bands in the Nineties, Concrete Blonde. But it wasn’t until much later, that I really listened to his stuff, discovering that not only is he a revered singer/songwriter, but a well-respected poet (not really all that much of a stretch).

One of my favorite songs is something called “The Future,” a very bleak look at what lies ahead, as well as “I’m Your Man” (the title of a recently produced documentary about his life and music) and “Dance Me To The End of The World” (which was covered beautifully by Madelaine Peyroux. Of course, the most amazing song he has written is “Hallelujah” (masterfully covered by the late Jeff Buckley). His lyrics speak frankly about the reality of loving passionately, and sometimes tragically.

Take a listen to Leonard’s version here:

I sat around this weekend, thinking quietly about if Leonard Cohen were a wine, what could it be? An odd thing to think about, but if you knew me, you wouldn’t be too surprised. I wanted to match his voice, which sounds weathered and wise, with something old world, something French perhaps. I came across some tasting notes for a Pio Cesare Barbaresco 1986, a wine I had opened for watching the WEBN Fireworks on T.V. a few years back with some friends. I remember one of my wife’s co-workers had never drank red wine before, and she wasn’t sure she was going to like it. What a way to ruin a person right? I mean, 1986 was not the best vintage for Barbaresco, yet this wine, which at the time, was about 15 years old, was supple, silky and velvety across the palate. There was a lot of red berry fruit and a hint of baking spice in the nose. It had a warming, round mouthfeel, and the finish was quite nice. It was a shocker to taste what should have been an inferior bottle of wine, yet it made sitting around on the couch, long-distance spectators to a really exciting, social event all the more pleasurable. Likewise, Leonard Cohen’s music fills your ears and soul with a comfortable encounter that is both awe-inspiring, and reflective. Check out more of Leonard Cohen’s music at

Friday, August 21, 2009


Yesterday, it was another round of Sales Rep Speed Tasting. It’s a game I play inside my head whenever we have multiple sales reps in, and the tasting itinerary is LONG. Shannon and I hosted two of our favorite reps, Jen from RNDC/Cumberland, and David from RNDC/Kentucky, as well as the rep from Chateau Diana, a California line of wines being brokered here in KY by the Budweiser wholesaler.


Jen was first, with a bunch of new stuff from Coppola, plus the new Hideaway Creek wines, and a surprise from Wilson-Daniels, the Royal Tokaji Furmint. There was around a case of samples to get through, and in the interest of time, I was probably looking more like I was bellying up to the shooter bar (except I spit). You are probably thinking to yourself that this split-second taste is not going to formulate well in my head what the strengths and weaknesses of each wine were, and that I am really not giving them any merit or respect.

Well, I evaluate wine a bit differently in this context, looking only for that instant note, that tell-tale sign as to whether or not our customers will actually buy these wines. I taste, I get the price point, and it’s a fairly easy thing. It is made easier when Shannon, and even one or two of the wine staff is along for the tasting ride, as was our resident beer guru and Ft. Thomas wine guy, Brandon.

The Furmint was really cool, a drier style to the grape used to create some of the most sensuous dessert wines out there. This Hungarian white would be a great add, if only because I don’t currently carry any Hungarian still wines. The Hideaway Creek wines, from Terlato Family Wines, are the latest California venture for this international brokerage, and, as Jen explained, are going after Rodney Strong and Chateau St. Jean. Needless to say, I heard the price point, and groaned. A wee bit higher than the aforementioned twosome, so Terlato has some pencil-sharpening to do (something they aren’t real notoriously known for).

The new tier from Coppola, the Director’s series, not to be confused with the Director’s Cut (huh?), shows off some decent wines that are overpriced, and truly unnecessary additions for this oversaturated brand already. The Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon were good, but why not just take that juice and put it into the Director’s Cut? The only non-duplicated varietal, the Director’s Merlot, was really wood-y and didn’t have a lot of fruit character. The Votre Sante line from Coppola, with a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, were nice, and in very cool packages. Pricing is a bit high, but these were possible candidates for the shelves.

Our Bud rep came in with Gary Geiger of Chateau Diana (Black Oak, Le Baron Ranch, 1221). These wines were surprisingly decent – I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much. Falling in weird price points though, the Black Oak would be at that $6.98 to $7.98 range that is just odd, and I had to snicker at the 1221 line. I couldn’t really tell the guy that 12-21 is synonymous with the whole end-of-the-world thing (12-21-2012 is the date the Mayan calendar stops, and there is a big blockbuster movie due out in November called “2012.” It’s by the guy who did Independence Day…) The Bud distributor is new to the whole wine thing, so perhaps if some better programming comes along…

Finally, David from RNDC/Kentucky brought in some Kobrand Italians and New Zealand wines, as well as the new vintages of the Epiphany wines, including the sensational new Grenache Blanc. We tried the two Pinot Grigios from Pighin, as well as the Bollini, were good, but a bit expensive. The Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Te Kanu were all wonderful, and could find a home here, and the Epiphany Petite Sirah and the star of the day, the Revelation 2006 – just delicious and damn sexy! Shannon ended up taking it home with her.

A microcosmic look at what we do, in a nutshell – it’s a dirty job, but we’re glad to do it. It’s just some of the stuff I will lie in bed and muse over this weekend – to bring in or not to bring in. I am always on the clock. I would rather be thinking about Salma Hayek or Jessica Biel when I am sleeping, but I am always thinking about product – what is coming in, what do I need to sell through, what did I forget to order? It’s a never-ending thing. So it’s nice, during the daylight hours, to meet with the reps, and try a few things, joke about the competition, joke about the latest trends, and just joke around in general.

I wish I had more time to spend with our sales reps, but then, nothing would get done around here if Shannon and I were just hanging out in back, congregating around our tasting barrel, with the spit bucket filling up incrementally. We can wheel-and-deal, but at the end of the day, we are all still a bunch of salespeople. Gotta make money to spend it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The past few days have been a bit crazy. First, I have been waiting for the past month on the results of my CSW exam, and in my usual absent-mindedness gave them the wrong damn zip code, so needless to say, I have been waiting for a month for no reason. The good news is I passed, so now, it’s time to be enormously obnoxious with the letters C-S-W.

My post on Tuesday yielded unexpected correspondence with a notable magazine editor. Unlike what has been brought up in months past between this gentleman and fellow bloggers, I actually had what I perceive to be quite the academic exchange of ideas. Sure, we agreed to disagree, but the discourse was fairly cordial and enlightening. I promised him I would not post his emails, and I won’t – don’t need to – I just hope he can appreciate an impassioned retailer’s opinions, and maybe, just maybe, the seeds for a 100-point scale alternative can grow, at least sometime in the near future.

Just met with the local Budweiser reps, who have dipped their toes in the wine wholesale pool with a California producer, Chateau Diana. The wines are good, and priced decently, yet it remains to be seen if the Bud distributor wants to move product like their competitors, or be content to jack up prices like their beers.

I am onboard for the Washington Wine Road Trip, being held for retailers and wholesalers in October. Akin to the Oregon Pinot Camp, this wine juggernaut is boot camp for us second- and third-tier winos to help indoctrinate us further on the advantages and joys of all things Washington State. Of course, I will be blogging and tweeting from the road, so you’ll be in on all the madness.

Just some random updates for you. I’ve a weekend full of wine reviews, something like Kermit Lynch meets Philip K. Dick, with a touch of Allen Ginsberg for good measure.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2006 Caldwell Syrah by Shannon

I was so excited for some of my best friends from Miami to be in town this weekend. Coming in from Chicago and Columbus, we were able to catch up on each others lives and in general just enjoy each others company. I was also excited to hear that a few of my friends that live in Chicago have being going to wine tastings and have been trying different varietals. Knowing that I love wine they brought me a few of their favorites!

I’ve been on a lucky wine streak lately, and have gotten to try some really outstanding wines. I guess sometimes the gods just smile on you and throw great wine in your path. For example, this past weekend I tried the limited, hard to get 2006 Caldwell Syrah.

Some people may be familiar with the flagship wine from Caldwell, Rocket Science. The Rocket Science is well known for its funky-shaped bottle, but also as a powerful blend, typically with a majority of Syrah.

This 100% Syrah was huge. The nose was all spice-box tobacco and cinnamon. The first sip was relatively tannic, so we kept it open for a bit and revisited later in the evening. Still a bit closed up, we used an aerator for each pour. What a difference! It created a lovely texture, but still bold and powerful. The color was extraordinarily dark and inky. Although with the help of the Vinturi it was drinking great, I could see it using a few more years in bottle.

All-in-all, it turned out to be the perfect match for the dance party that sprung up around it! I guess that’s what you get when you combine good music, great wine, and even better friends!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The debate seems unrelenting. “Why do wine critics like Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator have such an enormous impact on the wine industry?” The short answer is “hell if I know.” Seriously, even as a retailer who has spent the better part of two decades immersed in the wine business, I cannot really wrap my head around such a concept. Yet when you sit down and really think about it, it is painfully simple: here in America, we as a people have an extremely short attention span. Generation after generation indoctrinated into the wonderful world of television, with what has often been called the McDonaldization of America going on within and throughout our society, we want people to tell us about something in 30 second increments, and we want to them to really “wow” us in that brief burst of time.

When it comes to wine, something entirely subjective and virtually to conceptualize within a tiny sound Byte, how do you do it? Easy, if you think numerically.

Growing up, and participating in the troubled American education system, you always strived to get those A’s and B’s because that could easily be interpreted as success to your family and friends. An A, at least for the majority of my academic life, was a score of 90 out of 100 and up. And while I certainly had some ups-and-downs in school, the majority of the time, I saw a lot of A’s and B’s. Was that necessarily an indication of my intelligence? Not really. If you look at my overall GPA (grade point average) from High School, it was a 2.6. Why? I failed English, technically, even though I passed the exam and received a C if I am not mistaken. What does that say about me? You’d probably have to be a guidance counselor to weigh in on that one. Funny that I would end up with an English degree, and I graduated from college with honors (I was 34 when that happened).

So how does this apply to wine? Well, for starters, as I have bitched and moaned about in the past – the 100 point scale used by Parker (created by him really), the folks at Spectator, Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, and every other major American wine magazine, is inherently flawed because it grades on body, not on quality. It is a very misleading scale, and one that not many retailers have railed against, because the scale sells wine. Is that wrong? You betcha. What can we do about it? The obvious answer is to stop using the scores. As retailers, we are the ones who have empowered these critics, giving them far too much sway in an industry founded on artistry and nature, and the craft of intermingling the two to create something ethereal, social, and beneficial to our health and well-being. By quantifying wine, a small few of turned something basic yet universally pleasurable into an elitist commodity.

Do I believe the tide is turning? Yes. More and more consumers seem discontent with the wines they buy solely on scores. Yet there are still those caught in the world’s hyperbole, doing everything as quickly and as hectically as possible, giving no time to contemplate the small stuff, leaving those “decisions” up to complete strangers (i.e., Parker, Laube, and their ilk).

The difficulty and the controversy created by these wine scores and how they drive the market is that the customers are being misled, not truly understanding that wine is a product of place, and the natural surroundings of said place. When wines are made for the scores, they are being crafted in a formulaic fashion, just like Coca-Cola®, Gatorade® or Yoo-Hoo®. There is a reason why there are so many different wines out there. Over-reliance on wine scores could very well lead to just a few wines: a Red Wine, a White Wine, a Blush Wine, a Sparkling Wine, etc. Just black letters on a white label, eliminating the need for wine stores, wineries, sommeliers, wine critics, etc., etc. All our wines made in one big factory, created in a completely chemical, monolithic atmosphere, by robot enologists.

Sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it?

The scores have become something of an addiction with retailers, mainly because of the dollars these maniacally orchestrated numbers generate. Yet it takes some diabolical plotting and planning, and some subversive training of one’s floor staff, to get them excited about wines devoid of any type of review or score, and in turn, exciting the clientele, so that one day, we retailers can take back control of what we sell, and help educate our customers in knowing there is more than just one type of wine out there that is good. Small moves, it takes. Small moves.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I’ve been on a big heavy rock jag lately, but I was reminded of a very cool blues band that I stumbled onto a few years back, thanks to one of my long time sales reps, Brian Scott, from Vintner Select. The band comes straight from the American Heartland – Indigenous. Begun back in 1998 by Native American guitarist and vocalist Mato Nanji, the guy has been lauded by the blues rock scene – including Mr. Eric Clapton himself, as possessing a warm soul, and universal blues sound. Though initially formed as a family band (with brother Pte on bass, sister Wanbdi on drums and cousin Horse on percussion, the children of the Nakota tribe in South Dakota recently split to find their own musical path, leaving Mato to continue the band alone.

The current release is entitled “Broken Lands,” and features the current single “Should I Stay.” I’ve been hearing it a lot on B.B. King’s Blues channel on Sirius, but here is the song “Things We Do.” The new stuff is phenomenal, and anyone into the blues that hasn’t heard this band, should definitely check them out.

Sort of tying in with an indigenous theme, of a different sort perhaps, is the Stonebrook Vidal Blanc from Kentucky, a well-done example of this Vitis Labrusca grape that grows around here like wildfire. Sure, it possesses that “foxy” element that most critics associate with the local wines, yet this one is not too sweet, holding on to a bit of Bartlett pear and Golden delicious apple notes, with a bit of nutmeg, maple candy, and sassafrass. I like that this particular Vidal doesn’t go to heavy into the sweet end of things, opting for a nice bit of acidity to give the wine a bit more universality – kind of like Indigenous and their music.

Wine and music, it’s a concept that yearns to bring different worlds together, and I think these match up well. I think both will be well worth the exploration.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


As a kid, I grew up in a small suburban neighborhood just east of Dayton, Ohio. My childhood wasn’t too terrible. My parents both worked, and my sister and I fought over the dumbest of reasons. I never understood it because later in life, my sister would one day save my very ass from self-destruction. Yet in the home of my youth, our yard was adorned with various fruit trees and one precious, ancient grape vine out back that was the custodian of prepubescent secrets and innocent daydreams.

Outside my bedroom window, on the southside of our house, stood a beautiful pear tree, that unfortunately succumbed to a blight just before my 11th birthday. I remember stealing its fruits during the autumn months before its demise, as the leaves turned their panoramic colors, from green to red, to gold, to brown. Something akin to Bartlett pears they were, always ripe and juicy, giving off hints of baking spice and instilling a joy that blanked away the storms that hovered just out of the periphery.
In my present life, I have become a professional wine taster, for the sake of analyzing them and determining whether or not they may have an audience in our stores. As a retail wine buyer, I taste a great many wines, and while some prove pedestrian, there are those that transport me back to my youth, and remind me of aromas and flavors I experienced at a more innocent, and much less jaded time of life.

One wine in particular that has always taken me back there is the L’Ecole #41 Semillion Columbia Valley. With the 2007 vintage, it is a bit less like the pears from my youth, yet I still see that tree through the window, sitting on the edge of my bed, as the sound of fighter jets streaking overhead (lived just south of Wright-Patterson AFB), and the voice of our neighbors playing catch with their collie. I can still hear the wind blowing through that pear tree, and every so often, the thud of its fruit hitting the side of the house as the wind too tried to steal a bit.

The nuttiness of the wine is reminiscent of the walnut tree out back, and the floral notes rising up were that of the neighbor’s yard across the street, whose finely manicured flower beds send their aromas as far as the next block over, scents that were intoxicating as I threw my baseball against my pitchback out or as I rode my bike to the park and back.

Wine has become something of a conduit to all the good things of my youth, and maybe a few of the bad. But as I have often heard, it’s not the destination, it’s the ride that matters most. Here’s to the creation of sensory time-travel.


Saturday, I was reading a post over at Good Grape by my blog/Twitter friend Jeff Levefre on the content of tasting notes, and how he basically says, “they all suck.” Indeed, when you read a review in Wine Spectator, or hell, even on this blog, you get the standard cursory tasting jargon that we wine “professionals” learn to recite and regurgitate on a daily basis, usually alongside some quantitative figure meant to rank the wine in question in terms of quality. But how do you honestly justify such an arbitrary act when tasting wine is a personal and entirely subjective experience, much like surfing, riding a bike, playing catch with your dog, or making love to your significant other.


The short honest answer is that you can’t. What the so-called wine critics “attempt” to do is convey their “opinion” in the guise of a number, and an eyewitness account of the event in which they have just experienced. Anyone who watches any Law Enforcement reality show is that any event is subject to different personal interpretations.

There are so many outside influences that can affect what a person tastes in a wine – Did the reviewer just brush his/her teeth? Did that person just have breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Were they ill? Was someone in the room wearing too much perfume/cologne? Was it a hot day and the person next to the reviewer sweating profusely? Did they serve a Mexican brunch prior to tasting and someone was feeling a wee bit flatulent?

You get my point.

The debate back and forth as to the relevance of the wine review is never-ending. Yet no one seems to want to put the review in context of the experience, and at least attempt to paint a more multidimensional picture of the experience, if that is even possible. You can certainly get all esoteric on your readers and concoct a diatribe worthy of the Beat Poets or my man David Foster Wallace, but is that any better than the straight-up, as-if-written-on-a-cereal-box description that is standard for the critics today?

Well, thanks to the many who have been debating in slight vitriol the substance of the review and the relevance of the score, I am going to work on perfecting my more abstract depiction of my own tasting experiences, in the hopes of finding a better way to illustrate what each wine’s possibilities or limitations could be. Maybe you will garner some insight from them. Maybe you will come away even more confused/irritated/unmoved by them. Maybe you will think me even more daft and obtuse than anyone else out there.

Who knows?

I think that as writers of the New Age, we have something to say, and something new to add to the adventure of wine. We are standing on the precipice of something completely different. I’m in for a bit of base jumping, how about the rest of you?

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Got word today that a wine store chain south of us is being sold to a massive chain from the Great White North. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Liquor Barn (with several stores in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky), is selling out to a Canada-based retailer with stores in British Columbia, Alberta, and Alaska.

What does this mean for us?

Probably nothing in the short-term. The long-term, who knows? I would find it hard to believe that this company would want to come up into Northern Kentucky. Our market is so different from what evidently attracted this conglomerate to Liquor Barn. The Liquor Barn chain is an entirely different animal than at least we are. In its present state, I don't believe Liquor Barn could exist here in NKY, simply because of how aggressive we and our competitors are against Ohio pricing - we are right across the river from a fixed-pricing system (the one in Ohio). But who's to say if that will or will not change.

It will certainly make things more interesting around here.

I don't know what that will mean with regards to the various importers tied up in exclusivity agreements with LB (the ones I bitch about so often), and I don't even know what that is going to mean for LB's current customers.

It was shocking news to say the least. I guess it is a sign that the virus called consolidation is not reserved for the upper two tiers of this business anymore.

Friday, August 14, 2009


The Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves 2008 is something like the return of a long-lost family member, who was lost-at-sea/lost-in-the-mountains/lost-in-the-Amazon-jungle… a lost soul just now finding its way back, a bit like Odysseus. This blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle has been one of my favorite white Bordeaux wines, and now that we have stepped up to the plate for our hero Kermit Lynch, we have finally welcomed this little beauty onto our shelves.

Produced by revered vigneron Hevre Dubourdieu of Chateau Romieu-Lacoste, this is an exceptional white wine that would be a likely choice for Fruti de Mer, a rather spicy sautéed seafood dish, traditional to French cafés and bistros this time of year.

Loaded with characteristics of limestone, redstone and grey silex, there are notes of lemon, fresh cut hay, thyme and traces of grapefruit and guava are intermingling in a context of well-balanced acidity and vibrant, racy fruit appeal. It’s certainly one of the best, if not the best value in white Bordeaux on the market today. Give it a whirl. If you are cooking something light at home, or just getting your guests primed for an inviting dinner party on the patio, this wine is perfect to get things started.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


For all you crazy kids jockeyed for membership to the Century Club, have I got a wine for you. The Domaine Labbé Abymes Vin de Savoie 2008 is 100% Jacquères, a native grape to the Savoie region in France, which can be found nestled tightly against the Swiss border in the central portion of the country, part of the Rhone-Alps region.

Comparatively, you could liken this to a Sauvignon Blanc, though there is much more minerality, and hints of almond paste, crème fraiche and fresh herbs. I have been a huge believer in this wine since I first tried it years ago. Our local gem distributor Vintner Select imports this one, though nationally it is mostly represented by Michael Skurnik.

The region of Savoie is primarily a region of white grape varieties, with Jacquères, Roussanne, Altesse (also called Roussette) and Gringet, as well as the red grape Mondeuse. These wines are characteristically mineral, floral and fruity, providing a great context for food pairings. Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are also produced here, and are reminiscent of their Northern Italian versions.

The Labbé Abymes Vin de Savoie is a youthful expression of the Jacquères grape, full of white flower notes and even a hint of star fruit and d’Anjou pears. I’ve served this alongside grilled flounder with a sauce remoulade, or just some raw oysters on the half-shell. And yes, it rocks with sushi.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

WBW #60: ZIN & BBQ

I found out that Megan from Wannabe Wino was hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday this month and that the concept for this month’s exercise was Zinfandel. A pretty easy subject around these parts, thanks to the local ZAP chapter and our staff’s own inherent love affair with what could arguably be called America’s grape. With that in mind, being the champion of all things difficult and obscure (according to my wife), I wanted to think outside the (California) box and try to find something a little different. Now, I know what you are thinking – Primitivo – but no, I am not going down that road either. Instead, I looked to the land Down Under for the Groom Bush Vine Zinfandel 2006 from the Barossa Valley.

Crazy, I know. A f’n Aussie Zin? Sure, it's obscure, but hear me out.

Groom Wines are from Daryl Groom, a former winemaker at Geyser Peak and Penfolds, and the Zinfandel grape fits in well with Daryl’s dual life of living in the U.S. and making wine in Australia. His Zin venture arose from cuttings acquired from Cal-Davis, and planted with its own rootstock in the Kalimna sub-appellation of the Barossa.
The 2006 marked the 2nd vintage of the Groom Zin, and while this has all the earmarks of a traditional California Zin, the richness and power of this Zin is all Barossa. Working hard to find sustenance in the thick clay soils of the Kalimna, the fruit is ultra-concentrated, and in the heat of the Barossa, the wine is superripe, with voluminous red and black fruit aromas and flavors, brambly fruit character, and loads of black and white pepper, pomegranate and red currant notes. There is a balanced presence of acidity that makes this equally a food-wine as much as just quaffing material, yet with only 367 cases of this beauty produced, there is not much to go around.
I brought a bottle home a few months back and paired it up with some grilled steaks, and some grilled vegetables, which was obviously the right way to go. My wife was thoroughly surprised by the fact that this was an Aussie Zin and not from California. You’d never guess that it came from the Barossa, although its body and fruit character could hold up against any Napa or Sonoma Zin monster out there. We had some wine leftover – yeah, I know, I know – so next night, we grilled some country pork ribs with Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. The wine was better on day two, and was just sheer decadence with the ribs. Being that I sample so much wine at work, I have become something of a lightweight these days, so a glass or two of a massive Zin and a bunch of grilled meats will knock me cold on the couch before The Situation Room on CNN is over (example seen on the right). Yet I found myself wishing I had thought to bring home 2 bottles. My wife certainly said the second bottle would have meant I was getting’ lucky that night. (He swings and misses a high fast one in the corner…) Instead, another evening with our House Yeti (pictured holding me down on the right).
Thank yous to Lenn at LENNDEVOURS and Megan at Wannabe Wino for the latest WBW. And hope you get to try a bottle of this stuff. The 2007 is supposed to be otherworldly. Maybe I'll remember to get two...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cutting Edge Selections Product Show by Shannon

On Sunday Ray, Corey and I headed down Columbia Parkway to Cutting Edge Selection’s Product Show. I think we were all in need of a little ‘hair of the dog’, and what a better way to assuage our self-induced grief than to taste some really incredible wines?

Cutting Edge as a wholesaler really gets it right. When we walked in we were greeted by a table of a new sake line, which we carry, called Sake2me. These in my opinion tasted like wine coolers, but refreshing none the less. There was also a beautiful spread of cheeses, salames and olive oils, and a huge bowl of crawfish! I was too weary of the crawfish to try them, but I did see some brave souls dissecting them. As I was leaving I noticed someone preparing what looked like lamb on a hot grill outside…yum!

In total there were 18 tables of vendors set up around the warehouse, and it was really quite informal. After saying hello to our hosts, Mark and Steve Maher, and our rep, Tom Stephens, it was time to try some wines! The following is a list of highlights.

Ray’s Picks:

2009 Crios Torrontes. Even better than the 07!! Bursting with floral notes on the nose and the most clean, crisp torrontes that I have ever had.

2007 Chateau Musar Rouge. What a rock star at under $20 retail.

1924 Pedro Ximinez Alvear Solera. Tasted like maple syrup with walnuts. What an outstanding dessert wine!

Shannon’s Picks:

Disznoko 5 Puttunyos. This Hungarian Tokai was really a standout for me. Sweet like honey, but with perfect acidity to match. I think these kinds of wines are truly amazing, considering the back-breaking effort that goes into making them, and the unique wine that results.

Seven Hills Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard 2003. I have become a bigger and bigger fan of Washington Merlot, and this little gem again showed me why. Fluid and lush on the palate, offering red fruits and little tannin. This vintage is drinking perfectly now.

Four Graces Pinot Noir Black Family Estate 2004. What can I say about this Willamette wonder? Fruity, with a bit of austerity to it that kept me guessing. Complex, with a lingering finish. Worth the $80 price tag? For a special occasion, absolutely.

Corey’s Picks:

Surprisingly, two Chardonnays. Why? "Because they were clean, not that overdone Californian crap. "

lmarosa Chardonnay 2008
Stoller Chardonnay SV 2007
Penner Ash Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2007

Monday, August 10, 2009


One of my favorite bands is Failure, the project of L.A. musicians Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards, two musician/engineers that have collaborated with the likes of Maynard James Keenan from Tool (in the really cool covers project The Replicants), Queens of the Stone Age, and a host of others. Though Failure is no longer a group, I recently downloaded the “Magnified” CD, which was released originally in 1994, ironically around the time that my first marriage was disintegrating, and I was heading out to what was to be a failed migration to L.A.

Failure (the band) has pretty much been a band that mostly other musicians “got.” Their dark histrionics and self-deprecating lyrics struck a chord with me the first time I heard them, which I believe was riding around with a friend of mine on the way to work., listening to WOXY when you could get them in your car. The song was called “Stuck On You” a song about (in the words of Stephen King) “earworms” – those songs that just stick in your head and you can’t stop singing them. Failure’s homage to those earworms is itself an earworm, and I still find myself singing it wherever I am.

You can check out the video here:

I was trying to come up with a wine that might fit that category, something that you can remember wherever you are, no matter if you haven’t had it in a long time, or just finished up a bottle. One that comes to mind is the Luigi d’Alessandro Fontarca, a Chardonnay/Viognier blend from Tuscany that is one of the fullest-bodied whites I have ever had. It fills the palate with so many layers of fruit and spice, that the finish just rolls on long past your last glass. Pineapple, passionfruit, banana, star fruit, guava, mango, nectarine, cinnamon, nutmeg, crème fraiche, almond, coconut – it just goes on and on and on. I usually get this wine in the store every so often, simply because it is not a cheap white wine. But for those of you looking for a truly sexy bottle of white wine for that next date night, or just something to marry with a vibrant, tropical themed menu, this bottle is it. And listen to a bit of Failure. It’s the only kind I am sure you’d like.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Every so often, you have to stop and remind everybody how your mind works when you do something for a long time. Here at the Grape Tree, I’ve been “reviewing” wine for over a year in the manner I have been writing reviews in-store for years now, and as there are a few new readers on this blog, I thought it best to offer up a refresher for all who actually drop in on the blog from time-to-time exactly how my reviews are laid out.

For starters, I don’t like to use a point scale, because I don’t like to quantify an “experience.” I feel like a judge at a figure skating competition – tasting Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, and, VOILA! I hold up my card – 7.6. No, I’ll leave that to the guys getting paid to do it. My “scale” is simple: from best to worst, AMAZING, OUTSTANDING, and AVERAGE. Good and vague and open to interpretation – just the way I like it. And then of course, the mojo. This is where I tell you a little something about the wine in question. Having written these for shelf talkers in the stores, the “mojo” was more an explanation of why I brought it into the store, whether it was extremely rare, a unique interpretation of the varietal(s), or something that just rocked my world.

I usually review around a dozen wines a month, mainly because I can’t get to many more than that, but also because I just don’t want to be solely a wine reviewer. I like writing about my experiences in this business, whether it’s people I meet, wineries I have visited, trade shows, or just the goofy machinations of the wine & spirits industry.

These wines are not submitted to me by wineries or importers, so I do not get free samples like most of my blogging or writing brethren. While I do get samples, they are for the store and are to make a determination on whether or not to carry them on our shelves. The reviews are more a means to promote these wines in our store, and posting them on our blog is just an added bonus.

My approach to this whole blog thing is much different than most wine blogs out there. It began as another avenue to convey what is new and what is going on in our stores, and has grown into its own animal online. It has opened many doors, and reached out to people throughout this industry, connecting us to the greater wine world than just what exists in and around the metropolitan Cincinnati, Ohio region. It has becomes something very cool, and I hope, adds another voice to what is a veritable cacophony of voices championing the beauty of wine. Naysayers be damned, the Internet was created for an uncomplicated and expansive exchange of ideas, and the wine blogosphere is just that. As for our wine reviews, they are a bit different, and are honestly, no more than my humble opinion on particular wines that have captured my attention in the short-term. I have spent the past 20 years learning all that I can about wine, and it’s a continuing process, yet the reviews found here at UTGT are meant to share that experience and that growing knowledge with our readers.


Friday, August 7, 2009


It was a long time coming, I thought, as I met with Katie Schoeny, the French portfolio rep for Vintner Select, a distributor/importer based in Mason, Ohio. I have been anxious to meet her for over a year, ever since she assumed the position from one David Schildknect, the now staff writer for Robert Parker who is considered the foremost authority on German and Austrian wines IN THE WORLD (shades of the Waco Kid). Big shoes to fill, though Katie really isn’t replacing David. David wore many hats at VS, and Katie is focused solely on France. Katie worked at one of the better wine stores in the area, a store that specialized in French wines so she really knows her stuff.

Truth be told, when she was in the market for a new job, prior to her joining the VS team, I had tried through a friend to get her to come to work here. She is most certainly not aware of that – the friend had assured me that she was trying to get OUT OF the retail business and climb the ladder to the next rung – that being the supplier side of things. She would have been a great addition to our team though.
Back to our meeting – she is very energetic, and very knowledgeable about French wines, as she brought with her some terrific, more affordable red Burgundies from Domaine Besson, Jean-Luc Dubois and Daniel Bocquenet.

All 2006 vintage, a problematic vintage only in that it follows the phenomenal 2005, the two Domaine Besson offerings, the Givry Le Haut Colombiere Rouge and Givry Petit Pretan are both exceptional values, both clocking in under $20. That alone makes these two wines from the Cote Chalonnaise subregion in Burgundy (south of the Cote du Beaune) extraordinary.

The two beautiful wines from Jean-Luc Dubois, the Savigny-les-Beaune 2006 and Beaune Cent-Vignes 2006 are exceptional, with loads of depth and character. With more noticeable oak, these wines seem to need a little time before they are really ready to show their wares. Still, I was again impressed.

The last wine Katie had was the Bocquenet Nuits-St.-Georges, which has always been a favorite of mine. It was quite shy, but alluding to great things to come with sublime cherry, nut and raspberry notes lingering on the back end. Though we still have some 2004 on the shelf, the 2006 she had brought was quite pleasing.

I look forward to working with Katie on building a bigger, better French category here at LD. I only hope she doesn’t get weirded out by me blogging of our brief meeting together. I have to say though, that it is people like her that make me excited to show up for work each day. I love learning more about this business, and enjoy it more when there are good people who have the knowledge and passion to impart.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


This week has been a bit crazy. Every other month, I decide the store’s floor displays need to be rearranged, and like some Michaelangelo on acid, I have these different arrangements in my head, ones I am unable to translate into words (or else I would have someone on the staff with a younger and healthier back do it). It’s almost a whole-day-event, and these days, it’s a one-and-a-half shirt job.

I am sure a lot of my peers in this profession don’t mess with moving so many boxes around; they have stock people and floor support to do that for them. I am one of the weird ones who would just assume do it myself – the whole specific vision thing.

This month, while moving the stacks of featured wines around at our Fort Thomas store, I was thinking about a few things that are transpiring in the business: supplier consolidation, supplier expansion, the state of wine blogging and print media, etc., etc. A man my age should be thinking about Jessica Biel or Megan Fox (falling into that Mid-Life fugue state), but I actually love my job enough to be in a constant state of rethinking my approaches to it.

On my supplier front, I have one distributor adding a fifth division to their operation, which may prove problematic, expanding their sales rep stable to five per account. Five different people from the same company calling on you, at least to me, seems ludicrous and unproductive, but I have been assured that they will try to whittle that down a bit for me (perhaps 3 or 4 instead of 5). Another distributor is reeling from the loss of their portion of Constellation Brands here in Kentucky. And there doesn’t seem to be any sign of adding replacement brands, so who knows where their heads are at in this stage of the game. And still another distributor is morphing into a more streamlined, esoteric, boutique wine wholesaler, having lost virtually all their spirits brands and the majority of their bulk wine brands. This is a big step in an alien direction for one of the country’s oldest family-run distributorships whose focus has almost always been liquor.
What does this mean for us? New perspectives and new approaches from folks that seem reluctant to drastic change – it is a notion that always strikes me funny, given the ever-changing landscape of the wine and spirits industry. You almost need a scorecard to keep track of everything.

I keep reading various blogs and magazine articles about how wine blogging is changing the way information is conveyed on wine, and how many think print media is dead or dying. I find myself standing on middle ground with this debate. I think about the whole Kindle thing, and how people speak of printed books as being obsolete. A weird concept for me because of my desire to become a published writer in the novelist sense, and having already published one book of poetry (you can buy it for under a buck online at Amazon right now, ha!). The magazine writers lobbing their sore loser grenades at the new vanguard of online writers, who blog as if they pontificate atop the highest mountain, speaking to the troglodytes below. It is all so reminiscent of the pettiness of a schoolyard shouting match. Face facts y’all – the wine writers for Spectator, Parker, Enthusiast, are not going anywhere – yet. And we bloggers will be the redheaded stepchildren for some time to come, due to the overwhelming majority as being simply neophytes who “enjoy” their subject, but are not certified experts in their subjects. Not that many of the print writers are actually certified anything, they are just more legitimized by the fact that they are getting paid for their work. Most of us bloggers are not.

Speaking of bloggers, locally, I stumbled onto two new wine bloggers. Tom Johnson writes for Louisville Juice, and joins renowned wine writer Robin Garr and his crew at Wine Lovers Page, as representing the Louisville contingent of wine geeks. Welcome to the neighborhood, Tom! The second blogger is not entirely a wine blogger, but more like a consumer blogger, exploring her economizing of drinking wine from the box, and expanding it with some real life frugality that is certainly welcome in these sad economic doldrums. Glad to have you around Amy Deal, and give my regards to the Gem City. Check Tom’s blog at Amy’s blog at

I hope to be caught up enough to get some blog posts up ahead of schedule. I have two trade shows this weekend, plus Wine & Music Monday, Wine Blogging Wednesday, and a few reviews of some South American wines I’ve been meaning to get to, all on deck.

Until then, cheers!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I’ve been in a funk lately. And today is even worse. Ever since I drove to Atlanta and back in one day to take my CSW exam, I have been “burnt to a crisp.” I can’t seem to shake this raging apathy, and it would seem that I am in desperate need of a vacation. But taking a vacation from here means a whole host of other problems in dealing with work, my cats at home, my wife’s health issues, etc., etc. I know what you’re saying. “You’re just making excuses.” And you may be right, but it is still a hassle to just pick up and go somewhere (a vacation is not a vacation when you just close yourself up at your house – which is what I usually do).

Despite the overwhelming need to “take five,” I am pushing forward, unlike our elected officials, who, while the country is still F.U.B.A.R., they are headed for an August recess. Not like they can get anything done anyway, their minds so far out of touch with reality that it would take the invention of the Warp Drive, and perhaps a bit of time travel, to bring them back here where the rest of us reside.

I have a laundry list of things to do around the store each day: stock, order, check signs, post reviews, update Web site, look for special deals, talk to sales reps, talk to customers, talk to staff, re-merchandise shelves, work on presale items, research new press, research old press, make phone calls, come up with sale items for print ads, post to the blog, post wine Tweets, and on and on. It’s a never-ending chain of events that starts the beginning of each day and ends, and starts all over again.

I can bitch and moan, but in reality, I have a great job, and I am surrounded by great people. I do this job because I love it, and I have fun doing it. Burnout comes with the territory. It doesn’t really take much to get my head back in the game. Usually, it takes an ass-chewing by the boss, or a colossal blunder by the staff or myself, or a swift kick to the belly button by the Mrs.

I have been dealing lately with some wholesaler restructuring, which is proving to be difficult as far as keeping some brands in stock. Constellation Brands is transitioning into one wholesaler house, and with it comes a host of out-of-stock items. It is proof to me that these importers and brokers don’t really care about the consumers at all – they are in it for profit alone. I never understand that because if you truly want to be profitable, you need people to WANT to buy your product. And if you piss them off, why will they WANT to buy your product THEN?

I am in that rut where you think about your job too much. I was laying in bed last night, thinking about some Bordeaux wines I needed to clear out to make room for some 2006s that I am ordering today. Some products that have sat too long, and I should have pulled the trigger to clear out weeks or even months ago – wines that are still good, but I chose to sit on inventory instead of clearing it out. When there are a million and one things rolling around in a brain as pickled and bludgeoned as mine, you could wonder how any decisions get made at all.

I don’t know if you call this “malaise,” a “business melancholy” or just “a desperate need for some serious R&R” but just needed to purge a few things on this dark and stormy afternoon.

Tomorrow, we return to our regularly scheduled pandemonium.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The term “supergroup” is often a ridiculous term in the business of rock ‘n’ roll, yet every so often, you come across a band that deserves that moniker and then some. So goes the newest supergroup, Chickenfoot, with former Van Halen frontman, solo performer (and lead singer for the band Montrose – going WAY back) Sammy Hagar, plus ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, renowned guitarist Joe Satriani, and drummer Chad Smith (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Born out of jamming at Sammy’s infamous club in Baja California, the debut CD has all you need in some good, dirty rock ‘n’ roll: screaming vocals, shredding guitar solos, great hooks, and a rock solid rhythm section.

As hard as it is for me to say, since I grew up idolizing David Lee Roth, I really liked Sammy’s version of VH, with more accessible songs, and a broader vocal range. Though more melodic, I could listen to those CDs all the way through, while I found myself fast-forwarding through a lot of DLR’s VH stuff. And for those of you who have no f’n idea who Joe Satriani is, he taught a lot of the axe slingers coming out of San Francisco in the 80’s and 90’s, and even before then. I remember hearing that he taught Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Steve Vai (of David Lee Roth’s solo band, Whitesnake and Frank Zappa). The end result is a radio-friendly rock record the likes of which I don’t think I’ve heard in a long time. (I am in fanboy mode right now, I know.)

Check out Chickenfoot’s song “Down the Drain” here:

Sammy’s big tie to the wine & spirits industry is of course the Cabo Wabo tequilas. Having given up most hard liquor for eternity (drank too much in my rock days), I still like me some tequila, and while there are other premium tequilas that are just as good or (forgive me Sammy) better, for the money, you can’t really beat Cabo Wabo Reposado.

But I was recalling a wine a friend had brought me one time, that unfortunately, you can’t get here in Kentucky, the Monte Xanic Chenin Blanc, a white wine from the Baja California region in Mexico, to be more precise, the Guadalupe Valley. Now, most folks don’t realize that there are some good wines produced in Mexico, but as you might guess, they are a hard sell here in the States. In fact, I know Monte Xanic used to be available around here, but that was years ago.
The Chenin Blanc, as I recall, was clean, and quite fruit-driven, with ripe honeydew melon, kiwi and hints of star fruit and crème fraiche. It was a surprisingly good wine that was shared by a few friends alongside some sushi.

So Chickenfoot and Monte Xanic, for some fun and relaxing summer days. And if you can’t find the Monte Xanic, Cabo Wabo will do just fine.