Wednesday, September 30, 2009


A month or so ago, I was re-introduced to one of my favorite Italian importers, Vias Wines, and a red blend from Puglia, the Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva 2006. The Salice Salentino DOC region is one of the most southernly wine regions within the Puglia (the “heel of the boot”). This particular producer’s Salice Salentino is a blend of 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera, and is primarily fermented in stainless steel tanks for a cleaner presentation of fruit. It sees a bit of malolactic fermentation to round off the acidity, lending to plusher presence on the palate.

I love the wines from Puglia, mainly because they are affordable, easy-to-drink, and extremely food-friendly, whether you’re having burgers, pizza, pasta or even some Sweet-n-Sour Pork. By design, they are built for food. The Cantele Salice Salentino is a terrific wine for dishes like the Baked Ziti I made (per my wife’s instruction) over the weekend. There is a bit of rustic, earthy character, yet there are loads of blackberry, mulberry, clove, and roasted herb notes throughout its smooth finish. Give it a try, and become an Italian wine convert tonight!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Honestly, I think this beast will never die…

I saw last week on Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog that he has thrown his lot behind the 100-point rating scale, endorsing it, and saying that wine drinkers like it. I realize that many of the wine bloggers out there, along with a growing disgruntled contingency, were left with their jaws scraping the asphalt upon reading this, but like Tom, I have to agree with him, at least on the allusion that the scores make it easy for wine drinkers to find good wines.

However, I would have to disagree with him on just about everything else.

I spent all weekend debating on whether or not to chime in on the comments portion of Tom’s blog, or write about it here, or just simply let a sleeping dog lie. Obviously not one to leave the dog alone, I feel compelled to throw out another two cents into the cesspool of opinion, a pool that seemingly holds more garbage than anything else.

I agree with Tom that the 100-point scale has made it remarkably easy for wine consumers to breeze into their local wine haunt and pick up the latest 90+ trophy from Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, etc. But it has done something else too. It has taken away that explorative aspect that makes getting into wine so thrilling. Granted, many wine consumers just don’t have the time to do the research that many of us wine geeks (sommeliers, wine writers, winemakers, etc.) love to do. Yet I can’t tell you how many customers over the years I have talked to who tell me, “I bought this wine the other day… it was 92 points in (whatever magazine) and they said it was excellent… I took it home, and I thought it was terrible. Why?”

The easy answer is that that particular reviewer’s tastes and the customer’s are very different. Does that make the customer wrong? Hell no! Does it make the reviewer wrong? Again, no. The simple truth is that one person’s tastes are completely different from the next, and trying to place a cumulative score on something as subjective as a wine is near-impossible. Sure, it is done daily thanks to the Internet and the gazillion wine reviewers online at any given moment. Yet it would be difficult to say that their critiques carry into the majority of wine drinkers. Maybe yes and maybe no. The bottom line is that there are no absolutes, and anyone who says one reviewer or one palate is better than the next, is just crazy.

Over my career in this business, I have learned to “interpret” the reviewers” and detect their biases. I have come to rely mostly on Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar to give me the least biased, although they seem to be especially hard on Australian wines. Nevertheless, with Tanzer, each wine earns every point they get. Wine Spectator’s reviewers seem to have certain biases based upon the beats they cover (James Laube=Napa, Harvey Steinam=Australia, James Suckling=Tuscany perhaps), though the main bias seems to be the high-end wines, the ones that 95% of the wine consumers out there will never, ever try. I like Wine & Spirits because of the credentials many of their writers possess (lots of initials following many of the writers), and Parker is at least known for his impartialness (though most of the great reviews lean heavily on big, massive fruit bombs).

I’ve had these discussions with my owner, who was buying the wines here long-before me, and he will always say, “press is King.” And even though I see the immediate results at the register, ultimately, as I have discussed this with the editor of a major wine magazine, is that the time is now for the system to reinvent itself. We need something that is going to give the customer more information in as concise a manner as the simplistic 100-point score. As ones indoctrinated by the 100-point system via the American education system (I am beating that dead horse again), we simply see 90 points and think it’s an A- or a B+, depending upon where you grew up. Yet what does that really tell you about the wine? And how the heck did the reviewer come to that score? What sets it apart from all the other 90 point wines?

More people ask these questions all the time. And still more customers still don’t know what the heck the score is supposed to mean? I still have customers that see the score, and go, “so what?”

So what indeed.

Monday, September 28, 2009


(I originally wrote this piece for the Web site my oldest friend Dale Adams runs and hosts for his music engineering company, The Architek. Dale is a recording engineer and producer in Atlanta, and thought it might be interesting content to write a post on some new music and wine, something we both appreciate. Though it was penned a year ago, I wanted to share it with everyone on Under The Grape Tree. This is an excerpt from the original post, entitled ."Haunting The Senses". The music is Otis Taylor’s “Truth Is Not Fiction,” and the wine is Gros Nore Bandol 2006.)

Otis Taylor is a bluesman in the rawest sense of the term, penning songs that are steeped in roots, folk and soul, choosing to utilize instruments like banjo and cello to paint stark, bitter landscapes that he labels “trance blues.”

My wife and I first became aware of him while watching the recent Mark Wahlberg movie “Shooter.” Part of the movie’s soundtrack was an amazingly stirring tune called “Nasty Letter.” Emotive and effecting, the story brings out raw, bloody feelings of longing and despair. Conjuring images of dust, dark and cold earth, it is amongst the most primal of songscapes I have heard since first hearing the old mono recordings of Robert Johnson and Elmore James.

There are 12 songs on his Truth Is Not Fiction CD. The first song on the disc, “Rosa, Rosa” is an homage to freedom fighter Rosa Parks. “Kitchen Towel” follows with the tale of a Native American family’s failure and brutal demise. “Comb Your Brown Hair,” “Babies Don’t Lie,” and “Be My Frankenstein” all touch on love, life and living in such a desolate, vividly provocative way, his vocals resonating up from subtle to berserk, reminiscent of Screaming Jay Hawkins. Like driving a long desert highway, as you come over the horizon, the song “House of the Crosses” delves deep into human suffering with a fictitious story of a young boy who grows up to be the prison guard to his murderous father. With only acoustic guitar and cello behind him, the story winds through a barren landscape.

With each passing song, the images of a long journey, wrought with anguish, foreboding and despair wash over you, with an underlying naked beauty that glimmered hope in at least the tiny corners of its tone. “Nasty Letter” chimes in with a cold reminder that love is not always kind, the story revolving around a harsh goodbye. Again, only acoustic guitar and cello are there to prop up the heartbreaking lyrics.

The record finishes up with the standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” a plea to the listener to stay awhile, and give solace to the words and music Taylor constructs.

While I wanted to post the video for "Nasty Letter," what I found on YouTube was weird so check out the song "Walk On Water:"

So why Bandol? Well, Bandol in general is predominantly Mourvedre from the Provence in France. Legendary reds that cry out “dusty, earthy wines” the Gros Nore Bandol is indicative of the terroir – red clay and pebbles. The Mourvedre gives the wine a gritty tannic grip, like walking in a desert for days with no water. Grenache and Cinsault ease the dryness with glimpses of sexy red fruit, lending to its acidity and complexity. The Mourvedre however, gives the wine a dark, brooding depth, almost mysterious with its opaque color in the glass, and the dense, concentrated mouthfeel. Robust and feral, the wine gains momentum in the glass, taking in oxygen and releasing increasing glimpses into its shadowy personae.

Otis Taylor and Bandol. Light a candle, plug in, pour and enjoy.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I have to hand it to good friend Terry Shumrick, winemaker for Kentucky’s own Stonebrook Winery in Camp Springs. I am a HUGE Cabernet Franc fan, and to try a Kentucky Cabernet Franc – I was shaking in my boots. But much to my surprise, I was really knocked out. A ten dollar Cab Franc, from Kentucky, that tasted really good – who’d have thought?

Last night, we had Terry in the store to feature both his Stonebrook wines, and his ShumDaddy BBQ sauce, as he brought in some BBQ pork to share with our customers. Very cool, and a really great idea to venture down the road maybe 20 minutes, for dinner on a Saturday night (the only night they are open for dinner at the winery). Yet the Cabernet Franc – what a hit that one was!

Sure it is not Cheval Blanc, but it’s not a mortgage payment either.

Smooth, medium-bodied, with playful blue and black fruit aromas and flavors, it is a very accessible, user-friendly red wine that will be great for burgers and steaks on the grill. It is not a really tannic, stemmy tasting Cab Franc like some kind, with that overt vegetative aftertaste that makes you wish the winemaker took a pass on that Cab Franc fruit – no, this one is really good.

Cab Franc from Kentucky. Now anything is possible.

Friday, September 25, 2009


For starters, I am no mathematician, which sucks because I could use a bit better background on accounting and economics every now and again, but I can at least understand the numerical portion of supply-and-demand every time I get a paycheck. The impending OND season (October-November-December for all you non-retailers out there) is descending quickly, and as I have hinted before, it gets a little crazy around here.

The fun of it all is meeting new customers, and getting better acquainted with old ones, seeing their continuing evolution of the whole wine adventurer thing. It's nice to be a stop on their journey, and at times, it gets downright communal in here, like the general store or local diner of yore.

The downside of the chaos is the long hours, the in-fighting with staff and management, the disgruntled and short-fused lot that pop in on the days when you feel your most crappy. It never fails this heaping helping of "oh shit!" that comes one's way when wearing the uniform of wine schlub. Don't get me wrong, I love this job. But yeah, the days are coming when the 24-7 Christmas music makes you want to drive a steamroller over a crowd of little kids and puppies, and you'd seriously like to subject the ghost of Norman Rockwell to the eternal damnation of watching reruns of MTV's Real World forever.

Gearing up for the holidays, it is almost like a scavenger hunt, trying to find those deals and products that will one-up the competition, driving traffic off the highways and into OUR stores. The boss is screaming at me to pay more attention, harass the sales reps, pressure supplies, etc., customers are asking everyday for those "holiday blowouts" and suppliers are begging me to add all these brand "line extensions" at a time when the focus needs to be the best bargains I can get.

Ah, the joys of wine buying.

Adding inventory into the mix (which our stores are doing next week) and you have an expanding hole in the stomach and a spike of Biblical proportions in the blood pressure. But hey, I eat stress for breakfast (with big thick strips of bacon and strong black coffee, bee-yatches!).

Just taking a moment on a rainy Friday to bitch before the weekend. Bring on the chaos.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I read today that Havens Winery in Napa is being liquidated. Essentially, it is no more, thanks to its most recent owner, Billington Imports, going out of business. My wife and I, along with our LD CVG wine dude Alfonse, visited the winery in 2004, and had time to chat with then-owner, Michael Havens. Michael sold the winery in 2006 to Billington.

It’s a real shame – Havens was known for making some of Napa’s best Merlots, and were even one of the few to produce a California Albarino. Not sure what Michael is up to these days, but it is definitely a sad day. My wife and I had bought a bottle of Havens Bourriquot on our wedding night, at the now-defunct Mushroom Wine Store in Mt. Adams (Cincinnati). We drank it not too long ago to celebrate an anniversary, so Havens has always had a memorable place at the Keith household. It seems as though we are hearing more and more about mainstay wineries dying at the hands of the big investors that have been swallowing up brands over the past few years. Check out Vinography's article today.

R.I.P. Havens Winery.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Humble Pie – it must be my favorite dish, because my wife often likes to serve it to me whenever I am wrong about something (which is usually 99% of the time). Take for example the fact that I feared that my assistant Shannon, was not ready to take the first level of her Master Sommelier test. Indeed, it is a difficult program, and a very selective process attaining one’s Master Sommelier certification. Shannon is very young, and hasn’t been in the business for very long (despite the fact that Liquor Direct is a family business, run by her father). Those in my position would be understandably concerned.

Shannon, along with one of our newest team member’s, Corey S., ventured to Indianapolis Monday to undertake their first level MS test, and I am happy and proud to report that they both passed the exam. To coin an old Genesis album (I am old), “And then there were three.”
I have been really hard on Shannon. Her position here is unenviable in that she has a lot to prove. And no, I am not referring to gender in this business, which is tough enough, but that aspect is getting better. No, I am talking about age. Most people in this business tend to look at experience first and foremost, and a long, track record in the wine industry goes a long way toward respectability. Shannon is at a disadvantage in that department - she is in her early twenties. Yet what she lacks in experience, she more than makes up for it in intelligence and exuberance, and unfortunately, I don’t often give her enough credit for those.

I will more than likely continue to be hard on her, if only to try and motivate her to become the best she can be in this field. I only hope she can understand where I am coming from, and I hope that she sees that respect is something she is earning, and has earned, from me and from her peers.

Congratulations to both Shannon and Corey for passing, and for taking the first step toward becoming a Master Sommelier. And pardon me for I have to finish eating this last bit of pie...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I've written a few things of late about our good friends at Tramonte & Sons, and today is no different. This small, family-run distributorship serving both Ohio and Kentucky, has just picked up The Australian Premium Wine Collection, a fantastic importer of quality, vineyard and terroir-specific wines from across the continent and country of Australia. With owner/winemaker John Larchet leading the charge, wineries such as Elderton, Rutherglen, Hewitson, and others, have become long-sought-after staples for any fan of Aussie wines.

This afternoon, I was invited to a seminar, hosted by Mike and Matt Tramonte, at Jag's Steakhouse in West Chester. There amongst several other restauranteurs and retail shop owners and buyers, we were treated to a "meet-n-greet" tasting with John Larchet, Dean Hewitson (of Hewitson Estates), Allister Ashmead (winemaker for Elderton) and Patrick Gehrig (winemaker for Rutherglen). 23 wines in all were featured from each winemaker (with John Larchet walking us through his projects The Wishing Tree, Hill of Content, The Old Faithful, and Tir Na'Nog).

For the first time, I actually "tweeted" my tasting notes as I was tasting, so feel free to check them out at Suffice it to say, there wasn't a dud in the bunch. The only bad thing was that the very first wine of the event, the Hewitson "Lulu" Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was a no-show on account of being sold out. Aside from that, everything was amazing, and I say that with some surprise, specifically because I have become bored with Australian wine as of late. The whole over-the-top, high-alcohol, "I just got 109 points from Robert Parker" thing just sends me into fits. I taste so much wine at work, when I drink it at home, I want something that will go good with whatever the heck I am cooking/ordering in so something of the "left-handed" persuasion is best left to go on my pancakes, not in my wine glass.

With the wines from TAPWC, the wines are almost "anti-Australian" in that they are well-balanced, with enough fruit bombast for the Parker disciples, yet enough structure and elegance to satisfy the rest of us. And the big focus, thankfully, for TAPWC, is quality AND affordability. Wines like The Wishing Tree Shiraz 2006 and the Rutherglen Red 2006, are phenomenal reds for the price - both clocking in under $15 - while the Chardonnays from The Wishing Tree and Elderton, as well as the amazing Rutherglen Alliance 2008, are exceptional values for white wine, from anywhere in the world.

My favorite though, and this has always been my weakness, are the dessert wines of Australia - affectionately dubbed "stickies." The Rutherglen Muscat NV and the Elderton Botrytis Semillon 2007 are remarkably priced sweet wines that just finish eternally. The Rutherglen Muscat particularly was just divine hedonism, if there could be such a thing. It was one of those eyes-rolling-back-in-my-head moments that wasn't boredom, but ecstasy. And of course, the Elderton Command Shiraz 2005, TAPWC's answer to Penfolds Grange. A powerful, dense, concentrated Shiraz that possesses the ethereal prowess and density to weather a 20-year stint in one's cellar, or just a blow-the-doors-off-an-evening for friends or family at a hearty steak dinner.

Several of the wines from The Wishing Tree, Elderton and Rutherglen are returning to the store this week, after a lengthy absence from this market. And just in the nick of time too. My Australian section was getting pretty damn dull.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Okay, so my wife accuses me of having a “bro-mantic” crush on actor Jared Leto, who also happens to front the band 30 Seconds To Mars. While I have to emphatically deny such scuttlebutt, I do really like the band, and yes, I do like his work in such films as “Fight Club”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “Lord of War” and “Panic Room.” The new 30 Seconds To Mars disc, “This Is War”, comes out in November.

I was a bit stunned when I first heard the band on the old Canadian music channel, Much Music. The song was “Edge of the Earth,” and I was shocked because it was actually really good. Most actors-turned-musicians tend to have some really contrived, boring, and sometimes just plain shitty music, but Jared, along with his brother, Shannon, and bandmate Tomo Milicevic, have been turning out some really impressive tunes. Check out the single “From Yesterday” off their second disc, “A Beautiful Lie”:

Likewise, it could be said I have a fairly big crush on Italian wines, with one in particular that I have been fond of for some time, La Spinetta Ca’di Pian Barbera d’Asti. In particular, the 2006 continues the long string of hits winemaker Giorgio Rivetti turns out year-after-year. A much fuller-bodied Barbera than its counterparts, the Ca’di Pian has the potential of aging up to 20 years, though it never makes it that long at my house. It has all the cherry and blueberry fruit you could want, with the perfect marriage of acidity for all those traditional Italian dishes. 30 Seconds to Mars and La Spinetta – an interesting duo that my wife will go on for eternity as being my two bromances. So be it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Every now and again, you come across a wine that really surprises you. As a wine buyer for two retail wine stores, I taste a lot of wine each and every week, and it is easy to become jaded and cynical with the parade of tired, flabby wines that were concocted by get-rich-quick-schemers or big-Parker-points-chasers who fail to find their focus. Much to my chagrin, our good friend and LD alum, Devon Ward from OH/KY distributor Tramonte & Sons, showed Ray and I the Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from California. A really sexy red that is 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petite Sirah, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Syrah, this inexpensive Cab has a lot to offer, considering we are all still in recovery-mode in this crappy economy. Who wouldn't like to get a good Cab for under $15?

Dark, robust and showing a surprisingly good level of concentration, this Cab demonstrates loads of blackberry, black cherry and baking spices in both the nose and on the palate. Red and black berry flavors continue through its long and satisfying finish. We'll be bringing it into our stores first week of October so look for it, and bring home a bottle or a case of this terrific new wine.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Bogle Phantom 2006... One of our staff favorites has just come back in stock, just in time for the cooler weather. This brawny, brooding blend of 49% Petite Sirah, 49% Zinfandel and 2% Mourvedre is dense, dark and full-bodied. This is the kind of wine that you'd serve during one of those "Beef...It's What's For Dinner" commercials, with a fresh grilled porterhouse coming off the flames, and actor Sam Elliott's voiceover still ringing in your ears. We usually like to have a good supply of it around here because it is definitely one of the high caliber selections in our wine arsenal.

Got steak? Lamb? Venison? Get Phantom.

Friday, September 18, 2009


The Zincinnati Zinfandel 2007 is a concoction produced by McNab Ridge from Mendocino County, with our friends at Tramonte & Sons (of Mason, Ohio) overseeing the blend – including former LD alum Devon Ward. This is the second release of the wine from McNab Ridge and Tramonte, and is a stunning effort. Everything a Zin-lover looks for in a Zinfandel: juicy black and red berry fruit aromas and flavors, hints of vanilla and spice, a smooth mouthfeel, with just a little kick at the finish. Plus, this delicious red has some really well-balanced acidity for good measure. All-in-all, this is a great little wine that won’t be around for very long, so you gotta get it while you can (it is pretty much exclusive to this area, though you may be able to track some down at McNab Ridge in California). Cheers!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Yesterday, our Fort Thomas store manager, Ray, and I went up for a private tasting at the warehouse of one of our distributors, Tramonte & Sons. Devon, our Tramonte rep, is a former Liquor Direct employee who moved on to work the wholesale side of things with them several years ago, and she invited us up to try some of the new wines they have just acquired.
Tramonte & Sons is one of the “little guys” – a distributor who lives and breathes wine, and represents some pretty amazing up-and-coming wineries from California, as well as wineries and importers from around the world. They are fairly new to the game in this area, and do business in both Ohio and Kentucky.

Now, when I say Ray and I went up for a private tasting, it was not a big, over-the-top affair. It was just Ray, myself and Devon, popping corks in the warehouse and trying out a lot of great new wine, as well as a few things we already have in the store.

I won’t give you the play-by-play, but I will tell you that Ray, a 12-year veteran in the wine business, was really surprised and impressed by the roster of wines we tried. I too, was impressed by the great new acquisitions they accumulated. The Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles winemaker Chris Brockway, The Hoopla Chardonnay from Oakville and winemaker Mitch Cosentino, the Il Campo, also from winemaker Brockway, and the St. Helena Winery Seduire from winemaker Kristian Story – these were just some of the amazing wines we tasted, and served as a terrific indicator for the things to come for this family-run wholesaler.

Matt Tramonte and his father Mike know what they are doing, and that is evident as they have become the distributor for probably my favorite Australian importer, the Australian Premium Wine Collection. Wines such as The Wishing Tree Shiraz, Elderton Command, Aramis Black Label, Tir Na N’og Grenache and Rutherglen Red will be back in the store, and I couldn’t be happier.

It is wholesalers like Tramonte & Sons that help make us successful by bringing to the market exceptional wines that our customers can enjoy and often come back for, again and again. We’ll be integrating some new selections from Tramonte in the coming weeks, just in time for the holidays. To everyone at Tramonte & Sons, thanks for having us, and thanks for being a great business partner.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


My last stop on my latest Bordeaux value roundup is a Bordeaux Superieur, which is both an area of the Right Bank of Bordeaux, as well as a classification of quality. By definition, Bordeaux Superieur wines are basic wines that can come from anywhere within the Bordeaux appellation. However, there are delineated areas that are called Bordeaux Superieur.

Got it?

You can find them due east of the subregion of Pessac-Leognan, and due south of Graves. Or you may find it running between the Cote de Blaye and Cote de Bourg and the communes of Pomerol and St. Emilion. More often than not, the wines are primarily Merlot, with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Petit Verdot rounding out the blend.

The Chateau La Croix Mouton Bordeaux Superieur 2006 is a blend of 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, and comes from the area just outside of St. Emilion, part of the stable of amazing wines from winemaker Jean Phillipe Janoueix. It is an impressive claret that shows off its cedary, black currant complexity, making the most of the impeccable fruit delivered by the vineyards of the Janoueix family. It has a good grip on the palate, and demonstrates a great deal of smoky, fruity aromas and flavors.

The interesting thing about Bordeaux Superieur wines in general is the latest controversy to roll out of the French wine industry. The current Bordeaux Superieur appellation is quite possibly soon to become Bordeaux Grand Cru – a confusing moniker to an already near-indecipherable list of names associated with French wines. While the French wine lawmaking body – the INAO – is deliberating the proposed name change, many feel that this is merely a ploy by the French wine industry to shake a few more euros out of the consumers. Whatever the case may be, I am satisfied simply by ignoring the controversy, and enjoying another glass of the Croix Mouton.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Back when my first marriage was in “disintegration” mode, I had discovered a band that for me at the time, was something really out of the norm. I was a rock singer – or more to the point – a heavy metal singer, and listening to something that was to be dubbed “dream pop” was virtually unheard-of. The band was a British quartet called The Sundays, fronted by the most wonderfully-sublime singer I had ever heard, named Harriet Wheeler. The Sundays were an innocent breath of fresh air, and my first introduction to them was their sophomore release entitled “Blind.” On the CD was the most incredible Rolling Stones cover I had ever heard – “Wild Horses.”

Every time I played the CD, I was transported to a place I needed to visit, a calm island of nowhere without any stress, pain or disappointment. I found more creative energy listening to The Sundays than I ever did listening to stuff like Megadeth and Anthrax (no offense to those guys because I am still huge fans of theirs too).

The only thing that disappointed me with The Sundays was the long span between CDs. “Blind” was released in 1992 and their next disc, “Static and Silence,” didn’t come out until 1997. And since that time, they have been on hiatus, singer Wheeler and her guitarist-husband David Gavurin are spending the time raising their two children (which I can’t fault them for at all). But their sound is something I have truly missed. Check out their cover of “Wild Horses”:

Something else that has always comforted me, though for different reasons is wine, and one of my favorite comfort wines is the Domaine de Nizas Coteaux du Languedoc. A big robust red blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, this has become one of the staples of the French section here at Liquor Direct, but also one of the staples of my home consumption and all the Autumn and Winter cooking I do. Especially when the weather starts cooling down, I love making a braised lamb or some slow-cooked beef stew with roasted root vegetables, and sit down with the Mrs. to a couple glasses of the Nizas Rouge and some simple home cooking.

The Sundays and Domaine de Nizas: wine and music meant to stir the heart and warm it too.


Margaux is one of the more renowned Bordeaux communes, and is found on the Left Bank of the Gironde as part of the larger region of the Medoc. Considered a more Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wine, the reds of the Margaux are usually much bolder and more tannic than their Right Bank counterparts. The Chateau Paveil de Luze Margaux 2006 is a remarkably accessible, more plush red than many of its brethren, displaying lots of up-front red and black fruit aromas and flavors. It is a surprisingly concentrated Cab-based claret that shows off quite a bit of depth for its price range.

You could call this Bordeaux the house red Bordeaux for the supplier from which I buy this wine, for they carry it in multiple sizes (magnums, double magnums) so it is definitely what you could call a “core” Bordeaux for us.

The Chateau Paveil de Luze is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc for a rich, sultry red that will most certainly convert anyone who doesn’t already enjoy a good Bordeaux.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Fronsac is a region that, prior to the Classification of 1855, was one of Bordeaux’s most popular wine producing communes. In the hills along the rivers Dordogne and I’Isle, this commune lies just west of Pomerol – what would be considered Right-Bank wines. The Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac 2006 is a remarkable new find for me. American-owned, this Chateau is quite impressive. Predominantly Merlot (75%) with the balance being made up of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (20% and 5% respectively), this Bordeaux shows off its cedary and red fruit sinew, intermingling with some black currant, licorice, earth and morel notes – this would make for an excellent barbeque wine, or just steaks on the grill, with the smell of smoke and falling leaves in the background.

There are several other wines from Fronsac that you should seek out, including Chateau de la Riviere, Chateau de Carles, and Chateau Fontenil. Who knows, La Vieille Cure (or any of these other Chateaux) may just help bring the sexy back to Merlot.

Friday, September 11, 2009


So I am on vacation, and while I am “reviewing” a few 2006 Bordeaux reds while I am away from the store, last night my wife and I joined my assistant, Shannon, her mom, Susan, and good friend and co-worker Christina for the Kermit Lynch Wine Dinner at Turfway Park Racing Club last night. Hosted by the folks at Turfway, alongside our friends at Heidelberg Distributing, and winemaker Bruce Neyers serving as our guide for the evening, we ventured into a gourmand’s decadence with a champagne and appetizer reception and a seven-course meal that left all of the guests feeling unbelievably euphoric. Couple the dinner with an evening of horse racing (and horse track betting) and you have what was an extremely unique experience.

The event is part of a series of special events being held by Turfway in honor of their 50th anniversary in the region. It is a great facility, and much to our surprise, has an unbelievably talented chef in the name of Peter Haubi. Classically-trained, chef Peter showed off his old-world skills by turning out one incredible French-inspired dish after another, all paired up with some phenomenal wines from the Kermit Lynch portfolio. From the Veuve-Fourny Brut NV through the Clos Ste. Magdeline Cassis Blanc and Domaine Rousset Crozes-Hermitage, to the Domaine du Durban Muscat de Beaume de Venise – it was an amazing peek at what the Kermit Lynch portfolio has to offer.

Now, I have blogged about Kermit Lynch wines before, and with good reason. The wines Kermit represents are small-production, family-operated wineries, many of which have been in business for over a century (or two). I have always felt that the French section in our store was incomplete, at least until we were finally able to add the wines of Kermit Lynch to our shelves. The value and the quality found in these wines are second-to-none.

I don’t want to drone on about how amazing each sip and each morsel was, because I don’t want to gloat. If you were fortunate enough to attend last night, you know what I mean when I say it was an incredible event, and the folks at Turfway should be proud of the impeccable job they did. If you missed it, you should take a day and go visit Turfway Horse Park, or check out and look for more culinary events like last night. There are not just about horse racing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


For a brief refresher, Bordeaux is divided into two distinct regions, with regards to red wine, thanks in large part to the Gironde River, which flows almost through the middle of Bordeaux, fed by the tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne. The Left Bank of the Gironde, which consists of the communes of the Medoc (Pauillac, St.-Julien, St.-Estephe, Margaux, etc.), is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine, while the Right Bank is home to more Merlot-dominant wine from Pomerol and Cabernet-Franc dominant wine from Saint-Emilion.

The estate of Chateau d’Aiguilhe is found in the hills alongside the right bank of the Dordogne River, on the border of the Cotes de Castillon and Saint-Emilion. This “right-bank” producer focuses on Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as is fast becoming one of the top producers of the Cotes de Castillon AOC. The Cotes de Castillon is a region in Bordeaux that is synonymous with value, and the second label to Chateau d’Aiguilhe, the Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe 2006, is no exception.

80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, this red claret is a drink-now red, with lots of red plums, blackberries, dark cherries and hints of spice that I automatically thought of when making pizza tonight. French wine with Italian cuisine, you say? This would be no different than serving a nice California Merlot with the same dish. It worked really well, with the soft, suppleness of the Merlot-driven wine with the tomato sauce, fresh basil, spicy pepperoni and doughy crust of the pizza.

I love vacations when they are kept simple and uncomplicated, and pizza with the Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe was all I could have hope to get out of a casual meal at home with the wife. I brought this wine into the store because 1) I knew this was a ready-to-drink Bordeaux 2) yes it did get some nice press from Parker, but most importantly 3) I could sell this wine for $17.98 a bottle. Very cool to get the customer a very-pleasing red Bordeaux for under $20 and it not taste like blackberry Kool-Aid. Give this nice claret a try with your next meal at home, or just sitting on the back porch with a fire lit and watch the night sky with friends, lovers, or both.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


This week, while am enjoying a bit of R&R, I plan on exploring a bit of the 2006 Bordeaux wines that just came in to our stores. With the follow-up to the downright uber-ripe 2005 vintage – wines that most would argue mirror those from Napa in density and richness – the 2006 vintage was by most accounts, a solid vintage. The issue isn’t that the wines are good (because they are). No, the issue is that the vintage comes after a very, highly-sought-after vintage, one which found collectors stockpiling and neophytes clamoring to get their share.

Many of the wines I brought in from the 2006 vintage were the usual, consistent suspects such as Chateaux Lynch-Bages, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Leoville-Poyferre and Gloria. Yet my focus, as is with most buys these days, is value; I wanted to bring in the most “bang-for-your-buck” wines from this storied region.

In doing so, I stumbled onto four very solid choices: the Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac, the Chateau Croix-Mouton Bordeaux-Superieur, the Chateau Paveil de Luze Margaux, and the Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe Cotes du Castillon. Each one offers a bit different style, yet each one satisfies the curiosity of wine buyers eager to try Bordeaux, yet unwilling to sacrifice a car payment or a utility bill for a bottle of the stuff.

Over the next week, I will offer up my notes on these four particular wines, while also offering up a bit of insight into the places from which they came. Hopefully, you’ll get a bit more understanding of the venerable and often-misunderstood and maligned region of Bordeaux.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 7, 2009


My musical tastes growing up were warped, indoctrinated into music via the mellow pop of the seventies with stuff like The Carpenters, Bread and 10CC. My dad had his jazz records, and there was some rock infused with the Funk scene I was exposed to thanks to my growing up in Dayton, Ohio (one of the focal points with hometown bands like Roger and Zapp, Heatwave and Ohio Players). I thank friends of mine who turned me onto groups like KISS, Boston and Queen, opening the door to rock ‘n’ roll for me. My tastes just kept getting broader the older I got.
One artist I of which I have always been a fan is David Bowie. Even the old stuff like “Rebel Rebel”, “Suffragrette City”, “Jean Genie” and “Space Oddity.” I don’t really remember where it was or when it was that I started listening, but I do know that I love listening to any artist who has the guts to reinvent himself as the times change.

When his record, “Let’s Dance” came out in the eighties, it was a melding of the New Wave stuff going on with some great blues, courtesy of an emerging guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan. I still love that whole record (CD, whatever). “Earthling” came out in the nineties with guitarist Reeves Gabriel, and the sound was totally different. Check out his duet/remix with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails:

A wine that I’ve known for years is Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2006 is a rich, full-bodied red that is dark, brooding and really complex. It has always been a good Cab, but recently, perhaps in the last couple of vintages, it has taken on that David Bowie-chameleon-like personae, morphing with the times to become something equally as good, but something completely different than what I remember it being.

The Smith & Hook Cab is one of my most-recommended California Cabs, outshining a lot of Napa and Sonoma Cabs, for both its complexity and its price tag. Pick up a bottle today, and go back and listen to some David Bowie, be it “Ziggy Stardust”, “China Girl” or even “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson.” Try ‘em together and see why change is always good.

Friday, September 4, 2009


You never know when inspiration will strike you. I sift through wine blogs and wine magazines, wine texts, as well as just stroll through the aisles of the store, just looking for something, on the rare occasions when my mind is nothing more than a blank sheet of paper, balled up next to that great big trash can of Life.

And then it hit me.

Soon, the stores for which I have worked the past 7 years will be changing their names from Liquor Direct Wine & Spirits to D.E.P.’s Fine Wine & Spirits. “Why?” is the question I am sure we will be getting a lot in the weeks and months to come, most likely because most people don’t do well with change. I’ve never been sure why that is, but there it is – I said it. However, change is good, and keeps things new and fresh, and with our name change, we wanted to reflect the direction we have been heading for the past several years, which is more wine sales. Our owners, Greg and Mark Depenbrock, have been at it for a long time, and both of them often go by the nickname “Dep” – short for Depenbrock (get it?). Also, our mantra has always been “Discount Everyday Prices.” D-E-P, get it?

It’s not much of a stretch, and the fact that when you walk into our stores, Liquor is certainly not the first thing people see, although we still sell spirits. Yet our growth has been in selling wine, which is why, after several years of deliberating, our owners have decided a moniker change is needed.

With the change, there will be the standard questions: “Are you under new management?” “Who bought the place?” “Are you part of a chain now?” I am sure that many questions will come. But what’s in a name, really? We aren’t replacing our staff – arguably the best damn wine staff in the Midwest if I do say so my damn self – and our pricing and selection won’t change. Sure, the Web site will change, the signs out front, the logos on our shirts, etc., etc. – sure all that will change, but not “us.”

I thought about the name change when one of the staff recently brought up the negative side of it. The questions – the new management thing – I could see their point of view, yet all things change over time. It is an evolution of things, morphing into a newer, more focused wine store, still growing, still striving to open up people’s minds and palates, getting them to be more adventurous, and exploring the ever-burgeoning world of wine.

Life is change. The good and bad are all in the way you look at it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


It’s official, I am a Certified Specialist of Wine, thanks to my passing (barely) the CSW exam held in Atlanta by the Society of Wine Educators. Now, for many of you, that begs the question, “What the hell does that mean?”

Well, for starters, the Society of Wine Educators is a non-profit educational organization, founded in 1974, to help promote wine education through various professional development programs and certification processes. The CSW certificate is the first step in becoming a Certified Wine Educator, one of the many letters I have been chasing for several years now.

I’ve passed the first level test of the Master Sommelier program, which was a 75 question test, multiple choice, and you had a day-and-a-half seminar which served as an overview/prep session for the CS (Certified Sommelier) and Advanced Sommelier tests. While it took many years to study and prepare for the 1st level test, the review session helps fill in some gaps you may have from information overload. Unlike the first MS test, the exam for the CSW is 100 questions, based solely on the study guide they provide, and is far more detailed and far more specific than the former. It is a much tougher test than the first MS. It is a different focus – restaurant for the sommelier, education obviously for the SWE – yet the intentions are the same – excellence in the field of wine.
It is a weird feeling to being one step further in my own pursuit of all these certifications (the two aforementioned along with the Master of Wine (MW) program). I really backed into this line of work, thinking I would be an English professor or a Linguist. All the years of schlepping around in the restaurant biz led me here. One down and many more tests to go. I just hope it won't take as long as I took getting my Bachelor's degree (14 years). I just might be ready for retirement by then.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


One of the biggest gripes I have as a retail wine buyer is when a producer gets it in their head to “add” to their line of wines. I can understand the natural evolution and growth in business, but when you are a producer of let’s say, 6 wines, decides to suddenly double their line, or when they have wines in the $9.99 price point and $15.99 price point, and they suddenly decide to come up with a line of $12.99 wines – it is simply ludicrous.

I have been inundated recently with line extensions from brands the world over, but mostly, the greatest lunacy comes from California. I understand the glut of juice and all, but why don’t these producers just increase production on their current selections? Why do these producers feel compelled to confuse customers with similar labels and self-competing price tiers?

Long-time friend in the business, Michael Honig, gets even more respect from me these days because he is dedicated to producing two varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, he does a single vineyard Cab and a Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, but that is it. Four wines. Meanwhile, other producers have escalated to 30-plus wines. One of my biggest targets for ridicule these days is the Diageo-owned Rosenblum, for decades, renowned as a top Zinfandel producer. Recently they just released a Vintner’s Cuvee Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. What what WHAT?!?! You know that someone has become irrelevant when that someone decides to do what everyone else is doing.

I chuckle to myself when some of my reps come by with these new items. I think, “does Chateau So-and-So really need five different Chardonnays or three Reserve Sauvignon Blancs?” “What the hell are these wine producers thinking?” “Are these winemakers out there bored, or just gigantic whores for the almighty dollar?”

Every retailer is forced at some point to just say, “No more.” I have always prided myself on being easy to work with and laid-back enough to find a way to help my sales reps out when they need placements, but, it is starting to become ridiculous. Line extensions should not muddy a winery’s market presence. The extension of brands should add to the brand’s image, not diminish it. Just because you put a different label on it, the consumer isn’t automatically going to think it is a different wine. This market saturation may have worked 10 years ago, but I think wine consumers are too savvy now, and aren’t fooled. I say to the winemakers out there, do what Mr. Honig and many other focused winemakers do – do what you do best, and stick with it, and you will get all the success you need.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Champagne Rivalries by Shannon

This weekend I participated in celebrating a friend’s birthday, and naturally there was Champagne involved. However, what I noticed while out this weekend is that it seemed like everyone in Cincinnati was celebrating something, because everywhere I looked, people were drinking Champagne!

I’ve always been a huge lover of Champagne. I love the way it sparkles, fizzes and leaves me with a giddy feeling. Not to mention it represents happiness and a good time. Over the past few years in the wine business I’ve been fortunate enough to try some really great Champagnes, and to learn about what is called a ‘grower champagne.’

Grower Champagnes are admittedly the underdogs. They constitute about 3% of the Champagne market, and most people really have never heard of them. Champagne as a region is dominated by a handful of brand names, with most farmers and growers selling their fruit to these large houses. Instead of selling their fruit to the big guys, small growers (recoltant-manipulants) may handcraft their own Champagne, creating something unique, which expresses their beliefs about Champagne and about the specific region where their vines are planted. Supporting Grower Champagnes is comparable to supporting your local coffee shop, instead of Starbucks. These winemakers are brave souls in an industrialized age, offering up their life’s work to the world market.

So I found myself in quite the dilemma sipping on a glass of Veuve Cliquot this weekend, and actually really enjoying it. It had just the right amount of fizz, and the finish had a subtle yeastiness. The orange label of the bottle practically screamed, ‘Let’s Celebrate!’, so I found everything about the experience appealing. Until the guilt set in. Shouldn’t I be drinking a grower, someone like Pierre Gimonnet & Fils? (my favorite producer of Grower Champagne).

Out later that night, I ran into my friends Michelle and Kevin of the blog, My Wine Education, who were radiating with the glow that can only come from drinking through two bottles of Dom Perignon. I know Michelle shares my love and appreciation for Grower Champagnes, so I knew she was also sharing in some of my brand-name-imbibing guilt. We finally decided that given the opportunity, we would choose a grower everytime. However, everything has its time and place, and perhaps a big brand Champagne on special occasions doesn’t hurt. We will continue to stand on our soap box for the little guys, but if someone happens to bring us a cup of Starbucks while we’re up there, hey, we’ll drink it.