Saturday, October 31, 2009

ALLEGRINI PALAZZO DELLA TORRE 2006

After a long hiatus, our stores have finally welcomed back to our shelves the amazing Italian wines of Leonardo Locascio and Winebow, and most importantly, one of my all-time favorite values from Italy, the Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2006. From the Veneto region of Italy, this something of a "Super-Venetian" red is a blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Sangiovese, which makes it an amped-up Valpolicella blend, more-or-less.

Possessing hints of smoky dark fruits, with hints of tobacco, spice and raisin characteristics, this plush, full-bodied red has the right amount of power and acidity to fare beautifully with roasted meats - or maybe a little Osso Bucco, perhaps? - and is ideal for this time of year.


Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the fruit is on full-display, with 15 months in French barrique and 7 months in bottle to give it added depth and complexity. There is a lot of wine to behold for just under $20, and many have come to call this Allegrini's "baby Amarone" for good reason - it's deep, dark, rich and delicious. Give it a go!

Friday, October 30, 2009

SOMETHING ABOUT ITALIAN WINE, CONTINUED

Continuing from yesterday, we are back with more Italian primer – this time taking a brisk walk through the Italian wine landscape, starting at the top of the boot, with the tiny region of the Valle d’Aosta.

Valle d’Aosta is the smallest of the Italian wine regions, bordering Switzerland to the north, France to the west, and Piedmont to the south and east. An ancient growing region, grapes have been cultivated since the Roman days, with around 22 varieties authorized for growing, including Picotener (the local name for Nebbiolo), Neyret, Vien de Nus, Fumin, Mayolet, Prie Route, Petit Rouge, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Gamay, Dolcetto and Syrah for the reds, and Moscato Bianco (also called Moscat de Chambave), Pinot Grigio (also known as Malvoisie), Blanc de Morgex, Prie Blanc, Muller-Thurgau, Chardonnay and Petit Arvine. There are no DOCG wines from this area.

Piedmont means “at the foot of the mountains.” This region is by far one of the most recognized regions in Italy. It is the second largest region and has the most DOC wines (over 40) and DOCG wines (7). Most of the production of wine originates in the heart of Piedmont, the Po River Valley. Here you will find Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Moscato d’Asti. The first three I mentioned are all made with the Nebbiolo grape, and the last mentioned is from the ancient Muscat grape. Dolcetto and Barbera are also widely planted red varieties, as well as Freisa, Grignolino and Brachetto. The most popular white grape is the Cortese, used for the DOCG wine, Gavi. Arneis (nicknamed the “white Barolo”) and Erbaluce di Caluso are also grown. Another important wine product produced here is Vermouth, made with at least 70% wine, and fortified and flavored with various roots, spices, herbs and wood – this is what is known as an “Aromatic” wine.

Lombardy sits in the semi-circle created by the Alps that enclose Italy to the north. The mountainous north and the flat Po River Valley in the south define the topography of the growing regions, which are divided into three: the Valtellina in the North, the Oltrepo Pavese in the southwest, and the Franciacorta in the east. Nebbiolo, known locally as Chiavennasca, is the primary red grape grown in the Valtellina. The Oltrepo Pavese is known primarily for Pinot Nero. And the greatest sparkling wines from Italy come from the Franciacorta, and is derived from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and/or Pinot Nero.

The Trentino-Alto Adige is the northernmost wine region in Italy, bordering Austria and Switerland. It is divided into two parts, the Trentino and the Alto Adige. Vineyards are planted on terraces or light well-drained alluvial soils and clay. Alto Adige is known for Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, and the red grape Teroldego. Trentino boasts primarily whites as well, with Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato Giallo, Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italica, Riesling Renano, Sylvaner Verde, Chardonnay, Traminer and Veltner, with red grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein, Malvasia Nero, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Schiava Gentile, Lambrusco, Marzemino and Teroldego. Friuli-Venezia Giulia borders the Veneto to the west, Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. This region has been relatively anonymous until the 1960s, when modern winemaking techniques were introduced, despite there being a large volume of wine produced in the area. There is 1 DOCG (Ramandolo) and 9 DOC wines in this area, with primarily grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc being cultivated. Local varieties such as Refosco, Verduzzo, Tocai and Picolit are also cultivated, and making a resurgence.


Veneto is located in NE Italy, along the Alps to the Adriatic Sea, bordering Austria and the Trentino-Alto Adige. Veneto is the third largest wine producing region (behind Apulia and Sicily). The most cultivated grape varieties in this area include white grapes Garganega, Prosecco, Tocai, Verduzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, and reds like Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Raboso, Negrara, Merlot, Pinot Nero and Cabernet Sauvignon. The most significant wines are the 3 DOCG wines (Recioto di Soave, Soave Superiore and Bardolino Superiore) and the 22 DOC wines (including Amarone, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Soave, Lugana, and Prosecco di Conegliano). Ripasso is a traditional technique that introduces a secondary fermentation to Valpolicella on Amarone lees, usually drying out the grapes and pouring the Valpolicella juice over the top.

Liguria is often called the Italian Riviera, found just beneath Piedmont along the Mediterranean coast. Many grapes are grown here, including Ciliegiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Rossese, and Alicante, along with white grapes Albarolo, Bianchetta, Bosco, Pigato, Vermentino, Moscato Bianco, Albana, Greco Malvasia and Trebbiano. There are 6 DOC wines, yet no DOCG. Emilia-Romagna borders the Adriatic Sea to the east, the Tuscan Apennines to the South, the Ligurian Apennines to the west and the Po River to the north. It is one of the largest wine producing areas and is divided into the western Emilia and the eastern Romagna, with the city of Bologna right in the middle. The first white DOCG – Albana di Romagna – is found here, made from the Albana grape. Also grown here are Pagadebit (known in Apulia as Bombino Bianco), Sangiovese and Cagnina (related to the Refosco grape of Friuli).

Tuscany is the most prestigious and recognizable region in Italy, with the region serving as the epicenter for a great many changes in Italian wine law, including the inclusion of non-traditional grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay in blends traditionally thought of as native Italian grapes only. The primary grape variety is the Sangiovese, with its clones comprising the most noteworthy wines of the region – Brunello di Montalcino (the Brunello clone), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Prugnolo), and clonal types in Morellino di Scansano, Carmignano, Chianti and Chianti Classico. There are at least 650 different clones of Sangiovese in Montalcino alone, and these same grapes planted in Chianti produce completely different wines. Some other varietals cultivated in Tuscany are Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Vernaccia, Mammolo, Malvasia Bianca, Trebbiano, Pulcinculo (Grechetto Bianco), Vernaccia, and Malvasia del Chianti.

Marches resides along the Adriatic coast, and is one-third covered with rolling hills, with the rest being covered by mountains. There are 12 DOC wines here and 1 DOCG. The primary grapes are Montepulciano (this grape should not be confused with the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano of Tuscany, which is made from the Sangiovese clone of Prugnolo), Verdicchio, Sangiovese, Vernaccia, Pinot Bianco, Ciliegiolo and Trebbiano. Umbria is the only region which is completely landlocked. It is home to the DOC wine Orvieto, made from Trebbiano and Malvasia, and two DOCG wines – the Sagrantino di Montefalco, made primarily from the indigenous Sagrantino grape, and Torigano Rosso Riserva, a blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero primarily. Latium is a very historic region, residing around the capital of Rome. The most renowned wines of this area are Frascati, and Est! Est! Est!, both white wines made from Trebbiano and Malvasia, as well as reds made of Montepulciano.


Abruzzo has undergone a wine revival of sorts, elevating it to the sixth largest wine producing region in Italy despite it specializing in just two DOC wines – white Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (made from Trebbiano) and the red, made from Montepulciano. Grape varieties planted recently included Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italica, Riesling Renano, Sylvaner Verde, Traminer Aromatico, Tocai, Vetliner, Pinot Nero, Merlot, Dolcetto and Malbec. Molise is small by even Italian standards, and borders Abruzzo to the north, Latium and Campania to the west,

Apulia to the south and the Adriatic to the east. Only two DOCs come from this region, Biferno and Pentro di Isernia, both producing red, white and rose wines.

Apulia is reputed to have produced wine since 2000 B.C. It is one of Italy’s largest wine producing regions and is undergoing a winemaking revival of its own. Over 80% of the wines from Apulia (also called Puglia) are red, including the Primitivo, Negroamaro, Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero, Sangiovese, barbera, Aleatico and Malvasia Nero grapes. White grapes include Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, Bombino Bianco, Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano. The major DOC wines are Salice Salentino, Castel del Monte, Copertino, and Primitivo di Manduria.

Campania boasts the historic cities of Naples, Avellino and Salerno, as well as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and of course Mount Vesuvius. The rich and fertile volcanic soil makes this warm-weather macroclimate ideal for grape growing. The principal grapes found here are Aglianico, Aleatico, Barbera, Piedirosso and Sciascinoso for the reds, and Biancolella, Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Fiano, Greco, Malvasia, Verdeca, and Trebbiano for the whites. Taurasi DOCG is the most famous of the reds, and is often referred to as the “Barolo of the South.”


Basilicata is one of Italy’s most mountainous wine regions, and is formed by the southern extension of the Apennines. The only DOC is the Aglianico del Vulture, made from Aglianico grapes grown on the slopes of Monte Vulture, an ancient volcano. Other grapes grown in Basilicata are Sangiovese, Uva di Troia, Montepulciano, Barbera, Malvasia Bianco, Moscato, Fiano, Santa Sofia and Bombino Bianco.


Calabria is almost entirely mountainous or hilly, with the mesoclimates within the region varied from subzone to subzone. There are 8 DOC wines, mostly producing red or rose wines. Some of the grapes produced here are Gaglioppo, Greco Nero, Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese, Guarnaccia, Greco Bianco and Moscato. The most noted DOC wine, Ciro, comes from the Gaglioppo grape, and has been produced there for several thousand years.

The island of Sicily lies to the southeast of Calabria, and is one of Italy’s largest wine producing regions. The DOCs include the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Enta, Malvasia delle Lipari and Moscato di Pantelleria, as well as Marsala, a fortified wine that resembles a Port, and is done both sweet and dry. Grapes include Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Cataratto Bianco, Verdello, Inzolia, as well as Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The island of Sardinia is home to 18 DOC wines and 1 DOCG, the Vermentino di Gallura. Other grapes such as Cannonau (Grenache), Monica, Carignan, Vernaccia, Vermentino, Moscato, Nuragus and Malvasia are grown here. Viticulture was believed to have been introduced either by the Spaniards in the 14th Century, or perhaps much earlier, by the Phoenicians sailing from Lebanon 5000 years ago.

From this extremely brief overview, you can suddenly understand that there is a heckuva lot more going on in Italy than just Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Much more than this small “primer” (information derived from the Society of Wine Educators Study Guide) can provide. For more about Italian wine, visit Italian Made or our good friends at the Italian wine blogs Montalcino Report, On The Wine Trail in Italy and Mondosapore.

In the next few days, I’ll have some reviews up for some of the latest new Italian wines we have in our stores, and hopefully, I can get some of you as jazzed about Italian wines as I am.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

SOMETHING ABOUT ITALIAN WINE


A few months back, I was asked by good friend Michelle Lentz, one of the top wine bloggers (her site is My Wine Education), asked me to help contribute to her blog while her and her husband were out of town. I was one of several people that chipped in. My contribution was a two-part post on Italian wines – my passion. It is a difficult subject to cover when training wine sales staff, or just passing information to our customers, because the wine landscape is so vast and so complicated, that trying to squeeze even a fraction of that information into a brief amount of time is near-impossible. You see, while other countries in the world dedicated specific areas of their lands to viticulture (growing grapes), in Italy, there are vineyards everywhere, in each of the 20 regions (provinces actually), with each region as diverse as the others.

So I wanted to repost that article here, with some minor tweeking, due in large part to our renewed selling of the wines of Winebow, arguably the largest U.S. importer of Italian wines, including such wineries as Allegrini, Falesco, Tiefenbrunner, Zenato, Altesino, Prunotto, Bruno Giacosa, just to name a few. This import group was really the one that got me full-on interested in Italian wines, and I owe a large part of my continued affinity for these wines to Winebow.

Italy has long been in the top three in wine production, becoming #1 in 2005 with a total of over 8.5 million metric tons that year (over 2 million metric tons more than France!). Italy can be divided up into 4 main sections:

1. Northwestern Italy
2. Northeastern Italy
3. Central Italy
4. Southern Italy

The Northwestern portion of Italy consists of 6 regions spanning from the greater portion of the arc of the Alps and Apennines, which slope toward the Po River: Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany. Topography, soil, climate and grape varieties vary from one region to the next, and much of this area is considered very prosperous, with the cities of Florence, Milan, Turin and Genoa all inhabiting this area. A total of 27% of Italy’s wines are produced here.

The Northeastern portion of Italy is also called the Tre Venezie, or “Three Venices”. The three regions are Veneto – the largest producer of DOC wines, Trentino-Alto Adige – which has the highest percentage of DOC wines comparatively to total output, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Together, these 3 regions producer a total of 17% of Italy’s wines.

There are 5 regions within Central Italy: Marches, Umbria, Latium, Abruzzo and Molise. There is ample sunshine and moderate temperatures, as well as rolling hills and mountains that provide an ideal environment for wine production. 19% of Italy’s wines are made here.

The Southern portion of the country has six regions: Campania, Apulia (Puglia), Calabria, Basilicata, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, all considered the cradle of Italian enology. This region is experiencing a new winemaking renaissance, and accounts for 37% of Italian wine production.

What compounds the issue of regional diversity is the fact that in virtually every region, there are a completely different set of grapes used in wine production, and even more complicated, is the fact that wines can either be labeled varietally (as in California) or by region (as in France) – even in the same region.

The wine laws of Italy are also quite difficult to fully understand, although the main things you need to understand are the D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or controlled origin) is the bulk of Italy’s wines, denoting over 300 different DOC zones and at least 800 different table and sparkling wines. The first wine given DOC status was actually a white wine, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano of Tuscany in 1966 (the year I was born no less!).

DOCG wines are a step up, referring to the pinnacle of quality and stature. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Controlled and Guaranteed origin. There are only 29 DOCG regions currently, including Barbaresco, Barolo and Moscato d’Asti of Piedmont, Franciacorta from Lombardy, Soave Superiore from Veneto, and Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany. Wines can be eligible for DOCG status if they have had DOC status for at least 5 years. A sub-zone of a DOC can be promoted separately from the entire zone as well. For example, Carmignano Rosso is now a DOCG, yet the Rosato and Vin Santo from this zone are still only DOC wines.

A new category was created in 1992 called IGT, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica. It is nearly equivalent to the French Vin de Pays, and was created in response to pressure to conform to the European Union’s standards. The IGT designation often goes to what Italian’s refer to as “non-traditional” varietal wines, such as a Veneto Merlot or a Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tomorow, I'll finish this little primer with a breakdown of each region, and highlight some of each region's top wineries. Ciao!

Monday, October 26, 2009

WINE & MUSIC: MORRISSEY AND JEZEBEL

I’ve always been one of those peripheral fans of The Smiths. Not because I don’t like, because I do, but because I kinda missed the boat. I wish I would have heard them when they first came out, but I was too busy listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. It would be a decade later that I’d discover them, and a lot of the other Brit pop (The Cure, Stone Roses, etc.) and find a more kindred sound. The Smiths were always a bit controversial in their lyrics, which I seemed to gravitate toward, having grown up on horror novels and the poetry of Ginsberg and Bukowski. One of my favorite Smiths’ songs is “Meat is Murder” – a pro-vegetarian tune (despite the fact I am one of the biggest carnivores I know). Just the title alone is enough to bring a chuckle (no offense to my vegan friends).

Something a bit more apropos is their single “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” which comes off their compilation disc “Louder than Bombs.” Check it out here:






In thinking of The Smiths, a wine I think that would pair nicely with listening to one of their CDs would be the Jezebel Pinot Noir 2007 from Daedalus Cellars. I had to carry Daedalus wines in the stores just because of the whole tie-in with “Ulysses”, my favorite book. Of course the blokes in The Smiths are English, and James Joyce was Irish, but hey, it’s all the U.K. right?

The Jezebel Pinot Noir gives you some soft, smoky, red fruit notes with hints of earth and toasted hazelnut for a seductive, brooding Pinot Noir that would fare well with the sounds of tracks from “Strangeways, Here We Come,” or any song from The Smiths, or even Morrissey himself.

(Reports came in that Morrissey collapsed onstage and was taken to a hospital. We at UTGT hope for a speedy recovery. Cheers, mate.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

JRE PETITE ROUGE 2006

I met John Eppler of JRE wines a couple of months back, when one of our customers, Larry, brought him by just to see what we were all about and they came by on a Saturday afternoon, when the joint was really rockin'. We had carried John's wines before, as they had previously been with two other distributors. Now, he was on to Heidelberg. The JRE wines would seem to just get lost in other books, but with Heidelberg, John was hoping for a new start in this area.

The JRE Petite Rouge 2006 is a blend of 44% Petite Sirah, 41% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. A sort-of Rhone/Bordeaux tag-team, this wine is deep, dark purple in the glass, with all kinds of violet, currant and dark berry fruit in the nose. It is rich, opulent, and shows creamy tones with plums, blackberries, cassis and notes of milk chocolate and mocha on the finish. This is one of those wines that will be in soon, but right now, you have to wait for it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

SPRING VALLEY VINEYARDS URIAH 2006

I have been a huge fan of SVV for several years, and for us in KY, it was a big deal that the winery was purchased by Chateau Ste. Michelle because that meant, at long last, I could finally carry the wines of SVV in our store. Granted, there isn't a lot of the Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah 2006 to go around, but if I could sell some bottles, I was pleased nonetheless.

The Uriah is a beautiful blend of 54% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 6% Malbec. It is every bit as Bordeaux as a St. Emilion or a Pomerol, both in composition and in style. Winemaker Serge Laville, a Bordeaux expat himself, lends all his expertise in crafting this gorgeous wine. There are layers of dark berry fruit in the nose, with touches of mineral and wood. On the palate, blackberries, black currant, anise and cedar dance atop French Oak essence and a strong backbone of tannin and acidity. What you have here is a beautiful wine.

Visiting Spring Valley Vineyards first on my first trip to Washington state, I experienced the origin of this marvelous wine, and learned a little bit from winemaker Serge as well. In tasting this wine, I hope you see a little of what I have seen, and experience a bit of what I have experienced. You too, will be a believer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TAMAS ESTATE DOUBLE DECKER RED 2007

One thing I just stumbled onto recently was the new Tamas Estate Double Decker Red 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera that leads you into a really nice, crowdpleasing red blend that offers good red and black fruit aromas and flavors, good weight and grip on the palate, and a smooth and easy finish for those last hurrahs on the grill before winter comes.

I like the new direction Tamas Estates is going, leaving behind the Cal-Itals they were known for a decade or so ago, opting for a more universal appeal with wines like the Double Decker red. Give it a try!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

PANARROZ 2007


Just when I return from Washington State, I am shown a wine that for years, I have not been able to get, because of one of those archaic exclusivity agreements, and they (the distributors carrying this brand) tell me it is going national. Cool, I grin silently inward as they pour me the Panarroz Red 2007 from Jumilla. A bright blend of Monastrell (Mourvedre), Garnacha and Syrah, this 100% tank-fermented red is all about bright red and black fruit aromas and flavors, hints of white and black pepper and even some floral notes that give you plenty of acidity to lend itself to all your everyday meals.

Give this wine a go and join me in welcoming the importer of this particular wine into the 21st Century!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

HOW K2 GETS HIS GROOVE BACK

Getting back into the groove – finally – after a few weeks in the store – I have been inundated with a lot of direct import shipments, new wines and new vintages, and a slew of blowouts. As any retail buyer will tell you, the media may be saying the economy is looking up, but with unemployment still in the double-digits, people are still living day-to-day, and that disposable income so many of us were banking on (groan!) is just not there anymore. So it is more important than ever before to keep prices down and inventory down (not easy to do thanks to those troglodyte reprobates in the Kentucky legislature triple-taxing wine and spirits here in our great Commonwealth). In order to keep prices down, bulk buys are almost a necessity.

So this week, I will bring some wine “reviews” to you, in the midst of my newest shipments from Winebow and The Grateful Palate, new wines from Hitching Post, Alma Rosa, Panarroz, Almirez, Tamas Estate, and upcoming additions from good friend Terence Hughes and his Domenico Selections, John Eppler’s JRE wines, and some impending nuggets from Washington State.

In the meantime, I leave you with one of my favorite good mood songs from Ace Frehley – “New York Groove” – a favorite from the ‘70s. Cheers!



Monday, October 19, 2009

WINE & MUSIC: THE CURE AND BOOKWALTER

I have been having a helluva time re-acclimating myself to Midwest time – just 5 days on the west coast and I am wrecked. I’ve been processing a lot of different ideas, notions, vibes, etc. and one of the things that I have been doing to readjust to my surroundings is listening to some old The Cure. Yeah, call me crazy but that shrill-melancholy vocal styling of Robert Smith is just what I need to get my morose-mojo back.

I wasn’t into them when they first came out back in the ‘80’s. I really didn’t show up for the party until the early-‘90’s, when a friend of mine played “Disintegration” for me. The song “Fascination Street” is still one of my all-time favorites. Check it out here:





Still thinking about the wines of Washington State, one that has been great to drink, in remembering all that was phenomenal about the trip, is the Bookwalter Subplot NV No. 23, a smooth, lush blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and even Barbera, that is full of plush, velvety notes of red, blue and black fruit flavors, aromas of spice and berries, and a long-lingering finish that will forever conjure a night beneath the Pacific Northwestern skies, at the foot of the Cascades, nestled comfortably in the bosom of Mother Earth.

The Cure and Bookwalter – an odd combination, yet one that works the magic back into the strange world we fumble around in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, EPILOGUE: WOODPECKER'S GHOST

So what did I take away from this trip I have been waxing lyrically about for two weeks now (my coworkers are ready to tar and feather me ritualistically en masse)?

For starters, Washington IS a phenomenal state, and their wine industry IS legitimately on par with the rest of the great regions of the world. They (the WA winemakers and growers) have nothing to be timid about and everything to be proud of when it comes to their craft.

Columbia Valley IS NOT in South America, but in one of the most beautiful places on earth - Washington State. It was never all that noticeable before, but now, when I mention the region "Columbia Valley" to customers, they either think Chile, Argentina, or Oregon. Why on South America? I guess they think of the country, which is spelled C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A, not Columbia. And Oregon, well, so many wine textbooks have spent decades putting Oregon and Washington together as one subject, when they are two completely different regions (despite the fact that there are 3 AVAs the two states share).

The breadth in experiences amongst my fellow roadtrippers was awe-inspiring. Whether they realized it or not, I was seriously impacted and influenced by them, even though I only got to know a handful of them. A big shout-out to Doug Zucker (who ended up on most of the tours I was on), Director of Wine Operations at Stew Leonard's in Norwalk, CT; D'Lynn Proctor (the baddest man in Texas), Sommelier and Wine Educator at Grailey's Fine Wine in Dallas; Patrick Brendel (my unofficial drinking buddy), from Atlantic Wine in Atlanta, Sean Chaudhry (the funniest man I have met in a long time); GM and Owner of Hinsdale Wine Shop, in Hinsdale, IL; Rhett Gadke, Wine Director at Bounty Hunter Rare Wines in Napa; Steve Hamm (I seem to see you everywhere), Wine Buyer for Whole Foods in Columbus, OH; Rachael Johnson, sommelier at David Burke's Primehouse in Chicago; Aaron Patrick (the man who never seemed to come down), Sommelier, Bourbon Steak in Scottsdale, AZ; Jay Yang, owner/wine buyer Smyrna World of Beverages, Smyrna, GA; and to everyone who "tripped" with me for a week.

There were so many M.S.'s, M.W.'s, C.W.E.'s, C.S.W.'s and the like on the trip, I almost felt like I'd choke to death on alphabet soup. It was extremely humbling and motivating at the same time and for the experience, I am indebted to all who participated.


There was a lot of talk about tipicity out on this trip. Soil tipicity that is. You hear about it so often when talking about European wines, and to a lesser extent, from other places in the New World of Wine. Yet, Washington, with all of its fledgling aspects of their wine industry, seems like they are unsure what "terroir" may be indicative of their wines. And while that question seems presently unanswerable, the real fact is that the wines of Washington State have enormous character of fruit and tannin, a testament to the love and passion the growers and winemakers of this region exert into their wares. Whether it be the value wines of Hogue, Covey Run, and Columbia Crest, to the ethereally-crafted higher-tiered wines of Leonetti, Quilceda Creek, DeLille and Cote Bonneville, the wines - red, white, sparkling, and dessert - are exemplary across the board.


While I admit, the trip has me a bit gobsmacked and awestruck. Yet I was a believer in these wines BEFORE I went. It is simply that there aren't that many available in this part of the country. Now, I am on a mission to bring as many of these wines to the market as I can. It won't happen overnight, and it will take some convincing - but as I show off these fantastic wines to my customers, there will be many a convert on the horizon, I assure you all.


Once again, thank you to Shayn Bjornholm, WWC Executive Director Robin Pollard, Marketing Director Chris Stone, Communications Director Gary Werner, Senior Communications Mgr. Ryan Pennington, Senior Marketing Manager, Madeline Dow, Marketing & Events Coordinator (and the Grand Marshall of the Road Trip Parade) Rob Andersen, and Communications Coordinator Erica Waliser, for an extraordinary experience.


To find out more about the Washington Wine Commission, and all there is to know about Washington Wines, visit http://www.washingtonwine.org/.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, DAY FIVE: THE WOODPECKER'S LAST STAND

Thursday (October 8) was the end of the road. Waking up in Woodinville, I couldn’t believe that the trip was coming to an end. It was a bit heartbreaking, because I met a lot of great people, experienced a phenomenal part of the country, and learned more in 4 short days than I have in the last 15 years. Yet here it was, the 8 a.m. wake-up call, heading to my final winery exercise at Columbia Winery, which was just across the street from Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Sitting down with Linda Conklin, our winery host for the day, as well as Kerry Norton, the current Director of Winemaking, we tasted blind through 4 vintages of single vineyard Cabs from Columbia, all made by the late David Lake. Three of these Cabs came from the Red Willow Vineyard and the 1993 vintage, which bore David’s name prominently on the label, came from the Otis Vineyard, another great source for them.

Our task was to put them in order from oldest to youngest, with the 1993, as well as the 1999, 2002 and 2003 vintages. These wines were impressive, and surprising. The ’93 showed well, yet leveled off a bit as the time went on. Yet the other three were still babies, opening up and evolving in the glass as Kerry talked about David, the future of Columbia, his difficulty in taking the job, and our time spent in Washington State. We took a look at soil samples from their different vineyard sources, and watched as the fog that lay thick across Columbia’s front lawn dissipated, revealing an absolutely gorgeous day.
The rest of the road trippers arrived for our last comparative tasting, this one on Cabernet Sauvignon, led again by our Education Director Shayn Bjornholm, along with panelists Bob Betz M.W. and fellow roadtripper Fred Dame M.S., President of the Guild of Sommeliers. I stared at these wines with all the attraction of an ex-girlfriend, the one that drove you crazy, but you missed something terrible. Guess a hangover will do that to you. Three stunning Washington Cabs from Walla Walla Vintners, Cote Bonneville and Col Solare, followed by 6 blind Cabs, 3 more Washington State Cabs (Buty, Feather and Woodward Canyon) mixed in with Chateau Lascombes Margaux, Joseph Phelps Napa and Jim Barry from Australia.

The day was winding down as the WWC crew rounded us up and bussed us just minutes down the street to our final stop, a farewell luncheon at DeLille Cellars with our host, DeLille co-owner Jay Soloff. A fitting way to end the trip with the man who kicked things off, at least for me, Jay’s winery is a beautiful, almost Chateau-like place, with phenomenal grounds, an intimate tasting room, and even some sheep residing in a paddock next door.
We tasted some great wines from DeLille and Doyenne (their Rhone label), as well as more fantastic wines from around the Woodinville area. Lunch was served, and Education Director Shayn and the WWC staff thanked us for being a part of this trip. It was a remarkable ride that I owe eternal gratitude to Shayn and everyone at the Washington Wine Commission for inviting me, and allowing me to share in this “fantastic voyage.”
Next time, what I took away from this trip.

Friday, October 16, 2009

WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, DAY FOUR: WOODPECKER SINGING IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT

Wednesday (October 7) was a busy day for us Road Trippers. Today, despite a later wake-up call (7 a.m.), we were spending most of the afternoon driving from Yakima Valley to Woodinville, a 3 hour trip (feeling a bit like Gilligan). Our day began though with some winery exercises (a reverse of the previous day), with my group hopping the bus aptly named “Truckin’” to sojourn off to Hogue Cellars.

When we arrived at Hogue, we were initiated into the surprisingly fascinating art of data collecting regarding the phenolic content of Hogue’s wines. It is apparently a really big innovation in winemaking, so much so that after a ten-year study, this manner of statistical analysis is being sought after by winemakers around the world. I have always known Hogue’s red wines were particularly big and tannic – I still have a few older vintage Reserve Merlots in my cellar. Now I know why. The research they have spent a decade compiling has yielded dramatically powerful, forceful wines with enormous tannic grip.

The day became a bit convoluted itinerary-wise when we met up in the parking lot of Airfield Estates to switch buses and go off onto our vineyard exercise, which saw me board “Low Rider” and head out to the acclaimed Bouchey Vineyard, source for wines from Betz Family, McCrea, DeLille, Long Shadows, Three Rivers, and many more. Dick Bouchey took us on a tour of several vineyard lots before coming to rest at a particular plot, where we met up with his wife, and a view of numerous grape varieties and a few examples of their finished wines. Tasting the grapes and then tasting the wines made from these grapes was an interesting exercise, one that gave us a more complete perspective of what it takes to create these beautiful wines. Of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without some food to ease the imminent afternoon buzz, topped off by Mrs. Bouchey’s amazing chocolate truffles (I think I have a cavity from the four I ate).

From there, we stopped off at a general store, where one of my fellow roadtrippers picked up some homemade fried chicken, and we headed out to what I feel was the highlight of the trip, a visit to the venerable Red Willow Vineyard.


Red Willow Vineyard can be found at the northwest corner of Yakima Valley, on the southern slopes of Ahtanum Ridge, near the Yakima Indian Reservation. Mike Sauer, the legendary vineyard manager there, oversees some of the most hallowed ground in Washington State, something akin to La Tache, Richebourg, or La Chapelle. Indeed, atop one of the hilltops on the property, sits a small chapel, similar to the one found in Northern Rhone’s La Chapelle vineyard. On this site, Mike Sauer, longtime Columbia winemaker David Lake, Washington viticulturist Dr. Walter Clore, and others, planted the very first Syrah vines here, and as legend has it, buried bottles of Hermitage and other Northern Rhone reds to edify the vines, show them what they were to grow up to be.

It was there that we attended a Comparative Syrah tasting, led once again by our Education Director, along with speakers Mike Sauer, Gramercy Cellars winemaker Greg Harrington, and our fellow roadtripper, Jason Smith M.S., the wine director for the Bellagio in Las Vegas. It was a bit somber due to the fact that Washington State wine pioneer David Lake has passed away earlier in the week, succumbing to a long illness. Mike was still reeling from the loss, and offered up a touching toast to his dear friend along with us. I would say that my visit to Red Willow was almost a religious experience.

Leaving Red Willow, we boarded the buses and headed off for Woodinville, where we hit the hotel, what would be our final night’s stay in Washington, before venturing off to Chateau Ste. Michelle for a magnificent dinner with such terrific winemakers as Bob Betz – another Washington wine luminary, John Bigelow (of JM Cellars) and Brennon Leighton of Efeste.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel, where I decided that the mass quantities of wine were not enough, and exercised some of my homesick demons with a few glasses of Jack Daniels and cola. The hangover gods would have something marvelous in store for me in the morning.

Next up, the finalé!

WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, DAY THREE: HERE COMES THE WOODPECKER

Tuesday (October 6) was somewhat muted chance to be more sightseer than frantic participant in the Road Trip. A 7 a.m. wake up call found us taking in a slower-paced breakfast before climbing aboard “Truckin’” for our vineyard exercise, today being held at Goose Ridge.

Goose RidgeVineyard is found in Richland, Washington, and is considered the largest contiguous vineyard site in the entire state, encompassing over 1400 acres (which comparatively speaking, the entire Red Mountain AVA is less than 1100 acres). Goose Ridge provides fruit to several large wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, the leader in the Washington Wine industry.

We got another lesson in canopy management, and got to take a bird’s-eye view of a mechanical harvester picking Merlot (very cool, but don’t try this at home). Goose Ridge makes wine under its own label, yet only uses about 20% of its fruit for its own purposes. It is a very large operation, and I had renewed interest in their wines (look for their Merlot and G3 in our stores soon).
We ventured to the restaurant Anthony’s on the River for a luncheon hosted by Gordon Brothers owner Jeff Gordon (no relation), and from there, my small group went to our winery exercise at Gordon Brothers, with winemaker Tim Henley. Instead of the usual stuff, Tim opted to let us try some 2009 Merlot, still in tank, and after trying examples of wines aged in various oak barrels, asked us our opinions on what type of oak to use on his newest juice.


Returning to the hotel, we got a small break before heading off to Precept Brands’ Canyon Ranch vineyard site, where we would meet up with various Columbia Valley winemakers for a regional tasting and a homespun barbeque, under the stars.

I found a lot of amazing wines at this tasting, like Bunnell Family’s Mourvedre, which was every bit a Bandol, and the wines of Airfield Estates (really amazing values), Owen Roe (please come to KY, y’all), the Barnard Griffin Shiraz Port (coming soon), and the wines of Terra Blanca and Cote Bonneville. I visited John Bookwalter, whom I met just prior to the trip, and tasted through his outstanding reds again (The Protagonist rules!). At dinner, we were joined by winemaker Kerry Shiels of Cote Bonneville and National Sales Manager Leo Kirk of Kestrel (terrific wines too, by the way.

We also discovered the playhouse that sat adjacent to the dinner – a renovated barn equipped with a bar, a pool table, air hockey table, and other leisurely sundries that made the night complete. My fellow roadtrippers were kids in a candy store, and the camaraderie was at a phenomenal level.

Next stop, Yakima Valley!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, DAY TWO: FLY LIKE A WOODPECKER

Monday (October 5th) was an early one. After sleeping off the middle-aged pain I just had to encounter my first trip to Seattle, I awoke at 4:30 a.m. (well, it was 7:30 back home, usually when I was already in the car and on the way to work), to shower and collect myself before heading back to Sea-Tac to fly to the wee-little town of Pasco, WA (part of the Tri-Cities area). All was good, and the WWC was keeping us on schedule until we arrived at the gate and discovered our little plane was delayed nearly an hour.


Yeah.
After touching down in Pasco, we boarded our appropriated buses (I ended up on the one called “Born To Run”) and headed out to our first vineyard exercise in Walla Walla. I was lucky enough to go to one of my favorite wineries, Spring Valley Vineyards. Hanging out in the vineyards (after a really brief breakfast – something had to be abbreviated to put us back on time) with winemaker Serge Laville, we got our first lesson in canopy management, or how we keep from turning the grapes into raisins 101. Serge walked us through row after row of beautiful Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines, as well as demonstrating the various stages of a wine’s evolution by tasting some wines in varying stages of ferment.

Once done, “Born to Run” headed to the Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla, where we met up with the rest of the group for a Comparative Riesling Tasting, to be led by our Education Director, Shayn Bjornholm, and a panel of Riesling experts. Washington prides itself on being a world leader in Riesling, and I believe (if memory serves) the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is the top selling Riesling in the world. I may be wrong there, but you get the idea – Washington is a big player when it comes to this noble grape. The format for this tasting was simple: we tried 3 Washington State Rieslings, and then tasted 6 more Riesling blind, to determine which ones were Washington State, and which ones were of more international origin (Australia, Germany, Austria, Alsace, etc.). It was a very fascinating exercise, one that I know opened many eyes (and palates) in that room.

After the tasting, lunch was served in the parking lot, via the Taco La Monarca taco truck, which serves up the best f-n tacos on earth. It was dine-on-the-run, as we were scooped up by our Walla Walla winery hosts, and transported to various wineries for our afternoon exercises. My small group headed out with Chad and Corey, winemakers for Dusted Valley Vineyards, to do a few chores in their facility such as “punch-downs” and “pump-overs” and we even went all Bill-Nye-Science-Guy by working a bit in the lab (my Liberal Arts background really helped in that part of the exercise).


Dinner was precluded by a tasting of nearly 20 producers from the Walla Walla, all conducted at L’Ecole Winery’s tasting room. Some of the best wines from Abeja, Beresan, Bergevin Lane, Buty (pronounced Beauty), Cougar Crest, Dunham, Dusted Valley, Gramercy, L’Ecole (of course), Long Shadows Vintners, Nicolas Cole, Northstar, Pepper Bridge, Reininger, Seven Hills, Sleight of Hand, Spring Valley, Walla Walla Vintners, Waterbrook, Waters, and Woodward Canyon were present. I was looking forward to Tamarack Cellars being there, but alas they were a no-show.
Some of the standouts were everything from Abeja and Buty, the Beresan Cabernet Franc, the Nicolas Cole wines, the Seven Hills Pentad, and the Apogee and Perigee from L’Ecole, although I must say I didn’t have a bad wine all night.

We were served dinner just a walk down the road at L’Ecole’s next door neighbors, Woodward Canyon, and were plunged into an evening of debauchery and reverie, with several of the local winemakers joining us. It was a very communal spirit that permeated the day, with the strange feeling that we were more extended family than mere guests. Day two had truly been an amazing day.

Next stop, the Tri-Cities!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, DAY 1: THE WOODPECKER HAS LANDED

I flew out of CVG early Sunday morning (October 4th), on a long flight non-stop to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, en route to the rendezvous for the 2nd annual Washington Wine Road Trip, a little extravaganza put together by the Washington Wine Commission to promote all things Washington State Wine. My travelling companions would be a small, eccentric collection of fellow winos for a 4-day caravan ride across the state and back, visiting some of the best vineyards and wineries in the Pacific Northwest.

I arrived at Sea-Tac, and made it to one of the first shuttles to the hotel in Seattle, the Edgewater Inn, which sat majestically right upon the Puget Sound, just a short walk from the Space Needle. Meeting up with the first of the group, we hooked up with DeLille Cellars co-owner Jay Soloff for lunch and a few brews at a local sports bar, catching some football scores before jumping into the business of Washington State wine.

Meeting back at the hotel, we were introduced to two of the co-conspirators of this cavalcade of wine decadence, Washington Wine Commission Director of Education, Shayn Bjornholm M.S., and Marketing & Events Coordinator Rob Anderson (who I will hereby dub, “The General”). A quick orientation, and they gathered us up in buses and shuttled us over to the Space Needle for a nice, relaxed introduction to some of the best wineries of the Puget Sound area. One of my favorites, Cadence, was in attendance, pouring their gorgeous red Bordeaux blends, as well as the wines of Andrew Will, Syncline, McCrea, Camaraderie Cellars, Soos Creek, San Juan Vineyards, Tsillan Cellars, Vin du Lac and Walter Dacon. What stood out for me, besides the amazing view of the city from the Space Needle’s SkyLine level, were the new entry-level Coda from Cadence, The Cuvee Elena from Syncline, and the Andrew Will Two Blondes.

Of course, I did something I hadn’t done since my last trip to San Francisco – I pulled muscles in my lower legs (must be walking in very hilly cities), so I ducked out of the tasting, pausing long enough to take some pictures from the top of the Needle, before hailing a cab and skulking back to my room to rest up for an earlier departure the next morning.

I met quite a few of my future travelling-companions, as well as some of the terrific WWC staff, and looked forward to a long day of hitting the road and getting out to Walla Walla. Alas, the lightweight in me was already showing.

Next time, the real excursion begins!

Monday, October 12, 2009

WINE & MUSIC: WASHINGTON WINE ROAD TRIP, THE SCORE

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the 2009 Washington Wine Road Trip, orchestrated by the folks at the Washington Wine Commission, and illuminated by such wineries as L’Ecole No. 41, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia, Abeja, Bunnell Family, Bookwalter, DeLille Cellars, and nearly 75 more. Wine Buyers and Sommeliers from all over the country were along for the ride, on buses called “Free Bird”, “Truckin’”, “Low Rider” and “Born To Run”. 40 attendees in total, from Vermont, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco – it was truly a national group.

WWC Education Director Shayn Bjornholm and his team of Washington oenophiles led us from Seattle, to Walla Walla, to Yakima and Woodinville, highlighting a comparatively young wine industry that in my mind, is far and away superior to California in terms of variety, value and exuberance. And in meshing great wines and scenery, they even provided a great classic-rock-tinged soundtrack for the drunken choreographic aspect of our trip. Songs such as “Free Bird”, “Life is a Highway” and “Takin’ it To The Streets” served as backdrop for a 4 day excursion through vineyards and mountainscapes. I only wish they would have put on the greatest road trip wake up song in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. Check it out:





Over the course of this week, I will highlight some of the wonderful stops and some of the great wines we were able to taste and witness being made during harvest. Washington wines deserve to be included in the amphitheater of great wines from places such as Bordeaux, California, Burgundy, Germany, and the Rhone, and hopefully, after this week, you’ll have some idea of why.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

BENT OVER ONCE, BENT OVER TWICE

In this business, you always try to politely decline certain brands, because somewhere down the line, a company may have burned you in one manner or another, yet in the future, you may still have to work with them. Early on here at LDWS, I was introduced to a particular portfolio of European wines that I was excited about, and ordered an ample first shipment in. The supplier and the distributor were both excited as well, yet the product was delayed due to various legal snags, until finally, it (the order) showed up, unannounced, at our main store. Typically, an order of this size goes to our warehouse, where (at least at that time), we divided up what we needed, and sent it to the store down the street, keeping excess backstock in a more manageable environment.

As if that weren't enough, the order was missing items, some items were out altogether, and many vintages were not the ones I had ordered. Upon some sleuthing, I determined that the distributor's sales force was pulling sample bottles out of our order (shipped directly to the distributor from the supplier), and prices were misquoted, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say, the experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, I sent it all back to the distributor, and ended my relationship with this supplier before it even began.

Now, the importer has returned, with a new wholesaler. I have been approached with these wines several times. They are good wines, and they do get those wonderful reviews that we retailers (have to) love so much. Is it time to let bygones BE bygones? Or am I just asking for it all over again? Many of the doubts have been alleviated with the new wholesaler and a new broker for these wines, yet I am still on the fence. And with so many wines out there, should I really even worry about all of this?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WHAT COMES IN THE MAIL SOMETIMES


I get some goofy stuff in the mail here at the store. My boss hates getting solicitation stuff so he has sometimes concocted aliases like Todd Jones and Candy Kane (that one always makes me chuckle). Most of the stuff I get though is from wineries, almost as if I can order these things THROUGH THE MAIL. Wouldn't that be nice, eh?

I got a flyer from one of my favorite impossible-to-get wineries, Spottswoode, the other day. Honestly, in my lifetime, I have managed to finagle maybe 2 bottles, and that was just from the 2005 vintage (so recently). Spottswoode is one of those legendary Napa producers that makes unbelievably powerful reds, the kind of Cab and Cab drinker really WANTS to drink. Yet getting offered any kind of allocation for this wine is kind of like trying to land a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka.

I realize that the mystique must be kept up for restaurants when it comes to wines of this caliber (and price point). Especially seeing as how we here at LDWS are something akin to the "Lowball Express" if you catch the way I've drifted.

Perhaps this holiday season, we may land a few more bottles of the always impressive Spottswoode Cab. Or maybe the Grinch will still my Christmas again? (Damned Lehmann Bros./AIG/etc.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

AN APHRODISIAC FOR EVERYONE

Two weeks ago, I attended a re-introduction seminar for The Australian Premium Wine Collection, featuring winemakers Allister Ashmead (of Elderton), Dean Hewitson (of Hewitson Estate), John Larchet (owner of TAPWC and wineries Wishing Tree and Hill of Content among others) and Patrick Gehrig, winemaker for Rutherglen Estates. During Patrick's portion of the seminar, we tasted through 5 of his wines, including one I have been very fond of for some time: the Rutherglen Muscat NV. Now, this particular "sticky" (as the Aussies call them), is made from the Muscat a Petits Grains grape, fortified, and completely decadent from the word "Go!"


It was a bit sad that this wine was served mid-seminar, because I honestly would of just curled up in a ball on the floor after a smoke and some spooning of the person next to me. Caramel, toffee, maple candy, mocha, gingerbread, cinnamon, roasted almonds and hazelnuts, spice box, coffee... it just went on and on and on. The depth and richness with which it played upon my palate, it was truly one of those HOT DAMN! moments.


Can't wait to take a bottle home for the Mrs. Mmmm mmmm mmmm!

Monday, October 5, 2009

WINE & MUSIC: CHRIS WHITLEY AND A NEW ITALIAN

Years ago it seems, a friend of a friend played a CD for me that would be an almost-surreal moment in my musical life. The artist was named Chris Whitley, and the CD was “Livin’ with the Law.” I think the year was 1991, and I was poised to embark on a strange new trip that would lead me through a frenetic marriage, the single best group of musicians with which I ever got to perform, and a stark, numbing breakdown that brought me back to my hometown and to a state of reinvention. Throughout all those times, I could always rely on the sounds of Chris Whitley to guide me on my way to a happier place and time, whether it was the heavy blues histrionics of his second CD “Din of Ecstasy”, to the accessibility of “Terra Incognita,” the simply beautiful “Dirt Floor” and on into his experimental discs “Rocket House” and “Soft Dangerous Curves” to his final releases, “Reiter In” (with his band The Bastard Club), and the stirring “Dislocation Blues” with Aussie bluesman Jeff Lang.

Chris’ music always seemed to watch over me, influencing me in some good way. Indeed, many critics thought Chris to be some wayward angel, possessed to stir our souls toward some unpronounced path to redemption. He passed away not long after my 39th birthday, in 2005 after suffering from lung cancer. His musical path wasn’t a popular one, opting to follow his strange muse down a different road, one that many never truly understood. I kind of think of him as our generations’ Robert Johnson, creating songs that seemed only the soundtrack to the thoughts and feelings within his own world and mind, and if anyone else was to hear them, that was fine with him. Take a listen to a live rendition of his song “Hotel Vast Horizon,” the title track to his 2003 release:




With music as stark and as haunting as Chris’, it seems odd to even bring up anything as trivial as wine, though there are those cherished bottles that have moved me much like Chris Whitley’s songs. One in particular is something I actually just had over the weekend, courtesy of new friend Terence Hughes, one of the geniuses at Domenico Selections, as well as my favorite distributorship, Heidelberg and good friend Brad Nichols. Unveiled to Shannon and myself, the Musto-Carmelitano Pian del Moro 2007 is 100% Aglianico del Vulture from the Campania in Italy. It is a dense, rustic, powerful red that is chock full of tannic goodness, leaving you salivating for something along the lines of an Osso Bucco or Bracciola. I like how the dark red berry fruit and the chalkiness of the wine really transported you to a happier place (wine does that for me, I guess ‘cos I gave up trippin’ ecstasy a long time ago).


Chris Whitley and the Pian del Moro from Musto-Carmelitano – it’s an odd combination, but to me, they are two gifts from the Big Man Upstairs. SalutĂ©!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

WHERE THE HECK IS THE SAN JUAN REGION?

This month, I picked out two new wines from Argentina's San Juan region, which lies a bit north of the well-recognized Mendoza region. The wines are from Bodegas Cailla, the Alta Pinot Grigio 2008 and Alta Shiraz 2008. Both of these wines impressed me in that there were at once very unique in relation to their country of origin, and also to their grape varieties.

The Pinot Grigio 2008 is light, acidic, and clean, yet with a focused bit of ripe peach, nectarine and kumquat. There is a soft hint of white flowers in the nose, and the palate sees a round fleshy stone-fruit character that is remarkedly different from many of those Italian Pinot Grigios. The Shiraz 2008 is also somewhat different and unexpected. With hints of plums and figs, along with fresh-cut tobacco leaf and notes of mint and basil, it straddles the line between a Barossa Valley style Shiraz, and its cousin from the Northern Rhone. There is a good presence of acidity within its design, giving it terrific food-accompaniment potential.

I love it when I can find good wines at a great value, and with each of these clocking in under $10 a bottle, it's doubly cool.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

POST-INVENTORY BLUES

As a retail buyer, I think no matter what facet of the biz you are in, you want everything you bring into your store to be a success. Yet no matter how often the planets and stars line up in your favor, you are almost guaranteed to be "sitting" on inventory. I hate it. Not just because I hate staring at product that hasn't moved in months, but I know my owner sees that stuff, and I can hear him screaming at me in some parallel universe, "WTF were you thinking?"

My head is still metaphorically bleeding all over my desk right now, and there isn't an Exederin large enough to remove the tiny Migraine army that has just laid siege to my Hippocampus and Cingulate Gyrus (huh?). What that means for all you wine shoppers out there is something we like to call pinktagged. Sounds pornographic, I know. But we slap these sale signs on wines we want to just make go away, using these almost-hot-pink-colored card stock, to shout to all passersby, "Hey! Take me! I'm good and I am DQ'd!"

It's not that these wines are bad by any means. It is just that with the cyclone of new wines coming in almost-daily, some things are bound to get lost in the proverbial shuffle. Hence, pinktagged.

Inventory is excruciatingly meticulous, yet a necessary evil (kind of like Republicants and Demoncrats). It is the two-to-three day expanse of time I liken to a prostate exam done by Jack the Ripper. Invigorating!

Just a day in the life I suppose. Now back to your regularly scheduled chaos...

Friday, October 2, 2009

A BOUT OF EXISTENTIALISM AND OTHER RANDOM SUNDRIES

Every so often I tend to lapse into self-evaulation mode, assessing and reassessing what it is I am doing these days, especially in this business. I tend to have an overdeveloped sense of melodrama and a remarkably excessive tendency toward unnecessary urgency. What the heck does all of that mean? I am the living breathing epitome of self-doubt.

I have spent a year-and-a-half chronicling the daily machinations of my work, here on the front lines of the third tier, the retail side of the wine industry. I am by no means a representation of all that goes on in this business. I have a quirkiness all my own, for good and bad. The frustrations come in all guises, whether a competitor beats me to a great deal, I am shut out on one allocation or another, the dumbasses in our state legislature pass some stilted new tax, or some reviewer proports his or her opinions to be the be-all-end-all opinion for the industry. Whatever the case, I feel compelled to hurl my two-cents out into the blogger-verse as if my localized, blathering opinion can counteract the status quo.

Just having one of those semi-spontaneous moments of introspection.

FYI, I've added a couple of new blogs to the National Roll: a new Italian wine blogger, Jeremy Parzen, and his blog site, Do Bianchi, and Wine & Spirits Magazine's Peter Liem's blog, Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel. Both are very cool reads.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

CAPESTRANO MONTEPULCIANO 2007

The Capestrano Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2007 is another great value red from the folks at Vias Wines. Made by one of the premier producers of the Abruzzi region, Cataldi Madonna, specifically for Vias. Montepulciano is one of those confusing wines that is both the name of a grape, and a region, yet are two completely separate wines. The Montepulciano grape typically comes from the Abruzzi region (as well as several other more Southern wine regions in Italy), and is thought to be primarily of the table wine variety – no Reserves or single-vineyards done from this grape (although there are some). The Montepulciano region is actually in Tuscany – a city where the famed resorts and spas of Italy reside. It is also home to the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines, which are made from Prugnolo (the regional clone name for Sangiovese).

Back to the Capestrano, this is a delicious, light-bodied red that is full of soft cherry and red berry fruit aromas and flavors, with hints of spice and earth. It is a terrific table wine, and durable for virtually any type of cuisine. Give it a try!