Tuesday, December 29, 2009

REPLANTING THE TREE

With the close of the new year, we are moving over to Wordpress. The new URL is http://underthegrapetree.wordpress.com. Come over and check the new look.

Monday, December 28, 2009

THE REST OF THE BEST 2009

Thinking about what wines I chose for my Top 40, there were some obvious oversights, as well as just no room for all the amazing juice of which I had sampled over the past year. I wanted to round up some other standouts that I missed, forgot, or just couldn’t get into the list (in no real particular order):

1. Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast 2006. From the our friends at Hahn Family Estates, this gorgeous Cab impressed many customers this year, showing that a Cab under $25 can beat even the priciest counterparts.

2. Dusted Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006. Corey and Chad made quite an impression on me out in WA, and this wine was one of the first I reeled into the store upon my return. It’s a beautiful effort and affordable too.

3. Atalaya Almansa 2007. Another glorious red wine from importer Jorge Ordonez. Monastrell and Garnacha make up the bulk of this sexy beast.

4. Dei Sancta Catharina 2006. Usually on my Top 40 every year, I left it off simply due to the overwhelming amount of wines I came across this year. Catharina Dei is one of my favorite winemakers, and her signature red blend is a perennial guarantee of quality and phenomenal drinking pleasure.

5. La Gramiere Cotes-du-Rhone 2006. This tale of husband and wife buying a small plot of land in the Southern Rhone, and turning out a stunning red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre that is a beautiful love story in a glass.

6. Poet's Leap Riesling Columbia Valley 2008. A gorgeous effort from the collaborative-happy Allan Shoup and the good folks at Long Shadows Vintners, this amazing Riesling is arguably their best and certainly their most affordable wine in the lineup.

7. d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab Marsanne-Viognier McLaren Vale 2008. D’Arenberg is one of the most deserving, unsung producers of Australia, turning out a vast array of values, including this tasty white wine. Just great bang-for-the-buck quality.

8. Intriga Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley 2008. A sleeper wine that is produced by the Gras family (of MontGras) and made from almost 50 year old Cab vines. Dark, concentrated and rich beyond belief, this Cab really overdelivers.

9. Montes Folly Apalta 2005. I opened a bottle of this one with the Mrs. sometime back and really blew her away with the level of concentration and density this voluptuous red possessed both in bottle and glass. Drinking it with dinner was like eating leftovers in bed after previously engaging in some pretty steamy behavior. Just sin heaped atop of sin.

10. Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2008. Another usual suspect in my Top 40, I once again gave some other wines a shot on the premise that this is the BEST friggin’ Malbec under $30 year-in-and-year-out and doesn’t need my blowhard opinion to champion it, unless you haven’t tried it yet. Then my friends, I suggest you get up off your duffs and get yourself a bottle, grill some meat, open and enjoy.

Once again, new things are coming for 2010 so have a Great New Year, be safe, and see you next year!

THE THANK YOU LIST IS GROWING

2009 has been an incredible roller coaster ride, to say the very list. Personally, I've managed to earn my first certification (Certified Specialist of Wine), visit the Windy City for some amazing Italian/French/South American wines courtesy of Palm Bay Imports, and be part of an amazing ride with the Washington State Wine Commission and the Washington Wine Road Trip. We've had two great events with winemaker Bruce Neyers (who moonlights as National Sales rep for Kermit Lynch), and I have met a lot of phenomenally talented winemakers throughout this year.

I want to take a few moments to thank my assistant Shannon, and the cast and crew of D.E.P.'s Fine Wine & Spirits for taking my vision to the masses, incorporating their own wine world view, and helping our stores continue their successful run (which makes the boss happy). Thanks too to all our sales reps who make sure that things are running smoothly around here by keeping the flow of product moving freely. Thanks to my buying counterparts (Jim, our GM, Rob - liquor, Mark & Brandon - beer) for helping out whenever possible - thanks for having my back, you know I've got yours.

A huge thank you to all the brokers, importers and winemakers who continue to amaze us all with their wares - it's the reason I love this business so much.

Many many thanks to my cohorts in the blogosphere: The Unofficial Ohio Valley Wine Bloggers Association (thanks Tom at Louisville Juice for that one) - Mike Rosenberg, Tim Lemke, Jonathan Seeds, Tom Johnson, and the amazing duo of Michelle Lentz and her husband Kevin Gerl. Thanks to Jeff at Good Grape, Joe at 1WineDude, David at Palate Press, Megan at Wannabe Wino, and everyone else who has been an inspiration to me over the past year and a half. I hope to finally meet many of you in person this year at the WBC.

And most importantly, thanks to all our D.E.P.'s customers and Grape Tree readers. You're the reason I keep doing this everyday, or at least one of the many. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

We'll be back in 2010 looking newer and groovier. See you then!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

&#%$!

Strange how my post the other day – “The Portfolio Shuffle” – caused a bit of confusion amongst suppliers. Seems somebody somewhere coughed up misinformation on importer Southern Starz and the correct distributor. My apologies to both Bryant and Solera (the Columbus, OH wholesaler who actually STILL handles S.S. for Northern Kentucky). Unfortunately, the confusion came from S.S. themselves. Hopefully, everyone up and down the chain has their story straight.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

KNOWLEDGE IS KING

Thanks to the Internet, there is a King’s Ransom in information available – all you have to do is seek it out. I’ve been at this wine thing awhile, and since the Internet came along, hours searching for articles and books at the bookstore or the library are replaced by minutes on the Web. And with all the various wine bloggers out there, I have access to dozens of perspectives and opinions that not only help me in my quest for ultimate wine knowledge, they help me stay better informed on the various trends in the wine industry – trends I need to know as a buyer.

There are literally thousands of wine blogs out there, with a wide array of points-of-view, all aimed at giving you another piece of the picture. The printed magazines such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and others, are one side of the vast landscape that is the world of wine, and they do a great deal to keep people up to date, yet they do have an agenda – it’s no surprise. They are in the business of selling magazines. They sell ad space and provide a reciprocity that is either overt or unintentional, but there nonetheless. I don’t fault them for it. I am in the business of selling wine, and need to do what is necessary to show reasons for carrying the wide range of wines the stores I work for do sell. Business is business. So when it comes to information, it is beneficial to the student to glean said information from as many sources as possible.

For wine, the best resource online is The Wine Lover’s Page, the brainchild of Louisville columnist Robin Garr and his army of likeminded winos. Assembled there is a huge wealth of knowledge all linked together in one neat Web site. It’s not elaborate by any means, nor should it be. The meat of the Site is the content, not the graphics. A great new resource is The Palate Press, founded by friend David Honig, and contributors include over 20 of the Web’s current bloggers including Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude, Jeff Lefevre of Good Grape, Gabriella Opaz of Catavino, Kori Voorhees of Wine Peeps, and our own local blogger friend Michelle Lentz of My Wine Education.

Some of my favorite must reads are Wine Enthusiast writer Steve Heimoff, one of the most articulate and irreverent bloggers out there, Samantha Dugan of Samantha Sans Dosage, a brutally honest writer who doesn’t back away from speaking her mind about anything, not just wine, and Tom Wark from Fermentation, the daily wine blogger who takes on the industry and doesn’t back down from the fight.

If you only look at the blog roll at the right of the screen, you can see the list is long and distinguished, and really gets longer every day. There is always a new voice to discover, and another piece of the puzzle to add. Knowledge is essential in this business. And if you are a true geek like me, it takes on a very twisted impression of fun.

THE PORTFOLIO SHUFFLE

Seems like at the end/beginning of every year here in the Commonwealth, the various distributors/brokers/importers/etc. apparently get together and change their lineup cards a bit (I know that is not how it works). This distributor takes brand A from that distributor who gets brand B from another distributor who takes brand C from the first distributor, or there is a distributor going under so there is a feeding frenzy in the shark tank – you get the idea.

To stay in the game, retail buyers need to keep one ear to the ground and the other in the wind, just so they can know where what brands are going and to whom they are going. Couple all that with the recent Constellation restructuring, after all the mergers and acquisitions, and your brainpan will be spilling over. Sometimes I just want to stand up and scream “make up my friggin’ mind for me, would’ya?” My favorite resulting move is Constellation becoming Diageo Jr., by forcing their distributorship in KY to form its own house. And of course, they call it Starz. They are with Southern Wine & Spirits, hence Southern Starz. This is not to be confused with Southern Starz, the importer of Australian and South African wines that recently migrated from a small outfit based in Columbus, Ohio to Kentucky’s Bryant Distributing.

Trade-offs in just the past few months include Nevada Co. Wine Guild, Burgess Cellars, St. Supery, Paolo Scavino, Michel Picard, Las Rocas de San Alejandro, and more. Lord only knows what the new year is bringing our way in 2010, but change can be fun. It can also be a real big pain in the ass, too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

WHAT THE HECK IS GROWER CHAMPAGNE AND HOW DO I SELL IT?

There has been a lot of talk about grower Champagne and how it is far superior to the major Champagne houses that dominate the marketplace here in the states (i.e., Moet-Chandon, Veuve-Clicquot, G.H. Mumm, et.al). Though like most wine geeks out there, I have been enthralled by these amazing, small family producers who grow all their own fruit and make their own wine, completely free of the large negociants,

Wines from producers such as Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Vilmart, Paul Bara and Jacquart are critical darlings, garnering incredible reviews from Tanzer, Spectator and others. Yet the big problem is the advert machines that churn out full-page spreads for the major houses and keep the public’s eye transfixed on brands like Perrier-Jouet Fleur du Champagne, Moet-Chandon’s Dom Perignon and White Star, and Piper-Heidsieck’s Sublime. I love having the grower Champagnes on our shelves, but despite the rave reviews, they are complete unknowns to our customers, and therefore, no matter the knowledge my staff imparts to them, they (the bottles) remain permanent dust collectors.

I recently pulled up a paper written by Kevin Pike and Terry Thiese (the biggest champion of grower Champagne in the U.S.), and they offered at least a manifest of sorts on how retailers and restaurateurs can better promote the growers over the major houses. Yet despite the “ra-ra-sis-boom-bah” cheerleading routine that it offers up, there still isn’t a clear cut methodology on successfully selling these brands.

I have tried tastings with these wines before, but the problem presented there is that these wines are typically directly imported (not regularly stocked by our wholesalers), and therefore, any tasting allocations are not in anyone’s budget. Couple this with the fact that, especially this time of the year, the big houses are wheeling and dealing, and I can get some pretty outlandish prices on things like Dom Perignon and PJ Fleur. The same thing can’t be said about the grower Champagnes, which for the most part, remain the same high prices as last year, if not having taken price increases.

I am unsure of where to go with this juggernaut. I want to promote these brands. I want the customer to experience these brands. But I don’t need these brands just sitting on the shelf. After all, aren’t we in the business of selling wine? My boss certainly doesn’t want me “collecting” wine on his dime. What is a poor wine geek to do? Suggestions?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

COPPOLA SOFIA BLANC DE BLANCS 2008

The Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2008 is a rather unique sparkler. Made from a blend of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Muscat, this wine is remarkably vibrant and floral in the nose, with loads of peach, apricot and white flowers rising up from the glass. Now, I know what you are thinking. This wine is going to be sweet. However, this sparkler is done in an Extra Dry style, with minimal residual sugar. There are a lot of honeysuckle, pineapple and apricot notes, and this wine, as the winery describes, is indeed reminiscent of a Prosecco. Done in the Charmant, or bulk method, the Champagne fans may scoff a bit at this bottle, but it is actually a pretty nice sparkler for the price. I would definitely give this one a try.

Friday, December 18, 2009

ZARDETTO PROSECCO NV

I wine I have truly missed around here and glad it’s back is the Zardetto Brut Conegliano NV, an incredible value in Italian Prosecco. Often a bit misunderstood, Prosecco is actually a grape variety used to produce sparkling wines in the Veneto region of Italy. Prosecco tends to be a bit more vibrant and much more exuberant in its fruitiness than Chardonnay, and the resulting sparkler is a real extrovert.

I have always felt that the Zardetto Prosecco Brut is far and away one of the best values in Prosecco, and certainly one of the best in quality as well. Produced entirely from Prosecco (some Proseccos do use Chardonnay or other grapes as a minor blender) and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, there is only zesty, vibrant peach, Clementine, and tropical fruit aromas and flavors. It would lend itself well as an aperitif, but would also be a great accompaniment to seafood and poultry dishes as well. If you want to try a great Prosecco and not spend a lot of money, look no further.

ANOTHER XMAS WISH LIST

This time of year everyone asks you that question, “what do you want for Christmas?” To which I always feel compelled to either 1) shrug, smile and say “World Peace”, 2) tell them “a good woman, but I already have her” or 3) simply say “nothing.” I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas, only because I know what the true meaning of Christmas is, but most people seem more intent on celebrating it lavishly and superficially. Gone for me are the days of going to both sets of grandparents’ houses and having breakfast at one and brunch at the other, hanging out with the family, and just enjoying everybody’s company. Yeah, I know what you are saying: you just wanted the presents. I was a bit weird in my youth (obviously nothing has changed there). I actually remember scolding my parents for spending too much money on toys for my sister and I, telling them they should have used it to catch up on bills.

These days, despite my short fuse, and my unfortunate tendency to drag my afterwork angst home with me, what I love about the holidays is still hanging out with my wife and family, and watching the cats climb into the Christmas tree, dragging ornaments around and just enjoying their own brand of Yuletide spirit.

And no matter what your religious persuasion – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic – December is a strange and beautiful season, a transformation from the blossoming to the transitioning of life-to-death-to-life again (here comes the Wicca in me) that is a time of peace, of hope and of family and friends.

So without getting too New-Age-y on you, instead of what I WANT for Christmas, here’s a few things I would like to SEE (and not necessarily just about wine):

1. A repeal of one of the three taxes on wine and spirits here in the state of Kentucky. The genius thinking that a sales tax on top of the excise tax AND wholesale tax was going to lift the Commonwealth out of its fiscal dilemma failed miserably and drove scores of wine and spirits buyers back to Ohio and Indiana (even though our stores continue to beat Ohio on the majority of wines out there). The cart-before-the-horse theory was a big bust. Now go put your genius hats back on and come up with a better solution.
2. Allowing retailers to deliver and ship via the Internet. It can be done, and there is a large group of folks who would use the service, opening up a new market and an increase in revenue for the state. And it CAN BE DONE without the threat of selling to minors.
3. The end of exclusivities in our state. Maybe it’s just me but my perception of exclusivity in this business means a huge insult to the consumer. In this economy, why would you want to exclude anyone from buying your product?
4. A true spirit of bipartisanship in our nation’s capitol. Amazing that I voted for someone who was suppose to embody that spirit yet the old dogs on both sides of the aisle are doing all they can to make sure that will never happen. A nation divided is easier to manipulate, just ask the last administration. And this isn’t just a rag on Republicans, no no no, you sorry Democrats get some of my piping hot ire too.
5. Personal responsibility. No one seems to want to participate in that. If people took more pride in that and followed it to the letter, perhaps there wouldn’t be the need to debate abortion, health care, the failure of the banking industry, and so on.
6. Better funding for education. We know where this would get us, don’t we? Smarter people means more opportunity for prosperity, less stress on our economic institutions, happier communities, and maybe even, world peace! Can’t have that now can we?
7. An end to world hunger and disease. If we could give the disparate and downtrodden of this world more opportunity for education, feed them, clothe them, keep them healthy and help them fend for themselves, hey, world peace!
8. Hell to freeze over. Because none of this will be possible until the day the Devil and his minions need snowblowers and thermal jock straps.

Believe in yourself. Dare to hope. Give love. Be safe. Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Muharram, Kwanzaa – or whatever you celebrate, and for all you agnostics out there, enjoy the mistletoe.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SPARKLING WINES: A DOWN-AND-DIRTY PRIMER

As the year draws to a close, it seems almost a tradition to think about sparkling wine, although as a big fan, I could drink it anytime. Yet with the New Year’s festivities fast approaching, I thought it prudent to offer up some down and dirty points to remember when searching for a sparkling wine.

The biggest thing to think about is the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne. What is the difference? Nothing, except geography. Champagnes can only be called Champagne if they come from the Champagne region of France. Everything else, even it comes from another part of France, is sparkling wine.

And there is Cava from Spain, Prosecco and Franciocorta from Italy, Sekt from Germany and Austria, and of course good ol’American sparklers. Many Champagne houses actually have wineries in California (such as Chandon, Roederer, and Taittinger).

While vintage plays an integral part in your selection of still wines, the year is not always as significant with sparkling wines, due to the fact that most often these wines are a blend of several vintages in order to maintain a consistent product. While these wines should be referred to as “multi-vintage” wines, they are almost always known as “non-vintage.” However, there are vintage sparkling wines. The French government actually designates a vintage for the wineries of Champagne, which signifies that a particular year was extraordinary enough to note it on the bottle. Not every year is a vintage year, which is why you often see wines such as Dom Perignon skip a vintage or two.

Dryness is arguably the most important aspect of choosing a sparkling wine. Dryness is broken down into 6 levels, from driest to sweetest: Extra Brut (also known as Brut Sauvage or Brut Natural), Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux. The most common wine is Brut, which has a residual sugar content of around 1.5%. Extra Dry, oddly enoughly enough is typically sweeter, or possessing more residual sugar than a Brut. The most popular Extra Dry is Moet & Chandon White Star NV. Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux are more like dessert sparklers, with Demi-Sec being the most popular of the three. Some of the most recognized Demi-Secs are Moet & Chandon Nectar NV, Piper-Heidsieck Sublime NV and Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec. Doux is the sweetest, with a residual sugar content of 5% or higher. It is pretty rare, and usually only found at the winery in which it is produced.

Sparkling wines are wonderful food wines, yet more often than not, are simply passed off as aperitif wines and toasting wines. It’s a shame. If you really want some decadence, try lobster with butter and a nice sparkler. It is a heavenly pairing. Or try it with sushi. I think you’d be surprised, or more to the point, amazed, at the combination.

I will have a few Champagne reviews and some more information on Champagne production over the next two weeks, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE WHEELIN' AND THE DEALIN'

I am often plagued by tsunamis of self-doubt. (The word “wave” just didn’t drive the point home far enough in my mind.) I could give you a thousand reasons why, but suffice it to say, that dirty bastard just won’t leave me alone sometimes. We make for interesting bedfellows, self-doubt and I, especially during the holidays, where around here, in the wacky world of wine retail, you need to stay sharp, and focused.

This time of year, there is a multitude of buying opportunities for retailers here in Kentucky. It’s not like our neighbor to the North (Ohio for those of you not staring at a map right now), which is what is known in this business as a “control” state. [Note: A control state is where the state maintains a mandatory minimum markup from the wholesale price, effectively keeping every retailer in that state at the same price point, regardless of the volume they do.] In Kentucky, the more you buy, the lower you CAN go in price. Many people opt to take the extra margin, but not to blow our own horn, we play things a little closer to the edge.

So as I surf through the clearance items being lobbed at me, and various large deals for this and for that, I find myself a bit drained, and a bit vexed by my boss as he called me to tell me he was remerchandising our Fort Thomas store. At first, I was upset – I spend a lot of time and effort putting floor displays together, dreaming about how I will lay the floor out each month – and his idea of what has name recognition and my idea seem at odds sometimes. Yet I took a minute, remembered the April Fool’s joke our illustrious Kentucky legislatures stuck us with this year (our new sales tax on wine and spirits) and realized it is all about price point.

My quandary with pricing is that, when I started here nearly 8 years ago, my mission was clear: make this place a multi-dimensional wine & spirits store. We already had the low prices, I had to come in, train the staff, and make the store bigger, better and more esoteric – kind of like creating an adult candy store. While I succeeded for all intensive purposes, my work will always be “in progress” – never really finished. However, the focus has in many ways, had to revert back to price as our primary feature due to the perceived diminishment of price advantage with Ohio.

I have talked about it before, dozens of times since Governor Beshear signed into law the third level of taxation on wine and spirits, and it won’t be my last, certainly. From a glass-half-full perspective, at least I have been given a new challenge: find great deals for our customers and attract new customers with even crazier deals, making the drive across the bridges worth every cent.

Which delivers me back to the whole buying frenzy – distributors are blowing up my email and cell phone with this deal or that, as I am sure they are doing with my competitors – hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and I would be extremely delusional to believe I am the only one getting all the phone calls. The wine business is not and can never be a monogamous thing; wholesalers aren’t, retailers aren’t and even the consumers aren’t (you know you shop at more than one store, right?). I accept that. Just makes me work a little harder. I can’t speak for my competitors but, I know my kung fu is strong. Sometimes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

GREG NORMAN PINOT NOIR 2008

I often like to review wines that don't or won't get any kind of love from the mainstream. It's a way for me as a retailer to provide my customers with information about a wine that is more along the esoteric lines. Yet occasionally I stumble onto a wine that has more of that "brand recognition" I still find so enigmatic, and I have to tell you about it.

Take for example, the Greg Norman Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2008, part of Greg Norman Estates/Fosters Wine Estates California project, and a really nice surprise for Pinot Noir lovers out there. It is textbook Pinot Noir, with ruby red color, notes of strawberries, red flowers and slight nutty and forest floor tones in both the aromas and the flavors of this wine. Aged in both old American and French oak, there are slight woody elements, yet they are sublime and only give this wine another dimension of depth.

I usually shy away from the wines so wholeheartedly embraced by the supermarket chains and restaurant chains because more times than not, the wines are usually very pedestrian and have nothing to offer. Yet this effort from Greg Norman Estates is a remarkable expression of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, and at a price you can actually afford. Way to go guys! Give this one a try.

THE ARRIVAL OF RIESLING (FINALLY)

In Wine Enthusiast’s latest issue, magazine editor Adam Strum ranks his Top 10 Wine Stories of the year. In it, clocking in at #5, Riesling has finally begun a bit of a renaissance movement. The oft-maligned grape seems like it is finally getting its comeuppance. Mr. Strum points to itself along with scores of industry pros (like myself) who have been championing this grape variety for its near-perfection in food-pairing, and it nobility as one of the premier wine grapes of the world for its complexity and resilience.


I shock a lot of customers when I tell them I drink more Riesling at home than any red – including the Italian wines I am most fond of – and the looks on their faces are priceless when I say that to them. Why? WTF?! Should I be listening to you now?

Seriously though, I love spicy foods – Thai, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cajun – and Riesling is remarkably apt at balancing itself best with these foods. It is as if Riesling and spicy foods were made for each other, a celestial pairing dreamed up by a ravenous, enamored deity, a secret ambrosia that had been leaked out from a higher dominion to us less-worthy souls.


Rieslings from Donnhoff, Joh. Jos. Christoffel, Robert Weil and Dr. Loosen have populated my wine cellar for years, and my wife has become more infatuated with them than I have. Though I rarely have the energy to drink at home these days, when I do, I reach for a Riesling, because I will usually want to have a glass with dinner.
My recent travels to Washington state reinvigorated my passion for Riesling, with a reintroduction to the wines of Pacific Rim, along with amazing Rieslings from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Barnard Griffin, Milbrandt Vineyards, Columbia Winery, and the Poet’s Leap Riesling from Long Shadows. I am amazed at the level of balance achieved with this grape variety. And there is more out there than sweet Rieslings, to be sure. The terms trocken and halbtrocken should be household wine terms sooner than most other German winespeak, the “dry” and “half-dry” respectively. At least in our store, dry Rieslings are becoming extremely popular for their versatility and liveliness, as well as their ability to compliment a vast array of cuisines.
Whether it’s Riesling from Australia, New Zealand, Austria, the Alsace of France, Washington state or the Trockens of Germany, there are enumerative dry versions of this noble grape out there for you to try. Who knows? You may too become a believer.

Monday, December 14, 2009

COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU

My favorite rock singer-turned-winemaker Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) and his partner-in-crime Eric Glomski, are being featured in a documentary entitled "Blood Into Wine" and thanks to my pal Michelle Lentz, I now know that the release date is February 19th (premiering in Phoenix, AZ). Hopefully, there we'll get to see it around here, but who knows.

The trailer is up at http://www.bloodintowine.com/. Wine Spectator's James Suckling, as well as my favorite zombie-killer Milla Jovovich and funnyman Patton Oswalt make cameo appearances. Hopefully I can get a few bottles of Primer Paso to take into the theater with me when it comes around. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

THE TROUBLE WITH NAMES

I run into this issue every year, when the holidays bring in new faces and new customers. It is an issue I have a harder time dealing with as I get bombarded more and more with new wineries, grape varieties and wine regions. The issue is “name recognition.” In other businesses, I understand this because if you are looking for a tractor, you first look at John Deere, if you are looking for soda, Coke or Pepsi, I get the whole brand recognition thing – but when it comes to wine, the days of old (Robert Mondavi, Silver Oak, Caymus, Cakebread) doesn’t really hold my attention anymore, and I wonder why it still does with the average consumer. Not to bash or bang on those brands or any other, but with hundreds of thousands of incredible wineries out there, how can you just focus in on these?

Obviously, it is a question of awareness, and knowing that these juggernauts are still brands that the general wine-buying public know very well, regardless of what else is in the market. Yet I am sure I speak for most of the wine retailers out there when I say that for every “marquee” brand there is at least 10 to 20 wines of similar or surpassing pedigree, and more often than not, anywhere from 20% to 50% cheaper than those marquee brands.

Still, they want a brand that their guests, friends, etc. will recognize. It yields an interesting conundrum in that so many of us bloggers decry the magazines for exerting too much power and emphasis on wine scores – and these scores supposedly drive sales, right? One winery in particular I have complained about several times here at UTGT, I have people walk into my store every day and ask for this brand, yet I can honestly rarely get. These wines for the most part, get panned by the critics, getting scores in the high 70s and low 80s, and still people want the wines. It’s the name. Granted the wines of this producer are good wines, but to me, why should I charge $50 for a Chardonnay that I should be selling for under $20 – and I can easily recommend a dozen under $20 Chardonnays from Napa or Sonoma or Santa Barbara that in my mind, are better in every way than this producer, and I can get them without any degree of difficulty, and customers can come back for them at any time they choose. I am not singling out any one brand by any means, I am just using them as an example. But there are dozens of wineries that charge too much, produce too little, are almost completely obsessed with being in restaurants-only, and rely too heavily on their past glories of marquee status, while there is an infinite wealth of up-and-coming wineries that offer customers value and quality, and will go much further to impress your wine geek friends, whether at a party, for a gift, or with dinner.

It is a continuous source of frustration, not to be able to put a great value in a customer’s hands. Often times I find myself a bit jaded toward these marquee brands – the sales reps for these wines usually come off as stuffy, self-absorbed and unwilling to admit their wines are overpriced. One winery rep in particular visited our store a few years back, and was pissed we were selling their Napa Cab for nearly $10 under the National average. I told him we couldn’t sell it at the price we had it in the kind of volume he was looking for – just how much volume can you generate for a $70 Napa Cab anyway? – and the visit went downhill from there.

There are wines we won’t get access to because of where we are in the country – Kentucky – and where we rank in the general scheme of the wine business – at the very bottom. Shafer, Pride, Peter Michael, Harlan – you can pretty much forget about those guys. I find myself laughing some hysterically disturbing laugh whenever Shannon or one of my wine staffers ask if any of those are available. I laugh mostly due to our proximity to Cincinnati – we are considered part of the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area, separated only by the Ohio River – so I find myself staring over the flood wall, looking at Carew Tower (Cincy’s tallest building – right now), and thinking “what would it take for Northern Kentucky to secede to Ohio?”

Overall, those marquee brands do more to piss me off than anything else. I usually only give them shelf space and attention in December, choosing to spend my time promoting wines that seemingly want to be sold to the masses, wines that would like to find a home on as many retail shelves as possible. I get the whol supply vs. demand thing – some of these wines are just not mass-produced. I get that and appreciate that. Yet if it is available to our competition in Ohio, it should be here in Northern Kentucky. Our customers are the same customers that frequent stores across the river – we share the same metropolitan boundaries for crying out loud. My only wish in this industry is that consumers who shop for these marquee brands begin to realize the degree of difficulty in getting many of these brands, the sometimes diminished quality of these brands, and the presence of so many alternatives to these brands.

In looking at the glass half-full, I should be thankful that people are coming into the stores wanting to spend money – and believe me, I am. Extremely. I guess it is the knowing that there is far more than just a few marquee brands out there in the wine world. I want the world to see them, try them, and enjoy them as I do.

Friday, December 11, 2009

VILLA MONTELEONE SANTA LENA VALPOLICELLA 2007

I've become pretty fond of these wines from Domenico Selections, and one in particular I am liking right now is the Villa Monteleone Santa Lena 2007, a Valpolicella Classico from (of course) the Veneto. A traditional blend of Venetian grapes Corvina, Rondinella, Croatina and Molinara, this sultry red has aromas and flavors of black and white pepper, blackberry, dried herbs and hints of nutmeg and allspice. There are notes of mulberry and boysenberry alongside well-balanced minerality, leading into a really nice finish.

I plan on cracking open a bottle of this at home with a basil and pomegranate pork tenderloin and some roasted rosemary potatoes. (I shouldn't really write when I am hungry.) I have actually adopted the Santa Lena as our "house" Valpolicella because it is everything you should look for in a wine from this appellation: fruit-driven, well-balanced, rustic and imparting a warm, homespun feeling. Give this one a try.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ME AND MY BIG MOUTH

Often times, I find myself opening my mouth before I have actually given my brain a chance to process whatever information I am being bombarded with at the time. We all do it at one point or another; we react to a situation instead of responding more appropriately. When it comes to the wine business, a passionate individual finds him or herself reacting far more often that they should, and that can be quite problematic at times.

My biggest reactionary points have been, this past year: 1) As always, the 100-point rating scale, 2) the now TRIPLE-taxation on wine and spirits here in Kentucky, 3) Exclusivity agreements, 4) Interstate Shipping restrictions, and 5) winery line-extensions.

1) The 100-point rating scale that wine magazines such as Wine Spectator, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and others rely heavily on is that lecherous, skulking beast that breathes laboriously in the dark corner of the room. You know it’s there, you are never getting rid of it, so you reluctantly try to coexist. I don’t think anyone can ever prove to me that the 100-point system is a good thing now, despite what it has done for the industry. It is the overreliance on these scores that drive me crazy.

2) The Triple-Tax on Wine & Spirits in KY: Ah, here’s a new one. First, the excise tax, which I think has always existed. Wineries have to pony up this fee in order to sell their wares in the state. Second, the wholesale tax, which is paid at the wholesale level, to the state. And finally, added just this year, the 6% sales tax, which was begun April Fool’s Day this year. A brilliant move by a state whose tourism revenue is supported in part by all those Bourbon producers, as well as a wine industry that is still in its infancy, that is generated by only 25% of the state’s counties, yet spread across all 120 counties. Not very fair and just, but when did politicians ever care about being fair and just?

3) Exclusivity agreements never cease to amaze me. In the 21st Century, some importers still want to be dependent upon one retailer for an entire state. Granted, thanks to the brilliance of our Kentucky lawmakers, most wineries and importers cringe or scoff at the very thought of the Kentucky marketplace – they think we are a bunch of ignorant, uncultured hillbillies anyway, right? Yet in bridge store scenarios like Louisville and Northern Kentucky, where across the river, a particular item tied up in exclusivity is widely available, it adds to the frustration level that my #2 point continues to exacerbate. Maybe the nostalgia-maniacs at some of these import companies will decide that total market representation is better than, as the old adage warns of “putting all your eggs in one basket.”

4) Interstate Shipping restrictions: man, don’t get me started.

5) Winery Line-Extensions: In this economic climate, the continued process of expanding a lineup of wines by diluting what you have with wines you shouldn’t be making make me not want to do business with you at all. Rosenblum Chardonnay anyone?

Today has just been one of those days where I want to punch the first person I see. So better to sit in my tiny office, vent a bit, and think about something nice in this business, like standing atop the hillside at Red Willow Vineyard. Breathe in… breathe out.

The thing I need to constantly remind myself of in this business – because it is so easy to forget – is that I shouldn’t take things too seriously. Unfortunately, with the level of absurdity perpetrated in this industry by lawmakers, and the seriously bloated and archaic distribution system we in the U.S. contend with daily, I find myself ready to break off a boot in some poor sap’s ass – even though most people usually see me as an easy-going, mild-mannered sot.

Me and my big mouth.

REALE CARDOMONE 2006

Another great wine from Strappo and the gang at Domenico Selections is the Reale Cardomone 2006, an extremely unique red blend from Campania. One thing that struck me as both peculiar and intriguing about Domenico Selections was the number of wines they represent from Campania vs. the rest of the country. One thing I have learned since my initial introduction to these wines, there are a lot of great wines from Campania not getting the attention that they deserve.

The Reale Cardomone 2006 is a blend of 70% Piedirosso and 30% Tintore, a rare red grape even by Campanian standards. This wine is completely native Campania, seeing primarily tank-fermentation, with zesty, lively notes of cherries and red pepper. With well-balanced acidity, this red would be a very durable food-pairing or an aperitif. Give something truly original a try with your next meal at home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SYRAH'S BIGGEST PROBLEM

I was checking in with Wine Spectator, as I do nearly every day. It’s part of my job to stay on top of what all the wine mags are discussing/promoting/championing these days. In James Laube’s latest online article, “20 Great California Syrahs,” he unwittingly points to an ongoing consumer dilemma with Syrah and its tenuous place within the wine market today.

Thanks to the Australian wine boon earlier in the last decade, Shiraz (arguably Syrah’s brawnier alter ego) is perceived as being primarily an under $15 red wine by consumers and retailers alike. Despite the fact that Syrah almost always has been a much less affordable counterpart ($15-$30 is an okay price point, but not as attractive to the average consumer as say, ten bucks or less), the general perception is that Shiraz and Syrah should be priced well under $15.

Is that fair? Not particularly. Not when you incorporate the reds of the Northern Rhone, such as Hermitage, Cornas and the like from producers such as A. Clape, E. Guigal, Jean Louis Chave and Jean-Luc Colombo. Yet in Mr. Laube’s article, he reviews 20 Syrahs from the Santa Barbara, all except one priced $25 to $40 a bottle (the exception being a $125 from Jonata), and all of these with less than 900 cases produced.

The obvious point being made here is that these wines are not like the Australian Shiraz, but more like the Northern Rhone version of Syrah (the progenitor of the grape variety), yet an even bigger, more resounding yet less overt point being made is the sad fact that Syrah, in its most glorious form, is thought of, at least by Mr. Laube and the folks at Wine Spectator, that Syrah is just as much an elitist grape variety as Cabernet Sauvignon.

True enough, I make a bold leap with such an assessment, yet, the 20 wines he reviews in this article are wines that the overwhelming majority of wine consumers will NEVER see. Zaca Mesa, Jaffurs and Brander may be the most recognized in the list, yet these particular wines may not see distribution outside of their own state of origin.

Wine Spectator made a colossal leap toward the mainstream with their recent Top 100 list, incorporating a larger cross-section of real values (wines under $20) that have larger production, and greater market saturation. Yet the reviewers continue their self-indulgent ways by spending time writing about wines we as consumers will most certainly never experience.

Furthermore, this exercise in wine elitism seems to undermine the very goal producers of Syrah are trying to accomplish – reaching a bigger audience and undoing the cheap image that the Australian wine glut has perpetuated over the past decade. At present, the only savior I really see for the grape is Washington State – the only area with the sense to produce Syrah comparable to the Northern Rhone, except with a price tag more palatable to the masses. Most of the California Syrah producers fail to understand that you cannot, in the consumer’s eyes, jump from a $10 Australian Shiraz to a $40 Santa Barbara (or Napa or Paso) Syrah in the blink of an eye. And Mr. Laube (though it’s nice to see he can look beyond Napa Valley once in a while), needs to not aim for the bleachers every time. A base hit works just as well at winning the game as a home run.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

FOR A SENSE OF COMMUNITY

There has been a lot of chatter on the wine blogs of my wine brethren in recent weeks, everyone from local guy Tom Johnson from Louisville Juice, to Jeff at Good Grape and Wine Enthusiast writer Steve Heimoff. One of the discussions I found interesting was one Tom had initiated, related the frequency with which political bloggers exchange links through their comments sections (Tom is a former political blogger himself) and the extreme lack of linking amongst the wine blog counterparts.

For the everyday wine consumer who doesn’t spend much time (if any) in the blogosphere, this discussion topic is difficult to understand or empathize. Yet in the growing world of social media communications and more succinctly how ideas in the wine world get exchanged, there is some real world correlation and significance to the debate.

It is no secret that the print media is dying, though I suspect that most traditionalists will not part with the printed word completely, and many magazines will adapt themselves to the digital age quite nicely, so while they (magazines) won’t disappear, the expanding influence of blogs (and their inevitable genesis into more conventional constructs) will become increasingly more significant and relevant to the average reader/consumer.

So what am I trying to say?

For almost two years, I have been slowly finding my way with this whole blog thing. It was born out of a combination of several things: 1) My overwhelming urge to write about anything (I am a frustrated novelist and poet BTW), 2) An extension of my day job as a buyer for a small group of retail stores and the need to give exposure/knowledge/insight into the wines I bring in that DO NOT have any national or international coverage (reviews in the wine mags, etc.) and 3) My demented sense of sharing with the world around me my left-of-center opinions about this wine business I love so much.

In following along with the conversation perpetuated by Tom, Jeff and others, Tom’s points brought out a lot of great responses in relation to the wine bloggers’ lack of interconnectedness, including a list of ten truths about wine bloggers found on Jeff’s site. The credibility of wine bloggers, the geographical context within the wine bloggers write, the content of their bloggers, and so on – the top blogs from Steve Heimoff, Tom Wark (Fermentation), Joe Roberts (1 Wine Dude), Eric Asimov (The Pour), Deb Harkness (Good Wine Under $20) and Alder Yarrow (Vinography) have branded themselves well, and are always first when talking about the national blogs. Good friend Michelle Lentz (My Wine Education) has done a great job of branding herself locally, and rising to national recognition, as well as Jeff at Good Grape, Tim Lemke at Cheap Wine Ratings and Mike Rosenberg of The Naked Vine.

There are thousands of wine blogs out there, all struggling to be heard. We struggle against the perception of incestuousness that permeated the wine blogosphere several years ago, the perception of self-absorption and smarminess that many of us have intentionally or unintentionally emanated from ourselves over the last two years, and the reluctance to exchange ideas more often, comment more often and involve our peers more often, since deep down, I think that is why we all started these wine blogs in the first place – to provide a forum for such idea exchanges amongst our fellow winos. It seems though that somewhere along the way, we got a bit sidetracked, became somewhat self-indulgent, and found ourselves presenting opinions and commentaries whilst shunning any outside critique, regardless of how positive or negative it may be.

Yet a comment was made by Jeff Stai, from Twisted Oak Winery, suggested that a lot of the bloggers are active participants in the biz, and therefore, to paraphrase, need to be a bit more restrained. Being on the retail side of things, I found myself agreeing with him, because as most folks know, I can run off the rails and launch a vulgarity-laced tirade like no other, and it tends to get me into trouble (with suppliers, importers, my boss).

When I first learned of the Internet a decade ago, I learned that the whole premise was for scientists to have a means to exchange ideas, proof theorems and experimentations, and otherwise build upon a foundation of scientific insight in order to make a better, closer knit world. I think that the wine bloggers (and bloggers in general) have the same goals, and should exercise the same level of informational camaraderie. No one person is going to be entirely right (and the one most wrong will most undoubtedly be me), so the burgeoning egos we wine geeks may have (not saying that everyone does, just mostly talking about me) should be checked at the cyberdoor.

Who knows, come next year, these 1000+ wine blogs may all be interconnected. Here’s hoping so.

Monday, December 7, 2009

MUSTILLI PIEDIROSSO 2008

Another very cool red wine offering from Strappo and the gang at Domenico Selections is the Mustilli Piedirosso 2008 from the Campania region of Italy. Native solely to Campania, this is a truly unique grape, producing a vibrant, zesty and light-bodied red wine that gives you red pepper flake, dried herbs, raspberry and pomegranate notes and a balance of juicy red fruit and acidity all the way through the finish.

I was quite intrigued by this wine, not only for its uniqueness to the market, but because of its value in the red wine category and its lively, exuberant personality. Whether you are pursuing your Century Club membership, or you are just in the mood for something different (and still exceptional) grab a bottle of the Mustilli Piedirosso 2008, some home-cooked pasta, and enjoy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shannon's Top 10

Choosing my top 10 wines of 2009 has proven to be a difficult task. This year I have not only tried some incredible wines, but I have truly tried to immerse myself in wine culture, hence meeting some wonderful people, and traveling to some wonderful places, along the way. These wines reflect my wine journey this year, and none of these would have made the list without the experiences I had alongside them. Thank you to everybody who shared these bottles with me, I have not only learned from the wines, but I’ve learned from you, too.

10. Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Brut NV. I get the most enjoyment from drinking sparkling wines, especially Champagnes. I tried this gem at the Vanguard trade show, alongside some other grower Champagnes…the difference between these and the generic ‘Cliquots’ is insane! I’m definitely proud to stand on my soap box and tout the wonders of grower Champagnes, like this one.

9. Penfolds 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. I’ve never been overly impressed by Aussie wines, but at a Penfolds tasting earlier this year my mind was changed! This wine had every characteristic I crave, dark, black fruits, a bit of austere earthiness, and the slight hint that it would only improve over time. I even liked this better than Grange!

8. Burly Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This is the quintessential Napa Cab for me. Like the name suggests, it is big, bold, and in your face. With explosions of ripe fruit, medium tannin and a lengthy finish, it was perfect with steak. I brought this bottle to a friends house for a housewarming dinner, it we still remember and talk about it.

7. Rosenblum Viognier Kathy’s Cuvee 2007. During a blind tasting seminar I came across this unique white. Corey S. and I were in Indianapolis, preparing for our 1st Level Sommelier Exam, and the Master’s were instructing us as to the proper techniques in blind tasting. I think I guessed this as a Pinot Gris, Corey may have identified it as Chenin Blanc. We were both wrong! This surprising Viognier has a flowery, powerful nose, a crisp and delightfully round palate, the finish had a decent amount of acidity. Delicious!

6. Novelty Hill Merlot 2005. I’ll admit it. I’ve jumped on the Washington State bandwagon with Kevin. No one on Earth is making merlot like them! This is one of my favorites, exhibiting the classic blue fruits that Washington State merlot is known for, this has the silky, cool texture that I’ve come to seek out in wine. I can’t wait to continue trying wines from Columbia Valley and elsewhere, as they just keep getting better and better.

5. Chateau Lynch-Bages 2001. I was very fortunate this summer and was able to go with my mother and sister on a trip to Bordeaux. After a tour of Chateau Lynch-Bages, we ate at a café on the premises and had a lovely lunch, accompanied by this bottle of 2001. What an experience! This was dark, austere and had a nutty taste to all of us, something like hazelnuts. It paired well with our pommes frites! This was one of my favorite wine moments, and I was so happy to be able to share it with my family.

4. Caldwell Syrah 2005. This summer I planned a girl’s weekend at a lakehouse in Indiana; 8 of my closest girlfriends from school were driving in from all over the country for a weekend of girl-talk, cocktails and getting some sun. But to my early dismay, a group of guys surprised us and crashed the party! This proved to be a blessing in disguise because one of the gentlemen had just come back from a trip to California, and brought this bottle of wine. I had had the Rocketscience before, but this was in a league of its own. With large, powerful bursts of black fruit, this wine benefited from the use of a vinturi. Let’s just say the girly-cocktails were put on the back-burner for awhile.

3. Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe 2007. I’ve said it before, I was born on the wrong continent. I love everything French, and this wine is no exception! From my favorite wine producing region, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, comes this iconic wine. I was with a group of wine lovers at Belterra and we uncorked this bottle as good luck before hitting the casino. Wow! Initially on the palate the alcohol was apparent, but the longer I had the wine in my glass the more this blew off, showing aspects of dried herbs like thyme and oregano, followed by a gorgeous texture and a finish of plum and baked fruit. Cette vin est tres dĂ©licieux!

2.Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2003. One word, luscious. It definitely has some heat to it, but otherwise this wine absolutely sings. Dark, smoky fruit…the oak is detected by the vanilla bean undertones. The finish goes on for days. Perfect for a birthday or holiday gift, however, if it were me I’d be selfish and drink this one all by myself.

1. Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2007. A Bordeaux barrel tasting! Our first stop on our Bordeaux trip, this Chateau was the very picture of elegance, refinement, and some good old fashioned grape farming. We were very lucky and the usual tour guide was off the day we visisted, and so we were shown around by the winemaker Dominique Arangoits. His pride in his work was evident and well deserved…the wines were phenomenal. The 2007 was still young, a baby, but promised to be great. The tannins were very pronounced, but so was the elegant and balanced fruit. This wine also had some nuttiness to it, and the finish showed a bit of alcohol and smoke. My favorite wine, and favorite wine experience, of the year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

SOMETHING UNUSUAL FROM PIEDMONT

Continuing with my introduction to the wines of Domenico Selections, the sole Piedmontese offering from Strappo and the gang is the Cascina Gilli Vigna del Forno 2006, a red wine made from 100% Freisa. I know what you are saying: “what the f*%# is Freisa?” Well, here you have an obscure Piedmont red grape that is similar to Nebbiolo in its tannic and acidic content. Generally, the grapes primarily produce a slightly effervescent wine with hints of sweetness.

Yes, you heard right. Sparkling wine.

However, here you have a still wine, with marked intensity, pronounced raspberry and blackberry aromas and flavors, and even a hint of red flowers and spice. The tannins are softer than generally found with this grape variety, which is good, because it has a much softer tone on the palate. This wine is definitely more a walk on the wild side than the usual suspects from Piedmont or elsewhere, and would give your next lasagna or pasta dinner a big boast.
Freisa is a grape variety rarely done outside of Piedmont (though I seem to remember Bonny Doon making a Freisa sparkler some time ago). Think outside the box and give this one a try!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

MONTECUCCO AND A GREAT ITALIAN RED

Finally, we received our inaugural shipment from Domenico Selections, a small but dynamic importer of Italian wines. For those of you who know me, or have read this blog a bit, know that I am a BIG fan of Italian wines, primarily for their food-friendly flavor profiles, as well as their charm and varietal correctness (amongst other things). Yet I concede that Italian wines are the most difficult wines to educate your staff and customers on, because of how vast and infinite the subject is.

You see, as I have talked about before here at UTGT, every state in Italy produces wine, and each state is completely different from the others, in that primarily, they have their own grape varieties they use to make wine. While grapes such as Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Montepulciano are found in many regions, you can also discover varieties such as Bombino, Arneis, Nerello Mascalese, and Cesanese, just to name a few. Truth be told, there are thousands of grape varieties used in Italy to make wine. So I will attempt to offer you up a bit of a primer, at least where the wines of Domenico Selections are concerned (I hope I get this right Terry).

The first wine I’d like to discuss is from Tuscany – the Piandibugnano L’Erpico 2005, which hails from the Montecucco DOC. Now, Montecucco is a pretty new DOC appellation (wine region). Established in 1998, it surrounds the lava dome of Mt. Amiata, in the Maremma portion of Southern Tuscany. Montecucco is a traditional wine region, and strict laws prohibit use of those “non-traditional” grape varieties I mention from time to time (you know, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, etc.) – the grapes we all know and love.

With the L’Erpico, and many Montecucco reds, the wine is 100% Sangiovese, the cornerstone for most Tuscan red wines. DOC laws allow no less than 85% Sangiovese, with a blend of other Italian varietals making up for the rest, but in the L’Erpico, it’s 100%. This wine sees some malolactic fermentation to tone down the acidity and tannin, and aged in oak barriques.

There are not a lot of Montecucco wines in the American marketplace, so it’s nice to stumble across one, especially one that rocks! This wine makes a great addition to our collection of kick-ass Italian wines.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

K2'S TOP 40 FOR 2009

I find it a bit fascinating to compile a list of my top selections because as a retail wine buyer, I am automatically jaded right? And while I do lean heavily toward certain producers, importers, distributors, etc. – for this list, I am not relying on my retailer point-of-view, but my personal one. And there is a difference, or at least, there has to be a difference.

I often tell my customers that if it were up to me personally, the store would be almost certainly, nothing except for Italian wine. I am a huge Italian wine fanatic. So when it comes to buying for the store, I have to be aware of what audience a particular wine would have – would customers buy it? And these aren’t necessarily ones I have reviewed either. No these 40 wines are ones that have come across my palate this year, and have stood out, towering high above the rest.

So without any more time-wasting, here are my top 40 picks for this year (in reverse order):

40. Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005. I am not usually one to choose a Napa Cab but I was truly impressed by both its power and grace on the palate. This wine is a real hit, proving great Napa Cab doesn’t have to cost you three-digits.

39. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2008. Once again, Seghesio scores with their value-priced Zin. A cooler 2008 climate gives you a less bombastic, more food-compatible red, yet still in possession of exemplary Zin character.

38. Roberto Anselmi Capitel Croce 2005. Having been a fan of Anselmi for years, my first opportunity in some time to taste this flagship white wine – 100% Garganega from Veneto – is a revelation for white wine enthusiasts and everyone else.

37. Sparkman Chardonnay “Lumiere” Columbia Valley 2007. Introducing one of the many wines on this list from my Washington trip. Winemaker Chris Sparkman is urging me to bring his wines to our area, and hopefully, sometime mid-2010, you will know how great these wines are. While known for reds, this amazing Chardonnay was well-balanced and reminiscent of a Puligny-Montrachet.

36. DeLille Cellars D2 Columbia Valley 2006. Another in a host of great wines from Washington State, the D2 2006 was one of several we finished up with on our Washington Wine Road Trip. Host/WWC Commissioner Jay Soloff had all their wines opened, yet this well-structured red Bordeaux blend stood out for me.

35. Milbrandt Vineyards Legacy Syrah 2005. Despite the unfortunate use of the word “Legacy” – they were slapped with a “cease and desist” by none other than Jess Jackson over its use – this is one incredible Syrah, particularly due to it being half-price in our store right now. Poured it at a recent tasting, and hooked a lot of folks into its charms as well.

34. Buty Semillon/Sauvignon/Muscadelle Columbia Valley 2008. An incredible white Bordeaux blend I was fortunate enough to try while out in Walla Walla. Winemaker Caleb Foster is a rising star on the West Coast, and with any luck, you will all soon know it too.

33. Feudi di San Gregorio Patrimo 2005. Here is an unbelievably extraordinary Merlot from the Campania region in Italy. It has power, elegance, concentration, depth and finesse, all rolled into one beautiful red, equal to that of Petrus or Le Pin. Absolutely glorious!

32. St. Helena Winery Seduire Napa Valley 2005. I tried this with our former Fort Thomas store manager Ray Burwick (now our rep for the Crown Division of Southern Wine & Spirits) and another former DEPS alum (and our sales rep for Tramonte & Sons) Devon Ward. It was one of those moments where none of us need say a word. Just looking at each other’s faces was recognition enough that this was a truly decadent and beautiful wine. A stunning effort in a Bordeaux-style blend from a family winery in Napa Valley.

31. Domaine de Nizas Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge 2005. I don’t think I could make a list of my favorites without once again, incorporating one of my all-time favorite reds. This G/S/M blend from the folks behind Napa’s Clos du Val, time and again, create this sheer powerhouse, a wine a love recommending because for all its heft and density, it still costs less than $20.

30. Piandibugnano Nanerone IGT 2007. A new discovery from new friend Terence Hughes, and his import company Domenico Selections, this gorgeous, playful dessert wine – 100% Aleatico – is a sweet red wine begging for those intimate, flirtatious evenings with the one you love. It’s sexy, soulful, and alluring.

29. Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. I tasted this at a dinner held at Chateau Ste. Michelle, and heard the explanation for its inception – whilst the winemaker creates many single-vineyard wines, this beautiful Cab is a creation of the winemaker himself – an expression of his mind, soul and palette. It is a remarkable effort.

28. Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas La Louvee 2005. 100% Syrah from Northern Rhone. This is Syrah as it is truly meant to be – dark, voluptuous, and smoky, with a finish that lingers almost eternally. I truly believe Monsieur Colombo is an unsung master of this grape.

27. Some Young Punks The Squid’s Fist South Australia 2007. Something crazy about the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea meets Ed Wood label, but this Sangiovese-Shiraz blend was an amazing discovery. A big, bold, jammy red from Down Under that didn’t have to punch you in the face with its exuberance, it teased you with it, and before you knew it, you were hooked.

26. Santa Rita Carmenere Pehuen 2005. This dazzling blend of 85% Carmenere and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon was an awesome red wine – and really was the catalyst for me changing my tune on Santa Rita on the whole. Big, bold, yet possessing some velvety smooth tannins, this red is what most of Chile aspires to be – f-ing delicious!

25. Belguardo Serrata Maremma 2005. One of the two Mazzei family projects on this list, the Serrata is a stylish, vibrant blend of Sangiovese and Alicante Bouschet. The Alicante portion of this wine gives it sass, and an almost jammy, brambly Zin character to an otherwise-straightforward Tuscan-style red.

24. Barnard Griffin Sagemoor Partners Reserve Columbia Valley 2007. One of the real treats I partook of in WA., this stunning Cab-based blend from a cooperative of vineyards, released only through Barnard Griffin’s tasting room, is absolutely phenomenal. There was just loads of juicy dark fruit flavors and aromas, and even though the 2004 and 2005 vintages of this wine that I tasted were drinking a bit better, coming from the amazing 2007 vintage, this wine showed infinitely more promise.

23. Mulderbosch Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch 2008. I am always amazed by this wine but couldn’t have been happier with the 2008 release. Always a huge fan of dry pink wines, this is another one of my consistent go-to wines for customers, and one I love to take home whenever possible.

22. Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres 2007. Another hidden gem in the Kermit Lynch portfolio, this delicious red blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah is one of Fontsainte’s finest releases to date. Subtle notes of blue and black berry fruit hit you first in the nose, then across the palate. Though slightly rustic, a bit of time opened reveals a plushness sure to please anyone.

21. Pascual Toso Malbec Reserve 2007. Pascual Toso is one of the most consistent names for value in Argentine wine, and their Reserve Malbec gives you plum, blackberry, clove and creamy vanilla tones to make for a rich and extremely enjoyable taste of Mendoza.

20. Barrister Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2006. Another great wine from my WA Wine Trip, Barrister is heralded as the premier WA state producer of Cab Franc – my favorite Bordeaux grape. You get all the great characters of Cab Franc and none of the bad. This is just sheer red wine drinking pleasure.

19. Bodegas Godeval Vina Godeval 2007. One of my favorite white wines, made from the Godello grape, this hidden gem from importer Jorge Ordonez is round yet possessing nicely balanced acidity. If you are tired of all that Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, and you want to try something new and REALLY good, give this one a go.

18. Bodegas Almirez Toro 2007. Having lost the Numanthia wines out of his portfolio, importer Jorge Ordonez found a new and remarkably talented producer from the Toro in Bodegas Almirez. This red made from 100% Tinto de Toro (a Tempranillo clone), is rich, dense and possessing a lot of power.

17. La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’di Pian 2006. One of my favorite producers from the Piedmont, the affordable Ca’di Pian is 100% Barbera, rich and luscious, with the red fruit and spice character you come to expect in a classic Barbera.

16. Spring Valley Frederick Walla Walla 2006. My first vineyard walk in Washington was at Spring Valley, and it was a sheer marvel to see the gorgeous countryside that is the source for this amazing red blend. While the Uriah dons our shelves, the hard-to-get Frederick is more powerful than its sibling, showing much more prowess and potential.

15. Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac 2006. Bordeaux and Value are two terms that don’t seem to go together very well, yet this delicious Merlot-based red from the Right Bank is a remarkable find.

14. Yering Station Shiraz/Viognier Yarra Valley 2006. I have grown wary of Australia in recent years, because all that bombast just turns me off anymore. Yet here is a Northern Rhone-influenced red that shows tremendous elegance and finesse.

13. Selene Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005. I have often said that Mia Klein is my Eric Clapton, and once you try this Napa Valley Cab, you’ll understand why. She is like Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, an elvish queen bestowing her magic on already amazing Napa fruit. In her presence, and in the presence of this wine, I am forever in awe.

12. Bunnell Family Mourvedre Northridge Vineyards 2007. A wine I encountered unexpectedly in Washington state – I am a big sucker for Mourvedre, and this one had me dumbstruck for at least a half-an-hour. Everything I love about French Mourvedre from Bandol – it was right there in that glass of Bunnell. Just breathtaking.

11. Pacific Rim Riesling Organic Grapes 2008. Yes I love Riesling. Yes even sweet Riesling. I think Riesling is the best white grape, and one of the best grapes overall. This Riesling, made from organically grown grapes (for whatever good that may be), is a herculean effort at crafting a Mosel-influenced white wine right in the heart of the Yakima Valley.

10. Gordon Brothers Columbia Valley Syrah 2005. I would hazard to say that this is the best f-ing Syrah from the U.S. for under $30 you will ever find. Period.

9. Zisola Doppiozeta 2006. Another hidden gem I was able to find at the Palm Bay show in Chicago this year, this remarkable red from Sicily is the other Mazzei family venture I was alluding to earlier. A blend of the native Nero d’Avola, along with Syrah and Cabernet Franc, this sultry red is silky smooth, sexy and dark in the glass. It leaves a sensuous stain on the palate that just won’t go away. And you won’t be complaining about it either.

8. Champalou Vouvray Cuvee des Fondraux 2007. Another great treasure from the Kermit Lynch portfolio, this seductive Chenin Blanc is remarkably full-bodied, only slightly sweet from its pronounced fruit flavors, and charms you to your very core.

7. Musto-Carmelitano Serra del Prete 2007. Another amazing discovery from Domenico Selections, this exceptional red wine from the Basilicata region of Italy (comprised entirely of the Aglianico grape) shows incredible earthen qualities with a supple texture of tannins that would almost fool you into thinking it has “new world” origins. Almost. Yet this wine is undeniably Italian. And that is the biggest reason why I dig it.
6. L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2006. Yes, more Washington State. This exceptional red Bordeaux-blend has always been remarkable, with the 2006 continuing its phenomenal run. Loads of power and grace - I am simply amazed each time I try it.

5. Paolo Scavino Barolo 2004. The “value” Barolo from this superstar of the Piedmont, we recently showed this wine at our in-store holiday show. Though extremely young, it shows tremendous promise, and even now, displays smoothed-out tannins, intense fruit complexity and a remarkable propensity for age.

4. Cote Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard 2004. Winemaker Kerry Shiels has one of those intoxicating smiles that always begs the question, “what is she up to?” I almost didn’t get to meet her, or try her wines because she arrived to the tasting a bit late in the evening. But it was worth the delay. This otherworldly red Bordeaux blend is almost beyond words. Describing it as delicious, incredible, amazing – those terms just cannot do the wine true justice. The DuBrul Vineyard is a fairly new vineyard source that I have no doubt you will come to know like you do Stagecoach or Beckstoffer from Napa, Cannubi from the Piedmont, or Richebourg in Burgundy. And this wine, almost inconceivably extraordinary (even that doesn’t quite get it).

3. Long Shadows Vintners Pedestal 2006. I love this wine. I had before my trip to Washington State. Yet after meeting winemaker Gilles Nicault from the winery, I was even more impressed with this wine. The effort of Gilles and famed enologist Michel Rolland, this Merlot is a Columbia Valley expression of the Pomerols of Petrus and Le Pin.

2. Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2007. How can these guys, year-after-year, create Pinot Noirs that are every bit as massive as a Napa Cab WITHOUT sacrificing the inherent grace and delicacy of the Pinot Noir grape. Think it can’t be done. You haven’t tried Papapietro Perry.

1. Bookwalter The Protagonist 2006. Not because with winemaker John Bookwalter’s help did I get in on this year’s Washington Wine Road Trip, but because this wine is just that good did I put this one at the top. At long last, I am able to sell Bookwalter in Kentucky, and in finding a kindred spirit in all things writing, have I found the perfect wine for my poetry.
Please keep in mind, these are wines that I ENJOYED this year, and even though I enjoyed A LOT of wine this year, these were my standouts. There were many honorable mentions – really too many TO MENTION. Yet here it is, my Top 40 countdown. (BTW, why do I call it a Top 40 countdown? For those not already clued in on the whole music tie-in, Kasey Kasem/Kevin Keith – we are both K2s.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

GOING OUT WITH A BANG

Last weekend, we finished off the 2009 D.E.P.’s Fine Wine & Spirits Tasting Schedule with what we affectionately like to call our Holiday Show. It’s a two-part event that we’ve been quietly doing for the past 4 years. Part one is always at our Covington Store on Friday night, and repeated Saturday at our Fort Thomas location, while part two takes place at Fort Thomas Friday and reversed at Covington for Saturday.

Usually, we toss in some extra-nice sparkling wines and dessert wines, yet this year, we opted to focus on all table wines, though none of them were what you would call “value.” No, for this tasting, we focus on the stuff we wouldn’t normally get to try our customers, opting for a great deal of higher-end and extremely limited wines. As always, these tastings weren’t about highlighting a particular style of wine, grape variety or wine region – these tastings were simply a thank you to all of our customers for all of their patronage this past year.

The line-up was as follows:

Friday at Covington: Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2007, Saintsbury Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2006, Domaine Tempier Bandol 2006 and Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. Saturday: Muller-Catoir Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2007, Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee des Perdrix 2005, Charles Joguet Chinon Chene Vert 2007 and Bookwalter The Protagonist 2006.

Friday at Fort Thomas: Muller-Catoir Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2007, Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee des Perdrix 2005, Charles Joguet Chinon Chene Vert 2007 and Bodegas Norton Perdriel 2003. Saturday: Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2007, Saintsbury Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2006, Domaine Tempier Bandol 2006 and Chateau Senejac Haut-Medoc 2005.

Overall, the wines should very well, and it was a nice follow-up to a fairly chaotic Thanksgiving Day week. I would have to say my personal faves were the Charbonniere, Charles Joguet and Muller-Catoir, but it is not an easy thing for me to choose a favorite – the wines on our shelves are all my babies, and it is impossible and just plain wrong to choose a favorite child. (And in case you didn't notice, we slid in a few different wines, with each store concluding with a different big boy, just an extra treat.)

I want to thank all of our customers for coming by on their holiday weekend and sharing in these wines. For those of you that missed it, I would highly recommend seeking out these beauties to try for yourself sometime. They are all seriously worth it.