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Jun 30

Wine Shop Wednesday: Trade Tastings

This is the one of several posts from David Lazarus about the intricacies of opening and running a wine shop. David owns and runs Water Tower Fine Wines in Mount Washington.

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One of the joys of being involved in a wine store is having the opportunity to attend trade events. These events are usually held once or twice a year by most distributors. Often there are several hundred wines to sample, from value wines at $10 to trophy wines  priced at $100 or more.  Better than a trade event is an educational seminar. These seminars are priceless opportunities to learn about wine and how better to appreciate them.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Barolos and Brunello di Montalcino. This was conducted by one of Ohio’s only Master Sommeliers. I have been to other classes taught by Matt and he is extremely knowledgeable and even more humble. We got to sample four examples of each wine and he pointed out the differences between the different sub-regions for each wine. We were also given marketing tips, such as acreage of these regions versus Bordeaux and Napa Valley. We were shown how this information could be used to show the value of Brunello and Barolos even though they have gone up substantially in price in recent years. It was pointed out that although these wines hail from much smaller regions and have substantially smaller production numbers, they are still much less expensive than many Bordeaux and high-end Cabernets.

We were able to sample another seventy-five Italian wines after the seminar. Some of these were presales for new vintages. We were able to meet winemaker Valter Fissore from Elvio Cogno and sample five of his wines and I was able to revisit a number of wines that I have already brought into the store. Additionally, I found some neat new wines that I will be bringing into the store later this summer.

As summer moves into fall most of the larger distributors will be having their holiday show, which give them an opportunity to show off wines for the holidays. I was able to go to these last year and am looking forward to going again this year. They often will bring in winemakers or principals from the wineries they handle. This gives me an chance to get first hand information about many of the wines I carry. I can get interesting stories about the development of some wines or the thinking behind a label change. It is always a treat to meet some of the Icons 0f the wine world and to realize they are just like the rest of us. I love attending these for my own enjoyment, but always try to come away with something in which my customers would be interested.

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Posted by Michelle at 8:14 am in Guest Writers, Wine Shop Wednesday, Wine Shops | Permalink | Comments (1)
Jun 28

Guest Post: A Year in a Vineyard

Here is another guest post from contributor Nancy Bentley, co-owner of the wonderful Kinkead Ridge Winery in Ripley, OH.
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Have you ever wondered about a typical year at an estate vineyard and small boutique winery? Since 2007, Kinkead Ridge winery in Ripley has been uploading video to youtube. The main movie, which has been viewed over 16,000 times, is called “A Vineyard Year” and details what happens from pruning through bottling through harvest.

Another video, “The Romance of the Vineyard” (tongue in cheek!)  was a finalist in the Wine Spectator’s first video contest, and my prize was a ticket to the New York Wine Experience in Times Square.

There are approximately 40 very short “mini-movies” that show specific tasks, e.g. punchdown, post pounding, bottling, barrel movement, the flail mower, cane pruning, vine tucking and tying, bottle delivery, hedging and more. Grab a glass of wine, go to youtube.com, search for “Kinkead Ridge” and have fun!

Kinkead Ridge continues to garner international recognition, and will be featured in Opus Vino, an illustrated wine reference book to be published by Dorling Kindersley, who specialize in full-color reference publishing. The books are translated into all major languages and distributed throughout the world. Opus Vino is due for publication in the UK, US and Australia in October 2010, with foreign language editions in 2011 and 2012.

– Nancy Bentley

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Posted by Michelle at 8:00 am in Guest Writers, Local Wineries, Wine Misc, Wineries | Permalink | Comments ()
Jun 25

Guest Post: Mezcal in Mexico

For this post we again welcome Jay Erisman, our favorite instructor from The Party Source EQ Center and quite the wine and spirits expert. This is actually part 2 of a 2-part Mexican adventure he took in 2007 (part 1).

Tequila country did not prepare me for the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal producers in Oaxaca. Del Maguey mastermind Ron Cooper took me on a four day tour of Oaxaca. From village markets where we feasted on things like pit roasted goat (and—bonus!—the blood of the goat, cooked in the stomach with mint, swear I’m not making this up), to cutting edge restaurants in Oaxaca City, I was immersed in the most vibrant, colorful culture I’ve ever experienced.

I was acquainted with the traditional production methods used by such Mezcal masters as Paciano Cruz Nolasco of San Luis del Rio.

To actually see these distilleries operate with technology that was virtually pre-industrial was totally amazing. The techniques are positively pre-industrial, such as roasting the maguey in an earthen pit of smoldering wood and hot rocks for up to three weeks, and crushing the cooked plants with a mule-powered stone. Señor Nolasco harvests maguey plants (a relative of the blue agave used for Tequila) from very high hills, in his very high village, at the end of a very bad road. (Paciano is a Mezcal maker, a palenquero, but this generous, forward-thinking man is training his daughter to become a palenquera, possibly the first female Mezcal distiller.) The term “rustic” does not do justice to his distillery, hugging the dusty banks of the rio amidst a cluster of banana trees, vines and lizards. His Mezcal might offer the single most complex aroma of any spirit I sell, a kaleidoscope of smoky earth, pineapple fruits and mountain herbs, citrus leaves and rinds, black and white pepper and more. Nosing a glass of San Luis is like approaching the event horizon of a black hole; inevitably, it pulls you in, and you’re done for.

In the village of Minero, Florencio Sarmiento uses two stills made of clay and bamboo from a unique design of ancient Chinese origin.

Florencio’s distillery is also the only one I saw that used electricity, with a small pump circulating cold water to the internal condenser bowls in his far-out stills. The resulting Mezcal cuts across the palate like a lightsaber, with a breathtaking citrus intensity.

Like El Tesoro, all Del Maguey Mezcals are 100% natural with no added flavors or chemicals used in production/ On top of that, these Mezcals possess full organic certification. Having been there, I can better appreciate where the potent, smoky flavor of these Mezcals comes from. If they are drop for drop the most intensely flavored spirits in The Party Source, surely that reflects the rugged land—and the hand of the maker—from which they spring.

– Jay Erisman
Photos © Jay Erisman 2007-2010

View part 1 of the Mexican adventure – Tequila.

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Posted by Michelle at 8:01 am in Guest Writers, Knowledge, Spirits, Travel | Permalink | Comments (2)
Jun 24

Guest Post: Mexican Tequila

For this post we welcome Jay Erisman, our favorite instructor from The Party Source EQ Center and quite the wine and spirits expert. This is actually part 1 of a 2-party Mexican adventure (part 2 appears tomorrow).

My 2007 tour of Mexico will last forever as one of the great cultural experiences of my life, filled with warm and friendly people, fantastic food and a colorful aesthetic sensibility everywhere we turned. But for sure the highlights of the trip were the distilleries. From finding the flat-out Best Tequila Distillery to mind-bending tours of four single village Mezcal producers, I found the state of this Mexican art to be perhaps the most traditional of all the spirits in the world.

Tequila

Shortly after meeting Carlos Camarena*, I decided he is a really cool guy. The passion he holds for his ultra-traditional El Tesoro 100% Agave Tequila comes burning off him like the steam that fires his old-fashioned agave ovens. Working the La Alteña distillery in his father Don Felipe’s footsteps, Carlos does things with Tequila that other distillers would consider insane.

Carlos’ estate-grown blue agave plants are the ripest in the industry, covered with brown spots like a banana.

The workers laboriously trim by hand the part of the male plant that creates bitter flavors in the finished product. (Hmm. Bitter male parts. There’s a joke in there somewhere.)

He persists in crushing the cooked agave—which are baked three days in brick ovens—with a giant millstone (as opposed to a modern mechanical shredder).

Unlike nearly all other Tequila producers, Señor Camarena ferments his agave totally naturally, with no added chemical fermentation accelerators. He then distills the fermented juice with the agave fibers for added flavor, in pot stills so small they could fit in the back of a van.

All this obsessive attention to detail leads to the most flavorful Tequila I’ve ever had, bar none. El Tesoro has a crackling intensity, a sustain, a hang-time in the mouth that simply outclasses other Tequilas. You don’t just get stony, mineral, earthy flavors—you get a faceplant into the red highland Tequila soil. You don’t just taste green bean—you get the snap of the bean, the juice of cucumber. The difference between El Tesoro and other Tequilas is like the difference between normal and high-definition TV. The operative word is clarity.

*I’m pleased to say there is another Camarena-crafted Tequila on the market. (No, not the “Camarena” brand owned by Gallo; that’s made by Carlo’s cousin from another branch of the family.) Carlos’ brother Felipe joined forces with a Tequila ambassador Tomas Estes to create Tequila Ocho, which takes the Camarena family estate-grown agave to its logical conclusion. Ocho is a single vintage Tequila, chosen each year from only one agave field. Ocho reveals the terroir of an agave field very much like the cru system in Burgundy reveals the truth of Pinot Noir. I’ll write more about Ocho another time, but suffice to say that Felipe’s Ocho surpasses even Carlo’s El Tesoro, with the fattest, ripest, most glisteningly fresh and viscerally thrilling Tequila I’ve ever had.

– Jay Erisman
Photos © Jay Erisman 2007-2010

Want to know more about Mezcal? Tune in tomorrow morning for the conclusion of Jay’s adventure and a primer on Mezcal.

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Posted by Michelle at 8:01 am in Guest Writers, Knowledge, Spirits, Travel | Permalink | Comments (2)
Jun 23

Wine Shop Wednesday: An Update on Water Tower Fine Wines

This is the one of several posts from David Lazarus about the intricacies of opening and running a wine shop. David owns and runs Water Tower Fine Wines in Mount Washington.

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It has been some time since I have updated our travels through the start up of a new wine store. Well, a lot has gone on through the last several months. We have ironed out the glitches in our Point of Sale system for the most part. The store has been operating fairly smoothly and we have had fantastic turnout for our Friday night tastings. We have officially started up Saturday afternoon tastings and we are beginning to see attendance increase at those tastings. We have held several Premium Tastings, that we have moved to Monday night. These have been well attended and give a more intimate group a chance to sample a more focused selection of wines.  This Month we will be sampling six single vineyard Pinot Noirs from Merry Edwards. We have had two successful Sparkling Brunches, the first sampling 8 grower champagnes and the second eight Franciacorta Sparkler.

We have been learning a lot from our customers. Our selection has more than doubled to just over 1300 different wines, including more than 140 sparkling wines , 50 Rose’ (no white zinfandel) and almost sixty Rieslings. We have made an effort to carry wines that may not be found elsewhere. We have been lucky enough to be able to offer dozens of distributor closeouts, some as much as fifty percent off of retail. My wife, Jan, has repeatedly come up with great dishes to pair with the wines tasted.

I have had the opportunity to sample some fantastic wines from all over the world, which gives me a greater knowledge base to assist our customers in selecting the right wine.  Our redecorating and improvement of our building is almost complete. We have achieved the homey atmosphere we wanted with our cozy tasting areas which can seat nearly sixty people.  Our web site is fully operational and offers a calendar of our tastings. We have fine tuned our weekly e-mails that can be signed up for through our web site.

We have seen solid growth since the first of the year.  With the coming of summer we look forward to being able to better use our shaded deck and try some new ideas for tastings. We welcome input from you, what are we doing right and what are we doing wrong. Most importantly we have been thrilled with the loyal following we have developed in just under eight months. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have or any wines you are having trouble locating.

Thanks for your continued interest!

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Posted by Michelle at 8:42 am in Guest Writers, Wine Shop Wednesday, Wine Shops | Permalink | Comments ()

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