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Mar 06

23rd Annual Cincinnati Wine Festival Preview

by Kevin

The Cincinnati International Wine Festival is upon us for the 23rd year! This Friday and Saturday, the grand tasting will be held at the convention center in downtown Cincinnati.

I will be posting as early as I can on Friday afternoon the highlights from the afternoon tasting, especially the surprises that I find. Every year my goal is to find something unexpected, unusual, or interesting. With 133 booths and a few hundred wines, I have never failed in this goal.

Tickets are still available for both Friday and Saturday nights and the list of wines seems both extensive and exciting. While it always nice to see a few favorite importers like Terry Theise(booth 11), Vintner Select(booth 14), Cutting Edge Selections(booth 32 thru 34) and many wineries from years past, for different reasons: Charles Smith/K Vinters (booth 4) from my wine bloggers conference in Walla Walla), Cline Cellars(booth 51) my first wine club, Henke Winery (booth 125) for teaching me that Norton can have a level of depth and quality, Veleta Wines (booth 56) for helping me learn that the story behind the wine helps to explain the taste, JAQK Cellars (booth 98) for beign able to highlight how different approaches to the a grape can have a very different taste in the bottle, and there is also a place for Bully Hill (booth 39) which was my first every winery experience in the Finger Lakes. I think that is some of the power of the taste of wine is that is can transport us back to a different time and place where we first got caught up in trying to learn as much as we could.

I’m also excited to try a few new things this year, a 2011 Chilean Pedro Ximenez (booth 2), Sivas Sonoma (booth 21) a new winery for me, the Italian selections from Dalla Terra (booth 48), hoping there might be a bottle of Pinot Meunier somewhere at a booth.

Beyond just my excitement, we always like to publish a few ways to get the most out of the overall experience. Here is our annual post of tips and tricks compiled from our and other blogger’s experiences on how to best survive this festival:

Please realize that these tips are geared for people who are heading to the Festival to try new wines, learn new things, and not get generally hammered. If insanely drunk is your goal, well … get a cab and/or a hotel.
So in no particular order, here are our tips for surviving a festival with hundreds of wines and even more people:

  • Decide when you want to go. The Friday Grand Tasting has always seemed more manageable to me, with slightly less people. The Saturday Grand Tasting is generally the biggest event, with what seems like an unending number of people. My favorite session is Saturday afternoon, as fewer people attend and I can get more face-time with the winemakers.
  • Eat a big meal before hand. You’ll stay sober longer. You may want to follow your festival experience with a large meal afterwards. Either way, it’s a busy weekend downtown. Whenever you decide to eat, make reservations.
  • Consider a designated driver, cab service, or even a hotel room. Last year we decided to succumb to an afternoon and evening of alcohol and we got a hotel room. The Wine Fest web site offers several hotel packages downtown, and we often find great last minute deals at The Cincinnatian. In past years, we’ve had good luck booking through Hotwire. Remember, if you drink, please don’t drive. And if you plan to drive, please don’t drink.
  • Make a game plan. First, download the Tasting Guide ahead of time. In the guide, you can find the list of attending wineries, the corresponding floor plan, and the list of wines in the Special Tasting Room. Plan ahead. See what looks interesting. Accept that you can’t possibly try everything. You may want to decide to divide and conquer within your group of friends. I gave you my plan above,remember it’s only a plan. I am sure that I will deviate through the tasting as I find other things to try. I always like making a friend to find out what they have tried that I need to try. It’s an easy question and everyone has a few thoughts.
  • Dress comfortably. Seriously, ladies, there is no need for high heels. You can still look cute and trendy and leave the stilettos at home. You will be walking a lot, standing even more, and jostling in and out of a lot of people. Expect it to be warm in the tasting hall. Lots of people and red wine can raise the temperature in a room.
  • Since we’re talking about clothes, wear dark colors. I know it’s almost Spring, but don’t pull out your sundresses and pastels. Even if you manage to avoid spilling red wine on yourself, someone else might very well careen into you. Lots of people + lots of alcohol = lots of wine accidents. Dark colors are your best bet. On that note, carry a small bottle of Wine Away or a Tide Stain Stick. Even if you don’t need it, someone else might.
  • Get there early. People start filtering in late and things get really crowded really fast. Enjoy being early.
  • Start at the end. Most people will start at the beginning. Starting at the end (or back) will allow you to fight a smaller crowd – at least until you make it to the middle.
  • Manage your route so that you visit the sparkling wine and champagne in between big wines. Sparklers are excellent palate cleansers and you’ll last longer if you try those in between the big reds.
    Save those dessert wines for last. One year I succumbed to temptation and had a chocolate port early on. As tasty as it was, my next ten wines still tasted like chocolate.
  • Hold your glass up and don’t tilt it sideways. Think about it – the wine will spill out. Holding it up higher makes it easier for the pourer to reach over all the bottles. Guys were better at this than gals last year, most likely because guys are just taller in general. Reach out with those glasses ladies!
  • The pourers are not bartenders. Seriously, don’t bang on a bottle with your glass expecting service. (And no, I’m not kidding.) And while we’re on the topic, say please and thank you. Just because you’re thirsty for wine, doesn’t mean that all good manners get thrown out the window. Some of the pourers are just volunteers and aren’t being paid to be there and everyone has been working hard for at least two days; in the case of winemakers, they’ve been going non-stop for nearly a week.
  • Move out of the way. I can’t stress this enough for the evening sessions. You don’t have to leave, but get your wine and move to the side. Don’t step back two steps, you’re still blocking the three people behind you and you’ll probably spill wine in the process.
  • Try new things. Just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they’re bad. Truly, some of the booths have the name of the distributor, but they might be featuring three or four different wineries. This is a perfect opportunity to branch out and explore a little. Who knows what you’ll find? There might be something you really like, even if it’s not Merlot and Chardonnay. The two questions I heard while pouring last year were “Do you have any Merlot? Do you have any Chardonnay?” The answer is not always yes, and there are some really exciting grapes out there that are not merlot or chard. If you see an Alicante Bouché for example, try it – you might be surprised. Chances are, the person behind the table can tell you a little bit about the grape as well, and if you don’t like it, then dump it.
    Spit or dump. A winemaker commented to me a few years ago that Cincinnati is strange because hardly anyone spits. Some thoughts on spitting:

    • Carry your own spit cup. Dixie cups work, as well as those Solo plastic cups. When a table is crowded, it’s hard to get to the bucket, nor do you want to be in someone else’s spit stream. Also, it’s easier to be discreet when you are quietly spitting into your own cup.
    • Dump instead of spit. I don’t spit at the Wine Festival. When I’m judging a wine competition, it doesn’t bother me to spit into a personal cup. But in our weird lack-of-spitting city, I get really self-conscious. So I take a small sip or two, try to really glean something out of it, and dump the rest of the wine into the bucket. It’s expected. You’re not wasting wine or hurting anyone’s feelings.
    • Take breaks every 30 minutes or so to have some snacks and water, as well as to regroup.
    • Hydrate, and wine doesn’t count. Bring water if they aren’t handing it out. But you’ll definitely want some handy.
  • Rinse strategically. You see, rinsing your glass is necessary occasionally. But when you’re switching between white and red, ask for a wine rinse. No one will complain. If you’re switching between the reds at the same table, you don’t need to rinse your glass between every one. Not only do you waste water, but no one ever gets all the water out of their glass. You know what that leads to? Watery wine, and you certainly don’t want that.
  • Don’t try to take detailed tasting notes. Sometimes I just rate things on my happy face scale; occasionally I’ll write a sentence. There will be no time for detailed information, nor will you really have free hands or space for writing.
  • And finally, don’t expect your friendly wine blogger to get you free tickets. We pay to get in to the evening events. It’s a charity function. In fact, I believe 50% of your ticket is a tax-deduction as a charitable donation. So don’t try to get in free and skimp on those charities, okay? Instead, just go and have a fantastic time!
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Copyright Creative Commons by-nc-nd My Wine Education.
Sep 29

Tino Vino Closure Causes Chaos

About a month ago,  Tino Vino, a winemaking venture in East Hyde Park, closed its doors. Because the closing was sudden, without notice, some chaos has ensued. Customers who have placed orders for custom wine have been left with a large hole in their pocketbooks, no way to retrieve their wine, and no way to contact the owners.

The shop was originally owned by Annie McManus, Lindsay Valentino, Michelle Banks, and Jennifer Fairbanks. I admit, I’ve reached out privately to one of those ladies, as well as a former Tino Vino employee, to find out what happened. I honestly don’t expect to hear from anyone. I’ve been led to believe that Annie and Jennifer, at the end, were only peripherally involved in the venture and have acquired lawyers.

I found out about the closing because I’ve been contacted by several of Tino Vino’s customers who think I’m Michelle Banks.  I’m not. Let me make this clear – I do not have any business association with Tino Vino, nor have I ever. I’m as surprised as the rest of the you that they closed in the unprofessional manner they have.

Lindsay Valentino’s recently ex-husband, Steven Sykes Valentino, has his own legal troubles. He and his realty group, ORP, were accused of stealing more than $1 million from the condo properties they manage. One of the girls from Tino Vino was also an employee of ORP. I’m not sure if there is a direct relationship between that situation and the closing of Tino Vino, but common sense tells me there might be.

I have been trying to dig into the closing a little more, but there isn’t much out there. Both Howard Ain (WKRC) and John Matarese (WCPO) have tried to contact the owners with no luck. Both of those gentlemen did reach the landlord of the building, and they both reported an eviction notice on the door. (I drove out to Tino Vino on Sunday and was surprised to find the eviction notice had been taken down. To me, that’s a sign of life. Take it as you will.)

According to Ain at WKRC, the building owner cannot give out any of the wine, as it is still legally the property of Tino Vino. There is an eviction hearing scheduled for the end of the month. If something is not done by then, the Sheriff may have to dump the wine because it’s illegal to set it out or give it away.

My recommendation? Call your credit card company. If you can get your charge reversed for the wine you paid for, do it. It’s certainly worth the call. Also keep in mind that the shop has been closed for a month. If the utilities weren’t paid for in that time, then the wine was no longer in a temperature controlled environment. It may be baking in there under terrible conditions.

If I hear anything that will shed some more light on this situation, I will certainly publish it here.

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Copyright Creative Commons by-nc-nd My Wine Education.
Posted by Michelle at 10:57 am in Current Affairs, Local, Local Wineries, Wine Shops | Permalink | Comments (9)
Aug 04

As a Nation, We’re Getting Drunker

For 71 years, Gallup has been tracking the number of Americans who say they drink alcohol. The latest poll results were released the other day and currently 67% of US adults say they drink alcohol. This is a slight increase over last year and apparently the highest recorded since 1985.

Favorite beverage? Sorry wine folks. Beer is apparently the #1 choice, followed by wine and then liquor. Interestingly, wine was the #1 choice in 2005. I blame the recession – beer is, after all, “recession champagne.” Wine still wins a little, as the #1 beverage choice among women and older Americans. Guys, younger drinkers, and (here you go), those in the midwest still prefer beer – just like the marketing tells us.

There are some other interesting tidbits thrown into the mix, including that those who seldom or ever attend church are more likely to say they drink in comparison to those who don’t get up early on Sundays. Additionally, those with no religious identity, Catholics, and non-Christians are more likely to drink than Protestants. Huh.

Finally, the report lets us know that the recession may not be the reason for the increase in drinking. Of poll respondents who earn less than $20,000 per year, 46% say they drink. However, 81% of those who earn $75,000 or more say they drink.

View the Gallup results and survey methods (pdf).

Image from Gallup

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Copyright Creative Commons by-nc-nd My Wine Education.
Posted by Michelle at 3:28 pm in Current Affairs, News, Wine Misc | Permalink | Comments (1)
Jun 16

Guest Post Op-Ed: A Little Bit of Legislature

This guest post is from Nancy Bentley, co-owner of Kinkead Ridge Winery in Ripley, OH.

An editorial note: I try very hard as a blogger to stay apolitical. However, I do not require this of my guest bloggers. Nancy’s post expresses her personal feelings about some legislative issues affecting agriculture in Ohio and is a legitimate Opinion piece. I invite you to express your own feelings about the legislature in the comments or by contacting Nancy.

– M


It makes me laugh how the Wall Street Journal continually posts ads from the state of Ohio suggesting what a great state Ohio is to start a business. In 1999, we relocated from a highly successful vineyard operation in Oregon, in order to prove that great wines could be made in southern Ohio and to revitalize the area with new wineries for agritourism. We personally mentored at least five new wineries, and continue to help more.

I would like to describe several current situations regarding the Ohio Department of Agriculture and wineries, and then two other situations that reflect how they are hurting small farmers. To put finances in perspective: The Ohio wine and grape industry released its 2008 economic impact report, which finds that Ohio’s grape and wine industry has a significant impact of more than $580 million on the state’s economy.
Highlights of the report include:

  • In 2008, the Ohio wine and grape industry had an economic impact of $582.8 million.
  • The Ohio grape and wine industry employed more than 4,000 people in 2008, providing a payroll of $124.2 million.
  • The Ohio grape and wine industry contributed an estimated $62 million back in state, local and federal tax revenue.

Situation #1: Given the fact that the Ohio wine industry contributes so much money to the economy, we are appalled at the latest overreach by the Ohio Department of Agriculture bureaucracy. There is a law on the books that allows them to inspect wineries as food production facilities, something that neither California, Oregon or other huge wine producing states do. Only wineries that wholesale their wine are subject to this annual inspection, which wineries will be charged an annual fee for, ranging from $50 to $300. Wineries that only sell retail will not be inspected. I have actually been in a winery in Ohio that only sold at retail that had dog turds on the floor. Wholesale warehouses that store wine may not be inspected (follow the distributor lobby money).

Nothing harmful to humans can live in wine. We actually had an ODA person suggest that we wash the grapes to eliminate insects, a laughable comment. There was a suggestion to use bleach to clean up black mold, a product that is well known to cause TCA taint in wine. Our only avenue for change is to change the law to exempt wineries. In the meantime, inadequately trained, probably highly paid registered sanitarians will be hitting the road and generating travel expenses to make sure that wineries have hairnets in the building. The maximum amount of money these fees could generate for the state would be $30,000, and it will be much less than that.

The claim is to protect the public, but there are no plans to take samples of wines for testing of any kind, and wineries are already highly regulated by the federal government (TTB) and local health organizations. This is just bureaucratic bloat and a waste of taxpayer money.

We cannot get a straight answer as to what part of the regulatory code will be enforced. On a conference call, I was basically told that wineries could be inspected with different criteria. And imagine if your winery is inspected in January, when everything is cleaned up, or at crush, when bees, fruit flies, etc. fill the winery.

Situation #2. We have been making Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier/Roussanne and Petit Verdot for 10 years. In general these wines are in the 12%-13% alcohol range. A fine vintage from 2008 pushed them all over 14% alcohol. The federal government approves all wine labels. For free. The state of Ohio rubber stamps such labels, at an initial fee of $50 per label. Because these wines went over 14%, I was required to submit “New Label Registrations” and write a check for $250 to the state.

Situation #3: It goes beyond wineries. Last year, Harmony Hill Vineyards had a wonderful farmers market. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has now said that if you want to sell your eggs or meat at a Farmers Market, a cooler with blue ice is no longer good enough to store your food for a couple of hours. “Mechanical refrigeration” is required. So that means you load up a refrigeration, hope you can plug it in somewhere, transfer your food in the cooler, load it in the fridge, and reverse for the trip home.

We use farm fresh eggs in fining, and needed 6 dozen eggs from a small egg producer in Ripley. She is NOT allowed to deliver the eggs to us, a few miles away. We had to pick them up.

Situation #4: The Fizzleville Fair in Adams County has made home made ice cream for over 30 years. Apparently that will no longer be allowed.

So, in summary, this is a bureaucracy out of control. We need new leaders who will get out of the way and let Ohio small business do what they do best without excessive and stupid regulations. Ohio is hurting and driving small business out of Ohio, not encouraging it.

- Nancy Bentley

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Posted by Michelle at 2:30 am in Current Affairs, Guest Writers, Legislation, Wine Misc | Permalink | Comments (2)
Apr 09

UPDATED: Save the Bigg’s Skytop Wine Tastings!

Michael from Bigg’s has updated us in the comments (comments #5 and #7). Your help is no longer needed, but the support was and is appreciated. Remke will be continuing with the wine tastings.

One of the best wine tastings in the city, which is also insanely inexpensive, is the Friday evening tastings at the Bigg’s Skytop location on Beechmont Avenue. There are nice light appetizers, quality wines, a genial and knowledgeable host, and a highly social environment.

Go while you still can.

If you haven’t heard, Remke has purchased the Bigg’s Skytop location (amongst others). Several readers have asked me what might happen to the wine program and Michael J. Campbell, the wonderful man behind it.

I asked Michael today, as I’m worried as well. I didn’t like the answer. Basically, Remke hasn’t made a decision yet and they will within the next 10 days.That decision affects both the wine program and Michael’s job.

You still have a chance to influence the decision.

Michael has asked that you use the Remke Contact form and request that they maintain the current quality wine program – and him!

So tell everyone you know and help save the program. It’s sort of like writing your congressman though – you actually have to fill in your request on that contact form; don’t just think about it.

I have my fingers crossed. I often visit the Remke by my home in Northern Ky. For months, they were an active part of the campaign to bring wine into grocery stores in Kentucky. I’m hoping that eagerness to carry wine spills into their new Ohio retail sites and includes quality programs like the one at Skytop.

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Posted by Michelle at 4:34 pm in Cincinnati, Current Affairs, Tastings | Permalink | Comments (5)

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