Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Beef With The NYT

I've got a beef with The New York Times and more specifically its wine and spirits beat writers and columnist. On Monday, January 17th, the New York Times published an article written by Eric Asimov titled Toasting A Vintage, With Few Quibbles on its website. The article focuses on 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir, a vintage unanimously heralded in the wine industry as superb. Fair and concise, it's a great review on the 2008 vintage in Oregon and quite on point. Some of us in certain circles believe that a selection of very important wines were missed. More importantly, the article created a spirited discussion among that same circle. Comments filled Facebook profiles. Here's a look at one of the threads (names are left out for privacy).
"Of course the Belle Ponte is sold out."
"Already had a guy in here looking for it. Sigh."
"Although the NYT tasting panel out weighs my personal opinion, I have tasted most of the wines listed and think it is a grave mistake to leave out the J. Christopher Dundee and Penner-Ash WV."
"I agree. To me, a bit of an inadequate list."
"To leave out the Penner is ridiculous."
 And my personal favorite (no it's not me)
"You need to be proud of the selections you have already selected...NYT, WS, RP etc., means nothing if you have not personally tasted the wines for your clients. What you have on your shelves beats anything the NYT publishes remember that! This is why your client base comes to you. I always find it amazing how people will put so much more trust in what other people write about especially when they come to shops like ours. We are merchants that hand select every wine we sell. We are not liquor warehouses just filling up the space with plonk. My 2-cents!"
""LOL! Feeling a little frisky? My beef with the article is that it was written too late, well after the vintage debut. People walked into our store, newspaper in hand, and it was comical. No, sorry, sold out. Um, sold out there too."
CT retailers (and wholesalers to some degree) have two common complaints about the wine articles written in The New York Times. First, the articles are often behind the times. Case in point, the good retail wine stores knew the 2008 vintage in Oregon was epic over 12 months ago. Using hours of painstaking research and tasting (yes, tasting can be very difficult and painstaking) retailers put their necks on the line, made purchasing decisions and hoped that consumers would heed the warning that these wines are worthy of cellaring and would sell out quickly. For the most part, consumers did heed that warning. Reviews from International Wine Cellar, The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator poured in. The smart retailers looked, well, smart. The Belle Ponte that Mr. Asimov so highly regarded sold out well before Thanksgiving. In fact, most of the wines in the article are no longer available in the market.

Furthermore, Mr. Asimov's article published Monday, January 24th on New York Times website, A Rosé Can Bloom in Winter, Too is not exactly topical either. Sure, I can certainly see the beauty of drinking a rosey on a snowy day in front of the fire. Sign me up. But any retailer worth its salt sold out of the good 2009 roseys 4 months ago. The only thing left in the market place is plonk that no one liked, being closed out and sold to consumers at ridiculous profit margins. For heaven's sake, I just received the first offer for 2010 roseys on Monday. But I digress.

The second common complaint is pricing. It seems writers for the New York Times often forget there's a world and marketplace outside of Manhattan. Pricing for wines and spirits vary from state to state depending on pricing patterns, taxes, distributors, state laws, etc. Often times, a retailer in CT will have to price a published wine one, two, sometimes three dollars higher than what the NYT publishes. That generally draws negative feedback from the consumer. When publishing prices for products, would it not be prudent to check pricing in surrounding markets and level the playing field? Or maybe checking with the winery itself to see how they would like the prices published? I'm just saying.

To those that have known me for a long time, it's no secret I've always had a negative reaction to Mr. Asimov's articles. What will be shocking is I've grown to really enjoy the articles over the last two years. They are well written (unlike my pieces) and packed with information. I even find myself agreeing with 95% of the opinions. But I know I'm not the only one looking for more topicality, relevance and fairness. So how about an article on the drink-ability of 08 Rhone, the emergence of Gruner Veltliner in the United States, the death of the vodka category, the resurgence of gin, what happened to chianti? I guess I found some topics to write about.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weekly Tasting Notes January 19th, 2011

I spent the yesterday afternoon at City Winery in New York tasting through the Terry Theise wine collection. There are lots of good wines to report on. That will be done as a separate blog entry. In the meantime, keep your eyes out for 2006 Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. Look for La Serena, La Colombina and Le Potazzine. I was thrilled with the Austrian portfolio, Nigl and Nickolaiof were favorites. 

Suppliers brought their "A" game today so there's a good list here to look at. Please remember that the pricing below reflects what I believe to be a fair price for a product.

2007 Mitolo “Jester” Cabernet Sauvignon
$20 per bottle
Impressed by the depth and concentration of fruit. Not overly extracted but still shows Aussie up front fruit. Love the round finish.

2007 Mitolo Barossa Valley Shiraz
$40 per bottle
Took some time with this wine. It’s rich but subtle showing herbal notes intermingled with fresh blueberry and cherry fruit. Hints of tobacco and mint on the long finish. Very complex.

2006 La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino
$23 per bottle
Yup, we’re gonna do it, the La Gerla official gets an “SG” award. The 06 is simply outrageous with dried cherry and cedar aromatics. Big fresh cherry fruit on the palate with rounding tannins that add structure. A vintage to own and savor.

2008 Jade Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
$13 per bottle
Very well made cabernet from California that highlights blackberry and cassis. There’s a small note of smoke and vanilla on the finish that lingers around for a bit.

2007 Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon
$27 per bottle
Sleeper alert from the 2007 vintage. Was blown away by the wines richness and polished character. Look for black fruit followed by an earthy core that is lifted by ripe tannins to a luxurious finish.

2007 Tamas Estates Zinfandel
$11 per bottle
We’ve been on the look out for an inexpensive Zinfandel. The Tamas Estates shows well rounded plum fruit without being to jammy or inky. Look for just a small note of spice on the finish.

2008 Bersano Barbera D’Asti
$14 per bottle
I’m a sucker for a pretty Barbera. The Bersano shows plenty of floral character that dances with sweet cherry fruit. Lighter style that’s palate refreshing and easy to enjoy.

2009 Laudun Chusclan “Lapiche” Cote du Rhone
$12 per bottle
Well now where going to find out just how good the 09 vintage in Rhone is. If the Lapiche is any indication, start socking away has much 09 Rhone as you can. Look for dark cherry fruit surrounded by earth and black pepper.

2008 Domaine Bel Air Cotes du Vivarais
$12 per bottle
Yum, yum, yum and yum. Syrah dominant with a dose of the Grenache that supplies some real funky black pepper. Look for dried cherry fruit, herb and warm slate. Linear and poignant finish that adds polish to this very complex wine.

2009 Masi Masianco
$15 per bottle
Masi makes the list two weeks in a row. A blend of Pinot Grigio and Verduzzo. The Verduzzo adds beautiful texture and a touch melon flavor to this clean and crisp “Supervenetian” (yeah, we got a chuckle from that too) white.

2008 Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
$26 per bottle
This is now the second vintage in a row that Novelty Hill has made our list. Big, burly Cabernet with notes of pencil lead and currant. This a long finish that highlights vanilla, cedar and dark cherry. Cabernet lovers will love the depth and richness this supplies.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunday Sales

An article published in the Connecticut Post on Wednesday, January 12th headlined, "Sunday alcohol sales gets Malloy's support." The article sparked waves of reactions from consumers, industry professionals and store owners alike - all with different views. Who am I to hold back?

Rep. Kathy Tallarita, D-Enfield, was quoted in the article, "Our state will gain millions in new revenue from Sunday alcohol sales, revenue that is badly needed as we work toward digging ourselves out of a projected large deficit. Repealing the ban is a win for everyone. It would be convenient for consumers, keep tax dollars in Connecticut and store owners would have the option to open or not."

Rep. Tallarita can’t see the forest through the trees. Sure, the parking lots of liquor stores in neighboring states are spotted with CT plates on Sundays. But perhaps she should take a look at those lots on other days as well. Consumers in border towns aren’t hopping over state lines strictly because they can shop on Sundays. They are there because it’s cheaper. CT is a franchise state with minimum bottle standards and excessive taxing. Our liquor laws do not allow for volume discounting nor do they allow a retailer to import product. It’s difficult for CT retailers to compete with stores in neighboring states because our laws make it prohibitive to do so. CT has yet to catch up to the 21st century. A good wine retailer has to stay competitive with other national retailers. It’s not a local game anymore. Technology has changed that. And if Rep. Tallarita thinks that opening or not is an option she clearly has no experience in wine retail. The margins and cut-throat competitive nature of the business dictates that if you CAN open, you DO open. The customer WILL go somewhere else that is open. Just check the lots of the stores in neighboring states on Sunday.

State Rep. Karen Jarmoc, D- Enfield is also supporter of Sunday sales citing a 2009 study undertaken by the Office of Fiscal Analysis, a non-partisan office that assists the state. The study, which I can’t find anywhere, found that Connecticut could gain an additional $5 million in revenue if stores were able to open on Sunday. That’s not enough to cover even the postage line of CT’s 2011 budget. I did find a study done in 2008 by the Office of Legislation Research that states there are 1050 package stores in CT. 136 of the those stores where determined to be located within 3 miles of a state border. In order to generate $5 million in added revenue, CT package stores would have to generate about $83.5 million in Sunday sales, $1.6M per Sunday. But wait, there’s more. Grocery stores will be allowed to sell on Sunday too (it’s a different permit so it’s not included in the package store count). I count over 90 Stop & Shop grocery stores alone in CT. So either the Office of Fiscal Analysis needs to do more research or the government suspects that the only big box retailers and those close to the border will open Sunday. Or maybe they are afraid of what all retailers are afraid of, the change will dilute weekend business and cause hundreds of small retail stores to close, adding to the unemployment numbers. Of course, the report did say “revenue” not “gain”.

The truth is I should probably support the bill. I operate in a community whose Saturdays are filled with sports practices, dance recitals and tackling the weekend honey-do list.  I could envision Sunday sales receipts to be quite lucrative. But giving up my Sundays is something I’m just not really thrilled about. Neither are my kids or my wife. However, I’m willing to change if the state is willing to revise the liquor laws. If the Sunday law is repealed, then give retailers the opportunities to compete with the rest of the national market. Lower the taxes on alcohol. Allow distributors to offer volume discounting. Allow retailers to purchase small amounts of wines directly from the producer. Let’s get CT and its liquor laws into the 21st century and bring commerce back to CT.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just Who Is Vinoguru

Now that I've decided to put myself on the line I guess I should let you know just who Vinoguru is. My name is Peter Troilo. I'm the Managing Director of Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines, a wine store my family has owned since 1990. Of course, there's much more than that.
I grew up in Wilton, CT and graduated from Fairfield Prep in 1994. I spent my high school years playing sports and working at the family store. Small stuff, sweeping the floor, stocking the beer cooler, making deliveries, etc. Occasionally I'd be allowed to taste wine at the shop but a glass of wine at dinner was never out of the question. I'd be quizzed on what I thought. After high school, I spent a semester at University of Vermont. At the conclusion of the semester I was politely asked to re-evaluate my decision to attend a university. It was clear I wasn't quite ready for life as an independent university student. I needed some time to discover who I was. For the next year I toiled in the local community college while working at the family store. I also did some part time work at a local ski shop and picked up shifts at various restaurants to add some extra cash to my pockets. My interest in the wine industry swelled but I still needed to discover more. I found my way to Fort Collins, CO in an pale yellow '84 Ford Grenada. I spent 4 years matriculating at Colorado State University. Okay, fine, I took a couple of classes. Truth be told, I did a lot of back-country skiing, hiked and camped a bit and worked a TON! I found a job at one of the larger liquor stores in Fort Collins, Campus West Liquors. I made my way to manager by the time I was on my way back to the east coast. Working at Campus West Liquors was a tremendous learning experience. I learned quite a bit about profit margins, large scale buying, management of staff, and overall operations. I'd like to think I grew up a little bit in that store.
After 4 years, I found myself missing the ocean (strange because I don't spend much time on it) and made my way back home. I was 23, and it was time to start to grow up. Time to be an adult. That was 1999. Of course, when my dad and brother tell the story, "Dad got wind that tuition checks were going to pay for a '79 Porche I had purchased." I sure do miss that car. I eventually worked my way into Fairfield University and graduated in 2002 with an accounting degree. Cue the movie "Tommy Boy"
Tommy: "You know a lot of people go to college for seven years."
Richard: "I know, they're called doctors"
While finishing my education at Fairfield University I worked at the my family's wine store, continued to tune skis and even managed to join a band playing local gigs throughout CT. I turned myself into a workaholic, absorbing any and all skills I possibly could. In 2002 my dad gave me an ultimatum "Music biz or wine shop. You can't do both." Realizing I had no rhythm, the wine business was really the only choice, but I choice I was very happy to make. I married my beautiful and very understanding wife in 2003. Started our family in 2005 and officially took the reigns of my family's 800 square foot wine store in July of 2007. By July of 2008, my dad moved onto acting and I was on my own (he'll tell you I kicked him out).

Without going into to much detail, you now know a little bit about me and the perspective I bring. Of course I can't divulge everything. I need to save some things to write about. Wine and the wine business has been a part of my life since December 19th, 1990. I can even remember who the first customer was that walked into my family's store. It's a testament to my dad and brother that Mr. X. still shops with us today. I've been lucky enough to experience the business on the restaurant side, big box retail and small retail. Today, I am thrilled to be carrying the torch for my family's business and hope that I can continue to do so for the next 20 years until my kids take the reigns. They'll have to kick me out first though.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 - I'm Breaking Down The Wall

I've decided that this is the year I put myself on the line. The decision scares me - immensely. Call me an introverted Leo (I was Virgo until this week's Gawker Article) but I've never been comfortable in the spotlight. It was always the job of my brother and my dad. I was always the younger brother who stood back and soaked in all the info and did so humbly. In my band days (rhythm guitar with no rhythm but I've got some pipes), it was Rez and Vega in the spotlight though I was the guy with the microphone. I was quite content with that. I was never confident enough in my abilities to stand in the light and take charge of the situation. And, quite frankly, in my younger years I always thought of myself as boring. I had to be. I was (and still am) a business owner and needed to protect myself from making outlandish remarks and displaying controversial behavior. I wouldn't talk to me in bar, why would anyone else? So I reveled in playing the role of Kaiser Soze, The Wizard of Oz. I was the guy in the back makin it happen and gettin the job done. Whatever you needed, I did it. This year, it's time for a change. This year I let my voice be heard and my face be seen. You can agree with my voice. You can think I'm an ass. You can call me foolish. And if you find my commentary genius, well then you can call me that too. For the first time in my life I am comfortable with who I am, what I do and what I can contribute. I have something to say that's based on personal experiences so I'm going to say it.
Of course that leaves the door wide open as to the direction of this blog. I'd prefer to keep it that way and let the direction dictate itself. But if I can steer it in one particular direction, it would be to provide a retail wine centric POV, giving the reader an inside look at a mystifying industry. I'm going to be an equal opportunity lover, hater of everything wine related and explain why I'm a lover or hater.  I'm going to make outrageous statements. I'm going to make every effort to shake up the crazy wine world and let people know they have a choice. I'm going to get yelled at by my dad and brother.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Weekly Tasting Notes

Thursday tastings were a welcome experience after all the snow we dealt with this week. The shining star was clearly Comte Lafon. I was excited to see Dominique Lafon’s wines placed on the barrel. Finding Dominque’s wines is like finding gold. He produces very little and that usually ends up in Manhattan restaurants. But I've been working hard, so access is getting better. I gotta admit I’m also in love with the Turkey Flat. Aussie wines are makin’ a comeback. Did you know they make wines other than Yellowtail? And finally, the Amarone was simply stunning. Bursting with flavor and light on its feet.

2007 Vignalta “Venda” - $14 per bottle
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet. Close your eyes and you’d swear this is Bordeaux and not from Veneto. Beautiful floral aromas that pop from the glass. Terrific weight, well balanced and a touch of vanilla on the finish.

2006 Turkey Flat ‘Butchers Block’ - $30 per bottle
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Barossa Valley in Australia. Look for dark, dense fruit highlighted by cherry cola and enough acidity to carry the wine to a long finish filled with cedar and nutmeg. Aussie wines are on a comeback, look out.

2008 Cadence “Coda” - $33 per bottle
Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from Red Mountain in WA. Wannabe Pomerol with pencil lead, currant, cassis and blackberry on this blockbuster Washington state blend. Serious wine and worth every penny. If you can’t afford Pomerol, this will do (even though it’s Cabernet based).

2009 Comte Lafon Macon Village - $20 per bottle
Dominique Lafon produces coveted white Burgundies from some of the greatest vineyards in the Cote de Beaune. Finding this juice is like finding gold. If you like crisp, clean white burg chardonnay that has terrific balance and beautiful fruit, you’ve found your wine.

2009 Comte Lafon Macon Milly Lamartine  - $33 per bottle
Leave it to me to find a $30 Macon that is AWESOME! Let’s just say that Meursault and Chablis had a child and its name was Comte Lafond Macon. Mineral, apple, pear, saline with round texture and crisp finish. This wine has a tremendous amount of complexity for its price and region. It’s Macon all grown up.

2006 Masi Amarone Costasera - $60 per bottle
I clearly don’t drink enough Amarone. Every time it touches my palate I’m blown away by the complexity and depth it offers. Masi has hit the mark with terrific plum fruit and slight anise notes that lead to a long and soft finish. These age quite nicely as well.