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 Trade tasting I wangle my way into a for-the-trade sampling and bring home notes on more than 40 new wines.
 Katrina fund-raiser: Wine sweepstakes winners announced We've selected 16 prize winners in our online forum's charitable-giving sweepstakes for Hurricane Katrina victims.
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Trade tasting

If you enjoy trying small samples of a lot of different wines and don't mind a bit of a frenzy, there's hardly a better way to get this sort of educational exposure than to wangle an invitation to a trade tasting.

A trade tasting is a display of wine samples hosted by an importer or distributor to give commercial customers a taste of what's new. Even if you're not "in the trade" of buying and selling wine, chances are that if you have a good relationship with a local fine-wine retailer with whom you're a steady buyer, you can arrange an occasional invitation to an event of this type.

It was my pleasure to get in on such a tasting this week, when the excellent Cincinnati-based importer/distributor Vintner Select came to town to show local wine buyers and restaurateurs samples of more than 50 new arrivals from Italy, France, Spain and Australia, as well as a cross-section of its fine California portfolio.

The scene at Louisville's Blue Dog Bakery (which provided delicious goodies from pizza to paté and, of course, first-rate artisanal breads) was crowded and noisy. One of the difficulties of this kind of tasting can be a distracting environment that makes it tough to spend much time in deep analysis of each wine. But I soldiered on, and came home with a PDA full of brief notes on more than 40 new wines, which I share with you today.

Prices given are my unofficial estimates, approximating what you might expect to pay based upon the distributor's wholesale price.

Vintner Select distributes wines in Ohio, Kentucky and parts of North Carolina; many of its imports are also represented in other parts of the U.S. by other regional importers such as Skurnik in New York and North Berkeley in California.

Note that some of these wines are recent arrivals, so it may be a while before they show up on retail shelves. To find vendors and compare prices, plug in specific wine names on

Italy - Marc de Grazia

Il Palazzone 2002 Rubio ($15)
Mostly Sangiovese, this wine is from Umbria but shares the style of neighboring Tuscany's Chianti with a profile of ripe cherries and a touch of earth.

Il Palazzino 2002 La Pieve Chianti Classico ($22)
Good fruit and singing acidity come together in a fine Chianti that's young but drinking very well.

Sassetti - Pertimali 2002 Rosso di Montalcino ($27)
A little shy on the nose but structured very well, with a good balance of fruit and acldity.

Le Terrazze 2002 Rosso Conero ($16)
Spicy cherries and plums, lots of brown spice and lemon-squirt acidity make this a good food wine.

E. Pira & Figli 2001 Chiara Boschis Barbera d'Alba ($27)
Meat, smoke and barnyard character make for a rustic wine on the nose, with sweet fuit more apparent on the palate.

La Spinetta 2001 Pin ($54)
A "cultish" blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo and Cabernet from a respected Piemonte producer, this is a big, "international" wine, with oak a bit too evident for my tastes. Sweet fruit and violets meld with heavy tannins on the palate, suggesting that cellar time may be a virtue.

Clerico 2001 Arte ($45)
A Nebbiolo-Barbera blend from Piemonte, perfumed sweet fruit and oak. Although I like Marc de Grazia's wines in general, they do tend toward an oaky, international, "Parkerized" style, as this and the previous wine suggest.

La Spinetta 2002 Barbaresco ($90)
Very pretty, black fruit and violets. Tannic, young, but already drinking well, the flagship bottling from the respected Barbaresco producer Giorgio Rivetti, with his trademark rhino on the label.

Casanova di Spinetta 2002 Toscana Rosso ($20)
La Spinetta's Giorgio Rivetti has a new Tuscan estate, where he fashioned this excellent "mini-Super Tuscan," predominantly Sangiovese. Ripe and juicy, a crowd-pleasing style built on a good, solid acidic structure. I'll be buying more of this goodie.


My old friend David Schildknecht, Vintner Select's French importer, presided at this table and modestly accepted congratulations on his recent appointment as contributor for Austria, Germany, Eastern Europe, and North America east of the Rockies in Robert M. Parker Jr.'s Wine Advocate.

Marc et Roger Labbé 2004 Abymes Vin de Savoie ($9)
Peachy, prickly and gulpable, a delicious value favorite from the French Alps.

Boudin 2003 Chantemerle Chablis ($22)
Juicy apples, rich and ripe, very atypical Chablis in the "California" style that's typical of the hot and super-ripe 2003 vintage throughout France.

Javillier 03 Meursault les Tillets ($54)
A delight from a favorite white Burgundy producer. Rich, clean, pure fruit over stony minerality.

Egly-Ouriet non-vintage Brut Tradition ($45)
Highly carbonated, foamy mouthfeel, appley and crisp. Good minerality, but 75% Pinot doesn't really manifest itself in this Champagne.

Chateau Haut-Guiraud 2001 Côtes de Bourg ($14)
Spicy red-berry fruit, plushy for a Bordeaux. Fine value.

Hervé & Cyprien Arlaud 2003 Bourgogne Roncevie ($22)
Ripe, fruit-forward and tannic. Good Pinot if not typical Burgundy, another "Californicated" 2003.

Gérard Raphet 2003 Givrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques ($76)
Lovely, ripe strawberries. Big fruit, juicy and sweet. Atypical again, but one of the most stylishly handled 2003 Burgundies I've encountered. Priced well above everyday level, but I love it if somebody else is pouring.

Domaine Réméjeanne 2003 Côtes du Rhône-Villages "Les Genevriers" ($22)
Another old favorite that turns up on steroids in the 2003 vintage. Pure raspberries, ripe and fresh, julcy and sweet.

Le Roc des Anges 2003 Côtes du Roussillon-Villages ($30)
Meat, smoke, leather and ripe red fruit.

Domaine du Dragon 2003 Côtes de Provence Cuvée St.-Michel ($16)
Cherries and plums, tight but balanced.

Spain - European Cellars (Eric Solomon)

Gramona 2004 Penedes Gessami ($15)
Muscat adds a splash of Sauvignon Blanc, but the Muscat dominated with attractive grapefruit aromas leading into fresh, grapey fruit with crisp acidity for balance.

Arrazu 2003 Artazuri Navarra ($11)
Garnacha character shows in an appealing blend of raspberries and white pepper on the nose and palate.

Les Alcusses 2002 Roure ($18)
Black cherry and "barnyard" for a touch of rustic character in this tasty Tempranillo blend.

Elvi 2003 Makor ($20)
Red fruit and earthy red clay mix in this rather strange blend of the indigenous Spanish grapes Utiel and Requena from wine maker Sarah Perez. It's a kosher-for-Passover "mevushal" wine, a heat treatment that satisfies religious ritual but, in my experience, does little to enhance quality.

Castaño 2002 Solañera Yecla ($15)
A blend of Monastrell (Mourvedre) and Cabernet. Warm, plummy, a bit pruney, but good acidity holds it together.

El Seque 2002 Alicante ($30)
Mostly Monastrell. Extracted, intense, black cherry fruit and steely acidity, on the "international" side.

Closa Battlet 2002 Priorat ($45)
Raspberry Grenache fruit is framed by forward, somewhat intrusive new oak, but there's fine Priorat minerality beneath, waiting for a little cellar time to bring it out.


Cinnabar 2002 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($30)
Smoky, rich, full, a big but stylish take on California Chardonnay.

Alban 2003 Edna Valley Estate Viognier ($36)
Varietal character is a bit overtaken by oak. Better on the palate, peachy and full-bodied.

Lane Tanner 2003 French Camp Vineyard San Luis Obispo Syrah ($24)
Bright and ripe, bold Syrah fruit in good balance.

Bonny Doon 2001 California Le Cigare Volant ($36)
The original "Rhone Ranger," Randal Grahm's California homage to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is very pretty, perfume and fruit. Good balance, more "Rhonish" than I recall from earlier iterations.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards 2001 Merlot Los Carneros ($30)
Black fruit. Cherries and chocolate, excellent structure and balance, a Merlot that might have made the Sideways guy change his attitude.

Robert Pecota 2002 Kara's Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
Fine, well-balanced Cabernet character; tannic, young but impressive.

Rabbit Ridge 2002 LPR Russell Family Vineyard Reserve ($34)
A blend of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Petite Sirah and other grapes, but Zin takes the lead role in its luscious bramble fruit, raspberries and blackberries. Jammy but beautifully structured, outstanding.

Selby 2002 Sonoma County Bobcat Zinfandel ($35)
Loads of fruit, big but refined. Nice.

Qupé 2003 Central Coast Syrah ($18)
Ripe fruit, good balance. A value treat.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Bone-Jolly El Dorado Gamay ($20)
Fresh berries, juicy, a whiff of meat. Gulpable.

Talbott 2002 Logan Monterey Pinot Noir ($22)
Red fruit, herbs, lots of spice and cola. Idiosyncratic but pleasant.

Havens 2001 Napa Merlot ($27)
Big, rich and powerful - the 14.5% alcohol shows. Good balance, though, in another serious Merlot.

Laurel Glen 2001 Sonoma Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
A beauty from a personal favorite California producer, showing very well today in spite of its youth, with black fruit and sleekly muscular structure over firm but palatable tannins.

Paras Vineyards 2000 Mount Veeder Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
Classic old-style California Cabernet. Outstanding. Not a cheap wine, and not easy to get ... Vintner Select received just a few cases of a wine that's usually available only from the winery.


These two top Australian selections were tucked in at the end of a line of Californians.

Dutschke 2002 Willow Bend Barossa Merlot-Shiraz ($25)
Fruit-forward, good structure, an unexpected blend of varieties, but it works.

Torbreck 2003 The Struie Barossa Shiraz ($50)
Black plums and menthol in a big but balanced package. Torbreck is one of my Australian favorites, and The Struie is perhaps the point at which bargain price and value meet in its portfolio.

I regret missing the table at which Robert Whale's Australian imports were presented, as it included such Ozzie favorites as Plantagenet, Coriole and Parker Coonawarra Estate.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on today's topic (or any other wine-related subject), you'll find a round-table online discussion in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to join in the conversations about wine.

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Here's a simply formatted copy of today's Wine Advisor, designed to be printed out for your scrapbook or file or downloaded to your PDA or other wireless device.

Katrina fund-raiser: Wine sweepstakes winners announced

Many thanks to the 126 Wine Advisor readers and Wine Lovers' Discussion Group participants who made our charitable fund-raiser a big success by contributing well over $10,000 in donations to non-profit organizations involved in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up effort.

We've closed out the associated wine sweepstakes today, and the winners, selected at random from all entries, are listed below, along with the wine prize that each winner will receive.

Nick Molnar, New York, wins the Chateau Meyney "mini-vertical" (1986, 1989 and 1990) contributed by Dale Williams.

Bob Archibald, Oregon, wins the 1990 Chateau l'Angelus contributed by Randy Buckner.

Bill Gussett, Ohio, wins the 2001 J.J. Prum Goldcapsule Auslese contributed by John Trombley.

Mark Lipton, Indiana, wins the 1999 J.L. Chave Hermitage contributed by Robin Garr.

Carson Callahan, Florida, wins the 1998 Donnhoff (Oberhauser) Eiswein contributed by Randy Buckner.

Johanna Turner, Kentucky, wins the Dehlinger 1998 Russian River Valley Syrah contributed by Robin Garr.

Elizabeth Freligh, Massachusetts, wins the 1999 Bousquet de Papes Chante le Merle Chateauneuf du Pape contributed by David Bueker.

Paul Marquardt, Washington, D.C., wins the 1982 Chateau Latour contributed by Bob Ross.

Roger Merrick, Colorado, wins the 1990 Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron contributed by Randy Buckner.

Marc Davis, Washington, wins the 2000 Chateau Leoville Barton contributed by Randy Buckner.

Evan Schwartz, New York, wins the 1982 Leoville Las Cases contributed by Bob Ross.

Dale Williams, New York, wins the 1975 Chateau Lafite contributed by Howie Hart. (Dale was the source of the fund-raiser idea, by the way, so the happy coincidence that made him a random winner returns a small, well-deserved reward for the significant effort and personal contributions he offered to make this venture a success.)

John Tomasso, California, wins the 2001 Marcassin Chardonnay Three Sisters Vineyard contributed by Allan Bree.

Dr. Arthur Lewis, Georgia, wins the 1998 Muller-Catoir (Muzbacher) Eiswein contributed by Randy Buckner.

James Dietz, California, wins the 2000 Marcassin Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard contributed by Allan Bree.

Clark D'Elia, Washington, wins the 2000 Chateau Lynch Bages contributed by Randy Buckner.

Winners will be formally notified by E-mail today, along with contact information so winners and prize donors can get together to arrange shipment of the prize wines. (By the way, while winners were selected at random, I paired winners and prize donors non-randomly, seeking where practical to minimize the distance between winner and donor to simplify shipping issues.)

And, although the contest is over, of course we continue to encourage contributions for Katrina relief and other worthy causes through Network for Good, a reputable organization that acts as a clearinghouse for online contributions to quality nonprofit organizations in many areas of need. A list of more than 100 worthy Katrina-related organizations will be found online at

In case you're interested, I generated the random number lists used to select the winners from the intriguing Website, which provides an online form that generates true random numbers based on atmospheric noise, which for many purposes is statistically better than the pseudo-random numbers typically generated by computer programs. If you're interested in reading more about this, I recommend the essay Introduction to Randomness and Random Numbers by Mads Haahr, the host of, at

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Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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