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FINALLY!  I have been asking her to do it for quite some time, and she has finally gone and done it.  My No. 2 (no shades of Dr. Evil here mind you), Shannon Depenbrock, a level-2 sommelier, has embarked on her own blog, entitled Sommelier in the City.

At 26 years old, she has done an incredible amount in this business already, and whether she wants to or not, will probably take over the reins from her dad as owner/operator of DEP’s Fine Wine & Spirits, though that is several years down the road.  In the meantime, being a young woman, the world is her oyster.

An avid, experienced traveler, she has been to Europe many times, and if memory serves, I think she even had an audience with Pope John Paul II while she was still in high school.  Many trips to France, where she has reinforced her love of French wines (as well as helped her develop her skill at French as another language), has driven her to learn all she can about wine.  She is on an incredible journey, not only in the wine biz, but in life as well, and her blog is an open invite for all of you to join her.  I hope you do.




Burning the midnight oil… it seems like that’s what I should have been doing through the holidays, but while the last quarter is more visceral, physical – moving wine from store to store, building up and tearing down displays, etc. – the first quarter of the year is far more cerebral – the planning, the reorganizing, the re-envisioning of everything, or how do we make it better than last year? – that’s what I seem to be up to tonight.

Sitting here, reworking the store’s other newsletter, which has morphed into “The Buzz Bin” over the last few years.  Drawing influence from my years spent dabbling as a rock star wannabe, my lifelong passion for music, and my garnering of solace and peace in record stores across the country, I tagged this newsletter “The Buzz Bin” to highlight the new items, the changes, the little lost gems that seem to get forgotten almost as soon as they hit the shelves.

This year, the plan is to let the Newsletter happen organically, let the words sort of flow from my besotted brainpan, and not come off like a mélange of Rolling Stone article rejects and wine industry testimonials.  The goal is to find the happy medium between the pop culture storyscapes of Chuck Palahnuik (Fight Club), the impassioned conjuring of my favorite culinary temptress Nigella Lawson, and the ninja comic mayhem of Daniel Tosh (Tosh.0), with a bit of rock journalist Lester Bangs and lyrical mystifier Leonard Cohen for good measure.

What the hell is that going to read like, you ask?

Right now, I couldn’t tell ya.  I am completely stuck right now.  Writer’s Block is a bitch.

So as I sit here in my kitchen, listening to a bit of Kings of Leon, watching my youngest pixie cat, Phineas sitting in the middle of my kitchen table as if he owns the place, not me, I am formulating a bit of where this new version of the newsletter is going, what wines I will feature, how to stick with the old schtick of picking a particular artist and one of their particular albums/discs/whatever you call it these days, and whatever else I feel like waxing poetic about, and how the finished product will get down by tomorrow.  No pressure really.  Deadlines?  I love the fuckers!


Last week, we did something new and different at the store:  we hosted our first ever Twitter Tasting and Tweet-Up, featuring the wines of Yakima Valley’s Airfield Estates.  We enlisted the Miller family (as well as good friend Amy, their Nat’l sales rep) to participate along with good friends and fellow wine bloggers Michelle and Kevin (from My Wine Education, local social media girl Crystal, as well as some of our regular customers.  I can’t thank the folks at Airfield, and everyone else who participated in this our first foray into the great unknown.  We had no idea how it was going to turn out, and even though we had hoped to get more involved, we managed to figure out where we go from here, which definitely equaled success from our vantage point.

To the folks at Airfield, I will somehow manage to get a couple bottles of Kentucky’s finest bourbon for you to toast yourselves, and we look forward to more of these events in the future.

As a signing off gift, they sent us two pictures of their winery helpers, and I have to share them with you all.

For info on our next and upcoming Twitter Tastings, check out http://depsfinewine.com/about/deps-twitter-tastings/ for more details.



Yesterday, we made our way down to Four Roses, after a successful run of our first Four Roses Special Blend.  Our Covington wine guy Corey S., Covington store manager Tom, Fort Thomas CSR Trina and myself rode down in a two-car caravan with our SWS/Crown spirits rep Mike Haas, first visiting the bottling facility outside Louisville to choose our barrel.

We met up with Master Distiller Jim Rutledge (just back from Amsterdam) and our Four Roses rep Dan Gardner, and we sampled 5 different barrels in order to find that right one, the one that our customers were sure to enjoy.  While the sampling at Buffalo Trace went quicker, we seemed to be more meticulous in choosing this time.  We were joined by a few Four Roses employees and some visitors from Canada.

It wasn’t long, at least for me, to see that the third barrel stood out as the top choice.  Corey, who stood to my left, agreed, as did Trina.  Tom, not a big bourbon drinker, did agree, and when the Master Distiller himself sided with us, we knew we had a winner.

After the tasting, and a brief tour of one of the warehouses by Four Roses warehouse manager Corey (it was a day of Coreys), we quickly learned how unique Four Roses was to the Bourbon world.  The big difference is in warehousing the barrels.  Their competitors typically store the barrels to age in multilevel buildings, where temperature fluctuation plays a big role in the aging process.  At Four Roses, the warehouses are but one store high, and the temperature fluctuation is almost non-existent.  The goal at Four Roses is consistency.

We made the long drive across the Bluegrass Parkway to the Distillery, which was just outside of Frankfurt, KY, where we were treated to a picnic lunch just outside on their gazebo, before getting a tour of the facility.  Jim, the master distiller, gave us a quick primer on making Bourbon, and how their process differs from their competitors.  At Four Roses, they start with two different blends, one featuring more rye than normal, and from their 5 different strains of yeast on each blend creates 10 different bourbon distillates, each with a different aroma and flavor component.  Jim and his crew then determine the right components to achieve their signature blend and there you have the amazing Four Roses family of Bourbon.

I have always been a fan of sour mash, but now I have a deeper appreciation for Kentucky’s signature spirit.  If you are visiting Kentucky, make sure you head down to the Bourbon Trail, where Four Roses, along with Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Woodford, and others, unite to expose visitors to the joys of Bourbon Whiskey.

Look for our new Four Roses DEP’s Blend in our stores soon.



I spent another Sunday, lazily, trying to refresh my brain a bit with some quiet time at home.  It seems a moral imperative to turn off the business of wine in order to keep a fresh perspective.  In my job, I usually do not have time to look up, which in these dark economic times is something for which to be thankful.  Yet in my wine geekdom, I find myself worn out and uninspired.  Hence the 24-hour decompression day I took for myself yesterday.

Spending time with my wife, in the confines of our house, watching gato loco theatre or the latest Tony Jaa movie gets my creative juices flowing, and actually inspires me to make the coming week a better one.  True enough, no wine was consumed, and not even a beer was opened (yeah, I know, I should be ashamed), but I cleaned a little, went over to Bone Fish Grill for some Jamaican Coconut Pie, and made a decent dinner.

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make life more bearable.

Looking ahead to the next several days, there is me donating blood tonight at Hoxworth, taking my old wine rack over to Corey S.’s new house, a special wine tasting Wednesday night at our Fort Thomas store with Cannonball/Perfecta winemaker Dennis Hill, and the Cincinnati International Wine Festival trade show Friday afternoon.  We are also redesigning the DEP’s Fine Wine website and setting up a store blog for my staff contributors to take over, leaving me to my own devices here.

The warmer weather is gradually sneaking in, with today’s 50 degree weather and sunny skies a joy to behold.  Loading the truck in short-sleeves for the first time it what seems a millennia really put a smile on my face.  It lets me know that my boss is going to let us replenish the anemic-looking Sauvignon Blanc section – he still feels it is a summer-only wine.  You should see it.  It looks like a half-eaten hamburger left out on the picnic table all day.  Not very appealing, I must say.

This month, I’ll be writing a few pieces on bourbon, as we (the DEP’s crew) head down to Blanton’s and Four Roses for more special DEP’s Selections, and quite possibly, a planned trip in the next two months to the Bourbon Trail and to Jack Daniels.  Of course, there will be CIWF reports, as well as some other local wine events, a visit to Kentucky’s Stonebrook Winery, and quite possibly, to Biltmore in North Carolina.

Lots of things on the books.  Here’s to inspiration.

in-store events wine reviews


The infinite business of keeping up with all the different things I have to do in a day is like picking out dust particles in a tornado drunk with 3-D glasses on – it can be a dizzying endeavor.  I’ve been trying to keep pace with the reps and the wines we’ve tasted on top of all the other controlled chaos that is the retail wine business, and it’s only January.  If I am this busy, I am in deep doo-doo later this year.

Last week, our stores featured our quarterly look at Zinfandel (in a brief honorarium to the big Z.A.P. tasting out in San Francisco this past weekend, as well as the Zin in Paradise event this weekend in Maui), as well as a look at some great Rhone wines:

Kenwood Zinfandel Sonoma County 2006.  Grade=Outstanding.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Kenwood wines, after visiting them my last trip out to CA.  This Sonoma County Zin is textbook California Zin, with medium-bodied, mildly-tannic brambly fruit aromas and flavors.  Lots of black and blue berry notes, hints of pepper and spice, and nice balance.

Layer Cake Primitivo Puglia 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  A very New World-style of Primitivo – Zin’s identical twin cousin – with nice, rich, dense blueberry, dark plum/prune, peppercorn and herbs.  Finishes up rich and smooth on the palate.

Masked Rider Zinfandel California 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  A good, entry-level Zin with solid blue and black fruit aromas and flavors.  Easy-to-drink, and even easier on the pocketbook. 

Coppola Zinfandel Director’s Cut 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  Surprisingly good, medium-to-full-bodied, with plush tannins, bold spices, raspberry preserves and chocolate notes.  It shows terrific balance and some restraint despite the slightly higher alcohol content.  The small amount of Petite Sirah adds darker color and more complexity.

Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Heritage Vines 2007.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Blended with 13% Petite Sirah, this beautiful Zinfandel from the original Dry Creek Valley winery possesses blueberry, red and black raspberry, white pepper, mocha, loganberry and hints of vanillin oak.  Very plush and seductive on the palate.  A great effort.

La Gramiere Cotes-du-Rhone 2006.  Grade=Amazing.  I put this wine as one of my top picks for 2009.  This beautifully-made blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre gives you juicy, vibrant fruit aromas and flavors, accentuating blackberry, licorice, white pepper and dark chocolate.  I really love this wine.

Domaine la Garrigue Cotes-du-Rhone Cuvee Romaine 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  This is a bolder, richer effort than the La Gramiere, with darker tones of black fruits, more unctuous jammy characters, hints of dried herbs and cracked black pepper, and splashes of oak.  It is really just declassified Vacqueryas, so it’s a heck of a value.

Perrin Reserve Blanc 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  A remarkable value in white Rhone, this blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne shows off aromatic characters of white flowers, honeysuckle and fresh-picked peaches, with flavors of apricots, fig, white peach, and Bartlett pears.  A great value!

Montirius Vacqueryas Garrigues 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  A blend of Grenache and Syrah, this terrific red is medium-to-full-bodied, with silky tannins, an impressive display of red currant, raspberry, blueberry, dried herbs and roasted game.

Domaine des Pallieres Gigondas 2006.  Grade=Amazing.  Gorgeous red Rhone blend of Grenache and Syrah, this wine shows off lots of red and blue fruit aromas and flavors, with red flowers, cumin, star anise, white pepper and some earth and mineral tones.  Could possibly due with a bit more time in the bottle, but still showing well.

in-store events wine reviews


Trying to catch up with my tasting notes again, I have comments on the wines we featured during our tastings two weeks ago (not getting a gold star this week).  During that weekend we featured our quarterly look at Pinot Noirs from around the world, as well as a quarterly visit of our favorite French wine importer, Kermit Lynch.

Redtree Pinot Noir California 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Here is a really nice, easy-to-drink Pinot Noir that I had talked about several times before.  Bright red fruit aromas and flavors mixed in with a generous helping of earth, mineral and red flower.  A terrific value!

Feudo Arancio Pinot Noir Stemmari 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Never thought anyone would ever show me a Pinot Noir from Sicily and it taste like Pinot Noir.  Juicy cherry and red berry notes, with considerable earth, mineral and slight hazelnut mixed in for good measure.  A bit on the riper side, obviously due to originating in a warmer climate.  A steal at $7.

Irony Pinot Noir Monterey 2006.  Grade=Outstanding.  In what has become one of our best selling Pinot Noirs, this light-to-medium-bodied presentation of Pinot Noir displays dark cherry, raspberry and slight pomegranate notes with splashes of vanillin oak, toasted nuts and slight mineral.  A hint of creaminess on the finish doesn’t mask its appropriate acidity.  Really nice.

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir Leyda Valley 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  More Burgundian in style, this light-to-medium-bodied red showcases lots of cherry and berry tones, some fresh earth, light wood and hints of truffle and light-roast coffee bean.  A real surprise in Chilean Pinot Noir.

Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2006.  Grade=Amazing.  Very dynamic representation of Sta. Rita Pinot Noir, with expressive notes of cherry, cola, raspberry, mulberry, light chocolate, coffee and earth.  The midpalate is plush yet not without some lively acidity to mix it up a bit.  It is a terrific California Pinot Noir.

Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  While not as rich as the 2006, the 2007 showcases more bright cherry and pomegranate notes with some earthiness, herbaceousness and minerality.  More old world than new world, but still a great Pinot Noir.

Champalou Vouvray La Cuvee des Fondraux 2007.  Grade=Amazing.  I happen to think Champalou makes some of the best Chenin Blanc on the planet, and this semi-dry cuvee is glorious with baked apple, d’Anjou pears, crème fraiche, hazelnut and honey notes.  Finishes with some vibrant acidity to give it tremendous balance.

Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly 2007.  Grade=Amazing.  Folks may think me biased, but I really like Gamay.  Chateau Thivin turns in a beautifully-made Cote de Brouilly, with sultry red and black cherry fruit aromas and flavors, notes of spiced hazelnuts, cinnamon, mineral, roasted herbs and slight smoky notes.  Possesses an earthy base throughout its lingering finish.

Chateau St. Martin de la Garrigue Tradtion Rouge 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  This little Languedoc red is primarily Grenache and shows off its soft red fruit aromas and flavors with just a bit of bitter chocolate, white pepper, coffee and mineral notes.  A great value in French red wine.

Chateau Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  A little G-S-M blend from the Languedoc, this old house favorite has more smokiness and bacon fat notes than the Tradition, and shows off more robust red and black fruit elements, some darker earth tones and hints of truffle oil and roasted meats.  A hearty red for hearty winter fare.

Le Pigeoulet de Provence Vin de Pays de Vacluse Rouge 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  I really love this Rhone-style blend from the winemaking genius behind Vieux Telegraphe.  Highlighting dark red and black berry notes, with black pepper, black currant, mineral, mocha, espresso and tar showing up intermittently through to its rich and complex finish.



I know I am suppose to write about wine, but being in the retail wine and spirits business, I feel compelled from time to time to step out of my comfort zone and show some love to beer and spirits as well.  One spirit in particular I have had some sort of estranged but passionate involvement with over the years is Bourbon.  Rarely do I drink it these days because for me, when I was much younger, Bourbon was my mistress, and I found myself under her skirt more often than (insert Tiger Woods or David Letterman joke here).  Nowadays, I worship it from afar, like pining for some bigger-than-Life movie actress.  Yet surprisingly, our staff took a trip in December to the Four Roses Distillery in Louisville back in December, with a mission in mind:  to bring back our very own special bottling of incredible single barrel Kentucky Bourbon.

Here in Kentucky, Bourbon is everyone’s passion, even mine—though me and Bourbon haven’t really spent much quality time together in recent years.  Yet the staff (I had to miss out due to appts.) went down for a lunch and tour.  Obviously it can be said that all were drunk and in good “spirits” (groan).  (See photo of our co-owner, Mark, enjoying the spoils:)

The resultant special D.E.P.’s Fine Wine & Spirits blend is remarkably smooth, with caramel, toffee, orange peel, maple syrup and cocoa powder notes, and absolutely no burn on the finish.  It is supple, luxurious on the palate and warming to the soul—just as great Kentucky single barrel bourbon should be.  It’s the perfect antedote for a cold, blustery winter night, though I’d drink it neat or on the rocks only – please God don’t blend this thing for anything.  Grade=Amazing.

wine blogging wednesday


Michelle Lentz of My Wine Education is hosting this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday with the topic being your favorite “Snow Day Wine.”  Now the folks in Florida and in other southern states or other more tropical locales might not understand a Snow Day, but here in the Midwest, a Snow Day is a mini-vacation bestowed upon us by the local Weather guy and Mother Nature.  While we hate being stuck in the snow, if we are in the confines of our own home, it can be a beautiful thing.

So in keeping with the spirit of a Snow Day Wine, I’ll go with it and give you what would be my perfect snow day.

Waking up to Morning Express with Robin Wood and brewing a cup of Seven Hills “D.E.P.’s Blend” coffee (a mix of cinnamon hazelnut and Highlander Grogg), I discover there is a level 3 Snow Emergency, which means you are prohibited by law from going on the roads.  You go out, you get a ticket.  Period.  So, I finish my cup of coffee and get my morning news, and head back up to bed with the wife and the cats.

Sleeping till Noon, we get up, and stare out the window, watching the continuing descending of God’s dandruff on the world, turning on the TV to watch some kung-fu movie and dozing for another hour before heading downstairs to make pancakes and bacon, warming up with hot chocolate and more kung-fu movies.

I take some filet mignons out of the freezer and decant a house favorite, a bottle of Montes Folly.  And then it is back on the couch with my wife and the cats, under the covers, for a Tony Jaa/Jet Li film festival.

As the snow comes down outside, forming huge drifts of white outside our door, the comforting notes of hot chocolate as we fade in and out of sleep, this is how a snow day should be:  lazy, comfortable, and with the ones you love.  Not really worrying whether or not the power is going to go out, we just enjoy our time on the couch watching loads of ass-kickery on TV, leading up to a simple meat-n-potatoes dinner with some well-aerated Montes Folly, the wine I have often told my customers is the best Syrah in all the New World.

The Montes Folly comes from 100% mountain-grown Syrah, grown upon some of the steepest slopes in the Apalta Valley in Chile, is aged in French oak for 18 months, and bottled unfiltered, is a bold, rich, dense red wine that seems to fill every fragment of your being.  It is loaded with red and black fruits, a blast of soothing hedonism that strips the cold world outside from the fray of one’s mind and leaves us focused only on our haven from the snow.

I think I could spend every day that way, but then I would be living my dream as a Stephen King wannabe, cranking out novels like changing underwear, and we’d probably be living in New England somewhere, so that means more snow days.  There is a method to my madness, you see.

Thanks to Michelle, and as always to Lenn Thompson at Lenndevours for being the overseer of our wildest wino dreams.  Just remember, if you get a snow day, enjoy it!

in-store events wine reviews


The second half of our first weekend back tasting with the masses featured New World Values.  It was a slower event at the Fort Thomas store on Saturday (although at Covington on Friday, it was much busier) due to the Cincinnati Bengals hosting a losing effort to the New York Jets mid-day.  Typical on football day here in the Queen City, the down time allows us at least to get caught up on stocking and in my case, busy work.

For the New World wines featured, I picked out something from New Zealand, Oregon, California, Argentina and Chile – a kind of quick, down-n-dirty overview of the “Brave New World” of wine.  Okay, so that is a bit melodramatic, even for wine.  Yet these tastings are always, for me, about highlighting wines that have been popular with the customers as well as sliding in a few new discoveries:

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2009.  Grade=Outstanding.  I’ve always been a fan of Villa Maria, largely due to their seemingly continued pursuit of being the antithesis of what New Zealand is really known for – the sock-it-to-me Grapefruit approach to Sauvignon Blanc.  Offering more subtle grapefruit alongside lime zest, basil and mineral tones, this SB is a great way to start off a party, dinner, or just unwind after a tough day at the office.

Acrobat Pinot Gris Oregon 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  The new second-label from King Estate, this is an amazing value for Oregon PG.  Notes of Bartlett pear and Honeydew melon aromas and flavors are met with well-balanced minerality and acidity.  Very impressed with this effort, especially when it is coming in at around $10.

Stephen Vincent Crimson California 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  One of our best selling red blends, this tried-and-true staff favorite is 75% Syrah and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Showing off aromas and flavors of red, black and blue fruit, it is soft tannins, medium-bodied, and long-lasting on the finish.  Really delivers for those of us not wanting to spend a lot of money.

Alamos Malbec Mendoza 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Always consistent, this terrific Malbec is a benchmark for Argentine wines in this price realm.  Blended with 5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda, this red offers up scents of red flowers and black pepper, and the flavors of blackberries, plums and black currants shine through its resonating finish.

Vina Chocolan Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  A new discovery for us here at DEP’s, the Vina Chocolan wines are harkening back to their Bordeaux roots, with the Cab showing off a slightly earthy character, yet still presenting very New World aromas and flavors of black fruit, mocha and vanillin oak.  Delivers on QPR quite nicely.

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