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CORK DORK PILGRIMAGE (COMBATTING URBAN SPRAWL TO GET TO A WINE OASIS, OR INFILTRATING VINTNER SELECT’S WINO PALACE, PART ONE)

Recently, I made a bit of a pilgrimage to Vintner Select, a wholesaler for Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, located in Mason, Ohio, maybe 30 minutes away from the store here in Northern Kentucky.  I have often said that of all the wholesalers I would work for, Vintner Select would top my list, because of their top-down, energetic atmosphere created by owners Gordon Hullar and Doris Holzheimer, two of the most marvelous people I have ever known.

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My sales rep and long-time friend Brian invited me up to the warehouse to walk through their inventory, try some wines, and go over programs and the like with sales manager and good friend Jeff, the aforementioned Gordon (who handles their Italian portfolio) and newly anointed French and Spanish wine guru Tim.  I was also introduced (or I should say re-introduced) to their new Domestic portfolio manager Michael, whom I met years ago while he was with Frederic Wildman and I was at the late Chateau Pomije Wine Store across the river.

We tasted over 20 wines, from around the world, but instead of my usually reviews, I wanted to take a little time and investigate the wines further, beyond simple tasting notes.  So I wanted to break them down a bit and first write about a few new Spanish wines as well as one new French wine.  The predominance of these first 5 I will discuss come from Eric Solomon/European Cellars, though the first wine I want to talk about is the Elicio Grenache & Merlot Vin de Pays de Mediteranée 2009 (Grade=Outstanding).  An even split between the two varietals, this soft, dry red  was created by winemaker Raphael Troullier and enologist Didier Robert.  Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections out of Asheville, NC, this easy-to-drink red is a serious value, with soft cherry and red berry notes, a bit of white pepper, nutmeg and allspice with touches of dragonfruit, cinnamon and mineral underpinnings.  It is definitely something I’ll be bringing in during the holidays.

As we were walking through the Spanish aisle, this Eric Solomon label caught my eye – the Jiménez-Landi Sotorrondero Méntrida 2007 (Grade=Amazing).  This blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Garnacha is organically grown within the province of Toledo by the family members José Benavides and Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi.  Aged 8 months in French oak, this medium-to-full-bodied red tends to run parallel to a Northern Rhone, with its hints of savory cherry and cassis notes, undertones of blackberry and elderberry, with some mineral, spice box and tobacco elements as well.  It tends to exist in both Old and New World milieu, with some rich, thick fruit characteristics, yet exercising restraint at the finish.

The Black Slate Gratallops Priorat 2006 (Grade=Amazing) is something of a revelation – a Priorat that clocks in under the $20 mark.  Made by Closa Batlett and also imported by Eric Solomon, this incredible blend of Grenache (called Garnatxa in the Priorat region), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this seductive red possesses real grace amidst notes of cedar, black currants, tobacco, dark chocolate, pepper, mineral and earth.  The amazing thing about Priorat is that it is truly a Burgundian wine model in Spain – one region with nine prominent and distinct villages, all producing remarkably different styles of wine.  Gratallops, in the heart of the region, boasts this seductive, smoldering red, full of sultry red and black berry spirit.  This wine, as well as the aforementioned Sotorrondero, both came in this week.

The last of the Eric Solomon Spaniards I tried was the Mustiguillo Mestis Vino de la Tierra el Terrerazo 2008 (Grade=Outstanding+).  Predominantly Bobal, indigenous to the Valencia region of Spain), this big red is mixed with Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to give you a full-bodied demonstration of dense blackberry, black currant, dark plum, toasted oak, dark baking spices and baked earth tones.  Seeing malolactic fermentation in barrel and aged ten months in French oak, this red struts its brawn with thick, creamy black fruits and finishes with exceptional concentration.  I was really drawn to the package, which kind of leapt off the warehouse shelving, and its moniker appealed to my own overblown sense of New Age geekiness – “mestis” means a mix of races.

And speaking of groovy labels and ridiculously affordable price tags, the one Eric Solomon French I tried at this sitting was the Le Loup dans la Bergerie Rouge Vins de Pays du Val de Montferrand 2008 (Grade=Outstanding), a very cool blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Merlot and 30% Grenache by vigneron  Jean Orliac.  Aged completely in tank, this lively, medium-bodied red possesses splashy red and black cherry tones, hints of white pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, mineral and dark tea leaves.  I was really impressed with this little number, as it clocked in under $9, which is just a crazy price for what is in the bottle.

Next time, I want to tell you all about an awesome winery VS introduced by to by the name of 4 Bears.

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