Monthly Archives: January 2009

Free The Grapes!

shacklesI stumbled across a great organization dedicated to breaking the stronghold distributors have on our antiquated wine shipping laws.  Free The Grapes! is a grassroots effort that seems to focus on wineries, but recognizes that retailers are constrained as well. If you sign up for their email list, they will keep you up to date when shipping laws are up for debate in your state.  They also have a great mascot named Shackles.

A great deal of shipping news has been appearing on as of late; none have contained good news.  Michigan and Illinois both seem to be moving in the wrong direction.


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Filed under Wine Laws

Changing Of The Guard At 33 Wine Bar

In St. Louis we are incredibly fortunate to have the 33 Wine Bar, an eight-year-old institution tucked into Lafayette Square.  It is minimalist – no TV, no smoking, no sign to proclaim its existence.  What it does contain is our city’s best wine list at very fair prices, a wonderful patio and an exceedingly knowledgable staff of three who I let choose my wine (a responsibility that I do not often relent).

As of today, the founder and owner of 33, Jake Hafner, has taken the first step to moving on from the building that was his life for those eight years.  The business is truly a reflection of his personality – subtle, stylish and full of substance.  It is a haven for those who relish the complexity of wine, both on the label and in the glass, but have not lost sight of its hedonism.

I heard the news late last night and stopped by 33 this evening after leaving work in a snow storm.  I felt the need to congratulate Jake, and to thank him as well.  The man has hardly had a day off in the last eight years, let alone a vacation.  I am truly indebted to him for the wonderful memories I have accumulated there thus far.  I also had to get one more recommendation from him.  I came away with a 2001 Helmut Mathern Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese (which is the greatest name for a vineyard this side of Naylor Dry Hole in California) for $27.

My other intention was to meet the new proprietor of the business, Jeff Stettner, who is a close friend of Jake’s.  He was in the industry in California before moving to St. Louis four years ago.  It sounds as though he has exciting developments in store, and I came away with the impression that the business and its integrity are in good hands.  I look forward his recommendations and hospitality.

For those of you who have enjoyed a glass or three at 33, raise your next to Jake.

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Filed under St. Louis Wine Scene


How can a rice-based beverage smell like citrus fruits?  This is the new question confronting me.  I love these moments – when a beverage is redefined.  The experiences must be sought, and often the attempts lead to disappointment, but the few successes are worth the effort.  In this evening’s case, a cold and snowbound night in St. Louis, the opportunity came in the form of an improptu tasting of new products that will be entering the market in the coming weeks.

A friend of mine has spent a significant amount of time in Japan.  Two weeks ago he brought a saké from his travels to a casual dinner.  That saké became my epitome of the beverage.  Milky, smooth, nutty and clean.  The saké I had this evening expanded the boundaries.  The four examples ranged from a lesser version of my friend’s example, to one near it’s equal, to another that was sweet and pleasant, and finally to the one that declared a spectrum previously inconceivable.

I will post the specifics of the products when I have them.

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Filed under Drinks

Reserve Room List

It seems that the VIP reserve room list that was provided on the official website was actually a list of the wines that would be poured at the new Premier Event on Friday night.  The two wines that I had me most excited, Clos Apalta and Dom Ruinart, were not to be found.  The Krug was also absent from the floor.  The other two I mentioned, the Long Shadows Project and the Josmeyer, were wonderful.

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Filed under St. Louis Wine Scene

St. Louis Food and Wine Expo

Food and Wine ExpoThis will be my fourth year attending the St. Louis Food and Wine Expo at the Chase Park Plaza, which is presented by Schnuck’s.  It is our city’s premier event for the wine drinking public.  Though boutique producers are largely absent from the event, there are hundreds of good wines to try.  Paying double the admission price gives you access to the VIP reserve room with an impressive lineup.  I am particularly looking forward to the Dom Ruinart and Clos Apalta.  Others to look for are the Long Shadows Project, Josmeyer and Krug (of course!).

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Filed under St. Louis Wine Scene

Nicholson-Jones Wines

The incredible variety of wine makes it an impossible subject to truly master.  There are some great wines that are made in too small of numbers for more than a few people to enjoy.  Domaine Romanée-Conti, which is pictured above, is an example, but rarity does not always mean that the wine will be $5,000 per bottle.

For those of us in the St. Louis market, our boutique winery is called Nicholson-Jones out of California.  The wines are made by Julien Fayre, who will be in The Wine Merchant this Saturday, along with the owner Cal Nicholson.  Cal is from St. Louis, which is the only market where the wines are available.

My common complaint about a wine from California is the overripe fruit, the excessive alcohol content and the dominance of oak masquerading as complexity.  This is not the case with the wines of Nicholson-Jones which are very well balanced and nuanced.

The winery’s second label is called Cellar Arts.  These wines are all below $50 and they make many of the more expensive wines from California look silly.  The Cellar Arts Cuvée at $40 is the best example.  This Cabernet-based blend is soft and complex, with dark-skinned berry and tree-fruits like cassis and plum.

On Saturday we will also feature the Cellar Arts Rutherford Reserve.  The fruit is from a famous vineyard in the Rutherford AVA, but Cal is not allowed to release the name of the source.  He brought a bottle by for us to preview last night.  It is rich, but not syrupy.  The quality is shocking for $50.

The powerful Nicholson-Jones Cabernet will also be on display.  The structure of the wine tells me that it will be able to keep in bottle for many years.  I’ve already got my bottle laying down.

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Filed under Producers, St. Louis Wine Scene, Tastings

1845 Madeira!

1845 Cossart Gordon Madeira Bual Solera, Bottled in 1971

Last night I had the fortune of tasting wine from t1845 Cossart Gordonhe 19th century.  Madeira is the immortal wine; impervious to heat and oxygen, which it is subjected to over many years of aging in large barrels called pipes.  The Cossart Gordon spent one-hundred and twenty-six years baking, oxidizing and evaporating in its barrel before it was finally bottled.

Madeira is an island in the Atlantic that falls under Portugal’s jurisdiction.  It was a major stop on colonial trade routes.  Early wines produced on the island deteriorated before they reached their destination.  It was only after the practice of fortification became widely used that the true potential of Madeira was revealed.  It was found that the wines tasted considerably better after rolling around in the hull of ships going to destinations around the world.  It was the most popular beverage in the American colonies – it is the wine that was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.

My last post was a rant on the ridiculous nature of tasting notes so I’ll do my best to maintain my dignity through this one:  It was as brown as coffee and the legs never fell from the glass.  The nose and texture were akin to maple syrup.  It was sweet, but not cloying.  For as high of an alcohol content as it had, it did not burn the palate like port often does.  In a word – delicious!

It served as the climax of a wonderful meal at The American Restaurant in Kansas City.  Due to its indestructible nature, Madeira is able to be offered by the glass.  It was an ideal accompaniment to the dark chocolate tort we had for dessert.

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