Friday, June 28, 2013

Daniel Kuhlman on Colorado Wines

Owning a wine bar that is in Colorado always attracted a wide variety of customer opinions about local wine. Some people didn't care a bit but others were really passionate about it. Those in between were pleased when I offered something decent at a reasonable price. But, I often had to dance a fine line with my clientele over the years. I am a big fan of buying local. I did so whenever I could. But with local state wines (except California) it is not always possible. Before you get upset, let me explain.

In addition to Colorado, I've lived in New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina and Nebraska. They all have their own vineyards and the locals are very proud of them. But, I ran a business that was judged on the quality of the wine I poured. In a previous blog, I said that I tasted over 5,000 wines and that 25% of them were not very good. The ratio of quality to price is what was important to me. Let's say that I found a wine and I gave it a ratting of 89 on the wine scale. If I could serve that wine at $8-9 a glass, I'd do it. But if I had to serve that wine at more than $10 a glass, my customers would complain an then not come back because they felt that my wine bar was too expensive.

Now, most of Colorado wines are a little pricey. And understandably so. They have to make a profit so that they can stay in business. So they calculate what their costs were and they mark it up to sell to distributors. The distributors then market it up to make a profit. This is called cost-plus pricing. And it works when you have similar quality products competing in the same segment. BUT, when you have another product that is lower in cost (market priced) but higher in quality, it places the cost-plus product at a disadvantage. Then you compound the problem by adding higher priced, market-priced wines that are superior in quality and you end up with a situation where the cost-plus product just can't compete.

I believed in my heart that, in general, the wines produced by Colorado vineyards were not up to the quality of similar priced wines available from the rest of the world. Am I slamming them. Absolutely not! This is the natural evolution that this type of product must go through in order to reach its true potential.

In fact, over the years, there were a quite few wines that I placed on the menu because they met my quality:price ratio. Among them the 2004 Guy Drew Cabernet Franc. I didn't like the 2005 or later though. I wonder what happened. The 2006 Garfield Estates, Fume Blanc. The 2007 got a little wimpy on oak though. The 2008 Two Rivers Merlot was decent too. The owners son is awesome! The Olathe Claret (it's blended so don't worry about the vintage) was always welcome on my menu. Sorry I couldn't find the link to their site. All of these wines I could sell for $8 a glass and the customer was always pleased. Pleased that I had something from Colorado and pleased that the quality:price ratio was right (although they were unaware of this criteria).  Much of the rest of Colorado wine, if it was good enough, I had to sell for over $10 and invariably the customer was disappointed. So I stopped doing it.

The Fume Blanc Label and they even make Jelly from it!

The best market for local wines is either through the vineyard itself or at retail where those who want to spend a few dollars more to support their local vineyards can do so at a smaller price than at a restaurant. If you can find a vintner who is having a tasting at a restaurant and the price is not bad (dinner inclusive) this is a great way to support them and the restaurant.

I love the fact that Colorado (Western Slope) wines are getting better. I love that they are learning how to experiment with different varietals. I look forward to the day when Colorado is known for it's (fill in the blank here), just like New York is known for it's Riesling from the Central Lake Region. Keep going guys. But don't over inflate the price of the wine compared to the quality. You'll get more customers. Maybe.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Daniel Kuhlman's Favorite Wines - Dom Martino Old Vine Malbec

One of my favorite wines: Don Martino Old Vine Malbec

Martino Old-Vine Clásico - MalbecThis wine was on Daniel Kuhlman's Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro wine list from 2007-2010. It started with the 2003 vintage and ended up with the 2007 vintage. Every time it was put on the wine by the glass menu, it flew off the racks and into peoples glasses. It was on the pricier end of the spectrum for my humble wine bar. Over the years, a glass sold for between $11-13 (prices averaged $9 and topped at $16). I think the new vintage is 2010 but online reviews are looking positive for that one. But if you can get a hold of a 2003, that one drank super nice! 

This wine epitomized my philosophy of quality to price ratio. By far, this wine was the best quality for the lowest cost on my list. Sure there were lower priced wines but not this good. This wine had it all; richness, jamminess and subtlety (you might think it oxymoronic but its not). The old vines made it really special. Tried the Reserva but the plain old old vine is the ticket.

Malbec is one of those cool varietals that is really trendy. There are some really good ones out there and some really bad ones. Watch out for the cheap ones, you get what you pay for. I like the ones from Argentina. It used to be a blending grape in France and they have started to use it as a stand alone varietal based on the success of the grape in South America. But it is different in France. It lacks much of the jammy intensity and is a bit too sharp and austere for my palate. It should probably keep it's blending role there.

It started coming from one of the smaller distributors and ended up migrating to Southern Wines who have a much larger national US presence. It should be available for under $20 retail at most decent shops or you can ask them to get it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Normally opening a bottle of wine is a simple as using a wine key. But what is truly frustrating is not having one when you need it; on a picnic, at a vacation rental, or at a friend's house who drinks only beer. You'd never expect to not find a wine key at a wine bar. But, in this case, there wasn't one because Daniel Kuhlman was just wrapping up 3 months of construction to open his the newest Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro at 1033 E 17th Ave in Denver Colorado. Here's how he dealt with this minor setback. A screw, a screwgun and a pair of Leatherman pliers...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Daniel Kuhlman owned Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro

So I owned Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro for seven years and along the way I learned a lot. Enough to probably pass the sommelier test that I never took. People told me that I had the greatest job and I'd tell them that I truly loved my job. After all, I got to taste wine all day long. Vendors would actually come to me with wine to taste. Sometimes they would leave me a bottle or two and sometimes they had to take it with them. It all depended if I was the last stop of the day or not. All in all, I tasted just over 5,000 wines that I kept track of with an excel spreadsheet. But, the truth is that it sounds more romantic than it actually was. 

Like the owner of an ice cream shop or bakery, tasting wine became all business. My job was to find the best wine at the most profitable price point. Of the 5,000 wines probably about 10% were just horrible, 50% were good but totally not worth the price they wanted and 25% were merely average. That left 15% of the wines as suitable for inclusion on my wine list. And the vendors didn't always come when I wanted to taste with them. They'd come in the morning when I didn't want to drink. They'd come with 15 wines and want me to taste them all. They'd come one after another and were waiting 3 deep at the bar. Pretty soon, I never swallowed the wine, I used a spit bucket so I wouldn't get drunk. And after a five or six wines it's really difficult to taste and discern what a wine is all about. I'd go out to dinner with my wife and she would order a flight and want me to do the same. All I wanted was a couple of glasses or a bottle of the same thing. Anything but another tasting. 

But in the end, I still enjoyed the wine and closed my wine bars with a skill and love affair that will last a lifetime. I was at a party in April this year and someone asked me what I thought the white wine was. Without looking at the bottle I swirled, sniffed and tasted and pronounced it Verdejo. Turns out I was right!

Daniel Kuhlman at Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro Uptown, 1033 E. 17th Ave, Denver, Colorado

Daniel Kuhlman's Background

Daniel Kuhlman's Professional Profile. I thought it might be helpful to know something about the person behind the blog. Or you can view my LinkedIn Profile too!