Living Well in Litchfield County, Connecticut

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Conversations with Ira Smith of Kent Wine

Ira Smith, owner and operator of Kent Wine for over 20 years, serendipitously fell into the liquor business after helping out his then girlfriend’s father in his newly acquired liquor store. Smith’s career progressed to working for a family-owned fine wine importer and distributor where one day he overheard a colleague mention that a wine store in Kent was for sale. Smith partnered with a friend with the intention of a quick flip. That was 1995. By 2000 Smith ditched the blazer to operate Kent Wine.

1. What do you love about your industry? 

I know how lucky I am to continue to enjoy the relationships and experiences born of my tenure in the wine trade. Eating with best friends at Maison Lameloise in Chagny to making new friends at Santiago’s raucous Mercado Fish Market. Discovering that it doesn’t have to be Grand Cru to be great, Premier Cru will be just fine, thank you. 

2. What liquor and or wine do you think is overrated?  

Anything remotely related to Pappy Van Winkle bourbon continues to be wildly overpriced. Finding value in Burgundy and Brunello continues to require constant research.

3. And underrated?

We tend to recommend less well-known bargains including Kavalan whiskey (Taiwan), Boyd & Blair vodka (PA), Nonino amaro (Italy), and interestingly, Petit Chateaux Bordeaux.

4. What are the most popular items sold during the holiday season?

Interestingly, consumers typically buy better quality and spend more for their recipient than themselves. Is this consumer altruism? Popular gifts include Clase Azul tequila, red Bordeaux, Paolo Scavino Barolo, aged Colheita port from Kopke, and rioja from Lopez de Heredia, and Doisy Daëne L’Extravagant sauternes.

5. What makes for a good hostess gift during the holidays?

The unexpected and always appreciated is to greet your guests with an ice-cold Copita of Fino sherry from Lustau or Gonzales Byass. A flute of crisp dry crémant rose from Victorine de Chastenay or a brut rose champagne from Henri Billiot will always be welcome. Either will bring smiles to your guests.

6. What are some of your favorite local spirits?

Without a doubt the Baker family at Litchfield Distillery has been crafting spirits that we recommend on merit and not just as a local. What many people don’t know is that they are also very committed and generous to the greater Litchfield County community. Hopkins Vineyard and Millbrook Vineyards & Winery also have wide appeal.

7. What life lessons has wine taught you?

Making good wine has many parallels to how we try to live our best life. Respect for nature, commitment, and determination to persevere vintage after vintage. Chateau Ausones’ Pascal Delbeck said his best wines were made in the most difficult (frost, hail, rain, sunburn…) vintages. There are two types of wine; wine I like and wine I don’t like. The truth is always in the bottle no matter what we thought before the cork comes out.

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