Friday, December 25, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.
Christmas 2009 edition.


1998 Pommery (about $75). A lovely Champagne to sip on a Christmas morning with a truffled cheese omelet in front of a wood fire. Fairly full and robust with mellow apple flavors and a great roasted, toasted finish – just right for this breakfast fare. Enjoy!

2008 Hess Selection Monterey Chardonnay ($12). Good wine for the price – straightforward Chard with rounded fruit and a touch of spicy oak. Buy.

NV Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs ($25). A nice sparkler with touches of dried spices and lots of bubbles. Although the Biltmore Estate is in North Carolina, the Chardonnay grapes come from California’s Russian River Valley. The label says little about this provenance or process, so it may be confusing to customers who think they are buying a Tarheel wine. If you’re just looking for a nice sparkling wine in this price range and aren’t interested in parentage, well, why not? Consider

2007 Domaine du Vissoux Cuvee Traditional Beaujolais ($19). I love this style of Beaujolais with it’s fresh fruit and a gamey, meaty finish. Yet it is light in body and alcohol – 11.5%. My kind of quaffing wine or for drinking with sandwiches and burgers. Buy

2007 Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes ($27). Also light and gamey with a candy finish, but not as interesting as the Vissoux . Consider.

2006 Frank Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45). Sweet blackberries, lots of corn oil and butter, and fruit forward – it’s half way to a reduction sauce in the glass. Still very young. Consider.

Candor California Zinfandel, Lot 2, nonvintage (about $20). Very generous and big wine with ripe black raspberries and caramel flavors and nutty tannins, all clamoring for attention. Few quality houses bother to make nonvintage wines these days because they don’t get much respect from the press and from drinkers who have been told that vintage is everything. But this is a good case study for serious wine drinkers about the possibilities and strategies of making NV wines. Produced by Austin Hope of Treana fame, the Zin grapes are from Lodi and Paso Robles vineyards harvested from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. The ’07 was barrel aged for 12 months, the ’08 for six, and they were blended four months prior to release. It’ll be interesting to see if Hope continues the line and the blending of vintages. (BTW, there are probably some folks in Bordeaux who would like to be doing some blending these days to move its in-between vintages.) Buy.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

NV Taittinger “LaFrancaise” Brut. ($45). Full flavors with citrus peel, cloves and ginger. Minerally. Falls into that category between elegant and robust. Consider.

2006 Paradocx “PDx” Chester County Petit Verdot. ($26). Wherever Bordeaux grapes are grown, Petit Verdot usually can be found as a blender – something to provide backbone in iffy vintages – but there are always vintners trying it as a single varietal, usually without much success. But it works here, falling on the Merlot side of Bordeaux – full, but rounded fruit, touch of chalk, good balance. Not a superior wine but a very nice one. Buy.

2007 Ravenswood “Teldeschi” Dry Creek Zinfandel. ($35). Joel Peterson still has his hand in here, but the grasp seems to be slipping. There is an edge of cranberry citrus that is nice, and the elderberry center is good, too, but the wine becomes increasingly tiresome on the finish. Pass.

2006 Domaine Piron & Lafond “Quartz” Chenas. ($20). Piquant but soft “pouf” of cherry flavors with pleasant touches of sootiness and light tannins. It shows that a light wine can still have presence. Buy.

2007 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port. ($100). Rich and long with lots of young assertiveness in the body – a taut string of red fruit before a finish of figs and jammy blackberries with Baker’s chocolate. I would love to try this once every few months for the next 20 years. Buy.

2006 Roy Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine. ($110). To me one of the highest accolades to give a wine is that it’s very satisfying, and this one certainly is that. Mostly Cabernet (83%) with Merlot and Petit Verdot, this one comes the foothills on Napa’s east side in Soda Canyon. It has rich, intense dark fruits and chocolate with hints of brown, earthy beans and toffee in the finish. Surprisingly approachable with flavorful tannins. Buy.

2009 Macari North Fork Chardonnay “Early Wine” ($17). Each year Macari produces a white nouveau instead of a red, and this one is the wine for people who enjoy Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs – lots of crisp, fruity gooseberries and grassiness with only 12 percent alcohol. Quite enjoyable. Try.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Open Christmas Letter to Mrs. Claus

Dear Mrs. Claus,

May I call you “Sandy?”

This year, I’m sending you my Christmas list because you strike me as a woman who appreciates the really good stuff. And I’m afraid Santa may have been doing too many vodka shots with the elves – you know, red nose, bit of a tummy.

Anyway, there is a lot of really good wine and spirits out there this year at some pretty cool prices. So here’s my Christmas wish list.

If I can get only one gift, let it be a bottle of Château Le Pin. Any vintage. Any size bottle. Be careful it doesn’t fall off the sleigh as you're going over New Jersey.

Next, let’s look at some things that are a little more down to terroir. I’d really appreciate some Syrahs from the west side of Paso Robles – lots of good brands to choose from. And while, we’re at it, a case from New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels area – maybe Craggy Range’s “Le Sol” – would be good if we want to do comparison tastings.

I’ve also been warming up to Grenache, and there are some really good bargains from the South of France in Languedoc. Something from Minervois would be quite nice.

Malbec. I know it’s trendy, but I do like the stuff, especially from south of Mendoza in Argentina. For comparison’s sake, let’s throw in a case of malbec “black wine” from the fountainhead, Cahors.

For Cabs and Merlot, I still like the old country. The 2000 and 2005 Bordeaux vintages are very nice, and, if you think we should do futures, I’d be happy with the 2008. We can defer delivery until 2011.

Oh yes, don’t forget some Barolos and Barbarescos.

Turning to white wines, I’m a sucker for blends from Pessac-Leognan, Chardonnay from Russian River Valley with a modest touch of oak and a few dry Rieslings from Clare Valley.

See what looks good to you at some of those small Champagne houses in a non-vintage brut, and toss in some cava for everyday drinking.

Let’s not forget the locals. How about some Brandywine Valley Viognier, Chardonnay, Italian reds and a little Chambourcin? You choose. You might also want to tuck in a wine trail annual passport.

Now, big question: Is there any chance that you could borrow Santa’s SUV and deliver this yourself? I’ll help you unload. We can ditch the coffee-and-cake routine, and I’ll have some Pommery Cuvee Louise on ice and throw another log on the fire.

Smooth sledding!

This column originally appeared in the December 16, 2009, edition of The NewsJournal.


Until next time....

Roger Morris

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Argentina: Coppola's Retreat & Rolland's Clos

Act One: Early Sunday morning. The plane drops down through the clouds and roars through the rain as we land at Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires' international airport. The warmth tells me that we have switched climates - it's late spring here - but the downpour tells me that the ponies won't be running this afternoon at the international polo matches. Chukker that one off the itinerary.

We are staying today and tonight at Frances Ford Coppola's Jardin Escondido, his townhouse-style retreat in the Palermo Soho district, a low-profile area of city homes and upscale shops. Coppola, who is into commercial lodging these days, still has quarters for the family at the Jardin, but there are also a half-dozen rooms to let, as he slowly tries to turn it into a small hotel that is like staying at someone's residence. And that it is. The rooms are "spartan quaint," with decorating themes of exposed wood, mucho bricks and far-flung cowhides (complete with brands) and area rugs on the floor.

The location is central, and the big living room and enclosed courtyards are for hanging out. The atmosphere is one of feeling welcomes, but not of feeling pampered. A bottle of wine is quickly proffered, and advice on where to wander outside is met with maps and guidebooks. But there are no drinking utensils in the rooms, and the place may be abandoned in the early morning. No matter, go raid the fridge as a couple of other guests and I did.

Act Two: Sunday Evening. We may have missed the polo match, but the tango knows no weather. We are transported by jitney to the Faena Hotel + Universe, an edgy but upscale venue in the city's Art District, where we have dinner reservations before the show. The menu is a pick one of three dishes - a starter and a entree - plus dessert. I have the goat cheese tart and a veal chop, both quite nice, paired with Michel Rolland's 2007 Mariflor Sauvignon Blanc (exotic flavors of ripe gooseberries and whey) and 2007 Pinot Noir (like a Sonoma Coast Pinot, and perhaps the best I have tasted from Argentina).

The show takes place on a relatively small semi-circle of stage in front of our table, but there is nothing small about Rojo Tango, as the show is named. A half-dozen musicians file in first and take their places in a raised orchestra pit off to our right, and, as they warm up, you can tell they are quite good, especially the violinist. Then the dancers appear, several couples, and for the next hour plus we are treated to song and dance. It passes as quickly as the movements of the dancers, who bring tango from its earliest days to its modern incarnations. They are marvelous dancers, moving swiftly and surely, yet, though superb athletes, their legs are not as muscled as ballet dancers.

Rather we are treated to a performance that is like the Lippizaner Stallions meeting Dirty Dancing. Legs snap forward and backward from the knee, left, then right, skimming inches in between the moving legs of their partners. Near the end, a female dancer is suddenly topless, and it is no wardrobe malfunction.

And it's still the first day of our Argentine adventure.



Act Three: South of Mendoza. After raiding the refrig for breakfast (the kitchen staff arrives five minutes before our taxi), we are off to the airport and the flight to Mendoza, the high-and-dry wine mecca literally in the evening shade of the snow-capped Andes.

Our destination is almost two hours south - Vista Flores, the small town that serves as the mailing address for Clos de los Sieta, winegrower and consultant Michel Rolland's magnificent, 10-year-old winery project. In the past decade, Rolland has assembled five French co-partners (a sixth dropped out) with whom he has purchased and planted about a 1,000 acres of irrigated vineyards, built four wineries (his - the fifth - will be completed in 2010) and launched Clos de los Siete Malbec-dominated brand, a delicious and cellarable wine for the bargain price of about $20. Each of the wineries has its own brands and its own enologist, although Rolland does the master blending. Catherine Pere Verge (chateaux Le Gay and La Violette) built the first winery, Monteviejo; next was Benjamin Rothschild and Laurent Dassault (chateaux Clarke and Dassault, respectively) with Flechas de Los Andes; then the Cuvelier family (Chateau Leoville-Poyferre) with Cuvelier Los Andes, and finally DiamAndes (Malartic-Lagraviere), owned by the Bonnie family.

Today and tomorrow we will visit with these partners at their wineries as well as taste and chat with Rolland, arguably the most-influential winemaker in the world - an enlightening and enjoyable assignment!


Act Four: Evenings in the Country. We are staying two nights at the Postales del Plata's Valle de Uco Lodge, and I can't think of a better place to relax and have great food. There is a husband-and-wife team who run the facility, and they are the epitome of attentiveness while allowing guests their privacy. The lodge consists of two low-slung buildings with three or four guest rooms each, a small restaurant and kitchen in another building, and a fourth building with a large lobby and firplace. There is also a vineyard and a swimming pool, and the vegetables are mostly from the lodge's garden (above), irrigated from the melting of the snow caps that loom just behind us. Like most South American facilities of this type, landscaping is not at a premium, but good food and spacious rooms uncompromised.

Tonight, we are eating at the lodge, a dinner of delicious fresh water trout with julienned vegetables prepared in an outdoor clay oven by chef Gladys Bascunan. Later, it's time to wander outside, where a full moon is rising, blotting out by its brightness many of the stars visible in the Southern Hemisphere.

Act Five: Getaway Day. On the morning of the last day, we drive north over first gravel and then rutted dirt roads, crossing small rushing streams, in the are northwest of Tupungato. Our destination is Estancia los Chulengos, an ancestral property owned by the Palmas, a family of professionals living in Mendoza. It is somewhat isolated and still a working farm with livestock and potato growing.

There is a beautfully decorated lodge - the mother is an architect and one of the daughters an interior designer - and this would be a fantastic place to cozy in and work on a novel. But we are here just for a few hours. A couple in our party go horseback riding into the foothills, and I opt for a walk along among a stream lined by the late-spring flowers and dessert shrub. Some bleached-out sheep skulls attest to the harshness or the climate and predators.

Lunch is a beautiful, simply prepared fare, featuring (again) magnificent trout and salsa cooked in a clay oven by the couple who maintain the property. We wash it down with a Rolland Mariflor Sauvignon Blanc and a Monteviejo red.

All too soon, we have to saddle up, head for the airport, then the flight to Santiago for the overnight trip home.





Until next time....

Roger Morris

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

NV Pere Ventura Cava Tresor Brut Nature. ($15). Very satisfying sparkler with rounded fruit and a long, minerally finish. An all-purpose bubbly, very good for sipping or with food. Try.

NV Poema Cava Brut. ($13). Quite nice, almost Champagne-like in its textures and flavors. Buy.

2007 Craggy Range “Le Sol” Gimblett Gravels. ($90). I’ve long believed that Gimblett Gravels is one of the world’s best terroirs for producing full, rich reds – Merlots, Cabs and Syrah – as this one is. I also believe Craggy Range’s Steve Smith is one of the world’s most-versatile winemakers. So – surprise! – I love this one. It’s an upper-Rhone style with rich, deep, cakey blackberry and cranberry flavors. Intense and earthy, yet surprising juicy at the same time. Very mild tannins. For people who can appreciate and afford fine wines, a Strong Buy.

2007 Li Velli Passamante Salento IGT Negroamaro. ($12). Very nice, full-flavored black raspberry tastes with hints of chocolate. Gets a bit “grapey” on the finish as the wine in the bottle disappears. A very good Possibility.

2007 Corison “Corazón” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. ($24). A gift from a friend and somewhat hard to find. But is you do, it’s a beautiful little wine with a delicate, soft core of maraschino cherries with good acidity and a fine chalky, creamy finish. Try.

2008 John-Paul Thévenet Vieilles Vignes Morgon. ($25). Light raspberry flavors with some gamey, root-cellar aromas and flavors. Tightness in the finish. As I drank, I kept wanting a little more from this wine. Pass.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In the Land of Nebbiolo and Truffles



Server shaves Piemonte white truffles for Roberta Ceretto at Ristorante Conti Roero in Montecello. Below, Bricco Asilli "Bernadot" Barbaresco awaits truffle-covered pasta at the family's Piazza Duomo restaurant in Alba.

How can I let fall slip into winter without talking about a marvelous 30-hour weekend I spent in Piemonte - the land of Nebbiolo and truffles - with the Ceretto family, who makes some of the region's best wines? Getting to northern Italy from Bilbao via Brussells and Milan was a bit of a stretch, but the view was worth the flights and the two-hour car ride.

Ceretto as it exists today is primarily the work of two brothers, Marcello and Bruno, who took over the family business and leveraged it at a time when the big Nebbiolos - Barolo and Barbaresco - were beginning to become highly prized and in great demand by the international wine community. Today, the brothers have been joined by a daughter and a son from each of these two branches.
The weekend gets started around noon Saturday on just the right note - lunch in a small restaurant in Serralunga - with Bruno's son, Federico, who is charge of export markets, and his wife, Manuela. "I love Serralunga because it's the one town that still has all the old buildings," he says. The restaurant - Vinoteca Centro Storico - has four tables and lots of wine. We grab one and pop a bottle of Delamotte Rose, which Ceretto distributes. Then we open a bottle of 2004 Bricco Rocche "Prapo" Barolo, a lovely, dark, but quite accessible wine that goes great with my pasta ragu with veal scallops. "Barolo is always a discovery," Federico says, and we discuss whether or not Barolo is a difficult wine to appreciate, especially young. I think not, but then I haven't been a virgin wine drinker in years. The Prapo, Federico says, is one of 15 labels for Ceretto, six of which are single-vineyard brands.

It is a sunny afternoon when I get to my lodging for the night - Bricco Rocche, the small but famous Ceretto hilltop winery with its signature tilted glass-cube observatory overlooking the town of Barolo and some of the region's most famous vineyards. A little haze is obscuring the Alps in the distance, but the sights are nevertheless breathtaking.

That evening, I have dinner with Federico's sister, Roberta, who handles public relations for the firm, and her husband, Giuseppe, an architect who works during the week in Milano. We meander along backroads that remind me of my native Appalachians in the closing darkness to Alba, where we magically find a parking spot near the duomo, a minute's walk from the family's famous Piazza Duomo restaurant on the second floor above a more-casual trattoria.

We are ushered through chef Enrico Crippa's dazzling kitchen to a glass box where's the chef's table is located. Crippa, in a spotless white tocque and a beard-lined face that a Renaissance painter would have loved, stops by to consult on the food and the wine. It is a delightful evening talking with this energetic pair while enjoying Crippa's creative but very accessible dishes. It is truffle festival weekend in Alba, so we know the truffles will be shaved, and Ceretto's magical liquids will flow. We start with their white Blange Arneis, a variety that Ceretto helped popularize while revitalizing white production in the region, go through a 2004 Bricco Asilli "Bernadot" Barbaresco and finish with a family-produced grappa.

Back at the car, Giuseppe hands Roberta the keys, and they drop me off at the quiet winery.

The next morning, I awake to find a "floatilla" of hot-air balloons cruising through the valley with the crystal-clear Alps shining in the morning sun. I try to count them as they duck in and out among the hills, but I lose track at around a dozen.

At mid-morning, Roberta picks me up, and we go dashing through the valley, touring the family's wineries, walking through vineyards, admiring groves of hazelnut trees and stopping at the family's famous David Tremlett chapel with its wild colors. In the small town of Gallo - a name with a haunting familiarity - we pause for a cappucino. In Alba, Giuseppe rejoins us for a drive to the mountain town of Montecello where we have a delightful lunch at the Ristorante Conti Roero. Several folks stop by to say hello, and one lady, a truffle merchant, sends over a large tuber to our table. Served on a salad with freshly cooked eggs, it is delicious.

We drive back to Alba, where Giuseppe says goodbye and melts away into the festival crowd. Roberta and I watch the neighborhood flag-twirling event, wander through the marketplace of truffle and foodstuffs booths and have another coffee before heading to the Monsordo Bernardina winery with its rounded, grape bubble of a tasting room suspended over a hillside vineyard.

While waiting for my car to come, I taste some wines - the 2007 Rossana Dolcetto, 2007 Montsordi Langhe Rosso, 2005 Zonchera Barolo and the 2005 Brunate Barolo. They are all delicious, and my mind floats back to the early 1980s when I first became aware of Ceretto and its Piemonte treasures.

That evening, I arrive at a hotel on the edge of the Milan airport and re-pack for an early-morning flight to Madrid and then home. I sleep the beautiful rest of the totally satiated.
At bottom, the grape bubble tasting room floats over the vineyards at Monsordo Bernardina. Below, David Tremlett's Chapel is now a local landmark.





Update on Articles

Among recently published articles:
> In the just-published Intermezzo, I have multi-page, text-and-photo spread on the wine, food and culture of Cahors.
> Want to know how to get the most out of winemaker tours? Read "Make Wines, Will Travel" in the December issue of Beverage Media.
> The fountains of the Brandywine Valley's Longwood Gardens are legendary, and in the December issue of Signature Brandywine, you can read about the man who keeps things flowing, Colvin Randall - "Keeper of the Fountains."
> The vineyards of the Rhone valley are blanketed with large-sized stones that the French amusing call "pebbles." I write about the most famous one, Chateaufneuf-du-Pape in the November/December issue of Sommelier News (http://www.internationalsommelier.com/). It's called "Pebble Beach." Want more Grenache and Syrah? Try "When in Rhone" in the holiday issue of Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Quarterly.
> Have you ever wanted to have your portrait painted? Teresa Fort did, and I follow her relationship with the potraitist David Larned in "The Sitter and the Painter" in the winter issue of The Hunt. In the same issue, Chris Curtin of Eclat Chocolates encourages us all gain a few pounds in "Chocoluxurious."
> Finally, I'm now contributing to Chester County Dwell, a beautiful local site at http://www.ccdwell.com/. Read about how the Galer family is restoring the old Folly Hill winery.
> PPS. Buy my book! We only been out a month, but The Brandywine Book of Food has already sold over 700 copies. The ultimate holiday gift.
Until next time....
Roger Morris

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2004 Kluge SP Albemarle County Brut Rose ($28). Pinot Noir + Chardonnay from Virginia’s hunt country south of Charlottesville – firm-bodied with light strawberry and cranberry flavors and pleasant bitters around the edges, put the flavors stop short just as it gets ready to plunge down the throat. A Possibility.

2006 Waterson Napa Merlot ($18). Some nice rich cherry flavors, but the finish is a little thin and a little green as in cherry stems. Pleasant, but Pass.

2007 Clos de los Siete Mendoza ($19). A delicious rich red blend with lightly gamey dark cherry flavors, a touch of creamy chalk and a long finish of chocolate tannins, this is a wine worth having cases of in the cellar for current and future enjoyment. (I was in the Uco Valley tasting wines last week at this five-winery estate put together by Michel Rolland and six Bordeaux partners, which is why there are not more wines in this week’s lineup.) With this quality at this price, an enthusiastic Buy.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2007 Sebastiani Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($18). This has the taste of a wine suffering from too much tinkering in the cellar. There is a nice touch of ripe Pinot Noir fruit in the beginning, but the finish has a rough, chalky minerality – it just doesn’t knit. On this one, take a Pass.

2008 Coltibuono Cancelli IGT ($11). This is a great little food wine, Italian-style, from a noteworthy Tuscan estate. Sangiovese (70%) gives a crisp cherry rasp at the front, while Syrah (30%) provides an earthy, gamy finish. Try.

2006 Montes Napa Angel “Aurelio’s Selection” ($90). The Montes brand appears to adapt seamlessly to terroir – first in Chile, then in Argentina and now in the U.S. It seems they do everything well. In this case, using all Cabernet grapes from the south valley, they have constructed a full but not too-powerful wine that features a rising cream of dark blackberries enveloped in a cocoon of somewhat assertive tannins that provide good drinking now but promise even better times a few years down the road. This is one of those “not” wines – modern and New World but not overly fruit forward, not too tannic and not too alcoholic, even at 14.8. If you have the cash, a definite Buy.

2007 Michel Tete “Domaine du Clos du Fief” Julienas ($20). In most cases, “serious” Beaujolais comes off like a precocious teenager trying to dress up in adult’s clothing. But that isn’t the case here. This is a lovely wine with considerable sophistication, the Gamay appealingly playing to its Pinot Noir side – ripe cherries and a good touch of balancing tannins. If you’re thinking about an everyday Bourgogne or a Macon rouge, try this one instead. Buy.

2008 Jackson Estate “Shelter Belt” Marlborough Chardonnay ($22). Don’t look at the label and you might mistakenly be talking about what a great "Chablis" this is – firm red apples, a minerally backbone and a pleasant chalky finish. Quite a bargain price, too. Buy.

2006 Z52 “Truchard Vineyard” Napa Valley Zinfandel ($24). People who teach creative writing often have problems explaining to students why their work didn’t get better marks – nothing wrong with it, but just not that “creative.” This wine is a little like that – it’s dark, olivey, rooty, medicinal flavors are fine, though a little heavy on the palate. It speaks to me, but I wish it would sing. Pass.

2007 Va La Vineyards “La Prima Donna” Pennsylvania white blend ($35). You could be forgiven for not being interested in trying an expensive blend of Malvasia Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Petit Manseng and Tocai coming from Avondale, PA – but you would be missing something special. Proprietor Anthony Vietri keeps getting better with this blend – exotic spices and floral notes with a minerally, savory, tangy finish. It went perfectly with our Thanksgiving pheasant with an apple cider sauce and spicy couscous. Buy.

2007 Chateau Lafon Sauternes (375 ml/$19). We also had this little sweetie with the pheasant as a continuing exercise in testing Sauternes as a table wine. It’s a nice pour – though more sturdy than elegant – with the requisite cane sugar, beeswax, candied fruit flavors matched by good acidity. It also went quite well with the bird, though neither the pairing nor the wine were as impressive as the Prima Donna (op. cit.) A Possibility.

2003 Ceretto “Zonchera” Barolo ($47). This is the most accessible of Ceretto’s fine line of Nebbies, and its mix of dried and fresh dark cherries, smart tannins and savory/spicy notes provide good drinking now and promise for the future. I thought my notes might have been influenced by tasting this wine at the truffle festival this fall, but a re-tasting this week convinced me I just wasn't being a tuber. Buy.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Colman Andrews' Irish Country Cooking

Colman Andrews is literate, he loves food and the people who grow and prepare it, and he is inquisitive and thorough. Is it any wonder that he is perhaps the most highly regarded food writer and editor by America's cooknescenti?

It's Thanksgiving morning, just after daybreak. Fog lays thick in the denuded woods outside my window, Lyle Lovett the cat is purring in my lap, and a Bloody Mary is at the ready beside the keyboard. Could there be a more-ideal setting to again leaf through Andrews The Country Cooking of Ireland (Chronicle Books, $50) which arrived at my door a couple of weeks ago?

Even before getting to the chapters and the recipes, it's fun to rummage through the front of the book. Andrews' "A Note on Ingredients" is like a mini-seminar on foodstuffs. Witness, "Sugar is standard granulated sugar, unless powdered, superfine (known in the United Kingdom as "castor sugar"), or brown sugar is specified. Brown sugar should be unrefined, like Demerara or turbinado." Makes you want to see what he says about bacon and butter.

But the meat and potatoes are in the chapters that are arranged basically by foodstuffs - soups, eggs and cheese, savory pies, potatoes ("the definitive food"), breads, puddings and confections; there are 17 in all. Most of the text is in the hundreds of recipes, although there are fascinating sidebars on topics such as "How to Serve Irish Smoked Salmon" and "Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spud." The recipes are mostly within the reach of those of us who like to dabble in the kitchen without worrying about speed or technique - the tin chefs - but they are not dashed off, instead each considered as carefully as an Irishman would a simple glass of whiskey.

Photography is by Christopher Hirsheimer, in her own way as well-regarded as Colman, and is a proper mixture of dishes, people, and scenery.

There are almost 400 pages in all, as thickly larded as Ulster Fry (page 149) with thoughts and information, yet I emphasize that it is not heavy slogging but instead a delightful meandering as across a stone-rimmed meadow. Buy this book, and, on a cold winter's morning, pull it down from the shelve and get settled in front of a hickory fire with a cup of percolated coffee. Find a recipe that will define your noontime dinner or an evening supper - it won't take long - and, as the sun rises and begins melting the rime, start laying out the ingredients on the wooden sideboard.

Until next time...

A personal note: I loved writing for Colman when he was founding editor at Saveur, and I always looked forward to his commentaries on restaurants in the late, lamented Gourmet (a subject for an Irish wake, that).

Roger Morris

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2004 Tomaresca Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte Aglianico ($36). Wow! This is a gorgeous wine – generous, but with good structure, complex with moderate tannins, but easy to drink. From a grape indigenous to this region of Puglia, it carries none of the rustic qualities often associated with Italian native reds. Buy.

2007 Liberty School Central Coast Syrah (about $12). The Hope family for years supplied grapes for the Caymus brand, and now that they are teaching the School, they have added Syrah to the Cab and Chard selections. This is a solid one, not fancy or complex, but with firm flavors and a finish of Paso Robles neighborhood savory funk. Consider.

2006 Rocca Family Cabernet Sauvignon ($75). This wine didn’t knock me out, but it gave me a strong kiss on the cheek. It’s dark and murky the way Silverado Trail wines can be with a finish of Bakers chocolate and blackberries left to shrivel on the vine. It’s almost Syrah/Shiraz-like the same way some Barossa Cabs are. It has some rough edges when poured directly from the bottle, so decant a couple of hours before, not for accessibility but for table presence. Strongly Consider.

2008 Hess Select Lake County Sauvignon Blanc ($12). Although I’ve found the Hess line to be uneven in recent years, this is a nice, fruity but balanced Sauvignon in the California style. I liked the fact that when I went back to it a day later, then 2 days later, it held up quite well. In a crowded category, I would consider it A Possibility.

2006 Castellroig “Terroja” Penedes ($40). I wanted to like Chris Campbell’s line of C&P Spanish wines better than I did during a pairing this week at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington with Jason Barrowcliff’s cuisine (splendid again). But I did like this one. It’s a style that’s not in vogue – lots of mellowing oxygen as compared to crisp fruit freshness. It has that floral flavors coming from lees, and there’s melon rind in the finish. It’s not up to me to tell you whether it’s worth 40 bucks, but my feeling is that rank-and-file winos won’t think so. A Possibility.

2008 TempraTantrum Malpico ($10). The Osborne family has spot- marketed this line of Tempranillo blends in the U.S., and they should be coming to a wine shop near you soon. There are four Tempranillo blends – with Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz and Grenache – and I found all of them fresh, flavorful and good food wines. Definitely Try.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sauternes for Thanksgiving? A Pheasant Idea!

For my late mother-in-law, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without roasted turkey and baked ham, both of which tended to be on the bland side. She also demanded I bring to the table each year my sage-flavored sausage stuffing that had the requisite number of calories and fat grams. For wine, I would try to overpower the lifeless white meat by pairing it with a big California Chardonnay or a white, earthy Rhone and then match the ham and dark turkey meat with a Pinot Noir.

This year, I’m going to try some rather different.

My bird of preference is not turkey but pheasant (I get the game-farm variety at Country Butcher in Kennett Square), sometimes with sliced apples in a light Calvados or cider sauce, sometimes with savory spices cooked in its own juices on top the stove in a Dutch oven. And to drink with it, I’m having a chilled young Sauternes. Yes, an elegant sweet wine instead of the traditional dry table wine.

I made this decision a few months ago while I attended a Sauternes and Barsac tasting in New York at the Latin/Indian fusion restaurant, At Vermilion. The point of the tasting, led by a bunch of young owners of these classic Bordeaux estates, was that Sauternes is not just a dessert wine or something to have with rich foie gras. Rather it could work quite nicely as a table wine to go along with spicy foods.

So the restaurant prepared hot but elegant dishes with oysters, shrimp and lobster, and the young Bordelaise were right – Sauternes worked. Usually, we try to match flavors of food and wine, but it’s also enjoyable to balance, in this case, hotter foods with sweet sauternes having good acidity and soothing fullness. I became an instant convert.

Then Aline Baly, the American-educated proprietor at Château Coutet, explained how her mother wanted to eat like the Americans when the family relocated temporarily from France to Boston, so on Thanksgiving she fixed a turkey but paired it with the family’s Sauternes. It became their standard.

So I’m now contemplating the bird and the bottle. I’ll probably go deep savory with the pheasant, perhaps with a touch of truffles or nuts (roasted chestnuts, toasted pecans?) along with some rosemary and black pepper. I’m still open to suggestions, but nothing fruity or sweet. The Sauternes will be a young one that emphasizes the citrus elements of the wine and its refreshing acidity.

Of course, there is always a Plan B. I’ll have some late-disgorged, yeasty champagne at-the-ready in the fridge just in case.

(This column also appears in The NewsJournal.)

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brandywine Book of Food. Available by Mail, but not on Amazon.com.

Update on prior postings: The Brandywine Book of Food has now been published, is getting great pre-holiday sales, is available on line and at many shops and signings are now taking place. But it will NOT be available on Amazon.com. Go to www.brandywinebookoffood.blogspot.com. for info.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

10 Things I Love About Rioja: Harvest 2009


Rioja 2009 - Racking at La Rioja Alta (top) and grape sorting at Dinastia Vivanco (below).
It is always nice to return to Rioja. It had been three year since I lasted visited - the fall of 2006 for the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Marques de Riscal Hotel in Elciego - and I was fortunate to be able to come back this October as the 2009 harvest was wrapping up.
About 16 wineries later, I was on the flight home and made some notes about why I love the area so much:
1. Rioja's traditional wines - the reservas and gran reservas - continue to improve, and most are still great bargains. For those attracted to food-friendly, Bordeaux-style wines at affordable prices, stock up here.
2. But along with the old, new red wines are blossoming. Even traditional wineries are making fruit-forward, single-varietal wines from such grapes as graciano and garnacha which flourish in the warmer Baja region. Some of them are stunning and, as Spaniards still love the traditional wines, many of these newer-style wines are available in the U.S.
3. Rioja has the food to pair with the wine, and tapas-hopping along Logrono's Calle del Laurel is a great way to spend a weekday evening.
4. No wine region has better architecture. Everywhere you look, wineries are trying to out-do each other with eye-grabbing building styles for their cellars and tasting rooms.
5. The Dinastia Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture is worth a trip alone. It is simply fascinating and huge in its size and range of coverage. Most wine museums consist simply of some old presses and tractors, and there is no way that I can describe this one and do it justice.
6. Rioja has great old wine towns. If you get a chance, walk through three - Elciego with its Gehry Hotel and ancient churches within a hundred yards of each other, Laguardia with its hillside fortress outlook and narrow streets where cars are banned, and Haro, which is where the industry once did, and still does, bustle.
7. The winemakers are fascinating. Get into a conversation with the eponymous Telmo Rodrigues, the equally eponymous Jorge Muga, or La Rioja Alta's Julio Saenz and you'll understand what winemaking is all about.
8. The scenery is fascinating, regardless of the weather. The broad sweep from mountains to mountains across the broad Ebro valley and its tributaries wears equally well the moodniess of rain or the exuberance of sun.
9. The white wines are getting better, as new grape varieties are being allowed. At least you're no longer tempted to order a crianza with poultry.
10. The entry point to the region is Bilbao. Bilbao will never be San Francisco (Napa's entry point) or Adelaide (SE Australia), but it combines a cosmopolitan air (the Guggenheim region) with a lot of rough port-town edges that always make it alluring.
I'll be back.
Until next time....
Roger Morris

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jura Winemakers Seek Breakout Strategy


I just got back from a week in Jura - the French wine region, not the Scotch island - and I met some great winemakers, tasted many fine wines, and ate a lot of lovely traditional and modern food. In short, it's a great place to visit with its panoply of towns and villages stretched out over 50 miles or so of rolling foothills of the Jura Mountains west of Geneva.

Jura's problem is not its wines, but its image, or lack thereof. Many stores in the United States carry no Jura wines, and there are some fascinating Jura winemakers who would love to have an importer to bring their wines into this country. Jura's blessing and curse is that it makes both modern and traditional wines, so a lot of people in the trade have difficulty in wrapping their heads around the challenge of how to present all this to wine drinkers. As a writer, I have the same challenges.

OK - after my week in the wineries and in the vineyards (I still have mud on my shoes to prove it), here is my take about what the "story" should be on Jura the wine region:

A few great wine regions have red, rose, white and sparkling wines. So does Jura. But the others don't have vin jaune.

Vin jaune is the golden, oxidized wine that spends ages in the barrels under a web of flor similar to sherry and is not topped up as the wine evaporates during aging. It's not unusual for a winemaker to have multiple vintages spread over a couple of decades ready to sell - great to taste, but confusing to the uniformed consumer.

Vin jaune is delicious - nutty, apply, dried fruits, great acids - but you have to be mentally ready for it. If you're expecting a fresh Chardonnay or Savagnin and take a sip of vin jaune, then your mind wants to call 911 and report a disaster. Yet, when you are ready for it, vin jaune is delicious with a wide array of foods.

So that is what I'll be writing about over the next week for several publications.

One of the great winemakers whose wines are in the United States is Jean Berthet-Bondet. Jean is the guy in the one photo, and he lives in the village of Chateau Chalon atop the hill in the other photo. (Go to http://www.berthet-bondet.net/). Chateau Chalon is the most famous Jura cru and has perhaps the best wines.

Other wines to look out for in your wine stores are Domaine de Montbourgeau (Nicole Deriaux rocks), Jean-Francois Bourdy, Stephane Tissot, Philippe Tissot, Cabelier and Daniel Dugois.

And don't just look for vin jaune. The fresh Savagnins and Chardonnays are lovely, the cremant de Jura sparkling wine has great quality, and the light reds can have the spiciness of Beaujolais crus but with more complexity.

Drink up!

Until next time...

Roger Morris


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coming November 1: Brandywine Book of Food

Filled with 75 recipes from favorite Brandywine regional chefs. With more than 200 color photos of people, prepared recipes and landscapes. Interesting stories about the farmers, winemakers and chefs who grow and prepare the local bounty. Plus an introduction from food guru Colman Andrews.

For more information or to reserve a copy, e-mail us at londonbritain@msn.com.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Monday, August 3, 2009

With a Side Order of Baby Fava Beans?

Did you ever wonder what happens to old pets? Polly cat, the housekeeper for our friends Michael and Jennifer Stillabower, and I got in a little practice this weekend at their beach house in South Bethany. When the time comes, I'm thinking about what would go best with aged white meat that probably tastes a lot like rabbit, not too much fat, a little sinewy. Maybe a 5-year-old white Chateauneuf-du-Pape?

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cultivating Wine & Music at Bouchaine


What is so lovely as a day in July in the Carneros, as the morning fog lifts and sunshine splashes across the vine-covered hills that comprise this cool viticultural area that shares its boundaries with Napa Valley, Sonoma County and San Pablo Bay?

A small group of wine writers were recently guests there of Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, owners of the Burgundian-styled Bouchaine Vineyards, which lays claim to being the oldest continuously operated winery in the Carneros. The facility was resurrected 27 years ago as a partnership, and the Copelands have owned Bouchaine as sole proprietors since 1991.

Although Bouchaine makes a variety of small-lot wines from purchased grapes for sale at the winery tasting room and through its wine club, Bouchaine is best known for its delicious estate-grown Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, in recent years made under the guidance of Michael Richmond. During the days we were at Bouchaine, my fellow writers and I spent many hours in the back of a flat-bed truck, which served as both a forward observation point and a lecture hall as Richmond, the Copelands, and wine production & sales VP Greg Gauthier discussed the fine points of Carneros history, grape growing and wine production. We also tasted Bouchaine wines by the gallons (no spitting, please), including the 2007 Bouchaine "Copeland" Estate Pinot Noir, possibly the best Pinot that Richmond has yet made. Unfortunately, there are only a few hundred bottles of it, and it has not yet been released. Great food? Yes, there was that, too.


But the Copelands are also patrons of the arts, both in Napa Valley and at their primary home in Delaware, so we were invited to attend daily musical performances which were part of the rapidly growing Napa Valley Festival del Sole. Bouchaine is a founding sponsor of the festival, with a special interest in its Bouchaine Young Artist Concert program.


Of course, this is just the icing on the cake. I will be writing more about Bouchaine, Festival del Sole, Carneros and the Copelands in various publications and will keep you posted.












"Darioush, Darioush, will you do the fandago?" (Apologies to Queen.) At a lovely performance of Iranian music at the amphiteater abutting Darioush Winery, proprietor Darioush Khaledi dances with his grandaughter (right) while mezzo-soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai (lower right) accompanies the work of piano virtuoso Anoushirvan Rohani. Below, Tatiana and Gerret Copeland with young cellist Clark Pang after his performance at the Napa Opera House. Upper left, winemaker virtuoso Mike Richmond is satisfied putting grapes to music.












Until next time...

Roger Morris

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thinking Outside the Boxwood



"I like a challenge," Rachel Martin says, and she has one. We should all be so fortunate.

Martin is director of the (relatively) new Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Virginia, and she is in New York City on this July midday with the humidity rising on 53rd Street outside The Modern, that delightful - if painfully punctual in not letting anyone in before precisely 11:30 - restaurant that is an adjunct to The Museum, or perhaps the other way around, debuting her wines to large group of writers. With her are her father and mother, John Kent and Rita Cooke, who own Boxwood, and Stephane Derenoncourt, the Bordelaise wine consultant well-known for very carefully choosing his clients. If the name "Cooke" sounds familiar, John's father, Jack, was a sports and communications impressario best known for honcho-ing the Washington Redskins during their heyday.

Rachel's challenge is that she wants to make Boxwood not just a good regional winery, but a great one sold in key U.S. markets and in France, where she studied winemaking in Bordeaux after a hitch in Napa Valley. With a small winery (maximum cases: 5000; vineyard: 16 acres) and what is currently not considered prime-time cru real estate, that is a challenge that other East Coast wineries have attempted, notably Kluge in Charlottesville, with limited success.

There are three Boxwood wines, all Bordeaux in style and grape contents. Topiary is a Right Bank blend, Boxwood is a Left Bank blend, and a Rose is all Cab Franc. Price for the serious wines is $25, and $12 for the Rose. All are certainly worth their prices.

The first vintages of Topiary and Boxwood were from the 2006 vintage, which the group of assembled wine writers taste, along with the bottled 2007 and the 2008 barrel samples. The 2007s are quite nice, but we are not blown away nor do we expect to be. Derenoncourt, who believes in following the terroir and not leading it, cautions that, while the clay-based Virginia soil is very good for wine, it is not suitable for making big wines, so he settled on elegant ones. The two are certainly that, and their charms rise the longer they are swirled and sipped in large- bowled stemware over plates of rare Colorado lamb. But in addition to their understated, well-balanced fruit, they also have substantial tannins, more sensed than tasted, that bodes well for long aging. And we have to remind ourselves that the vines were not planted until 2004, so it may be another year or two before the wine will justify a price increase.

In short, I taste a very good present and a better future for the Boxwood reds - no white wines allowed - as long as Martin, the Cookes and Derenoncourt stay the course.

One of the best lines of the day - well-honed on previous occasions, no doubt - is Cooke's recounting of the family's lack of financial success with prior forays into farming. "My father lost his shirt with race horses," he says above the chuckling, "and I lost my pants raising purebred Angus." He admits that he would not be the first investor to be completely disrobed in trying to make a great wine that returns a profit.


....

New Publications: What do winemakers groove on (can I still say that?) when they are making wine, and does it change depending on whether they are crushing or racking? The musical answers are in my front-of-the-book piece in the August issue of The Wine Enthusiast (give me a note, and I'll shoot you a scanned copy)... Appellation America recently uploaded to its site two articles of mine on Long Island wineries - one on the lack of vineyard land mass in The Hamptons, and another on the North Fork's potential engagement to Merlot (photos by Ella Morris)... there is a cameo appearance in Amtrak's Arrive magazine that I wrote about their Acela-grade menu... and The Hunt magazine has features of mine on the Spice Guys (local chefs who dare to go beyond oregano) and one on people who collect fine art.

Follow my columns each Wednesday at http://www.delawareonline.com/, click Life, click Food. Tweet? @Battonage.


Until next time....


Roger Morris

Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Bordeaux, VinExpo Calls for VinPartytime












By day, they manned booths, walked miles of exhibit floors, poured wines or tasted them and took part in discussions about the current State of the Vin -- but at night, last week at VinExpo2009, the Bordelaise and their guests from around the world partied on!

Like most guests, I had more invitations than I could accept. I missed some good parties, such as the Grand Crus dinner at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, because I needed to recoup after a tour of Cahors that bumped into VinExpo week. Nine hours of sleep later I was ready to go again.

But I managed to catch some good times as well. First there were annual induction ceremonies such as the ones held by the St.-Emilion Jurade Fete de Printemps (I was honored to be inducted into the society) and the Commadeurs du Bontemps' Fete de la Fleur at Chateau d'Issan on the last night of the exhbition. During the reception for the fete, I paparazzied my hostess for the week, Anabelle Cruse Bardinet, proprietor and winegrower at Chateau Corbin, the blonde in the shot upper left along with her friend Isabelle Perrin of Chateau Carbonnieux.

Then there was the lovely luncheon hosted by Pierre Lurton at Chateau Cheval Blanc (photos below). While munching and sipping, some of us wondered how many cases more of Cheval could have been produced if the lawn where we were eating had been planted to vines instead. Lunch at Chateau Lagrange featured an excellent show-and-drink presentation by director Bruno Eynard of the terroirs and tastes of the estate's various plots and how he blended wines from them to make 2008 Chateau Legrange, which is still in the barrel.

Olivier and Anne Bernard have the reputation of being among the best hosts in Bordeaux, and they kept their record intact with a rollicking outdoor reception and tented dinner at their Domaine de Chevalier for the annual "Tour de France" event with seven winemaking partners (think Pol Roger, Leflaive, Faiveley) from around the country. At Chateau Lassegue, Pierre and Monique Seillan hosted a Bordeaux barbecue (partner and horseman Jess Jackson was a scratch) with tours of the vineyard in classic American sports cars and country music by the Rusty Pants (it must lose something in translation). The fiddler (upper right) may be pure French, but she sure played great downhome American music.






But the highlight of the week just might have been a private tour of Le Pin by owners Jacques Thienpont and Fiona Morrison. Le Pin is an unmarked, small, unpretentious country house, but its basement cellar helped launch the garagiste movement that was instrumental in changing how Bordeaux grew grapes and made wine and is also the source of one of the world's greatest, rarest, most expensive wines.

I'll diet tomorrow.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Visiting with the 26th Generation Antinoris


I just returned from a wine writing assignment in Italy where I had the opportunity to visit several of the Antinori estates and discuss wine and food with the three Antinori daughters who will eventually succeed their father, Piero Antinori, and who represent the 26th generation of the famous family that has been making wine since the 14th Century.
Albiera, Allegra and Alessia Antinori all have primary roles in the family business, all are very friendly, unpretentious, smart and attractive, but they are all refreshingly different in their styles and interests. I look forward to writing about them more in the weeks ahead.
Two other writers and I had dinner with Alessia at La Pinetta restaurant on the Tuscan seashore near the family Tombolo Talasso resort and later lunch with her at their Tignanello Estate in Chianti. Next, an alfresco pig-roast lunch with Allegra at Guado al Tasso, where she also raises thoroughbreds. We had two dinners with Albiera, first at Badia di Passignano and then at the Cantinetta Antinori in Florence, the first of a small chain of restaurants by that name, located just downstairs from the family enclave at Palazzo Antinori and a few steps from the city's famous duomo. In between all this, we also stayed at the Antinori's Fonte de' Medici agritourism farmhouse at Montefiridolfi and visited other estates at La Bracessca and Castello della Sala in Umbria. During this time, we had a wide array of excellent wines with matching Tuscan food.
In short, the enterprise Antinori is amazing in its history and its very modern approach to wine, food and travel. As Albiero and Allegra have children already, a 27th generation of Antinori winegrowers seems like a sure bet.
...
New Publications: In the June issue of The Drinks Business, my article titled "Barmy Days in Balmy Bordeaux" chronicles the 2008 Bordeaux growing season, the anguish of a late harvest, the elation of the vintage's reception at Primeurs and the wacky campaign that followed.
The May/June issue of Sommelier News carries an article I wrote about three wine tastings that each raised an interesting discussion -- about vintage quinta Ports, the orthodoxy of biodynamics, and Moueix and the return of good shippers' Bordeaux. It's called "Cuvees of the Tete."
Please let me know if you would like a pdf of either article.
Twitterdumb: Follow my tweet life on Twitter at Battonage.
Until next time...
Roger Morris

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chablis & France's Long, Cold Summer


Two new articles arrived on my doorstep during the past couple of days -- both, not surprisingly, were about France. Above is the opening page of my cover article on Chablis in the June issue of Drinks magazine. The second is a report on the 2008 vintage in France -- "France's Long, Cold Summer" in the June issue of the Beverage Media publications. If you can't lay your hands on one or two, let me know and I'll send you a copy.
Also, don't forget my Top 5 summer wines at www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/drinking.
Until the next time....
Roger Morris

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

25 Things I Love About the Vineyard





We started going to Martha's Vineyard in the early 1980s, first just Ella and me with a couple of friends who introduced us to it, and then the whole family. Our entry point was a cottage in Oak Bluffs rented from a professor at Syracuse. Later we purchased our own place in Vineyard Haven which we still own -- my brothers Ed (Nashville) and Dave (southern Illinois) and their wives. For a time, when Ella was working in New York City, we went there about twice a month in the summer, usually flying in from Newark or LaGuardia and running about the island in a dilapidated Chrysler convertible -- our beach car -- that we would drive up in the spring from Pennsylvania and drive back in late fall. We close things down in the winter. Usually, my brothers and I will do road trips for opening and closing, arguing the political gamut from refined socialism (Ed) to 60s liberalism (me) to Rush Limbaughism (Dave). We decided after many seasons that road beers are no longer cool and, besides, cause too many pit stops.

Ella and I return less often these days, but there are still many things we love about the place, the first being, in true Vineyarder fashion, that it's not Nantucket.

Let me count the ways:

1. The ferry trip from Woods Hole. A 45-minute ride that caps off a seven-hour drive and gets us slowly re-accomodated to Vineyard culture.

2. Island radio. We turn on WMVY as soon as we get in the door and open up the windows to air out the house. Island radio is not pre-programmed, an indie, so we never know what we're going to hear. But when they play either James (Taylor) or Carly (Simon), we know it's summer again, and we're on the Vineyard.

3. Mid-day drinks at the Harborview in Edgartown. I love this place, even after they remodeled the bar this year. My order is always a Manhattan up, unless I decide to have duck fries (sinful frites cooked in 5% duck fat, 95% oil with melted cheese like/if not Manchego and truffle oil), in which case I'll have a Stella.

4. Browsing the bookstores. The Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven (VH) burned last year but should be back in operation from temp headquarters, but I like even better Edgartown Books, which has a spartan simplicity I love; when I leave there with a new purchase, I feel like a college kid again and want to say, "Gee, that was neat!"

5. Dinners at the BYOBs. There is a contrarian streak at the Vineyard which often slows "progress," which ain't always a bad thing. For some reason, VH, West Tisbury, and Chilmark never repealed Prohibition, so you can drink but not buy there. Favorite BYOBs are Outermost Inn (overlooking Gay Head) and run by James' brother, Hugh, and his wife; Lambert's Cove; Beach Plum Inn (overlooking Menemsha), and Le Grenier in VH.

6. Le Grenier. Jean Dupon steadfastly keeps a menu that might have been served in his native France in the 1970s - rich sauces, lots of organ meat, snails to die for, drenched garlic bread, and, Ella's favorite, creamed spinach. It's a hangout for the VH literati, and it was once common to see Mike Wallace, Art Buchwald and William Styron holding forth. Now, there's only Mike, whom I hope to see some time this year.

7. Letting celebrities go unnoticed. Vineyarders pride themselves on leaving celebrities -- literary or otherwise -- alone. Carly can go shopping without being bugged. Ted Kennedy and his retinue came in once as we were just being seated at the Beach Plum and went through the whole dinner unfawned, except for an exiting diner (not us) who quickly said, "Thanks for all your work," as she walked by. (The only time that I saw people lose their cool was when Bill Clinton was playing golf on a hole fronting the highway at Farm Neck. Several cars stopped, and people started taking pictures.)

8. Shopping Saturday morning at the Farmers' Market in West Tisbury. The farmers look like tie-dyed 60s hippies with their goods displayed on tables, pickup truck beds and Volvo trunks. Cool. The produce is good, it's organic -- and my car smells like fresh basil for a week.

9. Browsing the art galleries. Mainly along Water Street in Edgartown and Main Street in Vineyard Haven plus the Red Barn in West Tisbury.

10. Picking up hitchhikers. The Vineyard is the only place I know where people still "thumb" - something I did during my teen years in West Virginia - and most of the people I pick up are kids, late for their jobs as wait staff at restaurants in another town.

11. Watching sunsets from West Chop. Great view out over the Elizabeth Islands.

12. Lingering over breakfast at the Artcliff. Always bustling, friendly, small. The most-diverse breakfast menu and a good place to become introduced to linguica.

13. The beaches. The great thing about the Vineyard is that it has inlet beaches with baby waves and ocean beaches with granddaddy waves. And, if you're so inclined, there are even nude beaches out around Gay Head. I prefer walking along them in winter to sunbathing, but then I don't have a John Boehner tan.

14. Perusing the Vineyard Gazette. It's a throwback to old-style community newspapers and a bit like an island house - great ambience but needs a paint job.

15. Driving along Middle Road. The essence of the rural nature of the island.

16. The Vineyard airport. It's the cutest small airport, and you can have a good, cheap (for the island) breakfast there -- whether or not you're flying.

17. Ice cream at Mad Martha's. An island institution. Bet you can't eat a cone without it dripping all over you.

18. Walking through Cottage City. Cottage City is a group of Victorian-era, brightly painted small houses at the edge of Oak Bluffs that were part of the summer camp meetings that once flourished here. Great photo stuff.

19. Friday-night lobster rolls. Buy them at the Episcopal Church in VH. Full of great juicy lobster meat.

20. Exploring Chappaquidick. Forget your car - there's a long line in summer to get on the small ferry - and explore the small island off Edgartown by foot or bike instead.

21. Buying fresh fish at Menemsha. This little port is picturesque, but, better yet, you can buy seafood from the island fleet's previous night's catch -- or specially cooked for you.

22. Lying in bed late at night and listening to the fog horns warning ships when the weather gets thick.

23. Returning each year to favorite stores and seeing the new stock. What's up at Midnight Farm and Rainy Day?

24. Island light. It's difficult to describe, but everything seems to glow with a pastel tinge.

25. The just-say-no attitude. Islanders don't do anything they don't want to, no matter how much political pressure there is. No traffic lights, no over-development, no bridge to the mainland. They may need our cash, but we come on their terms.

(PHOTOS by ELLA MORRIS)

Until the next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Writer as a Portrait Artist





Part of the pleasure of being an independent writer is talking with people and telling their stories, and it seems that I have been doing a lot of these pleasurable word portraits recently.
Chef Andy Little (top) of Sheppard Mansion inn and restaurant in Hanover, PA, is profiled in the current issue of Signature Brandywine, as is artist Sarah Lamb, center, with her pug Weezie. To the left is wine importer Peter Weygandt, who looks through a glass lightly in my article in the current issue of The Hunt.
Not all of my recent writing has been about people, however. Just posted to the epicurious.com site are my tips on 5 great, inexpensive summer wines along with matching recipes from the site's Gourmet and Bon Appetit files.
Also a click away is AppellationAmerica.com, where I do my debut article for AA on the Brandywine Valley winegrowing region.
In Drinks magazine's current issue, I talk about Italy's Great White North, which produces most of the Italy's best bianco, and the February issue of Caviar Affair carries my take on the country's best Prosecco region.
More is in the pipeline from my recent visits to the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux. Next up in June: Italy, Cahors and Bordeaux again for VinExpo 2009.
Until next time....
Roger Morris

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tasting Bordeaux '08 as '09 Budding Starts

Returned from Bordeaux last evening after tasting well over 150 blended barrel samples of the 2008 vintage, including top growths Ausone, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Haut-Brion, Mouton Rothschild, Petrus, Margaux, and Cheval Blanc. It was an amazing week, purple teeth and all.

The 2008 vintage is surprisingly good, and will be a great one to buy as futures, as prices are expected to be decreased significantly from the less-impressive '07 due to economic conditions. The overall report on the vintage -- a very long and difficult one in the making -- is excellent fruits and balanced acids producing wines that will be long and velvety as soon as the dusty, chocolate tannins calm down. If there is a knock, it is that not all the tannins are well-integrated in some wines, especially in several second to fourth growths in St. Julian and Pauillac. The dry white Bordeaux were more spotty in their performances.

I'll be writing more on the vintage in a half-dozen publications here and abroad and will give alerts as those appear.

In the meantime, life goes on in the vineyard. Bud break was just beginning at most chateaux during the week of primeurs (Haut-Brion, always early, has young leaves already), and at Chateau Fonplegade (above) farmer Ramone and his horse Ulysse do a shallow turning of the soil on either side of the vine row.

As we celebrate Bordeaux 2008, the 2009 vintage is beginning in the vineyards.

Until next time...

Roger Morris


Monday, March 23, 2009

Me and the Six Degrees of Bottle Shock

I finally saw the movie Bottle Shock on DVD this weekend. Most likely, I was the last American wine writer to do so, even though I had more incentives to do so than most did.

It was early September in 2007 when I went to Sonoma to report on the Buena Vista winery's 150th anniversary party for a couple of publications. At the main press event, we listened to winemaker Jeff Stewart and sommelier Evan Goldberg give information and crack jokes while a fierce, cold wind whipped around the edges of a large tent set up on the highest knoll in the Carneros which overlooked San Pablo Bay. Like the elephant in the room that no one addressed, a couple of hundred yards or so away sat an old shack that seemed out of context to everything else around it. The best explanation I could get then was that it was a prop for some movie. And, as we were leaving the fete, I noticed a car from one of the '60s vintages abandoned beside the road, the driver's door hanging open. A few minutes later, a camera crew -- a very small camera crew -- was shooting a scene in the edges of a vineyard.

Tony Lombardi, a well-known wine PR guy, told me that evening that my observances were of the last day of filming of a movie called Bottle Shock, a low budget indy pic about the Judgment of Paris 1976, at which time the lowly regarded California wines whupped French ass big time. It was being produced, he said, by a Sonoma local, Brenda Lhormer, who also was also in charge of the local film festival. He gave me her contact information.

I later talked with Lhormer, who told me the film was being hurriedly wrapped up in anticipation of being shown at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2008. Sundance is, of course, a reality film event which plucks up talented and lucky independent films and makes stars of its directors and actors, much the same as Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.

A few months later, for a profile of her in La Vie Claire magazine, I enterviewed Heidi Peterson Barrett, the famous Napa winemaker who years ago married into the Barrett family who owned Chateau Montelena. Montelena, along with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, was one of two Napa wineries suddenly thrust into fame at the Judgment of Paris. Montelena made the winning Chardonnay, and Stag's Leap the winning Cab. Heidi, who explained that she and Bo Barrett hadn't yet hooked up when the 1976 competition took place, said their family had just returned from being guests at Sundance. She liked the movie, she said, and thought it was great fun to see a young, sexy actor playing her husband up on the big screen. Oh yes, she had been an unofficial advisor to the film. A few months later, I interviewed Bo himself for an article for Drinks magazine on today's Napa Chardonnays versus the Chardonays of 30+ years earlier, but for some reason we didn't really talk about the film that much.

It was at the Primeurs tasting of 2007 barrel samples last April in Bordeaux that I ran across Steven Spurrier who, as an young English wine merchant and educator living in Paris, conceived of and staged the contest between the upstart Californians and the established Frenchmen. Over dinner with the folks from Lynch Bages at Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, Spurrier said he had not seen the film, and indicated friends who had seen it had warned him he might not like the rather greasy portrayal of himself by actor Alan Rickman.

As I talked with the somewhat elegant English writer, I remembered the first and only time I had visited Montelena. It was in 1978, I think, on my first trip to Napa, because Montelena and Mondavi were the two establishments singled out as being worthy by my California host.

So with all of these degrees of connection, I finally Netflixed the DVD for our pizza-cava-and-DVD Friday night ritual. As I was watching it, I was hoping that Spurrier would never see himself as portrayed by the very talented Rickman. I thought of how unlike the mountain-enclosed upper Napa Valley the soaring scenes filmed in the broad vistas of Sonoma vineyards looked. And I thought that probably the only elements that were remotely factual were that Spurrier staged a wine smackdown in 1976 in Paris and that Montelena won over the formidable white Burgundies.

And I realized that, by and large, I was enjoying watching this amusing tale --even though its fiction was stranger than real fact.

Until next time...

Roger Morris