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 ( 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 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