Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Writer's Life: 2010 Edition

Above: Wine tasting of Chianti Collio Fiorentini in Florence, September 2010.

Yesterday I received a PDF of an article of mine, "Emilia Romagna Rising," that has just been published in the December 15 edition of Sommelier Journal, my first assignment for that magazine. From a writer's standpoint, the article has all the elements that give satisfaction to being a member of the craft and the culmination of a process that began when I visited the region for the first time in February earlier this year. In the months since that visit, I have written about segments of the trip for other publications. But working with my editor at Sommelier Journal was an experience of being a magazine correspondent at its best - plenty of space to write both descriptive passages to give the reader a feel of the place while also providing the nuts and bolts of the grape varieties, types of wines and the interlocking appellations. I was also able to call in samples from various importers and distributors to write detailed tasting notes.

My editor was adroit in getting the most out of me as a writer - occasional fact-checking questions, the "can you give me two more sentences of explanation here?" queries, a request for another sidebar, contact information for photo sources and a very light editing pencil. Not a single thing on her part that didn't make the article better. And yesterday, the gratifying result - 7 pages filled with photos (some mine), beautifully laid out, an article that I believe will be interesting and informative to readers. Moreover, the PDF is something that I can send to my sources - a non-fiction writer's greatest strength - and say, "Thank you; this is what I had in mind when we talked in February or some time in between, and I hope you understand that you were an important part of it."

Fortunately, I have at least another 10 or so other editors who are delightful professionals for whom I love to write. Some of us barely talk or trade e-mails once the assignment is made, a sign that I take as a positive one, until I submit the article, usually a few days early. Then, something like, "The piece looks good, I'll edit it later, send me an invoice. Do you have photos?" And then it's published a few weeks or a couple of months later. Of course, other editors prefer a more collaborative process. With one editor, I know that I need to write fast before the assignment is yet again modified. I enjoy their diversity.

I tell people that while what I do is hard work (it's difficult to get sympathy as a traveling wine writer), but it really is what I wanted to do in my 20s - either be on a magazine staff or be an in-demand freelancer. Instead, I decided to take the more lucrative route of working in corporation marketing, which wasn't a bad life. Now, for the past dozen years, I have gradually built a life as a writer-at-large at the same time I have consulted in the healthcare area. Of course, I had written an article here, an article there since college - including stints some years ago as wine columnist for the late Washington Star and for the startup USA Today - but I got back into writing seriously in 1998 as a wine columnist for The NewsJournal in Wilmington, Delaware. Then, in 2000, I wrote my first article for Colman Andrews at Saveur, and things gradually grew from there.

The year 2010 has been another solid one. First, there were the 10 or so wine trips - a great source of ideas and content: three to California, two to Bordeaux, one each to Emilia Romagna, the Loire Valley, Greece, Florence and Portugal. Two or three times a month, I catch an Amtrak to New York City for an interview or a tasting, ocassionally three in the same day. I also value the input of 15 or so public relations executives who provide ideas, information, insider updates on what is happening where, contacts and often very good advice.

This year has also been a good one for hooking up with new editors and new publications. I have had first assignments, some already published, some waiting for 2011, from Sommelier Journal, Writer's Digest, USA Today magazines, Book Page, Sante' and iSante', Plaisirs de Vivre in Canada, Delaware Today and Bentley in the UK. And I continue writing for, and pitching new ideas to, such reliable publications as Wine Enthusiast and, Beverage Media, Robb Report, Intermezzo, Drinks Business (UK) and Drinks (US), Sommelier News, PA Wine & Spirits Quarterly, The Hunt, Signature Brandywine, Caviar Affair and others. Unfortunately, a couple of publications have ceased publication this year, and I quit writing a regular column for The NewsJournal after a dozen years due to another sign of the times, the shrinking "editorial hole."

During 2010, by my count, I had 67 magazine articles published in print or online, sometimes both. Among the highlights, in addition to the Emilia Romagna piece, have been a 10-page spread on "A Day in the Life of a Chateau" and a one-page Q&A with Michel Rolland for Wine Enthusiast; a Champagne "cheat sheet" for; "Greece is the Word" for iSante' and a profile of the hardest restaurant table in the U.S. - Talula's Table - for Sante'; profiles of Riccardo Illy for Drinks Business, the Antinori sisters for La Vie Claire, and sporting car driver and wine glass master Maximilian Riedel for Bentley; pieces on sweet wines makeover and American sparkling wines among others for Beverage Media; monthly contributions to Sommelier News, including a fun piece on Chateau Palmer night at Christie's; an assortment of regional, mainly non-wine articles for The Hunt and Signature Brandywine, and a review of Bourdain's latest kitchen-tell tome for Book Page.

2011? It's starting our very well - 40 assignments, 26 of them already written. And to be successful in this business, you have to love pitching article ideas to current and future editors. I have three or four out there getting a full look from exciting new (for me) magazines. My fingers are crossed, which may have accounted for some of the typos and errors above.

So thanks to everyone - sources, PR folks, importers and distributors and especially to the winemakers and winery owners who love to tell me about what they do - and let me taste some of it.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Tuesday Lineup: Ports & Sparkling Wines

Wines of the Week

Not every vintage in Port land is a great one, and in those years - as well as years when more prior vintages have been declared than the markets can absorb - vintage-dated Ports are made from the greatest of the single quintas or vineyards. In theory, these single-quinta Ports should not be as good, both because the year might not have been a superior one and because the selection pool is less than when a Port house declares a vintage.

Yet there are those of us who love the single-quintas because they are the sole expression of one great vineyard. Most masters of Port are hesitant to say so publicly, but many of them love the vineyard-specific Ports as much as their declared vintages. I find my own preferences are influenced by what has just being released for tasting - the vintages or the quintas. This year, the Fladgate Partnership family of Ports released in the United States three of their quintas from the 2008 harvest. All are delicious in their own ways:

2008 Croft Quinta da Roeda ($46). Lots of plump raisin flavors and figs in the foretaste, then walnuty tannins, followed by a minerally, gravelly finish with echoes of dried fruits.

2008 Fonseca Quinta do Panascal ($48). A broader, less-segmented taste of preserved fruits and pistachios. Lots of dusty tannins, tingling black pepper, and hints of freshly-cut tobacco plug. The fruits are a little redder in this one.

2008 Taylor Fladgate Vargellas ($60). A very luscious mouth feel, though not as voluminous. More concentrated, but not more forceful. Less nuttiness. Somewhat of an elegant, pretty wine - a fruity truffle with a dusting of cocoa.

With sparkling wines, Champagne has always played the role of vintage Port - the standard by which others in the category are compared. Yet that is a little like trying to argue that great red wines should all taste like Bordeaux or like Burgundy. Some of the best sparklings I've tasted are Proseccos and spumantes from the Prosecco regions in the hills north of Venice, where terroir is all important. This one certainly can hold its own with any other bubbly:

2009 Adami "Vigneto Giardino Rive di Colbrtaldo" Valodibbiadene Prosecco Superiore Dry ($21). Just a delicious wine - lovely floral nose, intense micro-bubbles with great richness and acidity with flavors of pears, cream, and marzipan followed by a minerally finish with touches of kiwi and citrus.

Wines of Interest

NV Jaillance "Cuvee de l'Abbaye" Cremant de Bordeaux ($19). From 100% Semillon grapes, it has a lot of minerality on the nose, full brioche flavors, not a lot of bubbles, and a minerally finish like drink sparkling wine from a tin cup or a rocky spring.

NV Adami Garbel Treviso Prosecco Brut ($15). Lots of mousse bearing delicate aromas of ripe pears. Creamy at the start and green fruity at the finish - cream & kiwi. Hint of tannins. Very elegant and well-structured if not as complex as some Adami entries.

NV Adami "Bosco di Gica" Valdobbiademe Prosecco Superiore Brut ($18). Beautiful nose - elegant - with hints of cocoanut. Minerally, light in the Champagne style with not as much apparent fruitiness. More of a sipper than a food wine.

NVJaume Serra Cristalino Cava Brut ($10). Note to Champagne and EU authorities: Although this is a nice wine for the price - a clean, assertive cava that can have a lot of holiday uses - I'm didn't really confuse it with Cristal at 10 to 20x. No worries, monsieurs.

Wine Noted

NV Santa Margherita Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut ($18). Full and a little heavy on the palate. Hints of caramel. More of a food wine than a sipper.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Lineup: Three for Every Night Drinking

Random notes on selected wines recently tasted.

Wines of Interest

2008 Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel ($13). One of the more interesting of their Zin releases - creamy black raspberry, rich and deep, with some pleasant greenbrier edges and dusty tannins. Drinking well, but can be a keeper.

2009 Vionta Rias Baixas Albarino ($15). A nice combo of good, green fruits with hints of melon and golden baking spices. Full-bodied. Nice aromatics without being too fruity.

2009 Cadet d'Oc Cabernet Sauvignon ($10). This reminds of some of the better regional Bordeaux that the shippers used to crank out for the British supermarket trade before Australia undercut the market. Touch of dried stemminess, good mature cherry and currant fruit with light tannins and hints of garrigue.

Until the next time...
Roger Morris

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Don't You Drink More Sake?

Earlier this week, I had a delightful tasting session and discussion in New York with Henry Sidel, founder and president of Joto Sake, which imports and distributes small-batch Japanese sake producers in about 30 states. I will be writing more about sake in other publications soon, but there were several topics that came up that I would like to open to discussion now. If you have thoughts and opinions, please (1) comment below, (2) send me a message on Facebook, or (3) write me a note at

Sidel has an extensive trade background in spirits and beer, but decided a few years ago to devote his energies to sake. Although we tasted several great drinks (my favorites were those brewed by Chikurin and Watari Bune) and went through sake production (a necessity, still), I was much more interested in how the consumption of sake can grow beyond the coterie of people who like sushi and sashimi or who have a fetish for small ceramic cups.

I will save for future articles what Sidel has to say on these topics, but here are some questions I posed to him. I would like to know what you think, whether or not you're a regular sake drinker.

1. Does sake need to be Westernized - for example, not drunk from small ceramic cups and paired only with Japanese food - to become successful, or is "being different" a neccesary part of it's charm, which, if abandoned, would mean less acceptance?

2. Does your everyday consumer - the same one who doesn't care about whether her Chardonnay went through malolactic fermentation - need to know the intricacies of what grains are used for sake and how it is made?

3. In restaurants, would sake be more successful if it were simply sold by the glass - say two different styles on the bar list?

4. Along the same line, does offering sake only by the bottle (even a small one), as is now generally done, psychologically ask the consumer for a commitment when by the glass would allow merely a passing curiosity?

5. And would it be appreciated more if there were a Riedel glass designed for it? Seriously?

6. How can retail stores better display bottles of sake so that they don't look as disorganized as roadside accident memorials?

7. Are sommeliers willing to suggest a bottle of Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo with duck breast (which would be a good pairing) rather than a wine?

8. Knowing that most good sakes are served chilled, would you rather have a mug of very warm and basic futsu-shu sake on a cold day than an Irish coffee or mulled cider? Is warm sake neccessary bad or gauche?

9. A variation of an early question: if the 6-10 different styles, or combos of styles, have recognizable similarities of taste, will people be willing to remember such basic categories as honjozo, ginjo and junmai ginjo, which are also easy to pronounce?

10. We are used to drinking wines with meals more than other alcoholic beverages. Sake can be a little more alcoholic, so are we willing to "sip" as we eat rather than "drink" when we eat?

Just some questions. Let me know what you think.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snappy Ginger: Domaine de Canton

My wife loves all things ginger, especially nibbling on candied ginger. This week she was feeling a tad under the weather from a nasty cold she purports to have caught from me, so when I opened a bottle of the ginger-scented Domaine de Canton, I waved a glass of it under her reddened nose. She seized the potion, and while the Cognac-based liqueur didn't set her dancing, it did bring a smile to her face and bought temporary forgiveness to me.

Domaine de Canton is quite a nice brew, made in France's Cognac region by blending baby Vietnamese ginger, Provencal honey, Tunisian ginseng, and vanilla bean of undefined heritage with VSOP and XO Grande Champagne Cognacs. The resulting liqueur has a crisp ginger aroma, a delightful, honey-like, viscous body that is sharply accented by the somewhat hot spiciness of peeled ginger. It is delicious but certainly not delicate.

It is enjoyable on several levels - a good companion in a Cognac glass, served neat, to sip in luscious quarter-teaspoon portions whenever your mind gets stuck as you bang away on the laptop, great over the rocks as you try to tease is out drop by drop from between the ice cubes, or as a barman's dream mixed with all sorts of exotic spirits and fruits.

But my favorite is a few drops, not too many as it's potent, in a chilled glass of Prosecco - a Ginsecco Ale - to carry about a party or around a bar as you loosen up for an evening of conversation.
Domaine de Canton is about $30 for a 750 ml bottle and is 28% alcohol.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chateau Palmer & Wines of the Week

For those of us who seldom wave a paddle for naughty pleasures or haughty treasures, attending Wednesday evening's preview tasting and master class for Chateau Palmer at Christie's in New York City was a little like attending a wedding rehearsal dinner - a lot more fun than the main event and no expensive commitments.

Chateau Palmer has always been a favorite of Bordeaux lovers, and many who can afford both prefer it to Chateau Margaux, at least in certain vintages, so the turnout was large and enthusiastic. And, surprisingly, a good mix of young and old. The attendees were at overflow capacity in the Haunch of Venison gallery when festivities got underway at 6:15 and enjoyed a backdrop serenade throughout the evening by the city's fleet of emergency vehicles below on Sixth Avenue and the responding Middle Eastern chorus of honking cab drivers.

Cutting to the chase, as we should in such a gamely named venue, the wines we tasted were Alter Ego - Palmer's not-second-label alternate wine - from the 2006 and 2003 vintages, and the chateau wines from 2005, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1989, 1983, 1978, and 1971. It is not just being polite to the hosts to say that all the wines were superb, although there was lively discussion about whether this or that wine was yet at its peak, in its dumb stage, or declining.

By own favorites were the 1971 - marvelously alive with fresh fruitness - and the 2005, Thomas Duroux's marvelous creation that was a game changer, I think, at Palmer to a more-modern style wine than we normally see at major Left Bank properities. My second favorites were the 1983 and the 1989, neither as perfect as the '71 and '05, but both flashing the charm that less-than-perfect wines and people often have.

Almost as interesting as the wines were the presenters at the master class, which ran concurrently with the tasting. Ferdinand Mahler-Besse, whose family is part owner of Palmer and whose negociant cellars provided most of the wines, helped provide context. Export manager and Palmer insider Bernard de Laage gave fascinating information about the wines and about Medoc winemaking in general, and Christie's wine expert, Charles Curtis, acted as M.C. and chief inquisitor.

For more about the evening and de Laage's insightful commentary, stay tuned for my article in the December issue of the online publication, Sommelier News.

Appropriately for the dawn of another holiday season, this week's top wines tasted (other than the Palmers) are a top sparkling wine and an affordable Port.

Wines of the Week

NV J Russian River Valley Brut Rose' ($35). I like what George Bursick is doing with the sparkling wines at J, and this one is a great example - copper-colored, light and creamy with delightful wild strawberry flavors, a huge mousse, and a minerally finish. Sip on!

Noval Black ($22). A good basic Port is a little like a good basic fruitcake - lots of candied fruits, dark earthy flavors, a pronounced nuttiness, a nice shot of alochol (but not too hot), and a dollop of chocolate flavors. Noval has over-hyped the wine and the packaging - it is hardly revolutionary - but it is a very nice buy directed at young people not ready to deal with all the Port nomenclature and who want a delectable, ready-to-drink Port at a good price. It is all that, and it is a good basic Port for us older folks, as well.

Wines of Interest

2008 Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly ($17). Roger's First Rule of Diminishing Bottles is that some of the wines that taste fantastic on the first sip tend to grow off you and make you longing for a divorce by the time you're nearing the bottom of the bottle, a case of too much too soon. Chaize has always been a favorite Beaujolais (yes, I also liked the old bottle and packaging much better), and this one is the opposite of the prior cited rule. Even though it is "just a Beaujolais," it gets better as the bottom is plumbed, opening up from its lean, lightly gamy fruitness to a fuller taste. (Of course, there are wags who say that any wine tastes better the more you consume, citing the parallel but opposing Roger's Third Rule of Last Calls, which states that everything looks more appealing as time elapses and alcohol increases.)

2009 Wither Hill Wairau Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($11). Good herbal notes, yet not as lean and grassy as most Marbs. It's also fuller and rounder, yet well-balanced for food. Well worth trying.

2007 Li Veli "Pezzo Morgana" Salice Salentino ($20). Complex and brooding, but drinking well now. Lively ruby fruit above and darker, preserved fruit below. Lots of acidity, and 100% Negromaro grapes.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Week of Drinking Adventurously

Sunday, October 31
Through the years, I have been fortunate to be friends or close acquaintances with a number of winemakers in America and abroad. It always brings up the question of whether I can be totally objective in what I write about their wines, and the answer is, "Yes." As a college instructor at Arizona State during the wild 1960s, I often partied with students (no one gave it a second thought back then), some of whom I had to give a "D," while some non-partiers got an "A." If you can't separate your judgments from your emotions, you shouldn't be a writer, a critic, a teacher, or a judge of any sort. You end up lying to yourself and everyone else.

The good thing about being friends with a winemaker is that you can learn a lot. Even though they may disagree with some judgments and opinions I have, they gain a certain trust - and, hopefully, respect. They know what they can say off the record, they are open to giving opinions and theories, and occasionally they ask for honest feedback on one of their wines.

Michael Richmond at Bouchaine in Napa Valley is a complete joy to talk with. I've learned a lot over casual lunches with Francois Thienpot of the famous winemaking family on Bordeaux' Right Bank and from Bernard de Laage of the extended winemaking team at Chateau Palmer on the Left. Locally, I can discuss anything with Eric Miller of Chaddsford and expect a very frank appraisal, which we often then discuss with some heat.

Anthony Vietri at Va La Vineyards in Avondale and I probably have more time to talk about wine (and sports and politics) than most because, I think, we are both good observors and because he lives 15 minutes away. Sometimes, after we spend an afternoon over a bottle or two of wine and some good local cheese and his own figs and chesnuts at his winery, he will pull out something he has just released and ask, "Do you mind tasting this and tell me what you think?" Fortunately, Tony is a very good winemaker who makes very distinctive wines. "Give a little time to breathe," he cautioned on Thursday as I departed with a bottle of 2007 Mahogany, his Barbera-dominated wine that is probably his top cuvee.

It is now about 4:15 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I have just gotten up to feed the cats, brew some coffee, and toast some focaccia with a little salsa on top. While the coffee is brewing, I open the decanter with the Mahogany. I decanted it on Thursday night in a large vessel, but put a stopper in it so that the wine would get a lot of air but all recirculated off the surface of the wine. The first taste on Thursday still had a touch of post-partum sulphur which gave it a little gaminess, a taste I like but one which I knew would disappear. I have been writing Tony twice-a-day notes since.

This morning, I taste it, make notes, grab the coffee and focaccia, and go to my office with my indoor/outdoor cat, Lyle Lovett, racing up the stairs ahead of me. I e-mail Tony, "The last taste was probably the best. I finished it this morning. It has all integrated for the first time into one taste - purple fruit, close to black raspberry, with cream and a tug of tannin at the end."

Lyle Lovett snuggles in behind me on my writing stool. Not a bad way to start a week of drinking.

Monday, November 1
It has been a busy day of writing, but I have again worked my way ahead of the assignments-due versus articles- completed curve, having knocked off the last of eight holiday pieces for Caviar Affair and a Porto travel piece for The Hunt.

Tonight, Ella and I are relaxing at a wine dinner at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington (see earlier post) that features Le Cadeau Pinot Noirs from Oregon. I am the designated driver, so I am watching the pours, especially since I had tasted the wines Saturday night at a party for the Mortimers, who own Le Cadeau. It's a chatty group at our end of the table, and my notes trail off to nothiness - I'm covered! - as courses come and wine flows. At the end are business entrepreneurs and executives Ajit and Sarah George, whom we chatted with at Saturday's grand tasting, and next to us are Al Mascitti and Valerie Helmbrecht, both writers who often do other things.

Al puts his nose in one wine and says, "I like this, but I would have never guessed it was a Pinot Noir," and we are off into a discussion of how modern winemaking techniques have lessened the relevance of "varietal characteristics," which we all talked about during the '70s and '80s, in favor of "taste profiles" (a winese term which I detest) emphasizing whether the fruit is red, purple, or black.

I ask Al if he misses being a restaurant critic after doing it for years. "Not at all," he says. "I can now order what I want, but generally I'd rather eat at home." "And when we do go to a restaurant," Valerie adds, "Al doesn't tell me what to order!"

Tomorrow being election day, the talk shifts to politics - Al and Valerie have both covered Delaware politics as a reporter, and Ajit has been a campaign volunteer - so I stop taking wine notes altogether and plunge in.

Tuesday, November 2

Election Day. I have voted, taken a long walk, and posted the Le Cadeau piece. I see my piece on Nouveau Brandywine has been posted by a regional site. It is now about 8 p.m., and I decide to fix myself a drink to sip as I monitor returns on the New York Times and Politico sites. Last week, also in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote about his quest to find out how to make a Frisco, a cocktail that still, apparently, haunts his memory. Eventually, he came up with a rye, Benedictine, and lemon juice combination that satisfied his memory and his tastes.

So yesterday I bought Benedictine, having only B&B in the cabinet, and now I'm blending, blending, blending the three ingredients, then add ice. I make a very big drink, for it will be a long evening. I take the first sip, and I am not sold - too much lemon juice, a little too bitter, although that may suit my mood as the returns come in. But as the evening goes on, the results, and the drink, mellow. So do I. Looking at the Senate map as it fills in, I see a lot of red fruit in the profile, but there are some welcome blue fruit notes here and there.

But Frank, I'll be looking for a sweeter cocktail two years from now.

Wednesday, November 3

The sample bottles arrive in the morning - 6 tiny wine bottles, enough for a taste or religious communion (a possible market?) - for this afternoon's 3 p.m. tasting. How's that for confidence in Fedex or last-minute planning ("Did I send the wine? I thought you sent the wine! OMG!")

Normally, I amtrak to New York City a few times a month, and occasionally to Washington, from my home in Chester County, PA, for a wine tasting and seminar conducted by a winemaker. (Occasionally, the PR agency tries to slip in another writer or sommelier - skip those.) But, increasingly, Webinars are saving everyone time and money. I watched Montes from the vineyards in Chile, Raymond talking from California. Today, it will be Cameron Hughes talking and tasting from Napa Valley, with his sidekick, Sam Spencer.

At 3 p.m., I have lined up six large glasses that tower over the six screwy Lilliputs. I turn on the radio - I mean, click on the website, pump up the volume, and Cameron and Sam start talking at me. One by one, we go through each Lot Number, and the wines, all lots purchased negociant-style by CH, are very good and very good values to boot. And no need to spit, as all six might add up to one good pour. I decide I could start a relationship with Lot 175, purchased from Havens. It's my favorite, and I lust after more than this brief kiss.

There are about 25 of us online now, and we type in questions that are relayed to Cameron and Sam. I ask if all of their high-end partners are in distress, or if some are using CH to declassify as they might normally do in bulking off. Cameron leaps on the first part of my question, looks straight at me through the ether-world, and explains to me that many of his partners are in good financial straits. He didn't hear the second part, but that's OK.

Cameron, you've found a good business model for now, a good way to send just-in-time wine samples, and a good way to tell me all I need to know about your wines, taking less than 30 minutes of my time.

Thursday, November 4

It is a miserable, rainy, cold day - the kind us Anglophiles just love. I have spent the morning at the University of Delaware lecturing, as I do once a semester, to one of Robert Nelson's hospitality classes on worldwide wine trends. They are a good undergraduate audience, even though most of them are not yet of an age to legally drink up any part of my talk.

I don't cook enough any more, so today I make a bean and Italian sausage soup. Whenever I'm not traveling, Ella and I share a bottle of wine with dinner, generally trying to remove one from the kitchen pantry cabinet where I keep the samples that come to my doorstep like abandoned foundlings. Since most arrive in 750ml (note to Cameron) diapers, our pantry is generally overflowing. I don't choose anything dramatic tonight, but it turns out to be a very satisfying meal of homemade soup and 2008 Le Veli Salento "Primonero."

Today, comfort food, comfort wine.

Friday, November 5

I see my article on the Douro Makeover has been posted on Sommelier News, as the November issue is beamed out to its audience.

Tonight, Ella goes with me to a walk-around tasting, generally not my favorite type of wine venue. Too often they are shoulder-to-shoulder crowded, and it's almost impossible to concentrate on the wine you're tasting or talk with the people pouring the wines. Tonight, it's different on all counts. It's the annual calling-all-vendors bash by the Wine and Spirit Company of Greenville, a retail store, and it's being held at Brantwyn, one of the many decommissioned mansions and great houses of the scions of the founder of DuPont, the company, scattered all over the Brandywine Valley.

Once inside, over there is Michael Richmond, winemaker at Bouchaine (wasn't I just talking about him?), a winery owned by the Copelands, who also own the wine shop. And beside that table is David Duckhorn, the genial wine importer, with his cache of California and New Zealand wines. And so we work our way from table to table, room to room - a sip of wine and a brief chat at each. And about 40 minutes later we are back out into the night air.

At home, Ella and I again raid the sample pantry, this time for a bottle of 2007 Blason d'Issan. We were in the Medoc that harvest, so it gives us something else to chat about as we sit at the kitchen counter and raid the refrigerator for some of Tom Schaer's underground sheep cheese from just across the creek and some artisan salumi handmade by Phil Pyle, a chef owner at Fair Hill Inn, a handful of miles away in Maryland. It's a wonderful after-the-theater snack.

But it's only 8:30, so I delve a little further into my novel and Ella into her Kindle as we read ourselves to sleep.

Saturday, November 5

One more night out. It's now late in the afternoon, and I have to finish this posting so we won't be late for tonight's dinner at Susan Teiser's Centreville Cafe, co-hosted by Linda Collier of Collier's of Centreville wine shop. I have to be there - no excuses - because "Roger Morris Selections" will be poured tonight to accompany the great food of Susan and her staff.

It's a coming-out dinner of sorts, as I recently expanded my involvement from writing about the wine trade to being part of it as a broker in Delaware for three California wineries - Bell Cellars, Mauritson, and Hidden Ridge. I hesitated for a long time before making this commitment. One, I still fully plan to be a wine writer first, so I've made the vow not to write about my wines in any sort of advocacy way. When I mentioned this to Clay Mauritson, I liked his reply: "Hell, I don't care if you don't write about my wines. I want you to sell my wines." Point taken, so you'll see none of them as my Wines of the Week.

The second reservation is that I'm not a entrepreneur, although I love entrepreneurism. Translated, I love working with new ideas, launches, and new ventures, but I hate putting up money that I might lose. John Lowman, my partner in RMS' parent company, North Fork Wine & Spirits, put that fear in proper perspective. "The worse that can happen," John said, "is that we'll have to drink a few pallets of wine."

Okay, it's almost time to go drink - sorry Clay, sell - some wine. And tonight I can leave my notebook at home.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Livelli 'Primonero'

Wines of the Week

2008 Li Veli Salento "Primonero" IGT ($10). Made from a 50/50 mixture of Primotivo and Negromaro, the wine is tight with high acidity in the finish, but it has a core fruit flavor of black raspberry that opens up beautifully in the glass - a fruity wine that goes well with red meats and red sauce. Very good value.

2007 Macari "Bergen Road" North Fork of Long Island Red Wine ($46). I like Macari because they approach winemaking as winemaking, not as Eastern winemaking. Know what I mean? Anyway, "Bergen Road" is always an interesting blend, whatever the vintage, and this one has loads of dark red fruit flavors with rich oak notes, a hint of mint, and lots of smooth tannins. It will age well, and it will taste even better with decanting, whether you drink it now or in 10 years. With 42% Merlot, 30% Cab Sauv, 21% Cab Franc, and 7% Petite Verdot.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tom & Deb Mortimer's Gift

One of the great things about wine is that it all tastes differently. A second great thing is that no two wineries have the same philosophy or business model.

Having said that, Le Cadeau is a little different than most. There's no doubt that Le Cadeau's vineyard, located on a rocky hillside near Newburg in the Willamette Valley, has the right terroir and the right owners to make great Pinot Noir. It's the diversity of the Le Cadeau Pinots and the way they're made that is fascinating.

On Saturday night, I had the opportunity to taste practically every Pinot that has any relationship to Le Cadeau (the gift) and it's owners, Tom and Deb Mortimer, at the home of Tom and Meg Hudson in Wilmington. Meg kept her day job as a business executive, while Tom, an accountant, abandoned all his business principles five years ago to launch Domaine Hudson eatery and wine bar. That evening, by my count, I tried around 26 wines that bore either one of Le Cadeau's labels, or that of its Aubichon joint venture, dating back to its first commercial production in 2002.

In recent vintages, Le Cadeau has had four releases - "Cote Est," "Rocheaux" and "Equinoxe," all named after their vineyard plots, and "Diversite," which blends seven different clones from "a row here, and a row there" and is co-fermented, some in stainless and some in wood. In 2009, a fifth label, "Merci," made from one acre of heritage clones (Swan, Calera, Mount Eden), was added.

The odd thing is that Mortimer - who oversees the vineyard - has a different winemaker for each Le Cadeau label. "In 2008, we had five different winemakers," Mortimer says, "but normally we have four." These winemakers have day jobs elsewhere or own their own wineries. As illustration that no logistic is too difficult too overcome, Mortimer shipped the grapes for two of his cuvees this year to California, where their winemakers happened to have these day jobs. While Mortimer does oversee the grape growing, he picks according to the prefernces of the individual winemaker.

This approach does add a slight complication for the inquisitive drinker, as we have to guess whether the differences between the different wines is due to its vineyard plots and clones or the styles of their winemakers. During the Saturday tasting, and again last evening when we tasted the four 2008 cuvees again with the delicious food of Patrick McMahon at Domaine Hudson's fifth aniversary celebration, I kept coming back to Equinoxe as my favorite, although I would be happy to have any of the Le Cadeau wines in the desert island scenario.

The 2006 Equinoxe, its first vintage, was smooth and elegant, but also large-bodied with a pronounced ripe-fruitiness and finishing flavors of black raspberries. The 2007 was also rich and showed some tannins, as did the 2008. Winemaker Jim Sanders likes his grapes picked late, says Mortimer, and the two together launched the Aubichon joint venture.

The Mortimers make only a few hundred cases on their 28-acre property, and it always sells out. But it's doubtful they'll make money on it anytime soon, so in a way Le Cadeau is their gift to us. Which brings us to the third great thing about wine, in addition to its diversity and the diverse ways in which its made - some of the friendliest and most interesting people make it.

Until next time...
Roger Morris

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Robert Mondavi Merlot

Wine of the Week

2007 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot ($23). Like many writers, I have fond memories of Robert Mondavi the man and of visits to his winery in the late 1970s and early 1980s when its - and his - reputation was in its ascendancy. And, like many writers, I am used to eponymous wineries falling off the quality bandwagon when the "brand" is purchased by a larger corporation. I'll admit I have not had an up close view to what has been going on at Robert Mondavi winery in recent years, but I continue to be impressed by the bottles I keep opening and their prices. And this wine is an excellent example of continuing quality and value at RMW. The 2007 Merlot, a complex wine that will get moreso, has lots of juicy blackberries and loads of tannins. This, I think, shows what Napa Valley can do with a Merlot, yet the price is very reasonable. It has 16 percent alcohol, but it doesn't come across to me as either too hot nor unbalanced. I would decant it for a couple of hours if drinking it now. The wine is certainly in the quality category of Merlots selling in the $40-$60 range. And for someone interested in collecting wines for aging, not just buying expensive trophies, it would be smart to purchase a couple of cases. You'll be richly rewarded in the years to come.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Friday Report: Dynamite Silvaner

Wine of the Week

2009 Castell-Castell Franken Silvaner Trocken ($13). I can't remember the last time I raved about a Silvaner, because the chances are I have never before raved about a Silvaner. Typically Silvaner, aka Sylvaner, has all the distinctiveness of a Trebbiano... yeah, right. But this wine is simply delicious - spicy, tangy, crisp with flavors of grapefruit and green apple skins. We had pork ribs, sauerkraut and stuffing last night with it - with lots of fresh and dried herbs floating around - and the wine was superb. It was also great without the food. Did I say I liked this wine?

Sermonette of the Week

For years, we wine writers have been reporting that red wine producers have changed their styles to accommodate the fact that no one cellars wines for years anymore. Under this story that we've been telling - and if there is anyone who can document they've been telling a different story, please step across the dotted line right now - wines are being made kinder and gentler so they can be consumed immediately.

It's finally gotten it through my dense brain that this is all a fraud! While we have fewer under-ripe grapes, and while the tannins are perhaps a tad more friendly, red wines from the primary regions are just as big and aggressive as they ever were - plus they have more alcohol (not necessarily a sin in my book).

The only difference is that we all - from winemakers to wine writers - have been telling people that the wines are mellower. And they're not! I don't think anyone has been dishonest on purpose; we've just believed what seems to be intuitive.

Time to trot out credentials: I've been drinking serious reds seriously since the mid-1970s - that's 35 years of somewhat sober observation - from Napa's tannic monsters to Medoc's annual primeurs tastings of barrel monsters. Last week, I reported on recent tastings of Amarones, Argentine Malbecs and Barolos - and those wines were just as big as they were 30 years ago. Not as funky with buggy big barrel aromas as in the old days, but every bit as big as what I was tasting decades ago.

Now listen to the mantra the winemakers chant: "This wine is drinkable now, but it will last another 10 years." Voice from the crowd: "Maybe 15!" Hell, these wines will still need to be decanted 20 years down the road.

This isn't a complaint. I love the way that big reds are being made. I love to taste them right out of the barrel when they are like riding a wild horses. And I love tasting them 20 years later when they are smooth and sophisticated.

Wines may have actually gotten bigger over the past 30 years, but we've convinced ourselves that they are "much more accessible" than in the old days. They are not. They may be cleaner. They may be fruitier. They may be fresher. They may even have smoother tannins - although generally not. But they are just as concentrated, as extracted, as alcoholic as they ever were. Certainly that is the case in Medoc, where some older vintages - before good vineyard practices and global warming - were downright anemic.

My point is: I like the way big reds wines are being made. Let's just admit that they are as huge as they ever were. We're just eating them younger than we used to.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Plaisirs de Vivre: Why Drink?

If seems like an absurd question: Why Drink?

Yet when editor Celine Tremblay of the Montreal-based magazine, Plaisirs de Vivre, and I were travelling through Macedonina earlier this year visiting Greek wineries, she told me about her philosophical conversations in Paris with French wine writing elder statesman Henri Elwing and challenged me to give a practical, American reply to the question. Here are my thoughts on the matter as they appeared in the October issue of Plaisirs - minus the neat graphic interpretations:

Some people are born to wine. Others of us come to it.

The first time I drank wine was a blind tasting – in a manner. At the time, I was still a country teenager, out walking along a dirt road in the very narrow valley where I was born. An older neighbor’s truck bumped toward me and stopped. George leaned out the open window and extended a brown paper bag – a “poke” in our local vernacular – with the paper twisted around the neck of what must have been a bottle.

“Want a drink?” George asked.

“Sure,” I said.

Although ours was a dry household in the 1950s, a couple of times before I had tasted bourbon with a little hot water and rock candy as a special treat when my dad and another neighbor celebrated Christmas. This tasted different – not as fiery as whisky and certainly sweeter.

George told me it was red wine.

I would like to claim that I can still remember that first taste and have since divined its manufacturer and provenance. But I don’t, and I can’t. And it would be several more years before I became a regular wine drinker and still more years before I began to write about this special beverage.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the attraction of alcoholic drinks and why I drink what I drink, while others drink something else or consume no alcohol at all. Here’s how I see it:

Beer is for refreshment.

Spirits are for relaxation.

Wine is all about pleasure.

I drink all three – a beer after mowing the lawn on a hot day, a Manhattan or a Bloody Mary when I sit at the bar before dinner or to chat with friends. But when I want a drink to savor and contemplate, or one to have with food, it has to be wine.

To me, wine has always had a romance to it. The first episode in this romance came when my brother David gave me a three-pack of Bolla wines – Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella. I had heard of none of them – this was in the 1970s when most Americans thought of wine as something winos drank – but the names sounded exotic and magical.

So I bought a book on wine – one in the Time Life series, I believe – and I became enamored. The names Hermitage, Meursault and Haut-Brion bedazzled me, as did the photos of the châteaux, the chais and the vines. I pored over maps of the Cotes d’Or, reading the names of famous terroirs that I would walk through decades later, as enthralling in person as they were on paper.

Nothing is as romantic as sitting across the table chatting with an interesting woman – preferably my wife – while having a great meal and a great bottle of wine. But a close second is being at a similar table with a winemaker, sharing her or his thoughts and theories about terroirs, fermentation and the wine and food liaison.

Why drink? Is there any beverage so complex and changeable that it almost has human qualities? Can any other glass carry such a romantic retinue of shared thoughts

and experiences? Wine is the sole drink that brings us both rapt anticipation and the warmth of memories.

Why drink? Wine is the drink of Gods, and it makes us feel like one of them.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Lineup: Amarone, Mastrojanni, Montes

The 12 Families of Amarone

Amarone has long been a friend of mine. Names like Masi, Thomassi and Speri have been hanging out in my cellar for decades, getting mellow until I can wait no longer - and I pull the cork.

Amarone's little brother, simple Valpolicella, was one of the wines that got me interested in the wine business many years ago. At that time, I was given a three pack of Verona-region wines, so I wanted to find out more about these weird-sounding wines - the others being a Bardolino and a Soave. Amarone is grown in the same region and uses the same grapes as everyday Valpolicella, but there the similarities disappear. Amarone employs more of Corvina, the chief regional red grape, it is grown on better hillside plots, and its grapes are dried in bunches until the alcohol from the concentrating sugar produce wines hovers at 15% or more. Finally, it gathers and somewhat tames tannins while spending several years in the oak. The finished product, to my palate, is arguably the best high-alcohol red table wine, possessing some of the rich flavors of Port without the sweetness.

Recently, I was in New York at the Public Library to check out recent vintages (mainly 2000 to 2006) being poured by a new group of 12 families of Amarone producers formed less than two years ago and now on its first U.S. tour.

All of the families sell their wines in the U.S., although some are much more familiar - and available - than others. Alphabetically, they are: Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant'Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini and Zenato. Of course, all these people make very good wines, so, in tasting them, it comes down to personal preferences and small degrees of difference.

I did notice that the Musella wines seemed to be slightly richer than the rest, and that the Tedeschi bottles were the most tightly knit and concentrated for their ages. So my first wine of the week is:

2005 Musella Amarone Riserva (about $56). Brilliant blueberries in the nose and mouth as well as the traditional dark red/purple fruits, a long richness of fruit on the palate with integrated oak and loads of dusty tannins for aging a couple of more decades.

Illy Intros Newly-Purchased Mastrojanni

Riccardo Illy at Mastrojanni

Mastrojanni is a Tuscan brand I have drunk and followed for a couple of decades - I have some Rosso di Montalcino from the late '80s in my cellar - so I was especially intertested when I heard that Riccardo Illy would also be in New York this week. Illy is head of Gruppo Illy, a family-owned business that is famous for Illy brand coffee (you can't seriously travel to Europe without drinking lots of Illy espresso, and my wife Ella bought me an Illy machine for Christmas) and has broadening into producing tea, chocolate, various formed of preserved fruit, and now wine - all the basic food groups.

I have a couple of assignments to write articles about Illy and Mastrojanni, so I won't use all my material here. Let me just say that Riccardo Illy is charming and witty, a very astute businessman and politician (he was a member of the Italian parliament and mayor of his native Trieste, where Illy is located) and is fascinated by Mastrojanni, which the family purchased in 2008.

One of Riccardo Illy's business tenets is to retain management when you buy a company, so Andrea Machetti has stayed on as managing director of Mastrojanni. All of the wines I tasted were delicious - the 2005 Brunello, the lovely, dark, somewhat meaty 2004 "Vigna Schiena d'Asino" Brunello, and the 2007 IGT Super Tuscan "San Pio" (80% Cab, 20% Sangio) with it's lovely raspberry fruit and violet aromas. But, because it is the first vintage released since the Illy purchase and because it's a great value wine, my second wine of the week is:

2008 Mastrojanni Rosso di Montalcino ($25). Bright, lively fruit up front with a dark, rich fruit in the finish to add length and complexity. It has moderate tannins, so the wine is very drinkable now.

Montes: Let Them Drink Kaiken

Aurelio Montes has a phrase: "We had some more energy." He established, with partners, Montes as the first all-premium Chilean winery, then "we had some more energy," and Montes leaped across the Andes to make wine under the Kaiken label in Argentina. Further energized, he went north to Napa for NapaAngel. Then, propelled by his love for Syrah, he nosed around in Paso Robles for the right grapes and created StarAngel.

In some ways, Montes is a half-mystic like another brilliant winemaker, the Italian Alois Lageder in that both play music for the wines slumbering in the barrel. But Montes is the only winemaker I know who created a winery - the Montes facility at Apalta - according to Feng Shui principles. So it isn't surprising that Montes named the Paso wine StarAngel after former business partner Douglas Murray, who recently died and who loved the concept of angels and brought the motif to Montes.

So there was no way I'd miss Aurelio Montes' presentation yesterday afternoon of 12 of his red wines before and over lunch at Aureole in mid-town Manhattan. They are all big, bold but very drinkable wines from Bordeaux blends to Malbecs to Syrahs to Carmenere - all different but with a similar touch.

The wine I want to feature as my third wine of the week, however, is the one that Aurelio came to show us as the new Kaiken on the block, "Mai," the first Montes icon wine from Argentina:

2007 Kaiken "Mai" ($90). Mai is 100% Malbec, but a blend of three Mendoza regional vineyards. It has ripe berries and spices, with dark cherry being the dominant flavor, well-balanced with loads of tannins. It is long on the palate, but still very tight. Aurelio recommends it with wild boar and other game, but if I were going to have it this evening with pork sauvage, I would decant it around noon.

Recently Published Articles:

In the October Beverage Media, I explore how the classic producers of sweet wines are updating their profiles and portfolio - or not - in "Still Sweet - but Not Old-Fashioned."

In the October Sommelier News, I visit the vineyard Mer Soileil, "The White Jewel of Monterey."

And for four years I've been choosing a representative 12 bottles of wine from Southeastern Pennsylvania producers. Read about the "2010 Case of the Brandywine" in the Oct/Nov issue of Signature Brandywine.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Week of Drinking Locally - Sort Of

A week of drinking locally - above from the top down: (1) The Horse Knows the Way, as proprietor Stefaan Massart does a tour de vines of his Chateau Vilatte estate near Puynormand; (2) The End of Bordeaux lies just beyond the building at the bottom of the slope, as the vines Chateau Parencherre near Ligueux look eastward toward Dordogne; (3) in the Colli Fiorentini, A Cellar with a View looks skyward from the ancient castle keep of Fattoria Torre a Cona.

For the last week, I've been a strict locaboire, drinking only local wines to pair with local foods.
The week began quite pleasantly with a Monday lunch at the Planet Bordeaux wine tourism center, feasting on duck confit and Bordeaux Superieure rouge at the intriguing facility just off the main route between Bordeaux City and Libourne that is all about Bordeaux' mainstay brands - Bordeaux AC and Bordeaux Superior wines.

After drinking and eating my way across Entre-Deux-Mer and adjacent regions, I landed Thursday evening in Florence in time for a long dinner at Trattorio da Tito, sampling a dozen or so bottles of delightful Chianti Colli Fiorentini reds and riservas before nearly collapsing from sensory overload into my steak Florentine.

Following a major tasting of wines of the CCF Riserva appellation at the city's Limonaia on Friday morning and visiting on Saturday four estates in the hills surrounding Italy's favorite city, I found myself on the flight back from Paris to Pennsylvania. There, my wife Ella's classic pasta with red sauce awaited me, savored at a Sunday evening dinner in front of the season's first fire and matched with two locally made Chester County wines - a homemade 2007 Pinot Noir from David Othmer's Haywagon Vineyard and a well-aged 2003 Va La Vineyards Nebbilo made by its proprietor, Anthony Vietri.

Eat local, drink local - wherever local happens to be at the moment.
The purpose of this week on the road was to get a closer view of two under-appreciated wine regions where great quality and value exist. Bordeaux AC and Bordeaux Superieur, whose wineries are concentrated in, but not limited to, the Entre-Deux-Mers region between Boredeaux' Medoc and Graves regions and Ste-Emilion and Pomerol, makes delicious red, white, sweet and even sparkling wines at affordable prices. Chianti Colli Fiorentini is lesser known than Chianti Classico, but it also makes great value wines in the hills, or colli, around Florence.
Some highlights of the week:
1. Shopping the weekly market at Creon and seeing the source of Bordeaux' fabuluos duck cuisine,
2. Touring Renaissance man Stefaan Massart's Chateau Vilatte vineyards by horse-drawn carriage then sitting down to dinner with bread made by Massart at the brick oven he reconstructed,
3. Hearing and watching in the gathering darkness as the mascaret, or incoming mini-tidal wave, swept up the Dordogne River from the Atlantic, at riverside Chateau de Bel,
4. Walking through the caverns beneath Chateau Lamothe d'Haux, carved out long ago to get limestone building blocks for chateaux and city buildings, then having lunch on the terrace above,
5. Examining the century-old vines newly identified as being from the rare Bouchales variety at Chateau de la Vieille Chapelle,
6. Watching - quel frommage! - cheeses being made at Domaine de l'Hirondelle,
7. Savoring a family dinner with the Demononchaux at Chateau Pierrail,
8. Interviewing the fascinating Antoine Touton on camera at Chateau Sainte-Barbe.
9. At Florence's Boboli Gardens, tasting through the 2008 vintage of Chiani Colli Fiorentini in the caveronous Limonaia, then
10. Visiting four estates in the maze of hills around the city.
And, of course, the pleasures of being back home again with local food, local wine, and a local bed!
Until next time,
Roger Morris
In the September issue of the UK's The Drinks Business, read my business case study, "John Larchet's Aussie Wine Journal."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday Lineup: Laura Catena's Argentina

Laura Catena is one of those people you would love to have living next door - loads of practical knowledge, makes fabulous wines, tells great stories, and is an emergency room physician in case things get a tad grim. The only thing is that next door could be San Francisco, where she practices medicine, or Mendoza, where she practices wine.

She is also daughter of wine pioneer Nicolas Catena and great-granddaughter of immigrants from the Italian Marche to Argentina's premier wine-growing country. I met both Nicolas and Laura Catena at dinner about seven years ago at the famous Mayan temple-like Catena Zapata winery south of Mendoza city.

Today, Laura Catena is president of Catena Zapata and owner of her own Luca winery, based in the Uco Valley and specializing in wines made from grapes grown in ultra-high, small-lot vineyards on the eastern slope of the Andes. And if we can't have her living next door, we now have the next best thing: a just-out copy of her new book, Vino Argentina (Chronicle Books, $27.50), being released next Wednesday, and a bottle of her 2008 Luca Mendoza Malbec.

The book first - and it is an "everything book," one of those unusual blends of precise information you want when you're in a hurry and cultural grazing when you want context and a good story. Essentially, it is first a hands-on guidebook to Argentina wines and wineries with names and contact info. Second, it a book on the wine culture and foods of Argentina with lots of specific and delightful background material. Finally, it is a cookbook for those who can't make it to Argentina or who just came back from there and want a lingering taste of the Argentine lifestyle.

In short, Laura Catena's Vino Argentina is the one book I would read before going back to Argentina, then I would pack it in the luggage.

Now the wine:

Wine of the Week:

2008 Luca Mendoza Malbec ($32). The aroma is powerful - dark berries and murky oak - and there is an immediate sensation of richness (but not fat) on the palate. The basics flavors are the ones I'm immediately drawn to - very tangy fruit, like slightly dried but still plump Bing cherries, lying in a bed of creme fraiche or sour cream. The fruity creaminess lingers in the aftertaste. It has excellent integration of oak and fruit. Three ways of serving this wine come quickly to mind - with flaky, rich but not buttery cow's milk cheese, with an elegant dish of pink beef or lamb and a rich reduction sauce, or with goat stew. Very drinkable now, but will age well.

Until next week...
Roger Morris
New Articles:
- Profile of Talula's Table restaurant in current issue of Sante'.
- Wines of Greek Macedonia in the current issue of Sommelier News.
- Why Drink? in the current issue of the Montreal-based Plaisirs de Vivre. Why, indeed?

Friday, September 17, 2010

From the Alentejo Plains to the Douro Slopes

First things first: If you haven't tasted the delicious table wines David Baverstock has been making from Alentejo grapes for Esporao over the past 18 years, go out and buy some now. Esporao, like many Portuguese wineries, makes wines at various levels of price and corresponding complexities, and I was struck by the house consistency that Baverstock has achieved at all the levels. The simplest wines have some of the same appealing characteristics as the greatest. Beyond this, there is a consistency between vintages, although vintages definitely matter in the Alentejo.

Second: Mark your calendar for Spring 2011 when the first wines from Esporao-owned Quinta dos Murcas will start appearing in America of Douro table wines from Baverstock, an old hand at both Port and table wines from Portugal's north,

I just got back yesteday from visiting both estates on assignment to write five or so articles and had a great time. The food, particularly at the finer restaurants, was delicious, although we had a lovely lunch prepared by resident cook Dona Ana Maria of Murcas, including a fresh octopus with potatoes and broccoli (see photo). Through it all, there was not a single wine we tasted from the two estates that didn't show quality and that wasn't a very good food wine.

I'll be posting links to articles as they appear, but I hope you enjoyed this quick preview - including photos of the vines of Alentejo from a centuries-old tower, the harvest at Esporao, and a grape's-eye view of the Douro from atop one of Murcas' lofty vineyards.
Until next time,

Roger Morris

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cruzan Rummages Through the Spice Rack

Certain spirits are for sipping, what you reach for when you are relaxing or have something pleasurable to mull over. Pour me a Jack Daniels on the rocks during a long flight across the Atlantic when I'm leafing through my trip journal or a dollop of Cognac or Armagnac in a retro snifter while I'm at the bar listening to jazz piano after a pleasant, solo dinner or else when I'm reading the latest Vanity Fair in a stuffed chair on a wintry evening as the wind howls outside.

Now add Cruzan 9 spiced rum to make it a trilogy. Rum has always been an occasional drink for me, one that I certainly enjoy by itself or as the lead ingredient in a cocktail, but it isn't a regular on my iPod play list. But the other day, I received a promotional bottle of Cruzan spiced - No. 379 of the first 500 production run it says in the add-on label - and it blew me away. It's perhaps the smoothest full-scale (40% alcohol) flavored spirit I have tasted, and though it boasts nine "heirloom" spices, vanilla is its dominant aroma, both from the spice itself and the toasted wood. The other eight include cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, even a touch of juniper berry. It costs about $16 a bottle.

Although it's a serious drink, the nose immediately says "vanilla-bean ice cream." But I've resisted the temptation to buy some and try the combination. Mostly, I've just been sipping it neat, both at room temperature and chilled. I haven't wanted to weaken it with ice, but sooner or later, I suppose I'll have to try that as well.

It's also a pleasant morning drink - just a taste after some strong Italian-roast coffee, which is what I'm having now at 4:30 a.m. as I'm working on this posting. The day is already rosy, and it isn't even daylight.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Friday Lineup: This Writer's Life

Carla Capalbo is a respected wine and food correspondent, commentator and photographer, and those of you read Decanter regularly probably recognize her byline on dispatches, especially from Italy. I've met up with her over the past year or so in Bordeaux and Greece and have come to enjoy her insights and to be amused by her camera unipod (a tripod minus two) that must give airport security fits when she shows up with it on her trips.

When we were together with other journalists in Macedonia in late June, Carla showed me her just-published book, Collio: Fine Wines and Foods from Italy's North-East, for which she did text and color photos. It is a beautiful book, whether you're reading page-by-page or just thumbing through for an overview. Collio is a lovely section of the world that produces some heavenly wines, especially whites, and Carla has done a great job of capturing the place, the people and the wines and food. It is published by Pallas Athene, and you won't have any problem finding it on the internet or ordering it though your local indie.

This is not her first wine and food book, and what makes Carla so good is that she takes the time to know a region, either camping out in it for weeks or visiting with frequency if she lives nearby.

Buy it, either for yourself or the wino who lives on the other side of your bed.


I frequently try to tell people that wine writing and the travel it entails - especially those long second-class flights to vineyards inconveniently planted on the other side of the Atlantic or the 12-hour days in the tasting room and at the dinner table with nothing to do except drink, eat, ask questions and take notes - can be pure hell. No one believes me. "Can I carry your bags?" they ask. "How to I get your job?" they plead.

While I was away traveling to Paso Robles on a wine assignment recently, my friend and colleague John Lowman clipped the cartoon above from The New Yorker and slow-mailed it to me so I would see it on my return.

Need I say anything else?

Wine of the Week

2001 Montecillo Rioja Gran Riserva ($25). Maria Martinez was one of the first women in Europe to break the for-men-only cellar-door barrier and open it to a flood of female winemakers, and her experience shows off in this wonderly sophisticated Tempranillo. For people who don't have the storage room or the patience to age their own wines, this is the way you used to be able to buy reds - fully mature when you opened the bottle and ready to drink without being tired or dried out. This nine-year old new release has rounded red fruit, mellow, well-integrated oak, just a touch of tannins and food-loving acidity. It will keep for more years, but why not drink it now? A steal at $25.

Wines of Interest

2009 Vina Costeira Ribeiro ($15). A tangy, refreshing white from Spain's left coast with medium body and lots of citrus and floral notes and a touch of brioche in the finish. Very nice blend of indigenous grapes with Treixadura (70%) leading the way. (Note: Ribeiro D.O. is not to be confused with Ribera del Duero.)

2008 Blackstone Winemaker Select California Merlot ($11). Ripe, rich fruit with moderate oak and a touch of creaminess in the end. A harmonious wine, simple and not complex.
2008 Un4seen California Red Wine ($11). When I unscrewed this and took the first taste, I was hit with the sweet fruitiness of the kind of wine I don't drink. But the second sip showed good structure and a surprisingly fine spicy, satisfying finish. I drank some and came back the next day to finish the bottle. That said, Un4seen is really a wine for people who like a sweeter, fruitier table companion, but don't want a cloying finish. If you're climbing up or going down that sweet to dry ladder, this could be your wine. A blend of Zin, Malbec, PV and Merlot.

Now Playing at a Newstand (or Computer Screen) Near You

My latest harvest of wine articles has some nice ones:

Drinks Business, the UK-based wine business publication, carries my case study of Michel Rolland's Mendoza wine collective, Clos de los Siete, in its August issue.

Drinks, the American consumer magazine, has my cover story on "Spain's Greatest Grape: The Many Faces of Tempranillo," in its fall issue.

And the August issue of Sommelier News, the online magazine at, features my piece on Sangiovese di Romagna, vying to become Italy's fourth great Sangiovese region.

Let me know if you would like to see a scanned copy of either the Clos de los Siete or Tempranillo articles.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rant in a Minor Key: Going Against the Green

For me, green is beginning to look a lot browner.

My dad believed in conservation - he was a union wage earner coming out of the Depression with four kids and a wife who was a week-night and weekend farmer because he had always been a farmer and because we needed the food. To dad two of the most dispicable words in the English language were scabs (the anti-union kind) and soil erosion. We caught hell if we tried to dam up the little stream that flowed by our house or cut play roads into the bare hillside.

I grew up as an environmentalist, which meant that I sometimes was at odds with the company I worked for - DuPont - but also sometimes defended them when I thought they were the victim of kneejerk criticisms of big business.

But I'm sick of green. Green is the new patriotism. Salute without even counting the stars in the flag. What set me off this time was seeing an ad about a Ford hybrid with its boast for how many miles a gallon it got in city driving. How much electricity does it take for recharging and how is that electricity manufactured? How much energy does it take to mine rare metals for the battery and what does it do to the environment? What is the total energy savings, if any? Tell me all that information in less-than-fine print, tell me all the tradeoffs, and I might seriously consider the ad's message.

The same with all our electronics. I love computers and my e-mail and my Blackberry and my blogging, but at what environmental cost? Electronics are far from being environmentally clean or even energy efficient from their birth to their final disposal. So spare me that puritan little note about considering whether I need to print out a message on (renewable and biodegradable and recyclable) paper if I want to retain something.

Yes, I do believe in some green causes. I believe absolutely that plastic bags are evil and not necessary because they last forever and are clogging up wire fences across the country and contaminating our oceans. They are the graffiti of packaging. When I need to carry something, I take along my own reusable bag in 90% of the cases. The other 10% is due to a faulty memory. Mostly, I love to carry things in my bare hands, sans baggage.

I was - am- a marketer of products and ideas. But I do get tired of so many false or unprovable green claims that I get daily from people touting their greener-than-green wine or food packaging, their tiny little carbon footprints, and their chastity-like sustainability. I delete most of these messages immediately without reading. And don't worry about me printing them out first.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Austin Hope's Terroir

One of the topics wine people often discuss is how certain grape varieties thrive in particular settings or terroirs and how, over time, the wines made from these grapes grow to reflect these respective terroirs.

This week, I spent a few days with Austin Hope, his family and his colleagues at Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles, and it gradually occured to me that wineries and the people who work there often reflect the terroir as surely as their wines. Those who know Austin, his crew, and his wines would probably agree that no person, no winery better reflects the spirit of California's Central Coast in general, and Paso Robles in particular, than do Austin and his multi-faceted winery.

I love the sophistication of the Medoc and Napa Valley, but I also enjoy the more-rural pace of the Central Coast. Things don't move any slower in the country - a tired myth - but things are more deliberate, and there are fewer distractions. Similarly, everything seems less ostentatious and more utilitarian.

Austin Hope and his family moved to Paso Robles in 1978 from the Central Valley to grow apples and grapes (the apples made a quick exit), and Austin started working in the vineyard when he was eight. Today, Hope Family Wines is a very large, though not huge enterprise. Many of us have drunk their Treana red and white for over a decade and their Liberty School everyday wines, especally the Cab, even longer - from the days when the Hopes were selling grapes to Caymus before they bought the brand outright.

In recent years, as Austin began to take over the day-to-day from his father, Chuck, the line and the marketing have expanded. First, there was the prestige Austin Hope varietals that have proven to be a steady brand. More recently, we have seen the introduction of the ground-breaking, multi-vintage Candor line and the relaunching of Westside Red.

Hope is a complex and very likable guy who still has a touch of shy boyishness about him. Although he loves farming and winemaking, he is also a shrewd at business planning, something his father admits was not his first love. Hope understands tradition, but he doesn't get mired down in it. He enjoys thinking radical thoughts - such as betting on multi-vintage wines at higher price and quality levels rather than just sticking to the handcuffs of straight vintages - and acting on many of these thoughts. The people whom he has gathered around him - winemakers JC Diefendorfer and Soren Christenson and grower relations head Kristen Lane - reflect his spirit and intellectual restlessness. It was refreshing not to hear this week the routine, if well-meaning, cliches that often go with winemaking. And there is also some good ol' boy in Hope. He likes cars and bars and hunting as well as the next guy.

Of course, there are the wines. There is a preference for Cabernet and the Rhone varietals - what grows well here - especially at the high levels. If there is a house style, it is fruitiness up front, full body on the palate, and a lean finish with food-loving acidity. Fortunately, I got to taste the wines with a lot of good food provided by Thomas Hill Organics, Il Cortile, Artisan, and Bistro Laurent. You may not find many designer clothing stores in downtown Paso, but you certainly can eat well.

Over the next few weeks and months, I will be writing more about Hope Family Wines, and I will let you know as those articles start to appear as the grape are harvested, the leaves turn, and the snow flies. In the meantime, search out some of the newer Hope wines such as Candor and Westside Red and even Austin Hope wines if you haven't tried them.

When I returned from California, a friend had sent me a Hamilton cartoon that showed a sophisticated woman and a laid-back man chatting across a table with a bottle of wine. She asks him as he looks rather smug, "Do wine writers suffer and all that?" Sometimes, when you're stuck at Charles de Gaulle or it's past midnight in Spain and you haven't ordered the first course or on those long bus rides back to the hotel, we do suffer - a little. But this week, being a wine writer in Paso Robles and hanging out with the Hope folks was pure pleasure.

For wine pricing and location, go to

Until next time....
Roger Morris

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Ends of the Spectrum

Wine of the Week

2007 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35). There are certain wines that bring a smile to your face when you pull the cork and smell the bottle, a welcoming aroma like coming through the front door on a cold day at dinner time. This is one of them. It may not be an outstanding wine, but it is certainly a very good one, especially at this price - a full-bodied Napa Cab that is not too oaky, too tannic, nor too fruit-forward. Instead, it has a lovely berry and cassis nose with flavors of tart blackberries, dark chocolate, mushrooms, forest floor and mellow oak. It is also somewhat lean and minerally, only mildly tannic and is, perhaps at this stage, a little too tight. The finish and aftertaste are a surprise - touches of raspberry cream and violets. Well structured and a delicious food wine.

Wines of Interest

2008 Ajello Sicily Nero d'Avola ($12). True to the Nero's taste profile, this is a big, unapoletically assertive wine with dark fruit flavors, mouthfuls of tannin and a pleasant bitterness around the edges. Don't try to explain it - like it or hate it for what it is, the wine equivalent of a burly Islay Scotch. Sip it, savor it with some spicy salumi. Let the afternoon pass away.

2009 Thomas Henry Borden Ranch Verdelho ($12). I had this wine a few days after the Nero d'Alba, and I thought they represented the A and the Z of wine drinking. Although both state 14% alcohol on the label, the Verdelho - how many of those do you see from California? - is a pouf by comparison, a little pond of lemon meringue and sugar floating in the middle of your palate. Drink it, and it immediately disappears. A nice amusement while you're waiting around the kitchen with guests before leaving for dinner.

2005 Undone Rheinhessen Pinot Noir ($13). German Pinots are still a bit of a wonder to us, and few to date have gone beyond the novelty state. This is a very simple one - unoaked - with rooty, cola flavors. Light-body, easy drinking at an attractive price.

2007 Waterstone Napa Merlot ($18). This is a Southwest Airlines kind of no-frills wine. Plump, smooth, plummy fruit with light oak and mild tannins.

Prices approximate. For availability, go to

Until next time...
Roger Morris

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Lineup: Riesling Matches

Rieslings have been collecting for some time in my wine samples bin, so I tasted 18 of them this week in one swell foop. Of these, I thought 11 were quite enjoyable, six not worth noting, and one, a classic German one, was so over-sulphured it never really blew off.

Some of the ones from the West Coast not noted were quite dull and clumsy, and it seems as if they were there simply because someone said, "We need a Riesling in our product line."

Wines of the Week

2009 Johannishof "V" Rheingau Johannisberg Riesling Kabinett ($24). Lovely floral aromas with gamy edges - apricot and peaches melded into a balsamic-like flavors. It's one of those instances where an interesting flavor or aroma gets near the edge, but doesn't go over it. Would be fine with Alsatian dishes.

2009 Craggy Range "Fletcher Family" Marlborough Riesling ($20). Pleasant oily Riesling aromas blended in with orange peel smells and tastes. Mildly assertive. Stony, minerally, metallic under pinnings.

2009 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt "Josephofer" Riesling Kabinett ($30). Clean aromas with delicious, ripe fruit - apricot and plum peel - but with a tart finish. Excellent structure. A lean, piano-wire Riesling that nevertheless has appealing fruitiness.

2008 Mercer Yakima Valley Riesling ($15). Nice and elegant, with a balance between full and lean styles. Petroleum aromas, metallic and minerally, with apricot and orange notes throughout. A nice drinking wine, with or without food.

Wines of Interest

2009 Villa Sacher "Rheingraf" Rheinhessen Dry Riesling ($14). Excellent mouth feel - luscious and velvety - with muted fruit, floral and dry herbal, forest-floor flavors. A savory wine that is long on the palate.

2009 Macari Finger Lakes Riesling ($30). Lots of petroleum in the lovely nose. Lean, minerally, slate-like with tart apple skins. Lightly tannic - a pleasantly assertive wine that would stand up to tuna steaks and sushi.

2009 Liebfrauenstift Rheinhessen Dry Riesling ($14). Very delicate, but well-balanced with light nectar flavors. A good sipping wine.

2008 Liebfrauenstift Rheinhessen Riesling Trocken ($14). Again, lightish with flavors high on the palate of peach peel, minerals, slate. Quite nice.

2008 Blackstone Monterey County Riesling ($12). A good, basic "peaches and plums" Riesling. Not elegant, but-well integrated fruit. Full without being dull.

2007 Firestone Central Coast Riesling ($12). Petroleum notes. Fairly big with lots of apricots and peaches, but with a touch of taffy. Far from classic, but a good larger-style Riesling.

2009 Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Sweet Riesling ($10). Better than in its drier styles. Clove aromas with almost creamy, floral peaches. Well-balanced acidity.

Prices are approximate. For more-precise pricing and availability, check out:

Until next time...

Roger Morris