Friday, May 28, 2010

The Friday Lineup™

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted. All wines are sampled pristine and with food.

Wine of the Week

2006 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($52). An excellent wine that is more European than Californian in nature. I decided to decant it, as I do most serious wines, but I knew there was little need, because the tannins in Jordan Cabs are always so well-integrated already and because the wines are usually bottle ready to drink. The wine reminds me in style of a slightly more fruity Margaux from one of the better ch̢teaux Рfine mature berries with a lean finish, good closing acidity and barely noticeable tannins.

Wines of Interest

2009 Helfrich Vin d’Alsace Riesling ($15) and 2007 Helfrich Alsace Grand Cru Riesling ($25). Thank god for Alsace Riesling table wines! The varietal fragrances and tastes of Rieslings as they appear in Germany and California make for great sipping wines and dessert wines in their sweeter forms, but they always taste not-quite-right for my palate with foods. They may “work,” but there are always two or three other wines I would prefer, regardless of the food. I drank both the Helfrich Rieslings, as well as their Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, over a delightful lunch at Chifa restaurant in Philadelphiawith one of the owners, Anne-Laurie Helfrich, and the winemaker, Serge Fleischer. Both Rieslings were quite good. The everyday (“noble tier”) Riesling is a perfect food wine. While it has the Riesling fragrances, it is dominated by minerally, earthy, tart, rocky, raspy flavors that are very food friendly. The grand cru version spent much of its extra age on the lees, so it is fuller with a yeasty/brioche layer on top of the minerals. Very reasonable prices for both, as well. I found both versions of the Pinot Gris and the Gewurtz enjoyable, but a little more ordinary and somewhat sweeter.

2008 Treana Central Coast White ($25). Last week, I had the Treana red as the wine of the week, and the white could easily deserve such honors as well. It is a perfect blend of fruit and savory flavors, as the best Rhone-style whites are - fruit essences of ripe peaches and mangoes and Mediterranean dried herbs. Full and unctuous on the palate with good acidity. Marsanne dominates in this blend with Viognier.

2009 Dancing Wolf Clarksburg Verdelho ($11). In the May 7 Friday Lineup, I said some nice things about two of the line-priced Dancing Wolf wines, but I found this one rather ordinary and with a tad too much residual sugar. Yeah, I know, what do you expect for $11? They just spoiled me with the Albarino.

2007 Clos la Chance Santa Clara Mountains “Biagini” Pinot Noir ($50). This wine has about as much concentrated, jammy fruit – black raspberries and preserved cherries – as you’ll ever get from a Pinot Noir without being heavy on the palate. Delicious flavors! Unfortunately, it is also somewhat hot and prickly at the finish, which is becoming more common with La Chance wines. Maybe it’s because of the 14.5% alcohol, but there may be something else going on here in the cellar.

Articles of Some Note:

1. "A River Runs Through It” in the current issue of Drinks magazine ( is a run-down of the lovely white wines of the Loire Valley.

2. My debut review for Book Page, the independent booksellers’ journal, in on Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw. Such a nice young boy, that Tony! (

3. My journeys through Italy’s are chronicled in “Nebbiolo Country” in the current Sommelier News. (

4. And, closer to home, my blog in looks at putting together a “50-Mile Wineries” cellar from my home base in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Until next time…

Roger Morris

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Friday Lineup™

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted. All wines are sampled pristine and with food.

Wine of the Week

2007 Treana Paso Robles Red ($50). Some years ago when attending a pharmaceutical convention in San Francisco, I somehow found myself at the Fairmont Hotel bar in search of a big glass of red. For a price, the barkeep suggested a generous pour of Treana, and the two of us have been having serial one-night stands – one bottle, one night – ever since. I’ve always thought there’s been a Rhone style to Austin Hope’s big red, but it’s primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a lesser amount of Syrah. When I decanted this one, aromas of wet cracked grain and pure blackberry juice wafted up, and that was verified in the glass by big warm oak flavors expertly blended in with dark, yet vibrant, purple fruit. Very good to drink straight, but I would prefer it with a robust, meaty cassoulet.

Wines of Interest

2007 Inama Veneto IGT Carmenere Piu (20 bucks). Stefano Inama is mainly known for his complex Soaves (see May 8 Lineup), but he also makes this big, monolithic red of 75% Carm, 20% Merlot and a droplet of Raboso Veronese. In some ways it’s a work-in-progress. It is quite likable without being sophisticated and elegant. It is flavorful and enticing, yet it tromps tannins across the tongue. My guess is that it will be somewhat tamed in five years, but, as for now, it is very tight and closed on opening with lots of big tannins, then gradually opening over several hours to reveal almost sweet preserved fig flavors at its core along with other dark fruits, and the tannins reluctantly show hints of alluring Baker’s chocolate.

2009 Concha y Toro Central Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($7). Given C y T’s historical core, it isn’t surprising that the Cabernet Sauvignon is my pick of their line of varietal releases from Chile and Argentina. The fruit is pure Cab, the balance is good, and the tannins are friendly. Nice wine, especially for the price.

2009 Chaddsford Spring Wine ($14). Winemaker Eric Miller has always made some of the best wines on the East Coast, but when he began pioneering Southeast Pennsylvania as a new wine region, he understood he would need to make wines for wine geeks at most ends of the spectrum if he were to survive. This wine is for the folks who loved yellow tail before there was a yellow tail and white Zin before there was a white Zin. It is fruity and somewhat sweet, but it is also refreshing with orange and white flower flavors with a limpid mouth feel. It is a wine of some interest, at least for a half glass, when it begins to lag at the finish. The grapes are totally hybrid – Vignoles, Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc.

Until next time,,,,

Roger Morris

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Friday Lineup™ - Loire Valley Report

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted. All wines are sampled pristine and with food.

Last week, I tasted about 220 wines in the Loire Valley from Muscadet to Sancerre. Here are some wineries and wines that caught my attention. (Sorry that my program doesn’t permit the addition of diacritical marks.)

If it’s Monday, it must be Muscadet…

We start a cool, overcast, rainy week meeting five producers in Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu at Severine Larcher’s Domaine des Herbauges. I am especially impressed with Domaine du Haut Bourg’s crisp, floral wines and Prieure Royal Saint-Laurent’s complex, long-lived whites. Winemaker Michel Morilleau likes to have his wines get some oxygen to emphasize the floral aspects and uses as little sulfur as possible. (“It makes the wine white, and I hate that!”)

Frog legs from the nearby lac cooked in garlic and beurre blanc are a lunch centerpiece at La Grignotiere in the village of Bouaye.

Afternoon at Muscadet de Sevres et Main is a tasting of very good new and old wines, including a 1997, at Domaine de la Quilla, along with those from Clos de la Houssaie.

But the highlight of the day comes with dinner at La Terrace in Savennieres (sandre with shallot beurre blanc) with several producers. The restaurant has a marvelous view of the Loire, and, within a few square kilometers along the slopes of the river just downstream from Angers, some of France’s best white wines are made. This is also the heartland of French biodynamics, and we are hosted by bio’s always-vivacious Evelyne de Pontbriand of Domaine du Closel, although I must admit that Closel’s wines, with loads of oxygen and dancing on the edges of volatility, are not my favorites from the region. The show-stealers are single bottles from Damien Laureau, Domaine aux Moines and Eric Morgat.

Tuesday in the Anjou hills…

It is still raining and windy when we get to the spectacular Chateau Soucherie, which is undergoing an extreme makeover under new owners, led by charismatic and talented winemaker Thilbaud Boudignon. I particularly enjoy his Anjou Blanc, Savenierres and sweet Coteaux du Layon.

Delicious rare duck breast with a potato gratin highlights the lunch at La Corniche, a roadside restaurant near rural Saint Aubin de Luigne.

We move on to the Cave des Vignerons de Saumur in Saint Cyr en Bourg. Most of the 20-some wines we taste are well-made, affordable-but-not-memorable, everyday regional wines. That being said, I am extremely impressed by the winemaker, young Eric Laurent, who attacks the job of producing wines from more than 110,000 hectares of vines in 4,000 parcels by more than 150 growers. Imagine making critical decisions as an average 800 tons of grapes per day arrive at the winery over a period of four weeks of harvest!

Dinner is at L’Alchemiste, a small restaurant with high standards on a back street in Saumur. Tonight’s food star is a delicious dorade (I think) with small flavorable beans. We are hosted by the big sparkling wine houses – Ackerman, Bouvet, Louis de Grenelle, Langlois Chateau, Blanc Foussy, JM Monmousseau. All produce nice, good-value wines, although some are a bit broad and cling to the palate. None of them blow me away.

Red-Wine Wednesday in Chinon and Bourgueil…

The high points of today are visits to two domaines – Jerome Billard’s La Noblaie in Chinon and Denis Gambier’s des Ouches in Bourgueil. Billard’s rose’ from Cabernet Franc is one of the best I have tasted, and his reds are complex, fruity, earthy and very age-worthy. Gambier’s reds, made in the old limestone caves of the regions, are lovely monster wines in the Medoc manner – huge, complex Cab Francs with loads of tannins, fruit and alcohol that take about six years to come around. He makes different cuvees from the hillsides and “the gravels,” plus a reserve with some Cab Sauv. While most of the reds of the Loire are easy drinking and low in alcohol, those of des Ouches (oooches) shows that the region can produce big wines that are well worth the wait.

At the newly opened La Maison des Vins de Loire in the old section of Tours, we are treated to wines from the seldom-seen appellation of Montlouis. I am especially impression the sparkling Chenin Blanc, Bubulle, and the whites of Domaine de la Taille (Jacky Blot),

Two very good meals today. Lunch at Stephane and Yelena Perrot’s L’Ardoise in Chinon is the best stop on the trip for food, presentation, service and ambience. If you’re touring the region, L’Ardoise is a must-taste. The dishes, served on rectangles of black slate, are much too elaborate to describe in detail, but the foie gras served two ways with a fig ice cream and a beef fillet with a lightly sweet wine reduction sauce are superb today. Dinner at La Theleme in Tours – a lovely, lively city – is also noteworthy, especially the creamy crab wrapped in seaweed with chives.

Ascension Day Thursday at Vouvray…

People actually lived in these caves along the river, even after the richer class started building residences above ground from the stones quarried below.

Today is a holiday in France (the country has an equal amount of holidays and work stoppages, it seems) but the Vouvray producers graciously give up their mornings to treat us to a tasting of Chenin Blancs and lunch in their maze of caves. The wines here are uniformly very good – the sparkling, the lightly sweet whites and, especially, the dry whites. The first three producers I taste are a good case in point of different styles.

Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau wines, a bio producer, are juicy and fruity, yet in balance. Those of Domaine de la Chataigneraie are light and elegant, from sparkling to white table, and those of Domainee de la Fontainerie are very lively and aggressive, great food wines. “I don’t make feminine wines,” says La Fontainerie’s Catherine Dhoye Deruet. Also interesting are the wines of Clos de l’Epinay, Chateau Gaudrelle and Domaine d’Orfeuilles.

In the afternoon, we go up the Cher Valley and then cut cross-country through the hills until we re-enter the Loire near the lovely old hillside town of Sancerre, where we stay the night. Is there a more beautiful visit of towns and rolling hillsides of vines along the Loire? For dinner, there is a lovely mint pea soup with partially dried tomatoes and a crab claw at La Pomme d’Or.

Friday in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume…

The best total portfolio of wines we explore on the visit is at Domaine Serge Dagueneau et Filles in the Pouilly Fume town of St. Andelain, where Valerie Dagueneau takes us through her spectacular array of wines – the Chasselas-dominated Pouilly-sur-Loire, several Sauvignons from Pouilly Fume and three very nice wines from the re-emerging area of Cotes de Charite, until this year known as Cotes de Charitois – a Chardonnay, Pinot Beurrot (Gris) and a very satisfying, gamy Pinot Noir.

After a couple of more stops, we finish at Domaine Fouassier, a 10th-generation producer, at the foot of Sancerre Mountain. The whites all have the best characteristics of great Sancerre – fruit, acid, flowers, complexity – but winemaker Benoit Fouassier, who took over winemaking with his cousin in 2000, reminds us that Sancerre also makes reds from Pinot Noir. And his Pinots are big, chewy and tannic. It also occurs to me that Benoit has the grapes and the guts to do what other winemakers can’t or don’t do – make big, mouth-filling, well-aging Pinot Noirs that are not the least bit feminine, as Burgundies have been characterized for centuries.

And so, as the week on the Loire finishes on, surprisingly, a Pinot high, it’s dozing time on the long ride back to a welcome hotel room at Charles de Gaulle.

Until next time…

Roger Morris

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Friday Lineup™

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted. All wines are sampled pristine and with food.
Last week I took off Friday as I was en route back from the West Coast where I visited several wineries, with in-depth looks at Jordan and Bouchaine, both for assignments for upcoming magazine pieces. And next week I will be late again, coming back from assignment in the Loire Valley. But I will be posting.

Wine of the Week

2007 Inama Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico ($19). I’ve been commenting on several interesting Soaves recently, but this has to be one of my favorites, and Stefano Inama is definitely my favorite winemaker in the appellation and certainly one of the most interesting winemakers anywhere to talk with. This wine is 100% hillside Garganega, which produces here juicy, tropical flavors – full and complex, yet with good acidity. I found I had to work my way into the wine, however, and not just start drinking, which is unusual – almost as if the wine were saying, “Don’t take me casually.” But the more I sipped, the more I became pulled in.

Wines of Interest

2008 Bota Box California Cabernet Sauvignon ($19 for 3 liters). Yeah, yeah, I know that good box wines are no longer news, and I don’t need another pitch on environmentally correct packaging. But you’re going to have to work hard to find a better Cab at under $5 a bottle. This one has plenty of straightforward cherry and raspberry fruit and offers a very pleasing, lightly tangy finish (the way Cotes de Rhones used to do). All of which makes it very drinkable with or without food.

I am moved, though, to wonder whether we will need new terminology for boxers. Can a wine have “box shock?” Will BYOBs charge you a “spigot fee?” And if a box of red has bret, should we term it a “bladder infection”?

2009 Dancing Coyote Clarksburg (CA) Albarino and 2008 Dancing Coyote Clarksburg Petite Sirah (line priced at $11). I was prepared for a critter attack when I opened the shipment of extended varietals from this appellation that has in the past produced the best Chenin Blanc in America. And I was partially right, but not with the Albarino. It is quite delicious – very much like what you would get from Spain’s Galicia – with crisp, aromatic pear and light melon flavors and a lightly spicy finish with fine acidity. The Petite Sirah was also good, if not outstanding, but only after it sat overnight uncorked and a glass short. Increasingly, I am finding red wines from California that have bitter edges just after they are opened and poured that grate on the palate. More-complex wines can get away with it, as we’re used to decanting or giving the wines a little airing to come around. But that's demanding a lot work and time from a simple grab-and-gulper.

2009 Concha y Toro Xplorador Mendoza Malbec ($7). This is a fairly new line of wines from the venerable Chilean house that is now a Banfi brand, so I decided to start with the one wine from outside that country and get to the ones from Chile later. It’s OK for an entry wine with true Malbec flavors, but it doesn’t quite have enough of them. Simple cherry flavors with a sweetish finish and some mild tannins.

2008 Rocca di Montemassi “Calasole” Maremma Toscano Vermentino ($15). A very nice wine from a grape few Americans have had from a beautiful region of Tuscany (the coast) that few of us have visited. It has juicy, green flavors – somewhat similar to a Sauvignon though not as grassy – that are refreshing and clean. Very versatile food wine.

Article Alert: Read my piece in the May Beverage Media about the state of American sparkling wines at

Until next time…

Roger Morris

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Van Gogh's Magic Spirits Garden

"I've been to a lot of wine tastings," says Tim Vos, who distills some of the world's most-famous vodkas, "but at vodka tastings, no one spits it out the way they do with wines." Uh, good point, Tim. I look at my plastic cup. No, not a trace of vodka there.

We are at a luncheon tasting of Van Gogh's flavored vodkas and Van Gogh Blue, its smooth-as-satin non-flavored vodka, at 100 Acres restaurant on MacDougal Street in lower Manhattan. Tim hasn't yet yet figured out how to make a flavored vodka out of the color blue, but give him time, as he's been able to extract flavors from about everything else as the Dutch connection in shaping the extremely successful Van Gogh product line.

The idea of the luncheon is to show writers how VG Blue has been blended from a variety of European wheats, how some of the most-famous Van Gogh flavor blends taste in the glass and how well they go into cocktails sipped with food.

For example, 100 Acres mixologist Miljan Milosevic serves us two Blue cocktails with Marc Meyers' hand-shucked sea scallops, a VG pineapple and a VG coconut cocktail with chicken breast with fennel and red grapefruit and a VG double espresso cocktail and a VG Dutch caramel cocktail with a dessert tray.

Do I smell mocha in the caramel, I ask Van Gogh CEO and super marketer Norm Bonchick. "You have a very good palate," he says, and a healthy ego as well as I also note the finishing touch of vanilla in the double X.

"We've about run out of fruits to use as flavors," Bonchick says, "so we've started thinking about flowers," detailing some distillerations with a rose-petal blend. Apparently, there has been no serious consideration of a Van Gogh sunflower vodka, which might sell well on the drinks list at The Modern.

Me, I especially adore the double X, and its Red Bullish shot of caffeine does nothing to keep me awake as I board Amtrak and am quietly shuttled out of New York for points south with visions of starry, starry nights bouncing through my sleepy head.

Until next time...

Roger Morris