Saturday, July 31, 2010

Locavoracious: The Produce Road to Strasburg

The best produce road in the region, perhaps in America, this time of year is the 20-mile stretch of Route 896 between Russellville, where 896 and Route 10 intersect at a four-way stop, and Strasburg, Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of Lancaster. This is uncommercialized Amish and Mennonite country, and the first-time traveler will be fascinated by the large farms that have no electric lines leading to the houses and barns, by horse-drawn farm instruments lumbering through the fields and hay meadows, and by roadside signs in hot weather that read "water for horses." And horses do travel this road constantly, pulling small carriages of one to four people going from one farm to the next or to commercial shops on the Strasburg Road.

This is farming country with huge, rolling fields of corn and tobacco - still a large local crop, witness the number of tobacco barns with their strips of siding that open to let the bundled leaves dry after harvesting - as well as vegetable gardens for fresh food for the table in the summer and canned produce for the rough winters. And as a summer cash crop to sell to tourists or locals passing through.

Last week, we drove to Lancaster to do some outlet shopping as well as buy fresh produce for the weekend. It seemed that every quarter mile there was another small farm stand, often manned by young girls in long, traditional skirts or young boys with straw hats and black trousers held up by braces. For foodies, the signs shouted out temptations: Fresh blackberries, corn, tomatoes by the bushels, locally made root beer, brown, free-range hen eggs, onions, squashes, cucumbers, melons and old-fashioned flowers for the table.

We limited ourselves to juicy blackberries to make a cobbler, tomatoes for pasta sauce and gazpacho, and some root beer for a hot afternoon.

The next day, I felt like getting in the car and doing it all again.

Stopping for a fresh milkshake. Another locavoracious favorite is Woodside Farm Creamery in North Star, near Hockessin, in Delaware. How many places can you stop for fresh ice cream and see the brown and white cows - Guernseys, if my childhood memories serve me right - that produced it grazing in the field above the ice cream stand?

I stopped by the other day for a milkshake, and the shop was like a scene from Norman Rockwell. Perhaps a dozen children were running about outside while their minders lolled around picnic tables under the shade trees. As I was trying to decide my flavor, the kids were running in asking for samples of bacon ice cream served by the young women behind the counter on bite-sized plastic spoons.

Clearly, the combination of bits of real bacon blended into ice cream was too much for some of the young explorers. One young lad got a disgusted look on his face and ran out when his bite was offered. I was not tempted either. I left drinking a cookies-and-cream.

Until next time...

Roger Morris
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Wines of Meritage

For years it was not a problem. Any red-blooded winemaker in the Napa Valley during the Roaring '70s who grew Cabernet Sauvignon made it into a 100% varietal. Blending was for those Bordeaux effetests, where they had something known as "vintage problems." But that attitude gradually changed in the 1980s, and people started blending Cab with Merlot and maybe even with Cab Franc and Petit Verdot if they could find any. These wines were referred to collectively as "Bordeaux blends," but that term didn't sound very American, now did it, and so a contest was held in 1981, and the name Meritage won out.

Agustin Huneeus (google "Franciscan," "Veramonte," "Quintessa," etc., if you've not heard of him) didn't see anything wrong with blending. For a variety of reasons, he founded Estancia in 1986, sourcing grapes from prime vineyards in the Alexander Valley and the Pinnacles. In 1987, the first Estancia Meritage was made. In 1988, the Meritage Association (now Alliance) was born with Estancia as one of its founding members. Through the years, the word "meritage" was probably associated more with Estancia than any other winery. Estancia Meritage has always been known as a solid wine, if not one that would always bedazzle you.

Constellation now owns the brand, and they came to Manhattan this week with winemaker Scott Kelley and Estancia Meritage as the headliners for a vertical tasting of six of the wines followed by a pairing dinner at Gramercy Tavern. The evening was a very enjoyable one, the food was very good, and all six wines tasted well, with each of the vintages - 1994, 1997, 2001 A, 2001 B, 2004, and 2007 - having its advocates.

But beyond the tasting notes for each of the wines, the tasting showed the difficulties in a brand maintaining consistency from vintage to vintage, even beyond the expected differences in the grapes harvested and where in their aging cycle the wines are as you are tasting them. Consistency is neither good nor bad, but the event showed it is a very difficult thing to maintain, especially in California.

Consider this:

The six wines we tasted made over this 14-year period had three winemakers (Larry Levine, Robert Cook and Kelley), two significant owners (Hueneeus sold to Constellation in 1999), a major switch in grape sourcing from Alexander Valley (through 2001 A) to Paso Robles (from 2001 B), changes in winemaking philosophy (according to Kelley) from French to American to somewhere in between, and - we are talking about a Meritage after all - significant shifts in grapes used (heavy on Cab Franc early on, no Cab Franc and more Merlot later on) in the blends. We won't go into oak.

I've always enjoyed Estancia wines, especially the early Pinot Noirs and the Meritages, and I liked each of the Meritages at the Gramercy tasting. But, using a dreaded sports analogy, it does remind me a little of liking to root for the Eagles or the Giants or the Saints. Just don't expect the roster or the outcome to be the same from one year to the next.

Wine of the Week

2007 Richard Huber "Alle Reben" Bader Spatburgunder ($80). One of the more interesting German Pinot Noirs I've had recently - nice ripe, slightly gamy cherry fruit with a medium body. Long aftertaste, with some tonic water bitters in the finish.

Wines of Interest

2007 Avignonesi Tuscany Rosso di Montepulciano ($15). This is not a complex wine, but it is one of those Italian reds you can sip on forever because it has generous red cherry fruit up front and a minerally, raspy finish. A blend of 40% Prugnolo Gentile (the neighborhood version of Sangiovese), 30% Cab Sauv and 30% Merlot.

2008 Tikal Argentina Patriota ($20). Lots of good blueberry/blackberry juiciness with medium body and light tannins. Hints of chalk. Rich and satisying finish. Bonarda and Malbec blend.

Until next time...
Roger Morris

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Locavoracious: Barbera, Pizza & Salumi

The Brandywine region continues to get better and better as a place to live and to enjoy what I call the local "cultural terroir." About 10 years ago, Va La Vineyards opened its doors in Avondale and started producing small-batch, high-quality wines made from mainly Italian grapes such as barbara, nebbiolo and malvasia bianco produced by their small vineyard. Over the years, owners Anthony and Karen Vietri have helped provide increased demand for locally made cheeses, which they feature in their tasting programs and sell for take-away. The past few weeks, they've gone a step further by working with pizza maker Jason Brown and his Beatrice's Inferno business. Brown has created a portable woodfire pizza oven and teamed with Va La to come up with a line of hand-made savory and dessert pizzas to match Va La's wines. On recent weekends (check for schedule), Brown has pulled up to the winery with his pizza oven in tow and set up shop out back.

This Friday afternoon, Ella and I drove the 10 minutes to Va La, grabbed an inside table to get away from the heat, ordered two individual pizzas, and popped a bottle of Va La Castagna, made from barbera grapes grown in the vineyard 30 yards from the picture window. The pizzas and the wine were delicious as was the chattery among the hungry patrons. Brown also passed around samples of a couple of his special dessert pizzas, including a fantastic berry preserves and cheese number and another that was awash with smores, not a favorite delicacy of mine.

Today, Phil Pyle, co-chef and co-owner at Fair Hill Inn in Maryland, had on sale to the public his hand-made salumis, which normally we get to eat only as a special course when having dinner at Fair Hill. The last time Pyle had a salumi sale, the cupboard was bare in less than an hour. So we were there at the appointed 2 p.m. to be first in line to buy his Artisan Dail charcuterie, choosing a selection of lamb, spicy Hungarian, Tuscan fennel and wild boar.

On the way home, we stopped at a farm stand to buy some tomatoes in bulk to try our hand at making a corn-syrup free, homemade ketchup. We'll let you know how that experiment turns out.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Lineup: From Montefalco to Mendoza

A weekly commentary on wines tasted, usually both solo and with food.

The Ruca Malen winery and vineyards in Mendoza.

Wines of the Week

2005 Cantina Novelli Montefalco Sagrantino ($41). Sagrantino has traditionally been made as a very assertive wine that opens up about as quickly as a clam, but, increasingly, vintners have tried to tame this Umbrian red into a more-open style that still preserves the raspy, gritty characteristics of the original. Novelli is a good example of the more-accessible style - nice, light red fruit flavors, very drinkable, yet with that typical Sagrantino tightness in the finish. It's a great red sauce wine, because it can balance the tomato's fruitiness while matching its acidity. If you haven't tried a Sagrantino, this one is a good place to start.

2009 Ruca Malen Mendoza Chardonnay Reserva ($18). This is a well-priced Chardonnay that fits the niche of having a little oak while maintaining the crispness and minerality of a stainless Chard. A touch of creaminess, moderate fullness with light apple and peach flavors make it a versatile wine at the table.

Label Notes: I had the opportunity to taste these wines at the table this week with people from the winery - Ruca Malen winemaker Pablo Cuneo and Novelli's export director Giulia Luccioli. Both labels are new or recently reintroduced to the U.S. and will not immediately be available in all markets.

Cuneo is a very passionate winemaker who barely pauses to eat as he explains in detail his vineyard and winery practices in making very good Chardonnays and Malbecs. Luccioli is equally passionate about the Novelli wines, chiefly the Sagrantino and a Trebbiano Spoletino, made from a clone that Novelli has rescued from obscurity with the help of the University of Milano.

Wines of Interest

2008 Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz ($15). This is the style of Shiraz I like - more earthy than in-your-face fruity, with good cherry-flavors, but dried cherries. It almost has some Cab Franc characteristics with its caky texture and flavors. Very drinkable.

2007 Sumptary Amador Zinfandel ($14). Not a world beater, but one of those Zins you love to uncork and be greeted with rich, creamy, black raspberry flavors. A bit hot in the finish.

2009 Valckenberg Dornfelder ($12). Sweet, fruity red tables wines is not a category I normally put to my lips, but this German is a little different because it closes so cleanly. Would I regularly drink it? No. But if I had a friend or relative who loves sweeter wines with their meal, I would take this along as a house gift that I could share.

Until next week...

Roger Morris

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moet Hennessy's All-Star Cru Crew

A week or so ago, the Miami Heat put together its basketball dream team of multi-million dollar babies by signing up LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwayne Wade in the coming year's NBA campaign.

They look paltry alonside the Moet Hennessy all-star squad.

Last week Moet slouched into New York with its cru crew of winemakers representing some of its top table-wine brands. Moet didn't even have to pop any of its stellar line of bubblies to get our attention. Let me count the names:

Chateau de Sancerre (Marc Sorrel), Cheval des Andes (Nicolas Audebert), Lapostelle (Andrea Leon), Monsanto (Laura Bianchi), Capezzana (Leone Contini Bonacossi), Cloudy Bay (Ian Morden), Domaine Chandon (Joel Burt, showing the still wines only), Livio Felluga (Andrea Felluga), Newton (Chris Millard), Numanthia (Manuel Louzada) and Terrazas (Adrian Meyer).

The morning started with a seminar led by everyone's favorite wine educator and sommelier, Kevin Zraly, who did his best James Lipton routine by questioning the panel on everything from the best, or most notable, wine they had tasted to what they really thought about wine critics - which was a bit of fun as there were a couple of dozen of those of us on the other side of the table. The wine writers, in retaliation, did what wine writers do best in these situations: They made positioning statements about what they thought about everything from high-alcohol wines to the loveliness of Greek whites and reds in the guise of asking questions.

To mix metaphors - but staying with sports - the seminar was the home run derby before the actual game. Each of the 11 winemakers or owners next went to their respective tables to pour one or two of their top wines and answer questions one on one - which was really quite delightful for the palate and the increasingly benumbed brain. In addition to these 11, Moet threw in a couple of their top wines whose owners were not present, so we were also treated to the Lurtons' 2001 Cheval Blanc and 1995 Chateau d'Yquem.

The tasting was really quite spectacular, both because of the great wines and the conversations with the winemakers, all quite intelligent and charming. If I had to choose a favorite combination - not necessarily the best wine - it was talking with Newton's Millard about how science is allowing winemakers to becoming more traditional in their winemaking, without suffering all the traditional downsides of doing so, while drinking his 2007 The Puzzle. The Puzzle is a a Bordeaux blend of Newton's top Spring Mountain vineyard blocks. I love the savory characteristic of this wine - dried flowers and herbs, brambles, mint (does Spring Mountain have garrigue?) to go along with the dried raspberry and blackberries and a lean finish.

If I gave a complete report on the wines and the winemakers, it would take more space than even the ethernet can make available. I have had many great one-on-one experiences with winemakers and their wines in fine restaurants, among cellar barrels and at kitchen tables, but this one counts among the best of the staged group affairs, which too often become mad jumbles. It is a credit to MH and its agency, Gregory White PR, that this one was just the opposite - a large group tasting and seminar that was fun and inspiring.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Friday Lineup

An almost weekly commentary on selected wines tasted, both pristine and with food where possible.

Wine of the Week

2005 Mount Veeder Reserve Napa Valley Red Wine ($80). There's a lot of full-fruit stuffing in this wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon (76%), Merlot ($17) and Malbec (7%), mainly dark cherries and other dried fruits laced with creamy mint. It's an excellent food wine - Bordeaux-like in its structure - with the fruit up front and a lean finish with dusty tannins.

Wines of Interest

NV Elyssia Gran Cuvee Brut ($18). I love this cava from the folks at Freixenet. It's one of those cloud-like sparklers with a lot of mousse and flavors of dried herbs, mellow apples and a touch of cream that drift pleasantly into the finish.

2008 Thomas Henry Napa County Pinot Noir ($16). A lightish wine, but a textbook display of West Coast Pinot flavors - light cherries, cola, forest floor, dried spices and roots. A hint of tannins. Nice, easy drinking, but it can easily be over-matched by heavier meats.

2007 Luca Mendoza Beso de Dante (about $45). A Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend in almost equal measure, this is a big, slightly meaty wine that is nevertheless quite smooth and creamy. My sole complaint is that the oak imparts a little too much caramel for my tastes, although it lessens (or you get used to it) as the wine in the bottle diminishes.

2008 Saarstein Mosel Pinot Blanc (about $18). Quite pleasurable and reasonably dry with floral orange and lemon flavors and a touch of tonic water spritz.

2008 Susana Balbo Mendoza Malbec ($13). Cherry-currant upfront fruit that is quite nice, but I find the tannic, Bakers chocolate and coffee finish a bit harsh and tight.

2007 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($28). A very nice wine, especially for the price, with dark cherry flavors and a granular texture.

2009 Wild Rock Hawke's Bay Rose' ($14). Merlot, Malbec and Syrah. This is a better food wine - substantial and assertive - than a sipping wine, as the finish becomes a bit tiresome with solo ingestion. Pure strawberries with a touch of cream.

2009 Dancing Coyote Clarksburg Gewurztraminer ($11). A little on the sweet side, but very true Gewurz flavors with the requisite spiciness.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Monday, July 12, 2010

Champagne & Sancerre: New Articles

Here's an update on recently published online articles:

The Wine Enthusiast's has posted my "Champagne Cheat Sheet," an examination of what all those cuvees listed on the label are up to.

At, I have a look at Nebbiolos in the June issue of Sommelier News and a piece in the July issue on Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in Sancerre and neighboring regions in "Burgundy-sur-Loire."

Those readers in the mid-Atlantic area, might enjoy an article on the art of blending as practiced at the new Galer Estate at Chester County Dwell -

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Friday Lineup: From Epanomi Beach to the Upper Slopes of Mount Olympus

From top to bottom: Katsaros vineyards on Mount Olympus, early course at a wine dinner at the Katsaros home, afternoon party time at a taverna in Epanomi (don't step on the broken crockery), and Gerovassiliou vineyards rolling like waves toward the Aegean.

It seems only proper that I started a week of drinking Greek wine - accompanied by platefuls of delicious Greek foods - on the umbrella-covered deck of a bare-bones kantina at the edge of the Aegean and ended it in the lair of the Gods on the heights of Mount Olympus.

With some magazine and web assignments to write about Greek wines in my jacket pocket, I arrived at the beginning of the week in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city and the capital of Macedonia, wedged between the ocean and the foothills that extend into the nearby Balkans. Most of the next four days I spent exploring three connected, yet diverse wineries and their cultural environs - Domaine Gerovassiliou, whose vineyards are just a few feet above sea level in nearby Epanomi, Biblia Chora, northeast of the city on the way to Kavala, and Katsaros Estate, high above the village of Krania on one of the many slopes of the sprawling Olympus.

While I won't review all the individual wines tasted during the trip - and almost all of which are available in Canada and New York City - a few observations can be made:

1. Although Greek white wines have received most of the attention in these discovery years since the Olympics, the reds are just as good and certainly capable of long cellar aging.

2. The most-popular indigenous grapes, both white and black, from the best producers could easily be mistaken in blind tastings for some of the international varietals - a plus if you're looking for acceptance, a minus if you're looking for sharp differentiation.

3. International varieties grow well in Greece, and there is an understandable temptation to mix them with Greek grapes - sometimes in the minority cuvee - to form Super Greek blends.

4. Where a grape still planted matters, which comes as no surprise, so a Malagousia grape planted in Macedonia (the locals pronounce it with a hard "c" - "Mackadonia") will yield different wine than grapes planted on one of the islands.

5. The names aren't as hard to learn and pronounce as you might think: Can you say Malagousia, Assyrtico, Xinomavro and Roditis? Sure you can! OK, Agiorghitiko might take some tutoring.

Although I have tasted many wines from Greece before, this was the first time I tasted them at the source along with the local cuisine in all of its various venue - from a kantina on the beach to a taverna to a fine restaurant in downtown Thessalonika to the homes of winemakers' wives Sonia Gerovassiliou and cookbook author Stella Katsaros. It was also the first time I had an opportunity to taste so many Greek wines of high quality on continuous days, rather than a couple of good ones here and a couple of iffy ones there. It does make a positive difference in the overall perception.

As the articles are written and printed in the weeks and months ahead, I will post them or their links to this site. In the meantime, ask your sommelier or wine merchant for recommendations for some good Greek whites you can chill out with over the midsummer holiday.

Until next time...

Roger Morris