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