Friday, January 29, 2010

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2007 Liberty School Central Coast Cuvee ($12). A well-known practice among European wine estates is “declassifying,” or taking juice that would normally go into the grand vin and putting it into lesser wines in the portfolio – either because the vintage wasn’t up to grand vin standards or because there was more of the good stuff than they could use. Could Austin Hope have done some declassifying here to launch his newest Liberty School – a Rhone blend using grapes that would normally go into his estate Syrah or the Treana blend? “Cuvee” is seriously good wine that could compete with top-end Gigondas. It is rich and big and earthy with the essence of black raspberries, dark chocolate, anise, earthiness and mocha that is long on the palate. What’s more, with its balance it will age for a decade or two, even though it is not highly tannic. Will the 2008 be as good? Do you want to wait and take that chance? Buy.

2006 Clos de Haute Combe Juliénas ($16). A nice everyday Beaujolais with good fruits and acids reminds me of a good everyday Cotes du Rhone – a pleasant wine companion to take to the table, one that has something to say but won’t dominate conversation. This is such a wine.

2006 Olivier Leflaive Montée de Tonnerre Ier Cru Chablis ($50). A very good wine with mellow fruits and meadow flowers laid over a chalky base with good acidity that brings everything back to earth. Who could ask for more?

2008 Jackson Estate “Vintage Widow” Marlborough Pinot Noir ($32). What I love about New Zealand winemakers is they don’t try to make wines that taste like the wines of anyone else. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t try to mimic Loire Valley, and their Pinot Noirs don’t ape Burgundy. In fact, except for the nose, this wine might even make you question whether Pinot is the grape, as the flavors are similar to fresh Grenache. It’s almost spritzy in its raspberry freshness, yet it has balancing weight and gravity. For all that, it is a very nicely made and interesting bottle from a secondary NZ Pinot region.

2007 Neirano “Pitule” Moscato d’Asti ($12). Moscatos are seldom great wines, but they are interesting wines. The ones from Asti have bubbles, but low enough pressure that they can be stoppered with a regular cork. Alcohol is low, around 7%. They are generally lightly sweet, but have good acidity and can easily be used as food wines, especially with poultry. This is a nice one with floral aromas and tastes of almonds and meringue. If you aren’t familiar with these wines, give it a Try.

Note: I will be on assignment in Bordeaux on Friday, February 5, so look for the next posting of The Friday Lineup on February 12.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Antinori Sisters in La Vie Claire Magazine

I've written before about the Antinori sisters and how they will eventually take over the centuries-old family business of wines and hospitality, but the 10-page spread in the current issue of La Vie Claire is the best to date. Check it out. Until next time....

Roger Morris

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gourmet & the Lost Generation of Foodies

As much as I loved the movie Julie & Julia, Julia Child did not teach my generation to become better-than-average cooks and free-wheeling foodies. Gourmet magazine did. For those of who graduated from college, got good jobs and came of cultural age during the '60s, '70s and '80s, the slick, advertising-heavy food magazine was our portal into what we wanted to be - the kind of meals we wanted to conjure up and to prepare for friends, the restaurants we wanted to eat in when we "got to" New York or Los Angeles, and the kind of spas and hotels we wished we could afford to visit on the Riviera or in the Black Forest. As a wine writer, I loved Gerald Asher's travelogues of his visits to the world's great wineries and winemakers. I am still trying to catch up with him. Gourmet's layouts were stunning, the photography urbane, the recipes generally challenging. There was always an ingredient I couldn't find and a term I would have to look up in those pre-Google days - but many of my attempts were successful, and I learned first-hand how to appreciate good food and dining.

It was quite common in those days to go into a friend's kitchen on a Friday evening for a dinner party for 8 and see a recent issue of Gourmet folded to that evening's holy grail, a heavy kitchen knife keeping the book open to the right page, flecks of creme fraiche or maybe tartar sauce spread across the type. Gourmet was our handbook in the kitchen and our travel guide on the road. Looking into the magazine racks in our living rooms, next to the Bentwood rockers, rya rugs and too many potted plants, the only reading materials that all of us generally had in common was Gourmet. Old issues of it, and sometimes the New Yorker, were stacked in our basements and hall closets, and when we were forced to throw them, their covers were often neatly filed away.

Truthfully, the magazine had started going downhill before Ruth Reichl got her hands on it. But after she did, it was dumbed down beyond all recognition, except for the gloss. Urbane was replaced by urban. We learned how to make street food and revisit comfort foods and maybe even tried to convince ourselves that it was "authentic cooking."

Each day, I find more new things to attract my interest than the old things from yesterday that I leave behind. But I do miss the old Gourmet, even though I don't want to relive the days when it was flourishing. My hope is that some day someone will revive it the way they did Vanity Fair. But that probably won't happen. Gourmet gave us good times and a good feeling, but I didn't shed tears when it closed, although I did feel sorry for people I knew who worked there and lost jobs..

As a source of inspiration, the soul of Gourmet was dead long before the body quit breathing.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2006 Mandolin Central Coast Merlot ($10). This is just a little jewel of a wine at an unbelievable price. It has dark, rich cherry flavors followed by light chocolate and anise in the finish. Definite, but light, tannins. Buy a case to drink and one to put away for 10 years. Leave the price stickers on so that you can marvel at how well this cheap wine ages. Buy.

2007 Frank Family Napa Zinfandel ($37). Big and friendly. Lovely, but not overpowering fruit – mainly fresh-picked blackberries, with good acidity. Very long on the palate. It has that decided “burnished” oak flavor that some won’t like, but it is well-integrated and adds complexity. Buy.

2007 Geoffrey Domaine le Verger Chablis ($13). Excellent minerality and acidity, but it has more residual sweetness –not fruitiness – than I like. Those who like KJ Chards will probably disagree, but this one became a little tiring over the course of a meal. Pass.

2007 Va La “Seed” Pennsylvania Red Wine ($35). A discussion of this wine has many facets. (1) The winegrower, Anthony Vietri, is a friend of mine who makes excellent wines that are red or white blends of mainly Italian grapes - Mahogany, Cedar, La Prima Donna – grown under such strict vineyard conditions that it may reference his Catholic school upbringing. (2) This is a wine made of experimental crosses of vinifera whose parentage is still being kept secret. (3) The wine is a full-bodied red that is in part a response to the challenge of making a big, complex, New World style red on the East Coast. (4) It is a single-barrel wine, #53, that produced just 198 bottles which are only being sold at the winery in Avondale. I decanted the wine, but started tasting not long afterward. It began very full and a little heavy on the palate with lots of oak and a tad of grapey-ness and some sharp edges. I came back to it two hours later, and the grapey-ness had gone as had most of the sharp edges. It also seemed leaner, more like Vietri’s other reds, which lends me to believe that the wine would profit greatly from more bottle aging, which is what I intend to do with the other bottle I purchased. My take is that Vietri is well on the route to making a big East Coast red, more in the California style than the European style, which is where all the regional success to date has lain. This vintage of Seed, and the whole Seed project, is very encouraging. If you’re looking for an exciting, I-was-there-at-the-genesis bottle of wine, you should give it a try. I feel a little bit like someone watching a new Sam Shepard play in New Haven. I can’t wait ‘til it gets to Broadway. Consider.

2006 Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages ($12). Enjoyable purple, mulberry fruit, but the wine seems a little tired and lacking in freshness that goes beyond its earthy nature. Pass.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Iuli Barberas of Piemonte's Monferrato

People who don't know any better often tell me with great confidence and solemnity, usually just after returning from their first trip to the vineyards of Europe, "The really good stuff never makes it here," meaning the United States. Of course, they are wrong, but it is amazing the number of very good winemakers or wineries that don't have representation in America for a number of years and, yes, even sometimes never.

But usually some small importer building a portfolio knocks on a winery door, and, as a result, we wine lovers find a new treat - or several of them. Such was the case when Summer Wolff, living in Italy, buying wines for her Sokolin customers, conducting culinary tours, and building her own import portfolio at Indie Wineries, met Fabrizio Iuli, winemaker and proprietor at the 10-year-old Iuli winery in Monferrato in Piemonte. Last evening, Wolff brought Iuli and his Barbera-dominant portfolio to Maryland's Fair Hill Inn in a special dinner to match his wines with the delicious foods put together by co-chefs Phil Pyle and Brian Shaw. It was a memorable event with every table and chair sold out in advance.

Iuli makes three different Barberas ("Umberta," "Rossore," and "Barabba") utilizing different vineyards and different oak regimines (or not), a Barbera and Nebbiolo blend ("Malidea"), and a Pinot Noir ("Nino"), a varietal that seems to challenge most every winemaker, wherever they live, to give it a try somewhere in their career. The wines, ranging in price from $28 to $60, were all very good and were allowed to open before serving, having been poured individually in large glasses before being transported to the table.

If Iuli has a house style - and I think he does - it is that the wines all have good fruit (dark cherries, a touch of dried cranberries), are tart and tangy in the way that sour cream is, have good savory spices, finish well with smooth acidity and dusty tannins, have moderate minerality, and are long on the palate. The Barabba and the Malidea are still a little tight in the finish, but that should loosen up in aging. Pinot Noir is a flexible grape, and Iulu's Nino seems to have decided to blend in with the Barbera clan, though with its own flavors of sweet roots (sassafras) and baking spices.

I love going to wine dinners that Pyle and Shaw put together because they understand wines, and they know how to match flavors better than most chefs, plus they take the time in advance to drink and discuss the wines before putting together the menus (those would be amusing sessions to watch some time). The Nino Pinot appeared with a mushroom tart with cherry tomato marmalade and roasted garlic oil, the first Barbera (Umberta) came with balsamic-cured salmon with a pickled egg snow and defining fennel and orange flavors, and the Rossore was matched with Chef Pyle's antipasti salumi. After a few years of experimenting, Pyle has become a rising American star in salumi production.

But it was the fourth course that seemed to cause the most buzz among dinners - a fantastic risotto with Pyle's pancetta, Shaw's pecorino, and a mixture of cippolini onion, radicchio and winter greens that was matched with Iuli's top-of-the-line 2004 Barabba. Finally, the half-and-half blend of Nebby and Barbie in Iuli's Malidea came with fall-off-your-fork braised beef with a vegetable-packed polenta.

Wolff translated Iuli's comments in Italian to the diners and the diners' praises in English back to the winemaker in Italian. Wolff's wines are available through Sokolin, although wider distribution is being planned, and she can be reached at

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2008 Daniel Bouland Vieilles Vignes Morgon ($20). It’s a fine between a wine having the fresh acidity that pairs it so well with food and possessing a razor’s-edge sharpness that calls too much attention to its finish, and I think this wine pours over that line. I love the fruit, but not the finish. Pass.

2008 Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis (about $15). This wine does not cross the acid line, even though it is fresh, quite tart, minerally and comes as close as Chardonnay will ever come to passing for Sauvignon Blanc in the finish. A touch of chalkiness helps balance the acid. Consider.

NV Mumm Napa Brut Rosé ($21). Why don’t I drink this wine more! Without much thought, I paired it with a creamy-inside, crusty-outside chevre soufflé, and the tangy, meaty, gamey, rich sparkler with its strawberry and grapefruit flavors went perfectly with the almost truffly elegance of the egg dish – a soufflé being as close as food can get to being Champagne. Buy.

2006 Billaud-Salmon “Vaudesir” Chablis Grand Cru ($110) OK, so this reminds me of a really good Sonoma Chardonnay – and that’s OK – with its round, juicy, rich varietal flavors of tropical fruits and tree-picked apricots. It does have more minerality than most Sonomans, but its 13.5 alcohol gives it the mouth-feel of a Californian. Very nice. Buy if you can afford it.

2008 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages ($13). Smooth and light, a very quaffable wine with mellow, strawberry-dominant fruit and a very long finish. Try.

Until next time….

Roger Morris

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2007 Antech Blanquette de Limoux ($15). For anyone not familiar with this sparkling wine region of the Lanquedoc, this is a good place to start. The Antech is clean, fresh without being overly acidic, full without being heavy. It’s very easy drinking, but it is also complex enough to give you something to think about while you’re counting bubbles. Buy.

2008 Chateau Jaumard ($13). I know this red doesn’t cost much, but I would expect more bang from this vintage. The wine is light on fruit and has a lot of briers and cherry-stem flavors, usually associated with fruit picked too soon. Take a Pass on this one.

2005 Simonnet-Febvre Chablis (about $17). Purchasing an older Chablis can be dicey unless you know what you’re looking for. With this one, I wanted hearty brioche flavors from lees contact and from mild oxidation to go along with roasted game hens and cornbread stuffing. A good match. Consider.

NV Hi Prosecco ($15). I was prepared not to like this bubbler because of its cutesy branding, but it really is a nice, dry Prosecco with fresh fruit and flower notes and good acidity. Give it a Try.

2008 Jackson Estate “Stich” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($22). This wine has all the herbal notes that Marlborough lovers want, yet it is a couple of notches up the ladder because of its rounder, riper gooseberry flavors. Quite nice. Buy.

2006 Pascal Granger Moulin a Vent (about $19). A pleasant, middle-of-the-road Beaujolais – a good café wine – with strawberry preserves flavors, some creamy candy notes and nice bitters edging to wrap it all up. Consider.

2004 Château Coutet (about $60). Rich honey and honeycomb tastes, very nice acidity and quite clean and fresh for its fullness and age. Buy.

2003 Giaconda Victoria “Aeolia” (about $70-$80 for current vintages). A friend brought this 100% Aussie Roussanne from his cellar, and it’s a lovely wine, with aromas and flavors of warm, ripe pears blended with lemon-cream pie. A Search for wine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.
New Year’s Day 2010 edition.

NV Ch. Gardet & Co. Selected Reserve Champagne (about $35). If you love aged sparklers with lots of nuts and toasty brioche on the nose and palate, this is your wine. The still wines are first aged in oak, and then the finished Champagne is aged in the bottle for five more years. Blend of cru grapes – 40% each Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier. It is delightful. Buy.

Josh Hexter trained at UC-Davis, and now he is making beautiful wines in the Jerusalem Hills for Psagot. Here are three of his reds, all kosher but not mevushal. 2007 Psagot Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) is an enjoyable blend of tart blackberry and dried blueberry flavors with light hints of milk chocolate. Moderate tannins, and, like all three Psagots, very smooth. 2007 Psagot Cabernet Franc ($21) is 100% Franc – lots of coffee and earthly flavors with the crisp finish that a good food wine deserves. The 2007 Psagot Edom ($25) is a Cab Sauv-dominated blend with a combined 40% Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. It is a blend of tart cherry and fruity blueberry tastes, medium bodied with light tannins. Buy.

2007 Pacific Rim “Wallula Vineyard” Columbia Valley Riesling ($19). On the full but not heavy side of Riesling – minerally, touch of oiliness, lots of citrus notes. It’s certified biodynamic. Consider.

2007 Macari Dos Aguas ($27). A nicely made Bordeaux blend from eastern Long Island that has good fruit concentration without being jammy with lots of vanilla. Consider.

2006 Craggy Range Te Muna Aroha ($65 at launch). A very elegant Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s North Island. The fruit is very fresh, yet mellow, well-rounded and complex with lots of savory and spicy notes. Buy.

NV Gruet New Mexico Blanc de Noirs ($15). Is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy the sparkling wines from this Champagne family who set up shop in sagebrush country? Toasty with full flavors, good with appetizers. Try.

Until next time...

Roger Morris