HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

Distillers Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge


Winemaker Challenge

WineReviewOnline on Facebook

WineReviewOnline on Instagram

Columns – Roger Morris

On Wine Origins: I'm Napa Valley, and You're Not!
Roger Morris
May 17, 2023

May 17, 2023: One cool morning this April, I sat down for a hotel breakfast in Washington, D.C., with a visiting delegation from Napa Valley Vintners who were in town to taste with the trade in the afternoon and the media that evening. But their primary reason for being in the capital was to meet with regulatory agencies and Congressional representatives about a topic higher on the group's business agenda - the protection of wine origins. 'We just got recognition in Vietnam for the Napa Valley brand,' said Rex Stults, the NVV's VP for industry relations. Getting Vietnam's recognition was no small accomplishment, Stults explained, because some Asian countries still falsely label wines from elsewhere as being from America's most-prestigious appellation.

The Two Petits Find a Home on the East Coast
Roger Morris
Apr 12, 2023

April 12, 2023: What are the chances that a secondary Bordeaux grape, one which seldom gets any attention except for being a small percentage in a Medoc classified red blend, and a white grape infrequently grown outside the backwaters of France's Southwest appellations would together become showcase varietal wines on America's East Coast, particularly in Virginia and Pennsylvania? Or that they would share the diminutive first name of 'Petit' - Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng? It should be noted, of course, that other than sharing a first name and their adaptability and growing popularity in the same broad winegrowing region, the two Petits would have nothing genetically in common should anyone administer a 23andMe test. While even the most casual lover of red Bordeaux knows Petit Verdot is one of a handful of 'blending grapes' grown chiefly in the Medoc on the Left Bank, it wasn't until a dozen or so years ago that I had tasted a varietal Petit Manseng while I was on a tour of the small regions of France's Southwest (South West - they spell it both ways), in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Recently I talked with the winemakers who made two of the 12 Virginia winners, one each for Petit Manseng and another for Petit Verdot, about their experiences with the grapes.

New & Old: An Evening with Biondi Santi
Roger Morris
Mar 8, 2023

March 8, 2023: What happens in the life of any organism when its continuity is interrupted? Does it adapt, and, if so, what path will it take? That Darwinian question lingered in the evening air recently, when two wines were the centerpiece of an impressive tasting. One wine still had a foot in the past, while the other was taking the first step into the future. Both were produced by well-known, well-respected Biondi Santi, whose history is part of the catechism for any student learning Tuscan wines. During the late 1880s, the then-eponymous, family-owned winery became a beacon for showing how great Sangiovese-based wines in the Montalcino region could be. In the 1900s, it created the formula for what were to become the modern, collectible Brunellos. But a decade ago, inheritance problems arose when the winery was being handed off from one generation to the next that partially destroyed its thread of continuity.

Divorcing Your Wine Cellar
Roger Morris
Feb 15, 2023

Feb. 15, 2023: I have this good friend, Rick, who retired a few years ago from his hectic day-to-day grind as an owner / winemaker to enjoy the good life and to do some traveling. Since his retirement, I've thought of Rick's new, leisurely lifestyle as that of a boulevardier, a man who in the morning strolls to a nearby coffee shop for a bracing espresso or two and perhaps a fresh croissant or a pain au chocolat to enjoy while leisurely perusing the morning newspaper. In the evenings, I imagined Rick entertaining guests by first taking them downstairs for a peek into his carefully-curated, temperature-controlled wine cellar. No longer. Rick lives in another town, but whenever we've gotten together in the past few months for lunch, he hasn't ordered a single glass of wine or cup of coffee. For some un-diagnosed medical reason, his system has rebelled, giving Rick severe headaches and indigestion whenever he drinks either wine or coffee.

Italy's Trebbiano: Ugly Duckling to Graceful Swan
Roger Morris
Jan 12, 2023

Jan. 12, 2023: 'To make a fine Trebbiano was always a dream of mine,' says Luca Sanjust, the enthusiastic owner of Petrolo winery in Tuscany's Val d'Arno di Sopra region. 'I've always been interested in history, especially history of the Renaissance, and we have documents [about Trebbiano's origins] dating back to the beginnings of the 14th Century. We know that the Pope, who was then in Avignon, bought it.' He sighs. 'It's possible that we had forgotten its tradition.' If Sanjust's long-held passion for the grape and wine sounds a little misplaced, well, it is and it isn't. For decades, Trebbiano has been considered an ugly duckling of northern Italian white grapes, though not as common, perhaps, as Moscato and certainly not considered as lowly by wine snobs as Pinot Grigio. But certainly no one until recently considered it the stuff of fine wine.

The Lieux-Dits of Seneca Lake
Roger Morris
Nov 30, 2022

Nov. 30, 2022: Looking west from the Seneca Lake's eastern shore and across the placid waters far below, on the opposite side a few miles distant, a mid-afternoon thunderstorm, more of a local squall, really, plays peek-a-boo with the bright sun that has been encouraging the fattening grapes over here to add a bit more sugar and forget about losing acidity. In between, the lake is deep, and not just the water - although the average plunge to the bottom is the length of a football field - but the setting of the lake itself. Most of the vineyards are spread out well above lake level, just below the hilltop and the high plain beyond, beneath its protective brow. 'This area is called 'the Banana Belt' because of its warmth, as opposed to further down the lake,' Kelby Russell, winemaker at Red Newt Cellars located outside the village of Hector, told me during my recent visit. 'The temperature can be 20 degrees warmer down by the lake' he says. 'The red wines from the east side of Seneca tend to be darker with more berry fruitiness. But we've found the soil makes more of a difference in growing, especially with Riesling, than does the exposure. The soils were dropped in quilt-like, sometimes in bands.'

Côte de Kiwi: Steve Smith Sees a Future for Fine Burgundies - Made in New Zealand
Roger Morris
Oct 26, 2022

Oct. 26, 2022: Steve Smith is much too modest to say it or perhaps even to think it. And may not be happy that others, less-inhibited, may have the audacity to say and think it. But Steve Smith, MW, the creative force behind Craggy Range's rise to preeminence in Hawkes Bay and a former partner there, will say that Burgundy's fabled terroir and elegant wines are under threat from global warming. And he will say that he and his business partner, private equity billionaire Brian Sheth, have an undying love for elegant, legendary Pinots Noirs and Chardonnays that come from Burgundy. And that the Pyramid Valley of New Zealand's South Island is under little threat of global warming, unlike Europe, and that he and the Sheth in their collaboration have the resources, the terroir and hopefully the talent to produce Chards and Pinot in the manner, taste and style that in a few short years Burgundy may no longer be able to execute. So, connect the lines to the dots, and the resulting picture of it may look like Burgundy taste-alikes sprouting in lower New Zealand.

The Double Lives of Philippe Bascaules
Roger Morris
Sep 21, 2022

Sept. 21, 2022: To be named estate director at any one of the world's greatest wineries would be, for most winemakers, a lifetime achievement. But to be named director at two of the world's great wineries is practically unheard of - especially if the positions are being simultaneously held at both wineries, involve two unrelated owners, and are located on two different continents, but still in the same hemisphere (meaning bud breaks and harvests at both estates are just days apart). For the past half-dozen years, this has been Philippe Bascaules' daily life. In 2011, the Bordeaux native was hired as general director at Francis Ford Coppola's Inglenook Estate after serving 11 years as estate director for Château Margaux, working alongside Paul Pontallier, the managing director. In 2016, upon the death of Pontallier, Bascaules was enticed to return Margaux while retaining the title of director of winemaking at Inglenook.

Bob Mondavi & Associates
Roger Morris
Aug 3, 2022

August 3, 2022: Opus One, a brilliant idea that was actualized about a decade later, was just the first of the Bob Mondavi & Associates partnerships. In 1995, Mondavi set up a joint venture in Chile, Seña, with Eduardo Chadwick and in the same years established Luce in Montalcino with the Frescobaldi family. In 1999, he began buying shares in Ornellaia in Bolgheri and two years later completed purchase of the famous estate from the Antinori family, again in partnership with Frescobaldi. By 2002, Bob Mondavi's joint ventures had his company owning not only his flagship Robert Mondavi brand but also, in partnership, four of the world's most-revered wines - Opus One, Ornellaia, Luce and Seña. A four-pack of them today would cost about $1,000: $414 for Opus One, $255 for Ornellaia, Seña for $144 and Luce for $124.

Deconstructing the Holy Trinity of Winemaking
Roger Morris
Jun 22, 2022

June 22, 2022: As with all religions, winemaking has its myths and fables, its mainstream congregations and its heretic sects, its prophets and its sycophantic followers. And, like Christianity, winemaking has its Holy Trinity. But instead of the mystery of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, winegrowing is constantly pondering the relationship around Terroir, Vine and Winemaker. Everything boils down to those three and how they work together. If you get into a conversation with any winemaker - regardless of gender, age, race, native language or national origin - 99 percent of them will recite almost word for word what has become winemaker's Holy Creed: 'Wine is made in the Vineyard.' Or the currently most-recited creedal variant: 'I'm just trying to make a wine that speaks of place.' And they seem to actually believe it.

At Long Last: Premier Cru 2020 from Pouilly-Fuissé
Roger Morris
May 10, 2022

May 11, 2022: It was in November 2012 while attending the annual the Hospices de Beaune that I heard there would be a Pouilly-Fuissé presentation that afternoon at the Palais de Congress, an event that wasn't on my schedule. The subject was how the white-wine region of the Mâcon was working its way to being granted Premier Cru status about 80 years after other areas of Burgundy, including those on the Côtes d'Or, had been granted theirs in 1942. My kneejerk reaction was, 'won't happen.' Wholesale ranking changes don't take place in France's most rigid appellations - Burgundy and Bordeaux's Left Bank - although there have been rare adjustments on a case-by-case basis. Elevating several of Pouilly-Fuissé vineyards to Premier Cru ranking didn't seem likely.

Evolutionary Winemaking Comes to Patagonia
Roger Morris
Mar 15, 2022

Mar 15, 2022: Patagonia is particularly interesting because if you're a winemaker wanting to move further away from the Equator in search of cooler terroir as the Earth continues to heat up, Patagonia is about all that is left in the Southern Hemisphere to explore. Unlike the Northern Hemisphere, where England, Demark, Scandinavia, Siberia, Canada and maybe even Iceland all are beckoning the winemaker-cum-pioneer to come plant vines, the Southern Hemisphere has almost run out of new frontiers for farming. The Cape is as far south as South Africa can go, Australia stops after Tasmania, and New Zealand has pretty much reached the limits of its South Island. All these regions are already making commercial wines. So that leaves Patagonia as a place where daring winegrowers can heed call of global warming and ecological evolution.