Tasting Through The 2018 Morrell Catalog
Walking in the door of Morrell Wine four years ago as an employee on my first day, I never imagined that I would one day be the driving force behind a 184-page catalog. Not just the writer, but the photographer, as well as sharing the responsibility of procuring the wines that filled its pages, along with our CEO, Jeremy Noye. I’m not sure if Jeremy himself realized it, but I often like to think that he did; that he saw my potential and was able to inspire me to rise to the occasion.
His vision was to recreate the Morrell catalog, as we rebranded the company, into a combination of deep editorial content and stunning visuals, encompassing a hand-curated selection that happened to also sell you wine. It would be a work that could sit on your coffee table, or that customers would want to take with them everywhere they went. It would teach while it entertained, and in the end, it would help our clients to make the most educated selections from our inventory. That was my task, and now with four volumes in print, I’d like to think they we have officially succeeded.
However, what would a catalog of this size and depth be if our own professional sales team couldn’t get to know the wines behind the pages? To read about the terroir, the people, the winemaking and the passion is one thing, but to taste and talk about the wines is a totally different experience, one which allows them to form their own opinions, understand which of their clients will love each wine, and possibly even fall in love with a new producer, region or varietal themselves.
Some Surprises and Standouts
There are always surprises at these tastings, and this year’s event was no different. For one thing, I can tell you that the hardest part of creating our catalog is writing the chapters that aren’t focused on the regions I have a passion for. We all have different tastes, and the ability to distinguish a good wine from one that fits your preferences is a big part of “the job”. However, there are those moments when you suddenly realize that there was something deeper, more interesting, and unexpectedly to your liking in a region you hadn’t given enough attention to in the past.
This year, the region that really spoke to me in a way it had never before was Chateauneuf du Pape. Granted, the village and its wines have enjoyed two amazing vintages in a row, yet last year’s release of the 2015s wasn’t enough to peak my interest at the time. However, with the release of the 2016 vintage, I’ve found myself impressed over and over again. The biggest surprise of this year’s catalog tasting, for me, was that one of my top three wines was indeed a Chateauneuf du Pape, the 2016 Le Vieux Donjon. It was simply a perfect example of purity and traditional winemaking at its best. A wine that is already enjoyable, constantly evolving in the glass, yet able to last many years in the cellar.
Speaking of top wines, as long as I’ve been a collector and a reader of the professional critics, it’s always been difficult to be presented with a wine that has scored 100 points. I often feel that they seldom leave the impact I expect or live up to that perfect score. Well, at this tasting, there was one that did, and it was also in my top wines: the 2013 Castello dei Rampolla d’Alceo. It’s a wine that is so densely packed with potential, showing classic Cabernet fruit through a Tuscan lens. I was floored by how beautiful it was, and that I couldn’t stop thinking about it from the moment I tasted it.
Another standout and surprise of the evening was the 2015 Enfield Cabernet Sauvignon Water Horse Ridge, a wine that I didn’t have a chance to taste prior to this evening. The best part is that I had recently read an article in the New York Times by Eric Asimov, who went into detail about John Lockwood’s project and how the Water Horse Ridge was coming from a Sonoma vineyard and location, which no one would think could properly ripen the Cabernet grape. However, John knew better, and he created an atypical California Cabernet, but one that was absolutely gorgeous. With the tasting over, I can officially say that I agree wholeheartedly. This is a stunning example of Cabernet at its purest, with outstanding depth, minerality, and energy. It’s not California, or Bordeaux, or even Northern Italy–It’s Enfield, and it’s worth seeking out.
As the tasting came to an end, I felt a wave of relief pass over me, yet also sadness. For one thing, it marked the punctuation point of one of our biggest annual efforts, meaning that before long, clients will receive the catalog at their homes. However, the sad part is that it would be impossible to add every wine I loved into my own cellar, as I tend to form an attachment to each of them. However, I sure do take a lot of pleasure in knowing that we can share all of these experiences with our customers as they build their own collections.
With all of that said, I suppose it’s time to get to my notes.
The Tasting Notes
Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 2005 – The nose was rich and slightly darker than the 2007 beside it, but also warmer and inviting, with hints of apricot, young peach, dried florals and minerals. On the palate, I found a soft expression, easy to understand, yet greatly satisfying, with yellow stone fruits giving way to smoky, savory minerals and hints of spice. It finished medium-long, resonating on minerality, yet with the acidic twang I’ve come to expect from Comtes. That said, the 2005 was highly enjoyable and firmly in its drinking window. (93 points)
Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 2007 – The 2007 Comtes de Champagne has everything I ever wanted from this cuvee: energy, tension, fruit, minerals and depth. The nose was intense with lifting minerality and dried florals up front, followed by yellow apple and hints of saline-gingery spice. On the palate, It showed its youth and its structure, with sizzling acidity up front followed by young stone fruits giving way to savory herbal and saline-mineral tones. The finish seemed to go on and on, lingering on dried yellow fruits, hints of dusty earth and lingering acids. This needs time to settle down, yet it will be amazing once it does. (95 points)
Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos St. Jean 2016 – The nose showed zesty minerals up front, followed by wild herbal tones, tart citrus, and crushed stone. On the palate, I found plush textures with fresh stone fruits, gaining sweetness in the glass, with balancing acids, minerals and yellow inner florals. The finish was long and slightly drying, showing saturating minerals and spice. (92 points)
Coche Dury Meursault 2015 – Here I found a rich display of crushed stone, smoke, minerals and ripe stone fruits, with added depths the longer it spent in the glass. On the palate, soft, enveloping textures took control, ushering in citrus-infused young peach offset by zesty acids, and then drenching minerality with inner yellow florals. The finish was long and saturating with ripe stone fruits, minerals, hints of sweet spice and lingering smokiness. Wow, what a wine. (94 points)
Bodega Chacra Chardonnay Mainque 2017 – The nose was ripe and rich, showing roasted almonds, sweet subtle spices and spicy floral tones. On the palate, I found soft, enveloping textures offset by brisk acidity with green apple fruits, wild herbs and saline minerals, which saturated the senses. After the bouquet, I expected sweetness but received energy and verve instead. The finish was long on saturating fruits, minerals and spice, with resonating inner florals. I have to assume that the nose of the Mainque will catch up with the performance on the palate over time, yet even now, I feel safe bestowing a firm high-ish score. (93 points)
Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill 2016 – Here I found minerals upon minerals, with ripe apple, citrus and crushed stone. On the palate, it was rich, enveloping but also zesty through sweet citrus-driven acidity, showing ripe apple, green tropical fruits, and minerals. The finish was long, with lingering sweet ripe stone fruits contrasting zesty minerals, spice and lingering acidity. This is the second time I’ve tasted the ‘16 Hunting Hill, and it seems to have balanced out beautifully in the bottle. (93 points)
Domaine Huet Vouvray Demi-Sec Le Mont 2017 – The nose was fresh with light spiced-apple, dusty minerals, lime spritz and sweet florals. On the palate, I found soft, pliant textures, showing honied stones fruits with subtle spice and minerals. The finish was long, resonating on sweet peaches offset by brisk acidity and lingering spice. (90 points)
Domaine Arlaud Morey St. Denis 2016 – The nose was earthy and pretty with wild herbs, woodland red berries, and hints of cedar shavings. On the palate, I found juicy, vibrant textures on a medium-bodied frame with tart strawberry, hints of spice and inner rose florals. It finished fresh and pure with a mix of lingering tannin and brisk acidity. This was so pretty and such a value for Burgundy of this level. (91 points)
Domaine Coquard Loison-Fleurot Echezeaux 2015 – The nose was dark, rich and spicy, showing sweet balsamic-infused black cherry and strawberry, exotic haunting florals, smoked meats, dark woodland notes and moist soil tones. On the palate, I found soft textures, giving way to rich dark red fruits, as inner floral tones mounted on the senses, growing sweeter the longer it spent in the glass, yet also remarkably vibrant throughout. The finish was medium-long with round dark red fruits, lingering spice and hints of wood. (94 points)
Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2009 – The nose was zesty and intense with sweet lifting minerality, ripe strawberry, white pepper, and exotic florals, as it gained richness and a darker fruit profile the longer it spent in the glass. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures, backed by brisk underlying acidity, as dark, spicy red fruits saturated the senses, along with notes of cedar. The finish was long with dark fruits, saturating fine tannins and hints of balsamic spice. This wine has decades to go. (94 points)
Château Latour Grand Vin 2006 – Initially, the nose was very closed on the 2006 Latour. With time in the glass, it began to reveal deep, dark red fruits, complicated by graphite minerality, sweet Indian spices, hints of lavender and pretty lifting floral tones. On the palate, I found silky, verging-on-velvety textures, contrasted by youthfully austere tart dark red fruits, laced with minerals and grippy tannin, as a twang of vibrant acid added verve. The finish was long, resonating of dark red fruits with savory herbs, minerals and lingering fine tannin. (97 points)
Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016 – The nose was lifted and zesty with ripe strawberry and spiced dusty floral tones up front, giving way to asian spices with marine-inspired minerality, and finally crushed violet candies. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures which seemed to envelope the senses with purple-tinged floral and fleshy strawberry fruit, balanced by brisk acidity, as notes of violet pastille and masses of exotic inner florals resonated throughout–like sweet liquid violet florals. A mix of tannin and fruit extract seemed to collect on the senses, caking them with purple floral-tinged minerality on the long dark fruit finish. I was able to follow this wine over six hours, and with each new pour, it gained in complexity–Wow. (96 points)
Clos Saint Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2016 – The nose showed dark ripe strawberry, developing into sweet rosy floral tones, dusty spices and minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures with a mix of tart cherry and strawberry fruits, as zesty acids and spice added vibrancy, giving way to mounting inner blue and violet florals. The finish was long and spicy, with a hint of heat poking through, yet contrasted by the wine’s masses of dark red fruit which seemed to linger on and on. (93 points)
Domaine Gour de Chaule Gigondas Tradition 2015 – The nose showed a dusting of crushed violet candies over ripe blackberry, backed by notes of smoked meats, lavender and garrigue. On the palate, I found soft textures, as brisk acidity added lifted and vibrancy to its sweet mix of blackberries, spiced citrus, floral pastille and salty-saline minerals. The finish was long with a coating of dry-concentrated blackberry and sweet violet candy lingering on and on, yet also fresh, as a twang of citrus seemed to add a refreshing quality. (93 points)
Cerbaiola (Salvioni) Rosso di Montalcino 2016 – The nose was zesty and intense with spiced orange ahead of ripe strawberry laced in minerals and exotic spices. On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by brisk acidity and notes of tart red berries, which gained sweetness and depth over time, and gave way to sweet minerality and spice. It finished long and fresh, resonating on minerals, fine tannin and lingering acids. I was truly impressed. (93 points)
Cerbaiola (Salvioni) Brunello di Montalcino 2013 – The nose was earthy and dark, with crushed stone minerality up front, giving way to woodland berries, strawberry, dark moist earth, and undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures, with a twang of brisk acids, sweet-and-sour red fruits, spices, dried orange and minerals. It finished fresh with lingering tannic heft, tart berries and mineral tones. This is a wine for the ages, earthy in the bst possible way, balanced by gorgeous fruit and structured. (95 points)
San Filippo Brunello di Montalcino Le Lucere 2013 – It took a good hour for the San Filippo to open up; but once it did, it showed beautifully. Here I found a ripe, dark red fruit display with sweet tobacco, herbs, and brown spices. On the palate, velvety textures ushered in ripe black cherry and strawberry, yet a balancing wave of tannin and acid added vibrancy while mineral and spice tones saturated the senses. The finish was long, as the wine’s structure started to show, and as each sip seemed to build on the layer of tannin before it. This is a big wine, yet it achieves remarkable balance. (93 points)
Castello dei Rampolla d’Alceo 2013 – The nose was dark with haunting blue violet florals up front, giving way to crushed blackberry, black cherry, brown spice, licorice, sweet minerals, and hints of spiced-orange. On the palate, I found silky, enveloping textures, giving way to depths of dark red fruits, as acid-driven spices and minerality slowly gave way to fine young tannin. A twang of wild herbs added depth to the finish, segueing into a complex web of tannin, showing hints dried blackberry and cherry, with lingering minerals and spice tones. I can’t say for sure if this will be a 100-point wine one day, but tonight it’s damn close. (98+ points)
Cigliuti Barbaresco Serraboella 2014 – Here I found a very pretty expression, with rosy florals up front, followed by bright strawberry and cherry fruit, as dusty, smoky minerals emerged along with shavings of cedar. On the palate, soft textures were contrasted by tart black cherry with savory wild herbs, drenching minerals and zesty acids. The finish was medium-long and savory, showing mineral-laced tart red berry, lingering acids and saturating, grippy tannin. This is already fun to taste, even if it’s painfully young and a tad bitter. No matter what, it will be interesting to watch. (93 points)
Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera 2013 – The nose showed layers of black plum offset by ripe strawberry, hints of tangerine, roses and dusty minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures yet feminine, offset by youthful tart red and black fruits, with saturating minerals and zesty acids adding vibrancy. The finish was long and structured, with saturating dark red fruit, tannin, minerals and lingering dark inner florals. It’s amazing how enjoyable the ‘13 Ravera already is, yet there are still decades of maturity in store for us. (94 points)
Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin 2013 – The nose was dark and floral with sweet exotic spices, cedar shavings, dusty roses, dried orange peel, black cherry and hints of menthol. On the palate, I found silky textures with tart, dark red fruits and saline-minerals, as grippy tannins and acid saturated the senses. The finish was long and structured with saturating dark tannins, a dried blackberry-raspberry mix and resonating minerality. (94 points)
Guastaferro Taurasi Primum Riserva 2011 – WOW! The nose showed dark, earthy, rich fruit, with sweet lifting herbal and dusty dried florals, ashen-minerality and balsamic tones. On the palate, I found velvety textures offset by sweet-and-sour dark red and plummy fruits, with zesty acids adding lift as citrus tinged minerals and spice saturated the senses. The finish was long and structured with wood-infused dark red fruit. (95 points)
Enfield Wine Co. Cabernet Sauvignon Waterhorse Ridge 2015 – The nose was zesty and fresh, with peppery florals, crushed raspberry, cinnamon and wild herbs. On the palate, I found lifted textures with floral-infused tart cherry and strawberry, energizing acidity, inner herbal tones and fine tannin, which added poise. The finish was medium-long, fresh, and spicy, with peppery florals resonating throughout. (94 points)
Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 -The nose was zesty with tart cherry, sweet spices, cocoa, hints of tobacco and sweet herbs with lifting minerality. On the palate, it was energetic, showing tart cherry, savory herbs, black tea, and spice, with cool-toned minerality, yet well-muscled with fine tannin. The finish was wonderfully long with resonating dark red fruits, minerals and hints of bitter herbs. This was so energetic tonight with intense, yet pure, fruit and minerals. The kind of California Cabernet that can bring you back to California Cabernet. (94 points)
J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain 2014 – The nose showed rich mix of chrushed strawberry, blackberry and plum, with sweet herbs and hints of tobacco. On the palate, I found creamy, pliant textures with dark red and blue fruits, balanced by brisk acidity, which hosted a fresh wave of minerality. The finish was long with dark fruits and grippy yet sweet tannin, as hints of sweet herbs lingering on the senses. (91 points)
Booker Vineyard My Favorite Neighbor 2016 – The nose showed sweet violets florals, crushed blackberry, licorice and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, enveloping textures on a full-bodied frame, giving way to ripe strawberry, with balancing acids, hints of sweet tobacco and minerals swept across the senses. The finish was medium-long, resonating on a mix of red and blue fruits with hints of licorice and fine tannin lingering. (92 points)
Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir Bloom’s Field 2015 – The nose was showing exotic spices, savory herbs, masses of sweet florals and bright cherry. On the palate, I found soft, fresh, vibrant textures, as bright strawberry and wild herbs came through from the bouquet, accelerated by zesty acidity. The finish was medium-long, floral and fresh, showing hints of stem with lingering red fruits. (92 points)
Walter Scott Clos des Oiseaux 2016 – The nose showed a whiff of reduction at first, yet over time it blew off to reveal fresh, ripe strawberry and cranberry fruits, with zesty sweet herbs and floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures with fleshy strawberry, contrasted by zesty acidity and hints of fine tannin. The finish was medium-long and wonderfully fresh, resonating on sweet botanicals and hints of dried red berries. (93 points)
Bodegas Muga Rioja Seleccion Especial Reserva 2012 – The nose was intense and spicy, with dried strawberries, sweet exotic spice, hints of balsamics and minerals. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by zesty acidity, which brightened its strawberry fruit, as a wave of fine tannin swept across the senses, leaving a mix of saline-minerals and savory spice in its path. The finish was remarkable fresh, yet also structured, with lingering acids battling for supremacy and dried red fruits lasting long. (92 points)
Dominio del Águila Ribera del Duero Reserva 2014 – The nose was dark with savory minerals up front, crushed stone and animal musk, as peppery herbal tones emerged On the palate, I found silky textures, yet energetic, with saturating dark blue and red fruits, smoky crushed stone, ashen-earth, sweet herbal and spice tones. The finish was long, displaying masses of lingering minerals, marine-inspired florals, building tannin and fresh woodland berries. This wine took three hours to really open up, but it was well worth the wait. (94 points)