This past week, I was meeting a few friends for what we knew was going to be a lively conversation; the task was to find a fun place to enjoy some good food and great vino but it also had to be centrally located in Manhattan since we were all scattering in different directions afterward, ranging from the UES to downtown to New Jersey. Midtown has a lot to offer but it doesn’t leap to mind first when it comes to cool wine bars – places like Ten Bells, Terroir and Racines are mostly downtown. Not a lot of people know that a good answer resides right in the midst of Rockefeller Center: Morrell Wine Bar and Cafe.
A few of you might be raising an eyebrow or two at me right now, perhaps with good reason. Until recently, my own concept of Morrell‘s was shaped by visits to the retail store more than a decade ago, and it was always a good store but the style was traditional, perhaps even a bit stodgy. Well, times have changed. You can still go there to pick up your favorite classified-growth Bordeaux, but with a few hip young folks at the helm like Eric Guido (a former pro chef and writer of The Cellar Table@Morrell wine blog) as wine director on the retail side (full disclosure, he’s a friend) and Anna-Christina Cabrales as wine director in the wine bar, Morrell‘s has quietly become the kind of place that winos with palates seeking a bit more adventure can turn to to find their Foillard and get their Ganevat on.
The choices are extensive for those looking to try a vinous variety – the list of wines by the glass alone runs 9 pages and is nicely balanced between traditional stalwarts and hipster somm favorites. Wines are also available in tasting pours and so I asked Anna-Christina if she could put together a flight for us to taste blind.
She was all ready for me and snapped into action, arranging a flight of whites presented, as she put it, “Court of Master Sommelier” style (she’s prepping for the Advanced level currently). She pulled no punches either – giving us a Vouvray from Pinon (one of my fave producers from Dressner tastings past), a Pazo Señorans Albariño, and a Domaine de la Pepière Cuvee 4 muscadet. I went 1 for 3, with thankfully no terribly embarrassing misses, but the most important part was this – she made me justify my answers, right or wrong, which is exactly the step I need to take to get to the next level. I learned a ton.
The food was tasty, above average for a wine bar. A pulled pork tacos app and a short rib entree paired well with the bottle of red we asked Anna-Christina to pick for us – a Cote-Rotie “Neve” by Louis Barruol. Boy, did she have me pegged; I love Cote-Rotie and I’ve been a fan of Louis Barruol’s Chateau St. Cosme for years. This wine had a beautiful soaring nose with lots of high-toned but sweet red and purple fruits, present oak lending a bit of caramel nuttiness, and classic Côte-Rotie herbs and underbrush, with a suggestion of meatiness too. The exuberant fruit combined with the other elements placed this somewhere between traditional Northern Rhone and New World syrah; this could be the gateway wine from Alban to Allemand.
Alas, we didn’t have time to sample the sweet wines, but there’s always next time: I will definitely be back to try more of the wines-by-the glass and challenge myself to more trial-by-fire by the Morrell staff. -Alan
You can follow Eric Guido’s writing at: http://morrellwinebar.com/author/eric-guido/
You can follow Anna-Christina Cabrales on Instagram under the tag @annachristina722