Wine Pros: Christopher Cannon at Jockey Hollow

Exploring this Morristown restaurant's 60 Under $60 wine collection.

Christopher Cannon, maestro of all things wine at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, smiles as he wields the bottle of Jacky Blot bubbly. He’s got an ace up his sleeve with this one—with every wine he pours on this night, for that matter—’cause he knows what the prospective drinker may not yet know, if that drinker hasn’t i-Pad-swiped his or her way through the gem-packed list at Cannon’s mecca in Morristown.

The Blot bubbly, a sweetheart of a wine from France’s Loire Valley that’s stingingly bone dry, yet complex in a Burgundian way, is a member of Cannon’s prestige list of “60 Under $60” at Jockey Hollow. Everything about the beverage program here seems to be a pet project of the industry veteran who has a deep New York pedigree, but a warm-hearted, pure-Jersey-friendly attitude. But I’ll wager this value-priced list-within-a-list that focuses on artisan, organic and painstakingly sourced wines might be his favorite pet project.

Jacky Blot

It’s the best time ever to buy wine,” Cannon says as he talks about a white wine from Rioja that’s 100 percent viura and is drinking at full-throttle charm at the ripe age of 8. It’s the Honoratus Aurum, and you can even get it by the glass at Jockey Hollow.

I’m sold, I think to myself as I sip the old gal while eating a wild mushroom crostini lined with real-deal melted Taleggio. The 500-label wine list is shuffled daily, as Cannon procures new wines and plays with partnerships to the fare on the seasonally influenced menu. The list always sports a featured region—currently the Loire Valley—and that changes at least quarterly.

We try to bring delicious wines to people at a reasonable price,” Cannon says. His personal “deliciosity” scale includes wines by the peerless Spaniard Raul Perez, who mines his vineyards in Bierzo and brings to the bottle the purest, most impeccable renditions of the grape mencia on the planet. The 2014 Ultreia St. Jacques is $48 a bottle on Cannon’s 60 Under $60 list.

Ultreia St. Jacques

So why are you paying three times that for commodity plonk?

If you are skeptical that you can drink far, far better for less in Cannon Land, let me tell you how he does it: hard work and experience. Meaning, he has more experience than most, and works harder than most to bring to New Jersey wines that otherwise would require a passport, deep pockets and considerable time to uncover. Indeed, though he’s quick to say there are more “better quality wines out there than ever.” His decades in the business and dedication to sourcing are what results in bargain-price haute-level drinking for Jockey Hollow’s diners.

He’ll make sure he’s in the loop when a distributor or importer is ready to put a terrific ready-to-drink wine on sale to make way for a new vintage. He’ll snap up that wine, feature it at a crazy-good price, and create the win-win-in-wine scenerio.

He knows that the dry-farmed wines from Silvershot Vineyards in Oregon include the novel 2016 Fossil and Fawn pinot gris. Why novel? It’s a white grape yielding a red-hued wine. Made from tiny berries, including whole clusters, and bottled unfined and unfiltered, it’s plush, savory and an unparalleled drinking experience. And it’s an experience you’re likely only to have at the hands of Cannon, since a mere 97 cases of this pinot gris were made. Yet it’s a member of the 60-Under-$60 club.

I take a sniff of the 2016 Il Marinetto, a rosato from Calabria made by Sergio Arcuri. It actually smells like roses—beautiful, full-bloom roses. It’s at once heady and haunting. Cannon comes by to divulge the secret: The rosato is made from 100 percent gaglioppo grapes. I turn the bottle around, and there on the back of the label is the affirmation of Cannon’s statement. This once-obscure grape, typically used to make robust red table wines, is indeed the source for this refreshing deep-pink wine with character out the kazoo.

Il Marinetto

Uh. How about that. Learn something new every day. Or at least you can when the subject is wine, the school is Jockey Hollow and the teacher is Chris Cannon.

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, 110 South Street in Morristown. Open daily except Mondays. 973-644-3180; jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com.

N.B.: If you are serious about having a good time with your own personal wine education, consider joining one of Chris Cannon’s blind-tastings on Friday nights. Every Friday night starting at 6:30 pm, Cannon conducts a six-course blind wine-tasting dinner at Jockey Hollow, which encompasses several unique dining and bar spaces in the former Vail Mansion. The multi-course Friday night dinners are priced at $95 per person, not including tax and tip. In addition, a wine dinner with Tuscany’s Querciabella Winery will take place starting at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, October 25. Call the restaurant at the number above for reservations and more information.

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