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A Jersey Girl who loves Jersey wine ...and the fermented fruits of the tri-state area.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Liveblog Morristown contd

Dulcinea at Auburn Road along with Good Karma of course.

Traminette at Amalthea and DiMatteo.

Almondberry at Cream Ridge.

Hit these tents!

Heritage for the un-published specials. This winery scored big in the Judgement of Princeton and does not disappoint dry drinkers!

Four Sisters for concierge attention and phenomenal unheard of grapes.

Like  Italian varietals? Coda Rossa and Hopewell Valley's Barbera.

Fall Harvest Wine Fest

Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morristown, NJ where the crowd is lining up 45 min ahead of schedule!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekly Column at PJLifestyle!

Hey Fellow Wine-O's!

I'm now writing a weekly column on the wines of New Jersey and the tri-state region over at PJLifestyle!  Look for me on Tuesday evenings - a great lead into #wineWednesdays :)

Happy Sipping,


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making Connections With the Vines

I picked up a book titled Reading Between the Wines by Terry Theise in a used bookstore a while back. Recently, I began reading and found the book to be akin to my own personal beliefs about why I enjoy studying, drinking and writing about wine in a number of ways. We (Theise and I) both believe that Connection as he calls it is an essential foundation block in the appreciation of wine. A consumer cannot possibly appreciate a wine - any wine - without some knowledge of the network of connections that have gone into producing it. Call it the social network of terrior, call it six degrees (or more) of separation between you and the maker of the wine, in either case if you don't have some viable connection to the wine you are drinking it's nothing more than alcoholic grape juice.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that you're going to fly around the world visiting every vineyard from which you've ever purchased a bottle. But, you simply aren't going to have the same relationship to a bottle of Cab Sav you picked at random based on an anonymous store clerk's recommendation versus the bottle you came across at a wine fest or on a lazy Sunday drive through a vineyard. You're probably never going to meet the wine maker or have a chance to discuss the in-depth process behind what wound up in that bottle (if you do - bully for you!) but you will at least have seen the vines growing or met one or two of the folks who play a role in making that happen. In other words, you'll have an understanding of the connections to that wine and, in turn, you will have become a part of that chain.

I've tried browsing wine magazines, reading wine websites, even foraging through a few wine stores in my search to understand why it is that wine proves to be a constant attraction to my intellect. All of that research has only resulted in my conclusion that I enjoy wine not for wine's sake, but for the story behind it. I have no story behind a rating of a vinifera on a website, except that some dude (or dudette) I don't know tried to quantify their taste buds (as if that scale somehow applied to my own). Hey, that's great! I'm glad you liked that wine! Tell me about you - your likes and dislikes - about the vineyard that grows that wine - who those folks are, what's their story - and maybe I'll have some way to relate to the essence of tobacco and dried cherries you're raving about.

The other day I stopped off at my local wine shop to browse after a long week at work. Walking the aisles I studied labels and realized two things.  One, the only thing I would be able to appreciate from this vantage point were the artsy labels. Two, if my husband knew I bought a $350 bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay he'd kill me. Why would I want that bottle, per se, and not something at a lower price point? Because I didn't connect to Chardonnay - I connected to the story of the vineyard that triumphed in Paris in '76! I wanted to know what was so great about this wine, sure, but I only wanted to know because I already knew the story and, thanks to however fictional Bottle Shock may or may not have been, I felt some level of connection to the land and the people behind that wine. That is what drove me to know more. (Visions of my husband's bug-eyed glare is what drove me to tell myself, "Save it for a special occasion.")

I left the wine store with nothing in hand and returned home to my collection of wines, each one purchased at a regional vineyard or festival, after tasting and talking with a wine maker or one of his or her crew. These are the wines I know and the wines I know I will enjoy drinking. And each time I pop a cork, the spirit of that initial encounter will come to dwell wherever I am, and I will have established yet another connection between myself and the grape that started off as a seed buried in the land.

A few weeks back I talked wine at a party with an older gentleman who fancied himself somewhat of an armchair sommelier. (This, mind you, is not an insult but an objective observation.) We talked body, structure, tannin and then he dropped a line that made me cringe: "I'm not a fan of Jersey wines, they don't have much body. I actually prefer Yellow Tail."

I'm way too polite to actually say, "Are you kidding me?" Instead, I referred this Yellow Tail fan to wineries like Amalthea Cellars in south Jersey and Unionville Vineyards up north, two wineries well known for their striking - and award winning - vinifera wines. I also asked if he had ever been to the Finger Lakes. He brushed me off. When I persisted he said, "Oh, maybe we'll have to try it."

Only today I stumbled across a new (to me) wine blog wherein a twentysomething wine fan covered "Around the World in 80 Sips" - a wine fest for Millennial drinkers. The Chateau Montelena table was packed (most likely because the Chris Pine fans were looking for him to pour samples) and was stationed in the same room with a college start-up company offering "orange wine-based beverages" for a low budget. It was a hipster scene meant to sex up a commercial product; you could have easily filled the room with the new French Coke & Wine creation and these kids would have been just as impressed.

That is not wine, that is industry and while I have nothing against industry I do hear an inward soul scream radiating from my being every time I see sales take value over character and substance. What good is it to market your wine if you strip it of its character and force it to dance to the latest pop hit? To paraphrase Anne Shirley, it's like seeing your baby tattooed with eye-catching advertisements that read "Drink me, I'm cool!"

This is why I will always gravitate towards the local winery, not just in New Jersey (although I have developed a special affinity for the wines of my home state) but wherever my travels take me. Here, in these places, I engage in a conversation with the wine; I am talked to, not at by the wine, the worker, and the land. This is an essential experience; without it, wine would be nothing more than another beverage you could buy at a liquor store. And what would be the purpose in that? To be like everyone else? If so, why are you even drinking wine in the first place?

Wine by nature is unique; no two vintages are exactly alike. Nor should their drinkers be. Embrace Connection in your wine and you will find that you will do the same with others and within yourself: appreciating the unique, valuing the essential, and making your story your own.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Auburn Road Vineyard - the Full Review

Wait a sec - let me get the last of the Rosalita...

The semi-sweet blush is bright and juicy with a light mouthfeel and pleasantly puckering tannins dancing along the sides of your tongue. Chilled and carrying all the appeal (and none of the sugary nature) of a candy apple, this wine pairs as well with cheeses as it would BBQ, and should frequent your summer dining experiences under the stars as it did ours last evening as we sat watching Shakespeare amidst the vines of Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery in Pilesgrove, NJ.

The evening started as all visits to a winery should, with a tasting. We sidled up to the packed bar in the Enoteca and were quickly welcomed with two logo-emblazoned glasses that were ours to keep with the tasting fee ($5/person for 10 wines on that day's list).

Our favorites included:

Sole - a bright Vidal Blanc containing strong mineral notes and a fruit-forward finish.

Good Karma - a vinifera red blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, this fusion of Italian body and French flavor carries all the tannins you'd expect from a dry red in a light body, making it the perfect wine for grilled chicken or salmon. Slightly too tannic for my husband, the sweet drinker, I find Good Karma to be a great balance between semi-sweet and dry pallates. This is the bottle I can easily share with friends who are the driest of drinkers.

Roxanne - the light dry rose that acts as the base for the Rosalita, this wine offers the crisp tang of grapefruit and is best served chilled.

Kind of Blue - Hammonton, NJ blueberries are used to create this fruit wine that rides the line between sweet and tart

Blessington - the husband's favorite, this wine rings a Concord note, but is actually a sweet red blend of grapes that don't include the labrusca favorite. Chill it for a great summer sipper.

A few of the wines, including Rustica, aren't currently available; I look forward to tasting the 2012 vintages when they are released. The Classico - the motivation behind the creation of Auburn Road Vineyards - is a gorgeous dry red wine. I will readily admit to not being a dry red drinker, but in my humble semi-opinion, Classico is a distinctly American vinifera blend with a healthy balance of tannin and fruit.

Auburn Road Vineyards and Winery offers the Enoteca - a beautiful dining area boasting a patio that looks out into the vineyards and offers enough green space for live performances, of which there are many. With dinners on Friday nights and light fare all around, this is the place to cap your wine ride or hang out on a relaxing summer day/evening. For the oenophile, Auburn Road's Enoteca offers the kind of space you're looking for when you're out to contemplate the wine you're drinking.

To compliment our bottle(s) of Rosalita, we ordered one of the artisan cheeses from the Italian Market in Philly, a crusty loaf of Italian bread with olive oil, a bowl of the soup du jour (yellow pea with roasted red pepper) and the Coco Bar for dessert (think a high-end Klondike with a coconut infusion). Everything was fresh, delicious and a perfect match for the wine.

An excellent performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company provided excellent theatrical accompaniment to thoughtfully crafted wines. What a fabulous show put on by three talented actors and a staff of dedicated professionals. If you have the chance, catch this show! Watching Shakespeare unravel among the vines was a transcendent cultural experience I will forever cherish.

Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery is the quintessential experience for wine drinkers seeking an American twist on vinifera grapes. With an environment as welcoming as the wine, Auburn Road is already a Jersey Wine classic.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Liveblogging Shakespeare in the Auburn Road Vineyards

Auburn Road Vineyards

A gorgeous evening in the vineyards at the Enoteca

Shakespeare in the Vines

Romei & Juliet by the Commonwealth Classic Theater at Auburn Road Vineyards. Not to be missed!

Shakespeare and wine

At Auburn Road an experience of a lifetime.

Awaiting Shakespeare in the vineyard at Auburn Road!

Auburn Road liveblog

What a fantastic oasis in the Jersey farmlands. This is how an American enjoys fine vinifera wines. Rustica, Good Karma, Classico - amazing dry red blends that please pallates otherwise suited to lighter bodied fare. And the sweets- manifique!  Stay tuned for a full review!

Tips on Surviving (and Enjoying!) the Finger Lakes Wine Festival

My husband and I are fairly new to wine. When the opportunity to take a vacation came up, we immediately decided a road trip to the Finger Lakes was in order, and it just so happened that Finger Lakes Wine Festival fell during that time frame.  Of course, we immediately bought tickets, not fully realizing that the Finger Lakes Wine Festival is a bit like ComicCon for wine lovers -- intense, overwhelming, and impossible to conquer in a day.

Thinking about going to the FLX Wine Festival?  DO IT!  Here are some tips - especially for newbies - to make the most of your experience.

1. Go both days.  Heck, if you can, go Friday night for the opening party.  Fireworks, togas, launch of the lakes -- soak it all in.

2. Camp out at the festival. Cops line the exits and breathalizer tests are required upon exit.  If you're a serious drinker, park and hang out for three days.

3. If you aren't a camper, there are tons of cute places to stay in and around Watkins Glen. Some hotels even offer packages that include transportation to and from the event.  Take advantage!

4. Try to get in a few days before the event. We had time to visit a few wineries beforehand. All of these folks are seasoned fest participants and they will happily share the lay of the land with you - when to go, what to expect, what to bring, etc.  Get the inside scoop.

5. If you can only attend one day, choose Sunday. We received the tip early on (see #4) that Saturday is the Drunk Fest.  Hey, everyone drinks wine for their own reasons and everyone unwinds differently. If, like us, you're into wine for the full experience and prefer to avoid folks getting plastered at 11 am, wait until Sunday. The crowd is generally calmer, especially during the first half of the day when the Saturday folks are still sleeping it off.

6. Bring nosh. Technically you aren't allowed to bring food into the Festival, but we saw a few girls munching on pretzels handily strung up around their necks like candy necklaces. Brilliant idea. Most tables do not have pallate cleansing munchies and the sandwich you get in the food area - no matter how tasty - is not going to balance out the amount of wine you will drink.

7. Speaking of which - don't drink every single wine. There were 90 wineries in attendance last year. 90 wineries offering a minimum of 5 wines to taste. Do the math and you'll quickly realize how incredibly impossible it is to taste all that wine. Take it from someone who tried and burned their taste buds very badly (not to mention couldn't eat anything for at least a day - your stomach can't handle that much wine, either) even your best game face can't match the power of that many grapes.

The best advice I received from a winemaker was to set your mind on 1 or 2 varietals and sample those at each table. You'll be able to better distinguish what you like from what you don't and you'll learn more about why you like or don't like a certain varietal. You aren't there to conquer the world of wine - you're there to become a part of it and learn from it.

8. Beware of broken glass. The FLX Wine Fest crew does an INCREDIBLE job of sweeping up broken glasses 5 seconds after they crash to the ground, but keep an eye out, especially if you're wearing flip flops. You'll know instantly when a glass has crashed, because even if you haven't heard it smash to the ground you'll hear a cry of "AAWWWWW!!!!" from at least 50 onlookers.  It's a festival tradition.

9. By 2 pm it is packed.  Be patient.  Table hop.  Stick your glass in when you see a chosen varietal coming your way. Be prepared to be knocked into at least 2 or 3 times.  It's all part of the fun, unless you're claustrophobic, in which case you wouldn't be there anyway.

10. Classes are offered - but it's hard to find the time to attend. This is where choosing a couple of varietals comes into play - you can hop tables a lot faster and find the time to attend at least one seminar and learn a thing or two.

11. Stay hydrated!  Water coolers are everywhere for you to rinse - take a drink or two or three as well!  The biggest cause of a wineover is dehydration - stay hydrated.

12. If you are driving - stop drinking by 2 pm. I can't stress enough - cops are posted at every exit and while the sign says "voluntary" -- that breathalizer isn't.

Have fun and share your stories and favorite flavors with me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/winegirlblog !

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rose Bank Winery

We're hiding out under the porch of the old tasting room as wedding guests pour into the beautifully restored 1800's barn/tasting room. A great way to end your tour, this pour your own tasting featured nearly 20 wines ranging from super dry to delicious desert. We left with the infamous Acai and Raspberry Secret in hand. As I sit sipping on my rather fruit forward Reisling I have to admit, the Bucks County Wine Trail is going to be one of my hotspots for ages to come.

Rushland Ridge Vineyards

Lisa hosted a pour your own tasting featuring 15 wines including Traminette, Ravat and Foch alongside traditional viniferas, labruscas, and blends. Warm and welcoming, we were invited to take a dip in the pool that sits amidst vineyards producing 1,000 cases annually. We left with a most amazing and unique Traminette offering both the perfume and taste of a gorgeously balanced fruit/mouthfeel, as well as a delightful Ravat. Don't miss the Foch, a rare dry, fruit forward varietal for the area.

Wycombe Vineyards

Rich, the wine grower, harvester, and maker will guide you through a tasting of some of the most unique vinifera wines grown on his family's estate. Spare yourself the stress of choosing and get a bottle of each. Our favorites included the Just Married, a blend including some of the most delicious Chardonnay this anti-buttery pallate has ever tasted.

Live blogging PA Wine Adventure

New Hope Winery- Like dry? Amazing dry whites. Left with the Chablis & Cab Sav. Coming back for Pinot Gris & Solebury White. Thank you, Christopher!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wear T's 4 Wine #supportlocalvines

This week I tweeted @WineGirlBlog:
So, why am I offering to wear an NJ Winery T-Shirt at the upcoming Summer Chill Wine Fest at Renault Winery? It all started, ironically enough, at the Winter Chill Wine Festival at Renault last January. It was the perfect event to don my Sharrott Winery Crimignoles t-shirt I'd picked up and warm enough to wear it without a jacket. Sure enough, the t-shirt was a hit with my friends at Sharrott, who were the only folks who didn't mistake me for a winery employee that day. Various reactions I received included:

"What's a Crimignoles?" (Answer: A blend of Sharrott's Crimson Sky and Vignoles - two great wines on their own - paired for an extra sweet-tart treat.)

"Dude, we love your wine!"

"Wow, they let you off to go taste wine?"

"Shouldn't you be working?"

And, my personal favorite: "Why aren't you wearing my t-shirt?"

It was a question posed, quite charmingly I might add, by several vintners charmed by my support of local wines. "Well," I'd reply, "I'll wear one of your t-shirts next time! Do you have them here for sale?"

Hence the idea: Will Wear T's 4 Wine.

I've got an impartial witness who will testify that I sent at least 20 odd attendees over to Sharrott's table that day to try their Crimignoles blend. I didn't think I'd be a walking billboard, but I had great fun talking NJ wines and showing my support for one of my favorite wineries.

Are you a #NJ Winery with a t-shirt to spare? Contact me at winegirlblog@gmail.com with pricing details. I want to support YOU at the upcoming Summer Chill Wine Festival at Renault Winery!

Monday, June 17, 2013

All Corked Up


So what do you prefer? We've seen a growing number of wineries make the move to synthetic, and it is nice not to worry about crumbles in your wine, but you can't sniff plastic.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Warwick valley winery & distillery

Want a gorgeous place to relax with a fine wine or delicious cider? Check out Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in the heart of black dirt country, minutes from the NJ border.

They grow their apples and fruit on site and their grapes in the Finger Lakes. This translates into peak flavors on the palate. The ciders are not to be missed; fresh and crisp with nust the right carbonation. The Black Dirt Red is a gorgeously spicy Baco Noir that makes the kind of sangria dry drinkers crave. Other faves include Harvest Moon (a labrusca/vinifera white blend), Gewurztraminer  (perfect perfume on the nose and tongue), and Black Dirt Blush.

The Distillery operates under the title American Fruits and produces the most gorgeous fruit liquers imaginable.

Do not miss the chance to partake of the garden cafe offerings, some live music, and some amazing beverages at this gorgeous location.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kiwi-tastic at Cream Ridge Winery

In his book Inventing Wine Paul Lukacs cites balance, length and depth as the three factors that we use to gauge wine. Perhaps. Then again, just as everyone has a different definition of balance, length and depth, everyone has their own reasons for getting into wine. Personally, I'm into wine for the sensory rush of a tasting, as well as the social and even intellectual curiosity of the experience. Simply put, if Lukacs rates on balance, length and depth, I rate on flavor, personality and vibe.

Man, there are some gorgeous vibes at Cream Ridge Winery.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend Cream Ridge Winery's 25th Anniversary celebration. A lovely 2-day affair featuring live music, BBQ and tastings inside and out, this event was the perfect example of the fun you can have at a winery on a weekend afternoon. Families with kids on picnic blankets, bridal shower parties, couples young and old soaking in the springtime sun - these are good vibes.

A tour of the facility was given by founder Tom Amabile. Knowledgable and sweet, Tom not only gave us the history of the vineyard, insight into the tanking and bottling processes, and great tips on corking, we were also introduced to his lovely wife Joan who passed through to announce that more family had arrived, including their cousin Vinny.  (It's a Jersey thing.)  After giving Tom a helping hand with some extra chairs we were treated to a taste from the tank - the Eastern White, a sweet Niagara clear, clean and crisp from the steel tank where it sat ready to be tapped.

Known for its fruit wines, Cream Ridge has an extensive list of reds and whites as well. The Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were both flavorful, light-bodied whites in their own right and the Muscato Amabile put the Barefoot stuff you find on the rack to shame. The Cab Franc, Chambourcin and Red Zin were just as dry in their own right with some powerful tannins.

Favorites included the Raley's Red - their Chambourcin blended with NJ blueberries. The Chambourcin's tannins and the fruit balanced nicely creating a unique red that could serve as both a table wine as well as a sipping sensation for dryer drinkers.

The Cherry - the description reads pie and that is no lie. This Governor's Cup winner is meant to be savored; not too sweet, nor to tart, this is a just-right cherry wine that begs for a summer afternoon.

Both the Cranberry and the Blueberry hit acidic and fruit nodes like a tightrope walker at Barnum & Bailey's.  Walk the line with these fine wines.

AlmondBerry - There's a reason we left with 2 bottles. This fantastic blend of raspberry and white wine with almonds is legendary for a reason. Sweet with a slightly tangy finish. Sipping with appetizers or savoring for dessert, this wine will become one of your best cellar friends.

Javaberry - Blackberry, chocolate and espresso make for a menage a trois for the tongue.  Wow, what gorgeous coffee flavor.  Drink this and you'll never waste your time with an Irish coffee again.

Kiwine - Premiering at this event, this kiwi-infused Niagara blend is sweet, light, tropical and begs to be served at your upcoming summer party along with the Frozen Sangria (we loved the Red - a perfect sweet/tart blend!).

Pineapple - Ok, so we've been before.  This gorgeous stuff wasn't available at the fest (they were in the process of restocking) but we were able to snag a bottle from the back when we checked out.  What gorgeous stuff - and you won't find anything else like it around here.  It's pineapple in a glass - tangy, fruity wine.  Drink it out back, with a Hawaiian pie.  Don't miss this!

Visit Cream Ridge for the experience. The festival was $5, but we've been in the past and the tastings on a non-event day have been free. You will not leave empty-handed and you'll have one heck of a good time!

PS - Turn left out of the winery and head to Allentown for a fun afternoon of shopping and dining. Turn right and hit up the back 9 at the local golf course.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Willow Creek Winery - Cape May, NJ

This is one hell of a gorgeous place.

If you ever find yourself in Cape May (which you should - for the beach, the Victorian setting, the great shops and eateries, and especially the wine) you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't venture out past the town, towards the lighthouse, and make a hard right into what looks like the middle of nowhere.

Nowhere, or rather 160-168 Stevens Street in Cape May, NJ, is home to Willow Creek Winery. South of the Mason-Dixon line, you'd easily confuse the 50 acre farm for an antebellum plantation. A gorgeous historic private home shining out yellow against the clear blue sky signals you're at the right location.  Follow the dirt path down-a-ways to a newly built tasting room ready to entertain. (Brides, don't blink twice if you're looking for romantic seclusion.) Inside, you'll find a broad, open space with an outdoor patio and, most importantly, a wine bar ready for tasting.

Out of the 14 wines on the list, 10 were available for tasting. Technically there are 2 labels happening here - Willow Creek, pulling grapes from the estate, and Wilde Cock, named after one of the owners, which is a mix of farm-grown grapes and ones shipped in from out of state.

Don't miss the 2011 Malvasia Blanca (White Estate Wine).  Barrel fermented and lightly oaked (in other words, it starts out in barrels and finishes in steel tanks) this Malvasia proved to be an aromatic, light-bodied white with a unique flavor that balances both dry and fruit-forward characteristics. Uncommon to the Jersey pallate, this wine proves a special treat due to the fact that Malvasia is a Mediterranean grape. Kudos to the folks at Willow Creek for having the guts to plant some different vines!

The Bacchus Red proves an enjoyable estate blend of 3 grapes - Merlot, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I've always enjoyed a good blend and this is no exception. The fruit breathes into this medium-bodied wine, making it a great dryer table wine for otherwise sweet drinkers.

Wilde Cock Red is a delightfully dry specimen.  Dubbed by the winery as their "very own Dago Red" this is a blend of estate Merlot and Shiraz from Washington state.  Reminiscent of a chianti of sorts, this is your pasta wine, guaranteed to please the most discriminant of dry drinkers at your table.

You can't taste wine in Jersey without throwing at least some fruit in the mix. The Wilde Cock Apple is made to impress from 100% NJ apples. A delightful treat, this wine captures the sweet-tart essence of apples picked right at the farm.

The Wilde Cock Southern Sangria, sold by the refillable jug, changes weekly.  A mix of the Wilde Cock Sweet and fruit flavor, the flavor of our week was Strawberry. If you loved Jolly Ranchers as a kid, this will be your favorite. Personally, I tasted more sugar than wine and longed for more fruit in the mix, but this hit my husband's sweet tooth and proved the winner of his day.

Tastings are $10, which is slightly steep, but not terrible considering a tour of the winery is incorporated into your fee.  We visited on a Saturday while an event was in progress - while our servers were extremely attentive, they were running fast; if you're looking for a more intimate experience, a weekday visit is highly recommended.

Find an additional review at Hudson Valley Wine Goddess.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The 5 S's of Tasting Wine

From Dr. Gary Pavlis, Rutgers University, NJ Agricultural Experiment Station:

1. Sight - If you don't like the way it looks, chances are, you won't like the way it tastes.

2. Swirl - The glass is designed that way for a reason.  Give it a twirl; couterclockwise if you're right handed, clockwise with your left.  Let it breathe.  See if it has legs.  Get a sense of the texture.

3. Smell - If you hate it, don't drink it.  Smell is also closely tied to taste.  Before you smell the wine, sniff your hand to neutralize your senses.  (Don't go sniffing wines like they're candles on display.)

4. Sip - Don't down it and think your stomach will make the decision.  This isn't Pepto-Bismol, this is wine.  Let it roll around in your mouth - the tannins will tingle the sides of your tongue, the fruit will rest in the middle, and the burn you sense in the back of your throat will tell you how much alcohol is in the mix. 

5. Savor - What can you do with this wine?  Remember: "Wine is the liquid part of the meal."  You aren't drinking it to get wasted, you're drinking it to enjoy it.  Whether it's a tannic dry red wine that combines well with the fat in a steak, or an off-dry, spicey/fruity white wine that blends well with Asian, wine is about enhancing your pallate.  If you're going to drink, drink well -- not often.  (The same can be said for eating in general.)

Renault Winter Wine Fest 2013

What an awesomely relaxing event.

The new and improved Winter Wine Fest at Renault Winery Resort & Golf Course in Little Egg Harbor, NJ, was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the dead of January when most folks are suffering the post-holiday blues.

Ten wineries were featured at the event that spanned the ballroom and main hall of New Jersey's oldest winery.  Sharrott Winery poured Crimignoles, Renault poured their white Fresello and Noah wines, and Plagido's poured their Dealer's Choice, Homestead and Empire dessert wines.  (Of course, they poured more than that, but hey, I'm writing about my favorites here.) 

Some of my new favorites include Bellview Winery's Homestead, a kitchen sink blend of vinifera and labrusca grapes that has the right combination of dry and sweet to make it a great table wine; Tomasello's Rainer Red based in Concord grapes dances sweet on the pallate; Cedarvale Winery's Cherry Table Wine is the sweetest, freshest and most natural cherry wine I've ever tasted; Renault's Fresello red makes a great chilled rose that lends a sparkle to your tongue. 

Last year we were new to wine.  We arrived late, were greeted with the crowd, and fought the massive audience to get a taste of whatever we could try.  With a year of wine tasting under our belts, this year afforded us a completely different experience.  We arrived early, aimed towards the grapes we like, and took time to soak it all in. 

That included participating in a wine seminar with Dr. Gary Pavlis of Rutgers University.  Focusing on terrior, Pavlis took us on a three-wine journey (Tomasello Shiraz 2009, Renault Baco Noir, and Renault Riesling -- one of my new personal favorites) through the Garden State, explaining that Jersey has such a similar climate to the Bordeaux region that our vinifera wines are closer in taste to those of Europe than the oft-praised California blends.  There are 87 varieties of grapes and 62 wineries in New Jersey -- compared to only 7 in 1984.  Comparatively speaking, Pavlis has tested this, wines produced in NJ rank higher in taste-tests than European wines in the same price range.  Why?  Because NJ puts everything into the $10-$25 wines.  (So much for European wine snobbery.)

No visit to Renault is complete without a tour with Mark.  Starting in the history room, you learn about founder Louis Nicolas Renault, who moved to Jersey in 1868 after phylloxera killed off the majority of European vines.  Settling in New Jersey for the climate and soil, Renault imported his French winemaking skills establishing the first winery in New Jersey and the second oldest bonded winery in America.  Thanks to Renault, the winery is one of the only ones outside the Champagne region in France that can legally call their own blend "champagne" instead of "sparkling wine".  Hence the name has remained through a series of owners, including Prohibition mobster John D'Agostino (Renault's real-life connection to the characters of Boardwalk Empire). 

View the museum of glassware and winemaking equipment, learn about riddling racks and how the folks at Renault still make their American Champagne the old fashioned way, and finish up in the pressing room for a quick lesson on whites, reds and blushes.  Normally, the tour ends with a trip to the tasting room, something I'd highly recommend - whether you're into super-dry or pleasantly sweet, this historic NJ winery has something for your pallate.

Four-and-a-half hours of wine tasting makes a person hungry for a good meal.  Fortunately, Renault is home to two gourmet restaurants, including Joseph's Restaurant where you can get a great rack of lamb, New York Strip Steak, and even Ahi Tuna.  (They've got a wide variety of seafood and pasta dishes as well.)  If you're ready to crash, book a room at the Tuscany House Hotel, a beautiful setting for over 100 weddings a year.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Renault Winter Wine Festival Preview

Right now, I'm sipping away at one of my favorite Valenzano Winery offerings, Shamong Red Reserve.  The Concord grape (something I think pseudo-wine snobs tend to be afraid of - "Oh my gawd, they'll think we're drinking Welch's!") is blended with Ives for a rich, semi-sweet fruity taste made to sip and savor.  It's the perfect wine for a Friday night when you're ready to shrug off the stress of the work week and get psyched for a great weekend of wine tasting.

Speaking of which, if you've got the winter blues and are ready to celebrate this weekend's unseasonably warm temps, why not check out the Winter Wine Festival at Renault Winery in Little Egg Harbor, NJ?

This year's fest features ten great NJ wineries offering everything from traditional old world vinifera to Jersey fruit favorites.  I'm especially looking forward to samplings from Sylvin Farms Winery, famed for giving anything and everything vinifera a shot in their Outer Coastal Plain soil.  We're talking everything from Cab Francs and Chardonnays to Shiraz and Viognier.  They aren't afraid to experiment in the fermenting phase, either, growing four Italian varieties to blend them into Accozzaglia ("medley" in Italian). 

Of course, I'm also looking forward to renewing my relationship with some Jersey standards from Sharrott (Crimignoles!) Plagido's (Homestead!) and Wagonhouse (Jersey Girl!- or whatever they're calling it nowadays, it'll always be Jersey Girl to me) wineries.  A new favorite, Auburn Road Vineyards, will also be making an appearance, giving me a good opportunity to restock my Good Karma.  This Sangiovese & Merlot blend has a light mouthfeel and fruit-forward appearance with a dry finish.  Recommended for poultry, pork and heavier fish, I brought it to an Italian BYOB and pleased a series of wine drinkers with pallates ranging from dry to sweet.

Renault Winery makes a great setting for the event.  With a gourmet restaurant, ballroom and museum on site, this historic Jersey winery has a unique ambience that makes you wonder whether or not one of the Crawleys will be walking down Prohibition Alley.  (Can you tell I'm a Downton fan?)  The winemakers respect the history of one of the first bonded wineries in the country, occasionally pulling out 100 year old recipes for wine and champagne to throw into the mix.  One of my all-time favorite blushes, Pink Lady, stems from Renault. 

Stay tuned for the full report...or just check it out for yourself!