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

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!