A Wonderfully-Improved Alba Vineyard in New Jersey

I’d been to Alba Vineyard & Winery years ago, and walked away unimpressed.  There was a distinct lack of friendliness in the tasting room, and the wine I liked most at the time was a sparkling wine that Alba didn’t actually produce, just private labeled. Alba is a fairly new winery, founded in 1980, with replanted vines that are mostly about 10 years old, located two miles east of the Delaware River in Milford, NJ. Anyway, fast forward to May of 2016, and things have changed markedly, and for the better! I arranged a tour in advance, and was lucky to have as my guide Nick Sharko, the vineyard foreman and one of the most fun, happy and enthusiastic wine…

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Last Bottle Wines: A Mixed Bag (or Mixed Case)

I’ve been a very steady customer of Last Bottle Wines (LBW), an interesting and fun wine sale and delivery service. The way it works is simple - you subscribe, and they send you emails--daily--with an offer of a specific wine that is supposedly at a moderate- to deep discount. You set up an account, and if you want what's on offer, you log in, select a number of bottles and it gets charged and shipped based on your profile into. The good: MOST of the wines have been good, and good value. Their interface is great, and ordering is painless. The packaging is excellent and every one of my orders has arrived in great shape. For a few bucks more they throw…

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New Jersey Wineries: Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes, NJ

Jersey is actually home to some very good wines, but unfortunately doesn’t really enjoy that reputation among wine aficionados, at least as far as I can tell.  Having volunteered there in the past during crush, and knowing Unionville Vineyards’ winemaker Cam Stark, I went back this past Sunday to Ringoes, NJ to taste Unionville’s latest offerings, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Cam wasn’t around, but we were greeted warmly and well taken care of by the tasting room staff. The place was pretty busy, which was nice to see, and when our host was suddenly overtaken by a flood of guests, General Manager John Cifelli kindly stepped in to pour for us. A $10 fee got us—and gets you—a very generous…

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Jersey Restaurants: INC in New Brunswick, NJ

You’d think it would be easy to get a good whiskey sour in any decent restaurant. After all, it’s a pretty simple and very classic drink, right? Well, I’ve had more watery sours in the last year than I can count, from Chicago to New York and several places in between including several in New Jersey. But last Friday at INC in New Brunswick, NJ, I was not disappointed. And my sour was not watery. It was delicious, appropriately cloudy, with the bourbon hitting you on the front end and the lemon on the back, all covered with a lovely egg-white froth laced with bitters. Just superb. And that was the start of an evening that was outstanding. We began…

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Jersey Restaurants: Hotoke Restaurant–Hot or OK?

I dined at Hotoke in New Brunswick on Friday night for the first time since at least 2011. I’d remembered the place fondly, and it was wildly popular at the time, so I was anticipating a fabulous meal. Sadly, not so much. Laura and I started out with cocktails—she with the Silk Road—X-rated Malibu and Parrot Bay Passion Fruit Rum, Pineapple juice and a splash of Cranberry, which was great. My whiskey sour, though, was watery and near-tasteless and went back in favor of a Pomegranate Martini, which was at least decent, but served for some odd reason in a wide-bowl wine glass. Appetizers of Mini Lobster Crab Cakes, which as far as we could tell had nothing to do…

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Jersey Restaurants: Chez Catherine in Westfield

This tiny place in Westfield, adjacent to a highway-type franchise hotel, bills itself as “one of the best French restaurants in New Jersey.” That is nonsense. It’s got to be the best French restaurant in New Jersey. And one of the best of any kind. I had lunch here years ago and remember it to be good but unremarkable. Not so on September 26, when my date and I decided to see what all the acclaim is really about. We were greeted warmly and escorted to our table, which was formal and lovely but not over the top. After a short wait, our waiter approached and began the service, which throughout the evening was attentive but not intrusive. And he…

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The Organic Contessa

It's always great fun to meet with a winemaker.  And it's especially fun when the winemaker is a woman—in a somewhat-still male dominated field—and when she's also an owner of an estate that goes back well more than a thousand years.  And she's a Contessa! So I was very much looking forward to a wine-soaked lunch earlier this week with Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini, whose family and estate have been around since the 1200s!  I spent three hours with her at Manhattan's Quartino Bottega Organica, an especially fitting place because Ginevra transformed this ancient business into an organic and biodynamic farm and winery more than ten years ago. The winery uses no herbicides, chemical fertilizers or synthetic chemicals, and uses naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts for fermentation. Even the corks are…

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Eye On Iberia!

I recently had the pleasure of tasting a bunch of Spanish wines, courtesy of Wines from Spain USA.  More Americans are drinking Spanish wine these days as far as I can tell just from what I’m served in friends’ houses, what I see on wine store shelves, and what people who talk about wine are, well, talking about. That’s good for Spain (and for consumers) because not too long ago, the only Spanish wine that American really knew was Vino de Jerez—Sherry—and a lot of it was cheap cooking wine you bought at the A&P. That itself was a shame, because good Sherry is a delicious and unique type of wine, produced through the Solera system in which some new vintage…

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