Spain Ups its Game on Sparkling Wine!

Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, which represents about 11% of all wine exports from Spain, has just upped its game with a new classification—an ultra-premium offering called “Cava De Paraje Calificado.”  There were already three classifications of this sparkler that use grapes you’ve probably never hear of, traditional Cava, with 9 months aging in bottle; Cava Reserva, with 15 months; and Cava Gran Reserva, with at least 30  months in bottle.  This new classification goes to a whole new level, with strict rules that require hand-harvesting, limit the yield per hectare/acre, require minimum aging of 36 months in bottle and vinification on the estate, and can only be made in the Brut/Ultra Brut style—no sweet wines need apply. And the…

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Spain’s Great Match: Castilla Y Leon

Every year I look forward to “Spain’s Great Match,” the day-long tasting, seminar and tradeshow in NYC meant to educate tradespeople on the great wines of Iberia, from Sherry to Bierzo to Cava. I don’t make it to the party every year, but thrilled that I could this year.  It was a beautiful day in Manhattan, and although I couldn’t get into my friend Ana Fabiano’s Rioja class, I was able to sit in for two seminars – one on the Castilla Y Leon region, as well as one on Cava, Spain’s answer to the delicious wonders of Champagne. Each was hosted by Marnie Old, who packs an astonishing amount of information into an hour, and who talks fast enough…

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New Jersey Wineries: Working Dog Winery in Robbinsville

Looking for another New Jersey winery to visit last weekend presented me with a lot of choices, but I narrowed it down to one the moment I saw the name: Working Dog Winery, in Robbinsville. As someone who volunteers at the Sammy’s Hope Animal Shelter in Sayreville on weekends, the winery’s name and logo were already enough to get me there. A couple days before, I’d emailed to ask if I could meet the winemaker and perhaps get a tour. Lo and behold, a very genial guy named Mark Carduner called me, said he was the winemaker and would be glad to host me. And when I walked in, he was the first person I saw, at the front of…

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New Jersey Wineries: Fox Hollow Vineyards in Holmdel

Well, they had me at hello at the Fox Hollow Vineyards. To be specific, Frederic, the winery’s handsome Berger Blanc Suisse (shepherd dog) got my attention as I walked through the door, sitting at the feet of his master, Joe Casola, the winemaker and vineyard manager. A winery dog is a wonderful thing! To go back a moment, as I turned off Holmdel Road onto a long, winding gravel road I drove for what seemed like a mile, with what looked like, not vines, but an orchard on my left. I came to a stop at the cavernous new building in Holmdel, New Jersey that serves as a combined winery, tasting room, and barrel aging room. It’s open, airy and…

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New Jersey Wineries: Old York Cellars in Ringoes

In my continuing quest to visit and support New Jersey wineries and the state’s wine industry, I recently visited Old York Cellars in Ringoes.  Old York is a small winery – only about 3,600 cases a year, which in Napa would be the rough equivalent of a “garage” winery.  Previously it operated as Amwell Valley Vineyard, which was first planted in 1978 but closed in 2005 and reopened under its new name in 2010. An interesting thing I've noticed about some New Jersey wineries again reared its head when I saw the wine menu, and counted 1, 2, 3…16 wines, including a “Port” made from Marechal Foch, a white “Port” made from the virtually-unknown Vignoles (also known as Ravat 51),…

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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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