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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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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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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Valentine’s Day Bubbly

It’s been my mission to make Champagne and sparkling wine something not-too-special. And by that I mean that it’s so good, you won’t—and shouldn’t—wait for some “special” occasion or holiday to drink it! Having said that, I DO recommend that you pop open a bottle for Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect start to a meal, perfect for a date, perfect to liven any conversation, and there's an almost infinite number of types, styles and prices of Champagnes and sparkling wines to choose from. How about a Cava, from Spain? Or a Prosecco from Italy? A traditional Champagne? Or an American sparkling wine from California…Long Island…or New Mexico? Valentine’s Day and sparkling wine, a great combination. Skip the gas station roses…

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