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: 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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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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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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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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Ten Wine Rules…NOT a “Manifesto”

There is bad wine. Some wine is not good, which means it’s bad—poorly made, and it has flaws. It might be cheap, but it might also be expensive.  It doesn’t make you a snob to think a wine is bad.  Not all expensive wine is good. You aren’t a low-class rube if you don’t drink $100 bottles all the time.  There is good wine that isn’t over-the-top expensive.  It’s not all about price.  Some good wine is expensive. It is occasionally about price.  Some good bottles do cost a lot. But $$$ doesn’t make it good. Sometimes you just need a beer.  Wine drinkers drink a lot of wine.  Just have a beer some nights.  You’ll be glad you did.…

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Cava…is Cool

Sparkling wine is viewed all too often as a luxury, a “wedding wine,” or something to be saved for a special occasion.  What’s wrong with Friday night?  Or after work on Tuesday?  After all, sparkling wine, including Champagne, is just "still" wine, (literally) that has just been fermented twice. And while my friends in the wine business tell me that New Yorkers have really jumped into sparkling wines and Champagnes and drink them all the time these days, even if that's true I don't think it's the case for the rest of the country.  There's a mystique about these wines that's both good and bad for the people who work hard to produce them from around the world—Champagne and Crémant…

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Champagne Dreams With Chantal Bregeon-Gonet

As I write this I’m sipping a glass of Pine Ridge’s 2009 Chenin Blanc/Viognier.  But make no mistake, this piece is about Champagne. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Chantal Bregeon-Gonet, who with her brother Pierre Gonet run the Champagne House Philippe Gonet. This house specializes in Blanc de Blancs made entirely from Chardonnay, and their annual production is only about 200,000 bottles or about 17,000 cases. That may sound like a lot of wine, but to give you a reference point, one of the “Grand Marques” – Moet et Chandon – produces about 26 million bottles, or 2.2 million cases each year. You probably already know and have tasted wines from one of these big producers –…

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