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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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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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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Stellenbosch Vineyards: South Africa Comes Out to Play

South Africa is one of those wine regions that a lot of people have heard about, but few people–too few, anyway—have taken the time to discover and explore its wines.  I’m a little bit in that category; I’ve tasted some of its stuff from time to time, particularly Chenin Blanc, which they sometimes call “Steen” locally, and of course Pinotage, a cross of Cinsault and Pinot Noir that was literally invented in South Africa in 1925.  But I've never really spent much time thinking about South Africa except at an occasional tasting.  And for a lot of people, SA is really just off their wine map, and that's unfortunate. Wine has been produced in South Africa probably since the mid-1600s,…

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Italy’s Wonderful Whites

When you think of Italian wine—and I’m just guessing here—you probably think of reds. Dr. Hannibal Lecter aside, Chianti is the wine everyone knows best, made from Sangiovese grapes grown in Tuscany, and it’s a truly great food wine.  Amarone, one of my favorites, is lush and powerful, with a hint of sweetness, made from partially-dried Corvina grapes, and works best with rich food. And Barolo and Barbaresco wines, made from the Nebbiolo grape, are among the greatest red wines of Europe.  And of course there are the Super-Tuscans, fairly expensive wines often (but not always) made from a base of Sangiovese, and then "suped-up" with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.  The most famous of these, Sassicaia, actually has no Sangiovese at all, and can…

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Iberian Wine for 2015!

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 that was cheap cooking wine you bought at the A&P. That itself was a shame, because Sherry is a delicious and frankly unique type of wine, produced through the Solera system in which some new…

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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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Tuscany Comes to Soho

The world of Italian wine might be more complex and mystifying to most Americans than any other wine region, including France or Spain. Yet it’s only been the last 25 years or so that Italian wines have really taken off here, due in large part to a couple things—one, a revolution of a sorts in modern winemaking, and two, the introduction of the so-called “super-Tuscans”, wine based on the Sangiovese (Chianti) grape, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot added for structure and body.  That actually points out one of the things that’s typically been a stereotype but true about Italian wines; they’ve always been known for their finesse, moderation and balance, true food wines, rather than blockbusters. And of course, that…

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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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