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We finally made it to the New Jersey Spring Wine Festival @ The Short Hills Hilton, presented by NY Wine Events. This group hosts a series of NY metro area wine events, with a spring and a fall festival taking place annually at this location.

This was very different than the other wine festivals I’ve been to throughout the state. It featured 150 domestic and international wines selected and provided by Wine Library. Usually, the other festivals we attend feature NJ wineries exclusively and are a lower cost to attend, which means higher volume crowds. Tickets for this event are priced higher, but you get lighter crowds, a different atmosphere – indoor rather than outdoor, and a more intimate setting.

The New Jersey Spring Wine Festival was held in a banquet hall type setting, complete with chandelier and an acclaimed jazz band. Food was stationed in the center and featured delicious pasta. I had to go back for seconds of the penne in cream sauce, with peas and mystery meat (pan fried pepporoni or soppresseta). It was so tasty. Cheese and cracker tables were displayed at both ends of the pasta station. The wines and vendors were placed around the perimeter of the room.

We sampled a lot of wines at each station. A couple impressed me and some others were okay, but that’s because of what my taste favors. You could have a different flavor experience depending on your preference.

My highlights were:

  1. Massanois Imports – Cascina Gilli Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco 2014
    This was the first wine I tried. It was perfect for my taste preference of sweet reds. Gilli is a sparkling, effervescent Spumante made with the Malvasia di Castelnuovo grapes. I tend to prefer Spumante, which seems softer compared to champagne, which is harsher for me. Gilli is lightly sweet with berry fruit notes and it presents a light purple-redish color. I would purchase this from a local store.IMG9526221
  2. Vinska Klet Quercus Chardonnay 
    I usually prefer oak aged Chardonnays, but this steel Chardonnay captivated my taste buds. The steel aging emphasized the notes of apple, melon, peach and pineapple. I enjoyed this version better than their laid down (aged) wine. The sommelier said that my choice was the more economical of the two.20160513_201039
  3. Claremont Distillery – Jersey Devil Moonshine
    This Jersey based distillery was sampling their blueberry potato vodka served with a blueberry lemonade. I was too afraid to try their other beverages because mixing and me don’t get along. But their moonshine seemed to be crowd pleasers. Claremont’s Jersey Devil Moonshine came in 3 flavors, SINamon, Original, Apple Pie. The overall presentation is great. This would make great birthday or Christmas gifts.IMG9526291
  4. Balic Winery @ Personally Yours Gift Baskets
    This was a shining moment in the evening for me as they were the only vendor serving NJ wines. The shop, Personally Yours Gift Baskets based in Clark, was sampling the Balic wines they sell. I don’t think we’ve tasted Balic wines from Mays Landing yet, so this was a new experience for us. I also had no idea there was a wine tasting room in Clark. Clark is the halfway point between us and my parents’ house. So when we visit them, we’ll have to stop in on the way home. My favorite wines of theirs were the Holiday (Spice), Mango, and Blueberry.
  5. Barefoot Wine & Bubbly Spritzers
    If you like to drink and happen to link wine, this should be your summer go to beverage. Beach or BBQ, look for these little 4 packs at the liquor store. They will be a party pleaser. Guests will be impressed that it’s something new and different and easily accessible. They’re the right size to throw into a cooler. The taste is perfect for summer activities, lightly sweet, effervescent, chilled and refreshing. Both flavors are good, but I have a feeling more people will enjoy the red.The white spritzer is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Riesling. It yields flavors of peach, lemon, lime and apple.  The red spritzer is a blend of Moscato, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. It presents flavors of raspberry, orange, and berries with a spice on the finish.


  6. Salsa Di Parma 
    An adorable couple was serving Italian salsa spread on crackers. This dip or spread is comprised of asiago cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh herbs. It can be served on bread, pizza, crackers, chips, chicken or for dipping vegetables. This was a pleasant surprise.

Tom’s highlights were:

  1. The cheese
  2. More cheese!

Seriously, at one point I was tasting wine and Tom slipped away to the cheese table next to us. Keystone Farms imported cheese from Wisconsin and had every flavor cheese you can think of, including buffalo wing jack and bacon cheese.

As I was sipping wine, Tom said, “I came for the cheese.” I replied, “Well, I came for the wine!” Glad this event had something for the both of us.

Photocred: Tom Rowe

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We recently met with friends and went to the inaugural Waretown Spring Wine Festival. This festival took place at the Waretown Recreation and Lake Area. On this day, the weather was great. The sun was shining and there was a cool breeze. It was so nice to be outside after the long, cold winter we had.

When we entered the festival, we started with Chestnut Run Farm. I hadn’t tried them before and I was curious to see what they had. They seem to specialize in apple and pear wines with dry and sweet options. If you tend to appreciate these flavors then they’re worth a try or a visit. If not, then other wineries would suit your tastes better. Here’s what I liked at Chestnut Run and what was notable at the other wineries.

Chest Nut Run Farm

Semi-sweet Fuji Apple was probably the best of their selection. It was not too dry, too sweet, or tart. It had a nice, crisp, fuji apple flavor. The fruit used in Chest Nut Run wine is grown on their farm. I could imagine this pairing nicely with an apple sushi roll at one of our favorite nearby sushi restaurants.

We were also able to taste their Spiced Pear wine, which wasn’t on their wine list. This wine is one of their customer favorites. I appreciated the flavor. It was like a spiced apple wine, but to me pears and apple taste alike. It may be too sweet for some. I thought it seemed like a dessert wine. Their Spiced Sweet Asian Pear wine won a Double Gold Medal in the 2012 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Their Semi-Sweet Asian Pear is also a medalist, winning a Silver Medal in the 2012 Tasters Guild International Wine Competition.

Monroeville Vineyard & Winery

Monroeville Winery’s NJ Stillwater was unique because it’s a red wine fermented in a bourbon barrel. I thought that was a nice, unique touch. I couldn’t get a sense for the bourbon flavor, but our friend, Jen, enjoyed it.

They also had a NJ Asian Pear wine. I don’t remember trying pear wines until this day. I enjoyed the flavor of this one. I’m thinking they may have a pear wine to compete with nearby Chestnut Run Farms.

My favorite of the Monroeville wines was their Monroeville Red. As soon as I tasted it, I thought, this is Concord grape! I could tell because I loved the flavor! Concords tend to be sweeter. It was a little too sweet for Jen, but just right for me. I thought about buying the Monroeville Red, but I didn’t make it back over to their tent.

Plagido’s Winery

I’ve tried Plagido’s wines at other festivals. I enjoy their sweet red selection.Our friends liked their Sangria, which comes in a pouch. This particular Sangria has a stronger presence of pineapple. I enjoyed the combination of flavors of sweet red wine and pineapple. Although, to me, most Sangrias miss the punch that my mom’s Sangria recipe has.

Valenzano Winery

There are so many good wines from Valenzano Winery. We really need to make a trip there!  Bramble on Raspberry and Berry White Cranberry were both tasty. So were their Raspberry Riesling and Blackberry Syrah. I also enjoyed the Red, White, and Blue Sangria. However, their newest wine that I hadn’t seen before, Jersey Devil Lab 2, stole the show! Tom and I tasted it and were told it was made with cherry, vanilla, and graham crackers. I felt like I could really taste each of those flavors, especially the graham cracker on the finish. Tom told our friend, Peter, who missed that tasting, that he’d like it. Without tasting it, he bought it! And he did like it! He was kind enough to share it with the rest of us. Peter’s girlfriend, Brianna, also purchased a bottle. She got their Cabernet Merlot. We stepped aside and enjoyed these bottles there.

Wagonhouse Winery

I told myself before arriving at the festival that I was going to buy more Shore Thing wine from Wagonhouse. When we made it to their tent to taste it, they were sold out! I was so disappointed. Shore Thing tastes like Summertime in a bottle and I thought I’d use this opportunity to stock up. Oh, well. I’ll look for it at the Lakewood BlueClaws Jersey Shore Wine festival.

All in all, it was a great day with good wine and good friends!

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A couple weeks ago, Tom and I were able to partake in and enjoy another Old York Cellar’s Virtual Vines, an online wine tasting. I really look forward to these events. It’s exciting to get wine in the mail. It’s also nice to be connected to an fun, online wine community that also enjoys NJ wines. As I’ve participated in these multiple times, I’ve gotten familiar with a group of “Tweeters” that I enjoy chatting with during Virtual Vines events. As we watch the online videos, mostly at the same time, we tweet questions to Old York Cellars, we ‘like’ and ‘favorite’ each others tweets, and we tweet our take on the wines. It’s a little bit tricky pairing food with wine, listening to the video, and tweeting at the same time. I mostly drank and tweeted. I had to watch the video again to catch the details of the wines, but it’s nice and convenient that the video is still available so that I can do that.

During this Virtual Vines, we watched Old York Cellar’s Sommelier, Laurin, and the Winemaker, Scott, talk about the recently released 2012 Oak Chardonnay and the 2013 Merlot. They tasted the wines and talked about their flavors as they ate Cabot cheeses that were paired for each wine. We tasted along at home.

2012 Oak Chardonnay – Their Oak Chardonnay is a blend of estate and supplemented grapes. Scott and Laurin explained how it goes through a process that’s called malolactic fermentation. Diacetyl is a byproduct of this fermentation. This is what gives the Chardonnay it’s buttery taste. Most people think it’s the oak, but it’s actually the acid. Laurin explained that movie theater butter flavor is actually diacetyl and that made me think, how would popcorn taste with this Chardonnay. I may have to find out.

This particular Chardonnay is lighter in oak than other Chardonnays because the oak is left in the wine for a shorter period of time. This wine was also different from other Chardonnays by how it seemed to be balanced in fruitiness and oakiness, where most seem to lean to one side or the other. Tom, my husband, prefers an oakier Chardonnay. I like those too, but I also appreciated this one. It had nice, unique qualities. I like fruity and sweet wines, so it gave me a little bit of that with the oaky flavor I also enjoy. I’ve also tasted steel barred Chardonnays. These are usually more fruit forward since they don’t have the oak quality from the barrel. This wine seemed like a mixture of those two types.

This wine is actually one of their most popular. GrapeExp_Cindy tweeted “Plenty of depth and so food friendly.” I agreed! This wine went well with the salmon we had for dinner. Laurin recommended monterey jack, gouda, brie, mild cheddar, or young asiago to go with their Oak Chardonnay.

OYC Tweet Oak Chardonnay

2013 Merlot –  Scott said the Merlot uses 2 different yeasts that are designed for Cabernets. One yeast provides complex characteristics, while the other gives cedar and ripe fruit flavors. The Merlot is fermented in a jacketed tank that enables Scott to control the temperature at about 70 to 75 degrees. (For comparison, the Chardonnay was fermented at about 55 to 65 degrees.) Scott mentioned that this creates heat in the Merlot when it goes into malolactic fermentation, which results in flavor from beginning to the end (on your palette.) They also provided an interesting tip. When you look at the edge of the wine in a glass as you swirl it, the color shows how young or aged the wine is. This Merlot had a garnet color, indicating it’s youthfulness. A brownish color on the edge would show that it’s aged.

According to Laurin and Scott’s description, this Merlot has a softness, a lot of tannin, dark cherry, cedar notes, tobacco, and a long finish. Laurin said, “This one, immediately, I mean it hits your palette and it’s like BOOM! It’s definitely a flavor explosion.” I certainly got a powerful, smoky quality from this Merlot. I tweeted that it would pair well with a cigar because of it’s smokiness. I really enjoyed this red, but I think to sip it, I have to be in the mood for it. It certainly presents itself as a relaxing wine, something to slowly enjoy while you’re also taking in a good book, a good show, or good company.

4-15-2015 OYC VV Merlot

Laurin and Scott said this Merlot goes well with the fat in cheese because the fat counteracts the acidity. They also gave tips for drinking wines with cheese. First, take a sip for a baseline. Then, bite the cheese. Next, sip again. The cheese softened the taste of these wines. There’s less acidity in the 2nd sip. Pair this Merlot with a hard cheese like sharp cheddar. It will soften the tannin. I actually happened to eat sharp cheddar while tasting this wine and they did go well together.

May 28th Old York Cellars will be having another Virtual Vines if you would like to join. They will be sampling their 2013 Pinot Noir and 2013 Chardonnay. Before then, on May 2 and 3rd, you can enjoy an in person event at their ‘Vine to Wine’ Spring festival.

If you’d like to watch the last Old York Cellars Virtual Vines, check it out here.

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Will this winter ever end? This past weekend I pointed out to Tom that we’ve been dealing with snow, cold, and harsh winter conditions for at least 4 months. I think it started when we hit the road on Thanksgiving Eve to visit family in West Virginia. At that time, I cautiously plotted our road trip as to avoid where the worst of a snow storm was supposed to be hitting. We were successful that time. That storm was just the beginning of many more to come. I’m sick of winter and Tom and I even had a chance to escape. We recently flew to Disney World and enjoyed 80 degree temperatures. It’s hard to go from a warm, tropics-like atmosphere to single digits. Then, on Friday night, snow had ruined our plans yet again.

With all this in mind, Tom and I thought we have to get out. Spring is here, despite the snow on the ground. So, we thought we’d venture out with a Spring-like frame of mind to one of our favorite places, Working Dog Winery.

It was a nice day for a drive. The snow on the roads had cleared. The land was coated in white. Hints of daylight peered through the clouds and glistened off the snow.

When we arrived at Working Dog Winery, their large back room was blocked off for a party. This has been happening frequently in the past year. Because the back room was occupied, their other room was filled with folks sitting and drinking with friends. I didn’t mind. It’s nice that they have all that space, because some other wineries don’t provide room to hang out.

We bought a bottle of wine and headed out the back door. They have a big, covered patio with space heaters to provide a cozy, outdoor setting. However, the patio seemed pretty full, too. Past the heated area, we spotted a low table with some lounge chairs. It was cold outside, but with our cabin fever set in, we didn’t mind. Tom and I sat and sipped our favorite wine, Ugly Duckling Red.

Soon, our friend, Dan, joined us with his guest. We enjoyed good conversation, delicious wines, and a beautiful view. The vines were surrounded in snow. In the sunlight, the snow was so bright that I had to leave my sunglasses on. As the day went on, we watched the clouds clear away and the snow melt.

Since I’m pretty familiar with Working Dog Winery’s wines, I didn’t taste any. We know Ugly Duckling Red is our favorite. It’s a unique and accommodating wine, accommodating in the way that everyone we know who tried it liked it. It presents a spicy, peppery quality, with a subtle sweetness. It’s not sweet like dessert wines or sweet reds. It’s balanced. Dan and his guest bought a Chambourcin bottle and Traminette. I didn’t sip the Chambourcin this trip, but I did have the Traminette. The Traminette is refreshing and lightly sweet, not like sweet like Rieslings. Traminette is a hybrid grape made with Gewurtztraminer grapes. It’s one of Working Dog Winery’s most popular. It’s easy to drink and enjoyable.

If you’re looking to get out this Spring, I suggest Working Dog Winery. Although, I should stop suggesting it because they’re becoming too popular! = )

Ranking: 5 out of 5 Wine Glasses

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On January 29th, Tom and I had the opportunity to try Old York Cellars Port Wines during their Virtual Vines online wine tasting. As odd as a virtual wine tasting sounds, it totally works. I signed up and the wines were shipped in advance of the virtual wine tasting. It’s so exciting to receive wine in the mail! Then, I impatiently waited until the day of the tasting.

This particular Virtual Vines was slightly different. In the past, attendees would watch the wine tasting live. I would click on a Livestream link and watch Laurin Dorman, the Sommelier, and Scott Gares, the Winemaker, discuss the wines, how they’re made, and how they taste. Attendees can share their thoughts and questions on Twitter or right there in the Livestream comment box. However, this time, they recorded the session in advance. At 7:00 pm, the usual time, attendees were able to watch, pause, rewind or fast forward the video as they wish. Live conversation was still encouraged. I prefer the live Virtual Vines to the pre-recorded one. There seems to be a special dynamic, connection, and urgency when it happens all at once. I like tasting and learning at the same pace as everyone else. It provides more of a sense of community and engagement, like we’re sharing something. I had less of that feeling during this occasion. However, I can see that it’s beneficial to some that they can go back through the video as needed.

The wines we tried were Old York Cellars Red and White Southpaw Ports. Laurin explained that this style of Port came from the English. They desired sweeter and more fruit forward wines. Because of wars taking place at the time that limited their shipping, they had to find wines made somewhere else. That led them to discover this style of wine. Scott said that Ports are fortified with a distilled spirit to stop the fermentation process and leave residual sugar along with higher alcohol content. Ports are a little tough for me to swallow because of their higher alcohol content. Between the two, I preferred the flavor of the Red Port. It’s actually one of the best ones that I’ve had. Tom remembered that when we first visited Old York Cellars, this is the bottle of wine that we left with. Interestingly, the term ‘southpaw’ indicates a left-handed person and port refers to the left side of the ship. Scott, the winemaker happens to be left handed.

2011 Southpaw Red Port Wine – I found this port to be a nice winter treat. I felt like it really warmed me up on this cold winter evening, which was just what I needed. I tasted dark cherry, slight plum, and a subtle hint of licorice. The Red Port is a fortified Marechal Foch. This grape is early to ripen and grown on Old York Cellar’s property. It’s a French-American hybrid grape that grows well on the East Coast. Scott described it as a fruit forward, young style Port. It’s aged for a short period of time, so it has a subtle oak taste. The Southpaw Red Port has 20.1% alcohol and 5% residual sugar. The sweetness and alcohol is well balanced for a Port.

Old York Cellars mentioned that the Red Port goes real well with 72% dark chocolate. Someone else had suggested pairing this wine with smores. Another attendee poured it over vanilla ice cream. This sounds like a great idea, but it’s too cold out for me to think about ice cream.

2012 Southpaw White Port Wine – You can see the thickness of the White Port as you swirl the glass and watch the legs form. This is the viscosity. The thick texture was visible in both wines, but more so in the White Port. The color was darker, a heavy, golden-honey color. This color was achieved because it was aged longer, about a year or year and a half before bottling. For comparison, Old York Cellars Riesling is aged for about 9 months and possesses a lighter tone. The Southpaw White Port is like a thick and somewhat fruity liqueur. The White Port tasted like honey and apple, but with a bite. It’s a brandy fortified wine made with Riesling grapes. I would say this is a slow sipper, not meant to be consumed with a full meal, but sipped as a treat or apertif. Scott said the Ports should last about 3 nights, if you have a glass a night. That’s probably all I could drink. The White Port contained 20.6% alcohol and 7.5% residual sugar.

If you’d like to watch this Virtual Vines, you can watch it here. Also, check back here for the next Virtual Vines. For Valentine’s Day weekend, Old York Cellars is participating in the Wine & Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend from 12 – 5. They’ll have live music, specialty chocolates, red wine hot chocolate, chocolate shots, and a sweethearts custom labels booth, where you can get your picture on a bottle of wine.

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You can love your partners and wines for two weekends in February. NJ wineries are celebrating Valentine’s Day on February 7th – 8th and February 14th – 15th. The Garden State Wine Growers Association is presenting Wine & Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend during both of these weekends. You can sample and buy wines and chocolates at participating wineries, which will be most NJ wineries. In honor of this special occasion, many NJ wineries will also present other entertaining features, like food and live music.

These particular weekends have a special place in my heart. About 4 years ago, Tom, my husband, planned a special Valentine’s Day wine excursion. We started with the central Jersey wine trail, which includes Four JG’s Vineyard, Cream Ridge Winery, and Working Dog Winery, which was then Silver Decoy. At the time, we had no idea these wineries were so close to us. This was the day that started my fascination with NJ wineries.

Cream Ridge Winery and Working Dog Winery both left an impression on me during this outing. Both wineries made good use of their space. They had many tasting areas open to accommodate the crowds. Their wines were intriguing. Cream Ridge has many interesting fruity flavors that are fun, tasty, and unique. They also produce good common varietals. Working Dog Winery introduced us to our absolute favorite wines, Ugly Duckling Red and their French Oak-Aged Chardonnay. After meeting these 2 wineries, I couldn’t wait to get back. This is now one of our regular wine trails.

The Valentine’s Day Wine & Chocolate Wine Trail Weekends are a great opportunity to meet more of NJ’s wineries and do something fun for the occasion. I wrote a piece for my friends @ GetOutsideNJ. Here you will see a list of Valentine’s Day NJ wine events taking place for the next two weekends.

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On February 7th from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, Haddonfield, NJ is hosting a special town-wide event, Haddonfield Uncorked. This is a unique event for Haddonfield, which has historically been a dry town. A new law allows retail shops and restaurants in town to sell NJ wines. Haddonfield Uncorked is taking place just ahead of Valentine’s Day, so that you can buy wines as gifts or for your special holiday dinners.

In honor of this occasion, I spoke with the owner of Ristorante, Walt Ziejewski to find out more about the event and this new opportunity. MiaMare, which serves authentic Italian cuisine, was one of the first businesses to participate in this program. MiaMare has partnered with Coda Rossa Winery from Franklinville, NJ and will be selling their wines. Diners can buy bottles to pair with their meals or visitors can purchase them to take home. MiaMare will be featuring a special wine list offering different varieties of Coda Rossa’s wines, which have been selected to compliment their menu items. For this event, MiaMare will also be presenting seasonal food specials. Walt recommends Coda Rossa’s Tuscan, a commonly palatable Chianti style wine, to pair with their veal options and their Pork Osso Bucco. Walt also suggested the Meritage, a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, for those who would like a bolder red. I’ve tasted this particular wine and I have to say, it’s awesome! From my experience, this wines tastes slightly smoky, with a hint of spice, and a light fruity quality.

Walt informed me that each establishment was able to pick which NJ wineries they wanted to sell. I asked why he chose Coda Rossa wines. He said he did because of how the owner is passionate about their wines, like Walt is passionate about his foods. The Coda Rossa owner stands behind their wines. This is important to Walt because he knows products made from passion and love taste better. Walt added that the nice thing about NJ wineries is that they’re small. They’re not like the big houses in California where some may seem to push wine just to make money. NJ wineries provide you with an opportunity to appreciate the subtleties of their flavors. With these special touches, you can see what the winemaker was trying to accomplish. NJ wine at MiaMare Ristorante just makes sense. Walt explained, “Wine is enjoyable and part of many cultures. Definitely part of the Italian culture!” Selling NJ wines at his restaurant adds a convenience feature to the guests more than anything else, when their wine runs out as they’re having a good time, they can extend their fun with NJ wines. Diners can also save themselves a stop by buying their wines at the restaurant rather than a liquor store.

If you’re looking for something to do on February 7th, searching for gift ideas, or wondering where you can get wines, be sure to check out Haddonfield Uncorked. Remember to return to these shops and restaurants. They won’t just be selling wines on this day, but all year round.

On the 7th, MiaMare will be offering a special wine tasting with a representative from Coda Rossa. Stop by and try some wines and delicious food made from love.