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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.

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  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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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.

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Silver Decoy has been one of our favorite wineries in NJ. We visit this winery in East Windsor, NJ more than any other vineyard. Recently, because of unforeseen reasons, Silver Decoy Winery had to change their name to Working Dog Winery. You can still enjoy the same awesome wines and the same comforts of the winery, it just has a different sign. Working Dog Winery is a fitting replacement. Often, when we visit, there are friendly dogs roaming around, helping out, or just relaxing with guests. Working Dog Winery also hosts a popular, annual Hair of the Dog 5K that raises funds for homeless, abandoned, and neglected pets. Furry friends are very welcome here.

When family members visit us from out of state, we usually make a trip here. We also delight in taking our local friends and family to Working Dog Winery. This past trip was my parent’s first ever visit to a vineyard! All together, there were about 7 us for this winery visit: my husband, Tom; my sister; our friends, George and Irene; my parents, and me. On this trip it was a cold Fall day. The foliage was at it’s peak. The stove fire was rustling in the back of the tasting room at Working Dog, creating a warm, cozy, welcoming environment. In the tasting room, barrel tables were set up with stools for hanging out in the room. In the adjacent room a baby shower was taking place. (That seems like a great idea, but if I were pregnant that would be rubbing it in my face that I couldn’t drink! Good for the guests though.) We took our places at the tasting bar on the right with glasses and tasting sheets in hand. Russ and Jerry were there to greet us. I stood next to mom and dad so I could see their reactions to each wine. We made our selections and began tasting. Although I already knew what everything tasted like, I thought it would be good to follow along with everyone so we can compare our flavor experiences. Also each vintage brings slight variations and sometimes my tastes vary, so it’s all worth trying again (wink… wink).

Here’s what we tried:

Traminette (2011) – I like Working Dog’s Traminette. It suits my sweeter side. As I sipped this, I really get the hint of apricot and slight spices. It’s a light fruity wine, that’s not all the way sweet, but definitely on the sugary side. It was okay for Mom. Irene thought this was one of her favorites. I have to agree with Irene. It might be my 2nd favorite of their’s.

Pinot Grigio (2011) –  The Pinot Grigio is dryer than the Traminette, a typical level of dryness for a Pinot Grigio. It’s less fruity. Dryer fans might appreciate this one. I must inherit my taste for sweet wines from my mother. This one was less to her liking, mostly because she prefers sweeter wines. Aside from our sweet preference, this is a good Pinot Grigio.

Barrel Chardonnay (2011)  The buttery flavors from oak aging really come alive in this wine. As I sip a glass, the oak fragrance fills my nostrils and adds to the experience. It’s dry, not sweet, and just as a barrel chardonnay should taste. This is one of the best in the state. I asked if this was the winner of the Princeton Competition. Jerry said it is the award winning one, but the actual winner was a different vintage. This was too dry for mom, but it met Dad’s approval. He liked this one.

Sangiovese (2011) – Sangiovese is Kristen’s favorite wine at Silver Decoy and possibly her favorite all together. It’s a milder red, not sugary sweet, but rich in fruity flavor with hints of cherry. This is an easy drinking red.

Mom and I skipped most of the other red selections, since we both have a sweet tooth. Sorry dry fans.

Sunrish Blush – I knew mom was going to like this one and she did. Sunrise Blush is definitely sweeter and vibrant without being tart like some other blush or white zinfandel wines. There was a taste in this wine that I enjoyed, but I couldn’t place. It made it even more enticing and quick to sip.

Ugly Duckling White – This wine is mildly sweet and light. It’s also easy to drink.

Ugly Duckling Red – Everyone we introduce this wine to enjoys it. It’s a very easy drinking wine. It provides a unique flavor combination. I asked Jerry about it and he said its made with barrel aged Cabernet Franc with sugar added. That makes a lot of sense! I always say this wine is a great balance of spices, which it receives from the Cab Franc, and mildly sweet, which it gets from the sugar! It’s best served chilled and great for any occasion.

Raspberry – The Raspberry wine was really fruity in a good way. It really captures the raspberry flavor and robustness. I felt a little pucker in my mouth at the end, but in a good way. It wasn’t overbearing. Mom ended up ordering a glass of this to enjoy on their back patio.

Blueberry – Their Blueberry wine was sweet, tangy and rich. Dad ordered a glass of the Blueberry wine. He said it would be great for dessert. Well, it seemed like my parents were having dessert before dinner!

Don’t let the name change throw you off. Working Dog Winery still serves the brilliant, tasty wines that they’ve been making for years. If you haven’t been here yet, definitely check it out. If you have been here, go again and invite some friends and family.

Rating

5 Wine Glass (Out of 5)

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We recently attended our very first virtual wine tasting (Virtual Vines) and it was awesome. I commend Old York Cellars for being so progressive and bringing the tasting experience to your home. After all, when we buy wines, they will be consumed at home or with friends and family, so why not do a tasting in the comfort of your living room or kitchen.

This live, interactive, online, tasting session with their wine maker, Scott Gares, included a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 chocolates from Laurie’s Chocolates, and dinner pairing suggestions. Tom cooked up wild mushroom ravioli with tomato sauce  (not one of the suggestions), we poured ourselves glasses of wine, and tuned in to the live stream from Old York Cellars.

We started with the Chardonnay. Here’s what the vintner had to say:

NJ provides growing conditions similar to France which is why quality Chardonnay grapes are harvested at Old York Cellars. This particular Chardonnay was bottled in September and for about a year since then. The wine gets softer while sitting, which is how it avoids “bottle shock”. The just released Chardonnay smells of the American Oak that’s used in the fermenting process. It’s easy going, gives more nose, and is soft on the palette. The taste is apple on the finish, buttery, medium oak, and not overpowering. The wine felt soft and light. The oaky quality seemed mild to me. If you take a breath over the Chardonnay on your tongue, the oak flavor releases more. I also felt that the wine tingled a bit on my tongue, but that might have been just me, since no one else mentioned it during the session. Lighter foods were recommended with this wine since light food pairs well with lighter wine. Laurie’s Chocolates caramel milk chocolate went well with the Chardonnay.

We tried the Cabernet Sauvignon next:

The”king of the red grapes,” Cabernet, started in Bordeaux. Now, it’s grown and finished at Old York Cellars’s where they grow, crush, press, and age the wine. Old York Cellars’s approachable Cabernet Sauvignon is well balanced in fruit and alcohol. The tannins and mild acidity give the Cabernet a good back bone. I don’t typically enjoy reds. When we do drink them, we usually serve it slightly chilled, which isn’t really advisable. We loved it, it was really good. I think it was even better than their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Last year’s growing conditions may have enhanced the flavor. They had a later harvest because of all the rain we received in NJ. Like the Chardonnay, their Cabernet Sauvignon was also bottled in September. To me, the Cabernet Sauvignon gave off aromas of Fall. It was fruity at first with a cherry quality and a slight tobacco taste on the finish. They recommended tasting this wine with Laurie’s Chocolates truffles. In addition to some other dishes, they said this wine goes well with fuller body cheeses. I enjoyed the Cab with our mushroom ravioli.

Old York Cellar’s next Virtual Vines Online Wine Tasting will be on November 14th. Keep track of Old York Cellars’s wine events at NJ Wine with Me or on their website at www.oldyorkcellars.com/events.

www.oldyorkcellars.com

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