All Roads Lead to Virginia

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

To be honest, Gretchen, I hadn’t even started thinking about my route yet.  But since you’ve asked…

Like you I have a couple of different options, both of which hover around 9 hours of driving time (that’s NOT counting New York/New Jersey/DC traffic) – definitely do-able in a single day, but I will likely split up the drive both days for some stops along the way.

The first and most direct route is I-95 which, after skirting Manhattan, will take me down through Jersey, past Philadephia,  through “Baltimore and DC now” (hmm… are you hearing Martha and the Vandellas, too – “don’t forget the Motor City…”  Oh wait, that’s the previous weekend), and then a quick jog west to Charlottesville.

This route takes me through the southern New Jersey wine country which is home to 17 wineries in the area south and east of Philly, four of which appear close to I-95 according to the Garden State Winegrowers Association map.


The alternate route bypasses Philadelphia and DC, cutting west across New Jersey on I78 to Pennsyvlania and then picking up I81 to head south into Charlottesville.   The attraction to this route (other than missing the Jersey and DC traffic)?  Gettysburg.  Not only have I never visited the battlefield, but what better tie in with the War and Wine series I hope to kick off with this trip?   And there are also two wineries in close proximity to the park.

I still need to build out an actual itinerary, but right now I’m trending towards the I78/I81 route on the way down with a stop in Gettysburg the first day to visit the local wineries as well as the park.  The park itself is open until 10 pm, so if I time it right, I should be able to make it to the area in time for lunch, visit the wineries and then make my way over to the park before the visitor’s center and museum closes and still have some time to drive around the battlefield in the evening.  The next morning would then be a leisurely 3-hour drive to Charlottesville.

Then I’m thinking it’s the I95 route home; hopefully if I leave early enough I’d miss the worst of the DC traffic.   My thoughts right now are to stop outside of Philly, spend the afternoon touring some of southern Jersey’s local wineries, then dinner and a relaxing evening in Philadelphia, before heading home the next morning.

Those are pretty full agendas, so I need to do some work on the itineraries – this is supposed to be a vacation after all, not an endurance test!


Four Sisters ~ The Reds & Ports

Marguerite BarrettFour Sisters Winery vineyards
Contributing Writer

Continued from Tuesday, December 8th

After the Blush wines both Maree and I moved on to the Reds.  Four Sisters produces 7 reds overall, but two were already sold out.  Of the remaining 5, 2 were described as sweet or semi-sweet wines, generally not my preference, so I skipped those and settled on the remaining 3, dry, reds.

Chambourcin The wine is a beautiful deep rose-garnet color and has a very strong cherry nose.  In the mouth the wine has strong notes of cherry which provide just a hint of sweetness to balance out the dryness of the wine.  The oaking adds touches of vanilla which give the wine a smooth finish.  Overall not a bad wine, although it felt a bit young and as a result the cherry was a bit strong.

Papa’s Red Made from Baco Noir grapes, which I’d never heard of no less tried before, this is a very pleasant medium-bodied red table wine.  Garnet colored with a light earthy nose which was a nice change from the fruity noses I so often find in the northeastern reds, the Papa’s Red has pleasant notes of berries and a nice balance of acid on the palate.  There’s a “bite” at the end which I found very reminiscent of Marechal Foch grapes, and while not unpleasant, was a bit of a surprise.

This being my first exposure to Baco Noir, I did a bit of research when I got home.  A hybrid variety that while once grown in Europe is now predominantely grown in the colder climates of the US and Canada, particularly the Upper Midwest US and Ontario.  According to Wikipedia there are 250 hectares of Baco Noir under cultivation in New York, so we’ll have to check in with the folks over at Lenndevours to see what they can tell us about New York Baco Noir wines.

In the meantime, I was on to my third red, the

Warren Hills Red Named for the surrounding area, also the name of the AVA, the Warren Hills Red was my favorite of the three reds I tasted that afternoon.  Like the Papa’s Red, this also is a deep garnet color with an earthy nose.  In the mouth, the wine has lovely notes of wild berries.  The finish has the same “bite” as the Papa’s Red leading me to suspect there were Baco Noir grapes in this wine as well, although our host for the tasting couldn’t find her notes and wasn’t sure what was included in the blend.  Overall I found this wine to have more depth and complexity than the Papa’s Red, very likely due to the fact that this is a blend.

Overall the three reds I tried were nice, pleasant table wines, although I found I was more impressed with the whites than the reds.  But, we weren’t done yet, and there were still two Ports to try.

In addition to the two Ports, Four Sisters also produces 5 fruit wines and 1 sparkling wine.  I’ve never been a fan of fruit wines and given the range of other wines available, decided to skip that category altogether, and given a choice between port and sparkling wine, I’ll generally select port.  I can’t remember, and my notes don’t indicate if Maree tried the sparkling wine, Maggie’s Magic, but I went straight to the first port:

Pop’s Port Named in honor of owner Matty’s father (grandfather of the “four sisters”), Pop’s Port is made from Baco Noir grapes.  Like the Papa’s Red, the wine is garnet colored with strong notes of cherry on the nose and in the mouth.  Semi-sweet with a rich, soft mouth-feel, this is a nice port, although the tangy “bite” at the end from the Baco Noir grapes is a bit of an unexpected surprise.

The last wine of the day was

Matty’s Apple Port Made from late harvest apples grown on the Mattarazzo farm and brandy fortified.  The nose is much lighter than I anticipated and in the mouth the flavor of the apples is rich without being overpowering.  The apples provide a slight tartness which balances out the overall sweetness, resulting in a rich, smooth and very satisfying port.  I definitely preferred this one to the Pop’s Port and found it to be a great finish to an interesting and extensive tasting.

Four Sisters Winery ~ The Whites & Rosés

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Tuesday, December 1st.

The winery is housed in a ranch-style house with the tasting room located in a large open room in the back of the house.  As we made our way back, we discovered that despite it being close to the end of the day, the tasting room was fairly busy and all the spots at the bar were taken.  So Maree and I hung out for a bit, browsing the gift shop and admiring the extensive and very creative samples of custom labels that Four Sisters offers for people who would like to order custom labels for their wine.

The folks ahead of us at the bar had seemingly settled in for the afternoon, and the staff didn’t seem inclined to move them along despite the fact that there were now another 4-6 people waiting with us for spots at the bar.  But finally after about 15-20 minutes a couple spaces cleared, and Maree and I were able to start our tasting.  We had each purchased the 10 tastings for $5 package and decided 10 wines was more than enough for each of us to get a full sampling of the Four Sisters range of wines, so we skipped our usual “let’s coordinate our selections” and just focused on our own choices.

I kicked off my tasting with the

Seyval Reserve Like most of the whites I’ve tried here in the Northeast, the Seyval Reserve is a very pale yellow color.  The nose has lovely light floral notes, and in the mouth the wine is light, crisp and fruity with soft notes of melon and almost no citrus.  The finish is light and crisp, and this wine would pair well with seafood or grilled chicken.

Vidal Blanc Next up for me was the Vidal Blanc.  As anticipated this was a little sweeter than the Seyval although it is still a pleasant, dry table wine.  The color is very pale, almost straw, and the nose is grassy with subtle notes of green pepper.  In the mouth the wine is lightly tart with citrus notes, particularly lemon.  The finish is smooth with a slight smokiness from the oaking.

Cayuga Over the past year I have become a real fan of Cayuga whites.  When I first started on the Connecticut Wine Trail in October 2008, I wasn’t really sure what I thought of the Cayuga; interesting certainly, particularly given I hadn’t really encountered Cayuga before, but not something I found overly impressive.  Over time, though, as I’ve tried more local Cayuga wines and blends, I’ve found myself really liking this grape, and the Four Sisters’ Cayuga is no exception.  Also a pale yellow, almost straw color, the nose is extremely clean – in fact there’s almost no nose.  Clean is also the best word to describe the experience in the mouth: light, crisp, smooth, the wine has light citrus notes, low acid, a pleasantly smooth finish and just a hint of sweetness.  This would make a good “lunch” wine, pairing well with salads or light pasta dishes.

Niagara The last of the whites I sampled was the Niagara, made from Niagara grapes.  The tasting notes describe it as “spark[ing] childhood memories of eating grapes off the vine.”  I don’t know why that didn’t clue me in that it was going to be a sweet wine, but I found myself surprised by the sweetness when I tasted it.  The nose is light with nice floral notes, and in the mouth the wine has notes of melon and a touch of honey.  It’s a very nice wine, but as I definitely prefer drier table wines, this was not one of my overall preferences of the afternoon.

I had also selected one of the Blushes, the

Merrill Blush I admit I tried this because I was intrigued by the tasting notes which read “enjoyed by traditional wine lovers,” and found myself wondering what on earth that meant.  Is the implication that traditional wine lovers don’t like blushes?  And what is a traditional wine lover anyway?  On tasting I discovered a fairly complex wine with an interesting spicy nose (unexpected after the predominant floral notes among the whites), notes of melon and a touch of lemon on the palate which produces a semi-sweet blush with tart notes at the end that give the wine some bite.  As someone who definitely prefers dry wines, I often don’t buy or serve blushes finding them too sweet for my tastes. But the tartness at the end gave this wine some kick and, for me, made it more interesting than other blushes I’ve tried.  Perhaps that’s what Four Sisters is getting at with their tasting notes for “traditional wine lovers” read “people who prefer drier wines.”

That concluded the first half of the tasting, next on to the Reds…

Continued on Thursday, December 10th.

Four Sisters Winery ~ Belvidere, New Jersey

Marguerite BarrettFour Sisters Winery, Belvidere, NJ / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Well, I’ve finally made it to the bottom of my notes pile – the last winery visited during my summer wine excursions.  Sitting here on a cold, dark, rainy November evening, the bright sunny July afternoon that Maree and I headed over to western New Jersey seems so long ago.

The last winery we visited that July afternoon was the Four Sisters Winery in Belvidere, New Jersey, about a 35 minute drive north of Alba Vineyards and Villa Milagro Vineyards.  Heading up County Road 519, the scenery resembled the Midwest more than the Northeast – flat and lots and lots of corn.  I don’t know why it surprised me as much as it did – maybe I’ve just become so used to traveling the back roads of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Four Sisters Winery is located in the heart of farm country, part of a 250-acre farm owned by Matty Matarazo.  Matarazo planted his first grapes in 1981, and the winery opened in 1984, and throughout 2009 Four Sisters Winery has been celebrating their 25th Anniversary.  The winery was named in honor of Matrazo’s four daughers, Robin, Serena, Melissa and Sadie, the “four sisters.”  In addition to the winery, the farm produces a range of fruits and vegetables and operates a farm market in nearby Caldwell, NJ, home of the original farm established in 1921.

The winery is located in a ranch-style farmhouse.  The front door leads into a small front room that houses a few gift items and the cash register/check-in area.  Tastings are managed through the purchase of tickets – for $5 you can purchase 10 tickets, $3 will get you 5.  Each ticket entitles you to one tasting.  Despite my initial surprise at being handed 10 tickets, I must admit the system works – it was far easier for both the Tasting Room staff and me to keep track of how far I’d made it through my list.

And keeping track is important, as Four Sisters’ wine list includes a total of 25 wines: 8 whites, 2 rosés, 7 reds, 5 fruit wines, 1 sparkling wine, and 2 ports – rivaling DeGrazia Winery in Connecticut for the most extensive wine list I’ve found in my Win(e)ding Road travels to date.  With a tasting that included up to 10 wines and a a rather crowded tasting room, I found the tickets a lot easier to manage than having to continuously review with the staff how far we’d gotten in the list.

In addition to their normal Tasting Room hours, Four Sisters hosts special events including their Murder Mystery Dinners every month May through October in which guests can enjoy great food, Four Sisters wines and participate in a murder mystery game on the winery grounds, monthly Barefoot Grape Stomping Events from May through September which are open to the public, and seasonal festivals such as the Harvest Festival and special events for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

In celebration of the holidays, tastings are free through the end of the year, and the winery remains open seven days a week 11 am – 6 pm through December except for holidays.  The winery and gift shop have all of the Four Sisters wines available for purchase and also offer custom labels and gift baskets.   Four Sisters wines can also be found in many liquor stores in northwestern New Jersey and their recently opened outlet in the Phillipsburg Mall.

But on that hot, sunny July afternoon, Maree and I weren’t thinking about holidays or gifts, just the wine.  We each opted for the $5/10 tickets tasting, and because it was late in the day and we each had our choice of 10 wines, we didn’t bother coordinating selections.  I kicked off my tasting with the first white on the list, the Seyval Reserve…

Continued on Tuesday, December 8th.

Four Sisters Winery
783 CR 519, 10 Doe Hollow Lane
Belvidere, NJ 07823

Avoid the Malls – Spend Black Friday on the New Jersey Wine Trail Instead

Marguerite BarrettThanksgiving
Contributing Writer

November is New Jersey Wine Month, and the local wineries are capping off the month with the Holiday Wine Trail Weekend!  Friday, Saturday, Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (November 27-29), local wineries across the state will be offering tastings, tours, and in many cases special events.  Many of the wineries offer gift baskets and gift certificates so you could also get a lot of your holiday shopping done at the same time.    Who knows?  Maybe it’ll be the start of a new “Win(e)ding Road” holiday tradition…

Personally, I’m liking the idea of winery gift certificates; knock out most of my holiday shopping in one fell swoop!

Holiday Wine Trail Weekend Participating Wineries include:

Alba Vineyard, Milford, NJ     **VINO VERVE VISITED**

Bellview Winery. Landisville, NJ

Brook Hollow Winery, Columbia, NJ

Cape May Winery, Cape May, NJ

Cava Winery & Vineyard, Columbia, NJ

Cream Ridge Winery, Cream Ridge, NJ

Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery, Rio Grande, New Jersey

Hopewell Valley Vineyards, Pennington Vineyards

Laurita Winery,  New Egypt, NJ

Natali Vineyards, Cape May Courthouse, NJ

Plagido’s Winery, Hammonton, NJ

Sharrott Winery, Blue Anchor, NJ

Swansea Vineyards, Shiloh, NJ

Ventimiglia Vineyards, Wantage, NJ       **VINO VERVE VISITED**

Villa Milagro Vineyards, Finesville, NJ   **VINO VERVE VISITED**

Westfall Winery, Montague, NJ

The wineries listed are within a day trip from New York or Philadelphia.  Check out the Garden State Wine Growers’ Association website for wine trail “cluster” suggestions – mini-trails of 4-5 wineries.

Villa Milagro Vineyards ~ The Wines

Villa Milagro Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, October 15, 2009

Villa Milagro’s wines, in addition to being organic, are all European-style wines.  The Gambinos have eschewed the American hybrid varietals that you find so often in the Northeast, and have planted 11 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  They have no plans to expand their holdings or production, preferring to focus on artisanal wines that they sell exclusively through the winery.

Villa Milagro produces five wines: one white, one blush and three reds, and in keeping with Audrey’s California heritage, all of the wines have Spanish names.  They are currently serving the last of their 2006 vintage, with the 2007 vintage scheduled for release around Thanksgiving of this year.

While we very much enjoyed our visit to the winery and our time with Audrey Gambino, both Maree and I were underwhelmed by the wines.  They all show promise, but in general we found them on the light side.  As both the vines and the winery matures, I would anticipate the wines becoming more complex as well.

The tasting kicked off with Villa Milagro’s sole white, a Chardonnay…

Dos Luz 2006 This is a very smooth Chardonnay.  In fact, one of the hallmark characteristics of all the Villa Milagro wines is their smoothness, which I believe contributed to our disappointment with the wines we tasted.  The wines were almost too smooth, lacking the acid that would give them balance and depth.  Aged for two years in stainless steel tanks, the Dos Luz is a light-bodied Chardonnay with a very soft, subtle nose and light notes of citrus on the palate.  I would have liked to find a bit of a “kick” on the end, and without it, the wine felt a bit flat.

Roja Dulce 2006 Roja Dulce, which means “sweet red,” blends Cabernet Franc with other, sweeter grapes to produce a fruity, slightly sweet Cabernet Franc.  The nose is pleasantly fruity, with interesting notes of strawberry.  Dry, with just a touch of sweetness, the Roja has a slight tartness and touch of acid at the end which gives the wine some character.   This was my favorite of the four Villa Milagro wines.

Sombra 2006 A medium-bodied Shiraz blend, the Sombra, like all the reds, is oak-aged for 24 months.  There are light notes of cherry in both the nose and the mouth, and the oak is stronger here than in either the Roja Dulce or the Suave, contributing smokey notes, particularly in the mouth.  I found myself writing “young” in my notes, and I suspect this wine will do better if cellared for a few years and then allowed to breathe before serving.

Suave 2006 The last wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  Suave, which is Spanish for smooth, is a medium-bodied red with both berry and chocolate in the nose.  In the mouth, cherry is the predominant note with a light toastiness from the oak.  The finish is light and slightly tart, and like the Sombra, I anticipate this wine will improve with additional aging.

We stayed a bit longer to chat with Audrey before saying a fond farewell to Commander Cody and heading north to continue the adventure…

Villa Milagro Vineyards ~ Finesville, New Jersey

Villa Milagro Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

This week we’re heading back to New Jersey and the second of the three wineries that Maree and I visited one Saturday in late July.  After lunch at the Riegelsville Inn, we headed back across the Delaware River to Finesville and the Villa Milagro Vineyards.

One of my favorite memories from the winery is the approach in from the main road.   Turning into a small driveway surrounded by trees and thickets, you proceed up a winding gravel road until suddenly the trees clear and the vineyards open up in front of you.   The effect is one of finding a hidden world up on the bluffs, and you forget that the main road is just a 1/4 mile back down the drive.  The drive curves along the cliffs and through the fields and vineyards, making its way back towards a lovely farmhouse and the barn which serves as the winery.

Villa Milagro is New Jersey’s only organic winery and one of only two organic wineries on the East Coast.  Owners and proprietors Steve and Audrey Gambino planted their first grapes in 2003.  They follow a two-year aging cycle, releasing their first vintage in 2005, and are currently serving their second vintage, 2006.  The 2007 wines will be available around Thanksgiving.

Audrey, who has a Ph.D. in Nutrition, was a professor at Columbia University School of Public Health for many years and is a published author and “one of the most quoted nutritionists in the country,” is the principal winemaker.  She retired from Columbia in December and now focuses her time and expertise on Villa Milagro’s wines.

Originally from California, Audrey is the daughter of farmers who lived and worked near California wine country.  Despite moving east many years ago, she retained strong memories of and ties to her California roots, and as she and her husband thought about retiring she found herself a trifle homesick.  They both prefer being outside and knew that whatever the “next thing was,” they wanted it to provide them with the opportunity to work outdoors.  Add to that both Steve’s and Audrey’s love for good food and wine as well as their enjoyment of meeting and talking with wide variety of people, and a winery seemed the obvious step.  They spent some time looking around for the right property before finally settling on their current location in Finesville.

Joining them is the winery’s official greeter, Commander Cody, a beautiful German Shepherd who enjoys the people who stop by the winery as much as Steve and Audrey do.   On Saturdays and Sundays you’ll find Commander Cody on duty near the winery’s front entrance ready to greet visitors and lead them inside for a tasting and conversation.

Villa Milagro Vineyards
33 Warren Glen Road
Finesville, NJ 08865

Villa Milagro is open Saturdays and Sundays 12:00 – 6:00 for tastings.

Alba Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, September 17, 2009.

Both Maree and I prefer reds, so we carefully coordinated our selections to ensure we got to try as many of them as possible.

Under the Alba Vineyards label, the winery produces three reds: Old Mill Red, Chambourcin, and a Pinot Noir.  Unfortunately the Chambourcin was temporarily out of stock, so we each selected one of the other two.

Old Mill Red Described as a “chianti-style” wine, this is a very drinkable, pleasant red table wine.  Made from a blend of Marechal Foch and Chambourcin, with a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrown in, the wine is aged in american oak for 8-10 months.  The nose is rich with strong notes of dark berries and plum.  In the mouth there are also discernible notes of plum, and the oak provides a smoky finish.  I felt the wine would definitely benefit if allowed to breathe, as it was there was a sharpness in the mouth that is often found in wines with a strong percentage of Marechal Foch, and that usually mellows when allowed to breathe for 30 minutes or so.

2004 Pinot Noir The vineyard has only recently planted Pinot Noir grapes, and this is one of Alba’s first pressings.  For the 2004 vintage, the grapes came primarily from the New York Finger Lakes area and the Williamette Valley in Oregon.  The wine is a medium-bodied wine, although on the lighter side of medium.  There are lovely notes of cherry both in the nose and in the mouth, and there’s an interesting tanginess at the end.  This struck me as a young wine, and I wasn’t surprised to find that Alba has only just begun working in Pinot Noir.  For a newer wine, it is interesting, though, and I believe future vintages will grow richer and more complex.

Next we proceeded to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah of Chelsea Cellars.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon This was a lovely, very drinkable wine.  Medium-bodied with a soft dark-plum nose, the wine is rich and soft in the mouth.  On the palate the notes of plum are nicely balanced by touches of pepper and spice.  This would pair well with a wide variety of foods and should age well.  Definitely one of my favorites of the afternoon.

2005 Syrah I’ve been gravitating towards Cabernet Franc and Syrah lately, and the Chelsea Cellars Syrah didn’t disappoint.  The color is a dark red/purple – almost plum color.  The nose is smooth and light with notes of both cherry and plum.  Medium-bodied, in the mouth the wine has definite notes of plum and light notes of cherry which give it a brightness and freshness.  The finish is smooth with a nice balance of acid.  While I did like this wine, I definitely preferred the Cabernet, finding it a more interesting and complex wine.

We finished up the tasting with selections from among the Dessert wines.  Maree, who loves blueberries and had never tried blueberry wine, gave that one a whirl.  I, who have been tasting a fair amount of fruit wines lately, went with the Dolcina, an ice-wine style dessert wine.

Blueberry Wine When they say blueberry, they aren’t kidding.  The smell and taste of blueberry is predominant in both the nose and mouth.  Interestingly, though, it’s not overwhelming.  Like their Apple and Raspberry wines, Alba’s Blueberry wine is sweetened solely from the fruit and the result is a flavor that comes very close to blueberries straight from the vine.  It’s a rich, deep flavor that evokes … summer.  This will pair exceptionally well with chocolate or cheesecake as well as with fruit and cheese.  It would also be good sipped on it’s own as an aperitif.  Winner of the 2009 Governor’s Cup for Best Dessert wine.

Dolcina Described as an “ice-wine” style, the grapes are harvested late in the season (but not technically late-harvest) and cyrogenically frozen to produce that rich, velvety sweetness that one finds in ice wines.  The nose has notes of honey and apricot, and the mouth feel is soft and smooth.  In the mouth, the notes apricot and honey blend harmoniously, with neither one being predominant.  Definitely a nice dessert wine, but I found it didn’t have the depth and character of the true Ice Wines of the Niagara region or Germany.

Celebrating New Jersey Wines and the Fall Harvest

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The Garden State Wine Growers Association is sponsoring two upcoming wine festivals, including, for the first time, one in the New York Metropolitan area!

First up is the SIPtember Wine Festival, being held next weekend, September 26-27, at Essex County’s Brookdale Park in Bloomfield.  Featuring more than 250 New Jersey wines from 25 of the states award-winning wineries, the festival also includes live music, local artisans, gourmet food vendors and activities for the kids.  The event is co-sponsored by the Essex County Department of Parks and $5 of the $25 admission price will be donated to the Essex County Parks Foundation.

The Festival runs from 12-5 both days; admission is $25 for adults and free for those under 21.  Brookdale Park is off the Garden State Parkway close to both the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel; for driving directions, consult the Brookdale Park website.   On Facebook?  Check out the festival’s event page.

Wine Glass Page Break

The following weekend, October 3-4, the festivities – and the festival – move west when Alba Vineyards, New Jersey’s 2009 Winery of the Year, once again plays host to more than 20 New Jersey wineries for the 2009 Grand Harvest Festival.

Alba Vineyards, Milford, New Jersey / Photo: Marguerite T. BarrettIn addition to the wines, the Festival will also feature live music, artisan vendors and foods from local restaurants.  Activities for kids are also planned, including face painting and a moon bounce.  Participants are encouraged to bring their own chairs, blankets and picnics and plan on spending a lovely Fall afternoon on the hillside vineyards behind the winery.

The Festival runs from 12-5 both Saturday and Sunday, and tickets are $20 at the gate or $18 if purchased in advance.   Milford is just over an hour from New York or Philadelphia; driving directions can be found on the Alba Vineyards website.

Alba Winery ~ The Whites

Alba Vineyards - Tasting Room Entrance / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

A tasting at Alba includes your choice of six or seven of the 18 wines available for tasting: five whites, one blush, three reds, and six dessert wines produced under the Alba Vineyard label, and three reds produced under the Chelsea Cellars label.  Despite the fact that the Chelsea Cellars grapes are picked whole and shipped to New Jersey for pressing, aging and bottling, New Jersey law prohibits the winery from labeling them as Alba Vineyards wines as none of the grapes are grown locally.

I always find it challenging when forced to “choose my own” tasting menu.  On the one hand, and particularly if it’s my first visit to the winery, I want to select a range of wines that showcase the range and depth of the winery’s cellars and the winemaker’s art.  On the other, there are types of wines (blush, semi-sweet) and varietals (pinot grigio, riesling) that are not among my favorites, and I’ll tend to avoid them.   Always gravitating towards those tried and true varietals that I tend to drink more often (cabernet franc, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc) presents the opportunity to specialize at it were – comparing similar wines from winery to winery – but runs the risk of never discovering something new or sampling a local gem.

There’s always the fallback of simply asking the winery staff to select wines for you, but that does take some of the fun out of the experience.

As I’ve come across more and more wineries that allow you to create your own tasting menu, I’ve developed a few simple rules that have stood me in good stead: First, balance the tasting between whites, reds and dessert wines (if the winery produces dessert wines), allowing yourself the chance to sample the winery’s range.

Second, look for pairings or contrasts.  Often wineries will produce different “versions” of the same or similar wines, an oaked and an unoaked Chardonnay, for example, or an estate or reserve version of a wine.  Tasting these back-to-back will often prove to be one of the highlights of a winery visit.

Third, look for things that are different, particularly if they are unique to the area or region.  Part of the fun of winery visits and tastings is the chance to try something you’ve never or rarely had, and that you’d be unlikely to try if you had to purchase an entire bottle.

Fourth – CHEAT.  If you’re with friends or in a group, coordinate your tasting selections and pass glasses; the wineries certainly don’t mind, and you get to taste a bigger selection!

Alba Vineyards 2So keeping all that in mind, particularly rule #4, Maree and I made our selections.  We both opted to start the tasting with Alba’s most popular wine…

Mainsail White The Mainsail is described by the winery staff as being “like an everyday Pinot Grigio” in style.  The wine is actually a blend of Cayuga (very popular grape here in the Northeast) and Vidal Blanc with a bit of Riesling thrown in for  the “aroma.”  The lighting in the tasting room is soft and yellow-ish, so it was tough to get an accurate “read” on the color, but in the glass the color appeared pale yellow.  The nose was bright with distinct notes of melon and grapefruit.  In the mouth the wine is light-bodied, with definite grapefruit flavors and a nice balance of acid, particularly on the finish.   This is an easily drinkable wine, and I can see why it is so popular.

In addition to the Mainsail White, Alba has two white “pairs,” a more traditional Riesling and a Dry Riesling, and a Chardonnay and Estate Barrel Reserve Chardonnay.  Maree opted for the traditional Riesling but took a pass on the Dry Riesling, and in keeping with rule #2, I decided in favor of the Chardonnay/Estate Barrel Reserve Chardonnay pair.

2005 Riesling While definitely sweeter than the other whites, the Riesling is still tending towards a drier wine.  The nose is sunny, with strong notes of fruit, particularly melon.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and velvety with distinct notes of melon.  Maree also noted honey, although I must admit I didn’t pick that out myself.  A nice wine and one that Riesling fans would definitely enjoy.

2005 Chardonnay The Chardonnay is initially oaked in a combination of French and American barrels and then moved to stainless steel for finishing.  The result is a light-bodied wine which has a very light nose with notes of green apple and grass.  In the mouth, the wine is clean, with crisp notes of apple and just a hint of citrus.  The oak is subtle, providing a touch of vanilla that smooths out the wine for a satisfying finish.

2004 Estate Barrel Reserve Chardonnay In contrast to the Chardonnay, the Estate Barrel Reserve is aged completely in oak and subjected to Sur Lies aging by stirring the wine during fermentation to increase contact with the yeast.   The Estate Barrel Reserve is, as a result, very different from the Chardonnay.  The nose has an earthy smokiness and in the mouth, the wine while smooth and lush, is also very smoky with strong notes of burnt toast.  It’s an interesting contrast with the Chardonnay, but I found the oak to be too overpowering for this to be a really compelling wine.