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.

Alba Winery ~ Finesville (Milford), New Jersey

Marguerite BarrettAlba Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

It has become somewhat of a tradition that my summer vacation is deliberately without plans.  Four or five years ago, I found myself thinking frequently – and fondly – of the summers of my childhood: those long, long summers that seemed to last forever…  days, and their wonderful possibilties, stretching endlessly in front of me.  True, I also remember days of endless boredom when it rained, or when friends weren’t home and I was – horrors – forced to spend the entire day with my sisters!

But what I found myself nostalgic for was that sense of time stretching out in front of me.  I suppose as we headed back to school each Fall, we thought to ourselves, “where did the summer go?”  But if we did, it was more with a sense of loss, a letting go of those wonderful few months, and definitely not with the slightly hysterical “Oh My God, it’s September ALREADY?!” which is more often what you hear me saying now.

So in an attempt to slow down life and recapture that long-lost feeling of infinite time, I decided that I would take one week each summer (two, if I could manage it) and make no plans.  That’s not to say I would do nothing, just that I would make no plans other than waking up each day and doing whatever I felt like.

Alba Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettWhich brings me to New Jersey.  I knew I wanted to do a couple of day trips during my July vacation week this year, and after my visit to Ventimiglia Vineyard at the end of May, exploring more of New Jersey wine country was at the top of the list.  So Saturday morning of vacation week found me swinging through Jersey City to pick up my friend Maree and heading out to the Musconetcong Valley on the west side of the state.

Our first stop was Alba Winery, New Jersey’s 2009 Winery of the Year.  Founded in 1982, Alba produces 16 wines made from local grapes, and three wines under the label Chelsea Cellars from grapes grown on a Sagmore Valley block they own in Washington state.  The Alba wines have won numerous awards in state and regional competitions, and several wines have won awards in the San Francisco Chronicle and Pacific Rim International competitions.

Alba Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettThe winery is housed in an early 19th-century barn that has been painstakingly retrofitted to include modern winemaking facilities as well as lighting, air conditioning, and other amenities without losing the historic character of the building.  Carved into the side of a hill, with the vineyards ranging up the hillside behind the structure, the winery and tasting rooms have a long and rich history.  Built in 1801, the building at one point housed an ironworks which produced cannonballs for the Union Army during the Civil War.  In later years the property reverted to a dairy farm, and was finally converted in the late 1980s from a working dairy barn to the Alba Vineyards winery.  The result is a series of charming brick and timber rooms that meet all the functional requirements of a working winery while retaining the character and history of the original buildings.

Stop in the gift shop just inside the front door to purchase  a tasting and signature glass before proceeding down the few steps into the oldest part of the barn, the tasting room, a long rectangular-shaped room with the tasting bar stretched along the back wall, and oak barrels stacked to the sides and along the walls.  In addition to offering tastings, the winery also conducts tours and barrel tastings.

A tasting includes your choice of six or seven of the 19 wines, including the three Chelsea Cellars wines.  Guests are strongly encouraged to start with the whites and work their way down the list, but the staff will pour the wines in whatever order the guest requests.  Wines are also available by the glass, and the gift shop has a selection of cigars for those who wish to enjoy them with a glass of the Vintage Port.

The winery is open seven days a week; Sunday through Friday, 11 am – 5 pm, and Saturday 11 am – 6 pm.  They also keep a calendar of special events updated on their website.

New Jersey “Jazz It Up” Festival

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer



Hosted by the Garden State Winegrower’s Association

Allaire Village

Allaire State Park

Farmingdale, NJ

On the grounds of the historic Allaire Village, the Garden State Winegrower’s association is hosting the Jazz It Up Wine and Food Festival over Labor Day weekend.

More than 25 New Jersey wineries will be on hand pouring more than 200 local wines.  Included among the attendees will be Alba Winery, 2009 New Jersey Winery of the Year,  and Governor’s Cup winners Tomasello Winery, Heritage Vineyards, and Pagido Winery.   Featured musical artists include The Gambone Project with Vel Johnson on Saxophone (Saturday) and Jazz in Pastel, a quartet led by Buzz Saylor on drums (Sunday).

Adding to the adventure is the setting, the historic Allaire Village, a 19th-century Industrial Iron-Producing Community.  While sampling the local wines and food festivalgoers can step back in time as they stroll through the village grounds.

The festival runs from 12-5 both Saturday and Sunday; admission is $20, and there is a $5 car park fee.  Farmingdale is roughly 90 minutes from both New York and Philadelphia; detailed directions can be found on the Allaire Village website.