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Articles are from the Star Ledger unless otherwise indicated.

Domaine Laroche brings modernity to Chablis

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on October 15, 2015

Domaine Laroche has deep roots in Chablis. In 1850, Jean Victor Laroche purchase a parcel of land in Chablis and planted the family's first chardonnay vines. For the next 117 years, the Laroche family produced wine from its 15 acre vineyard; then, fifth-generation, 21-year old Michel Laroche entered the business in 1967.

In the following 11 years, Laroche hitched his vision to his youthful energy, expanding the family's vineyards to 247 acres across the four Chablis classifications: petit chablis, chablis, premier and grand crus.

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Ornellaia brings Bordeaux to Bolgheri

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on October 08, 2015

Ornellaia was born in Italy, but conceived in Bordeaux.

In 1981, Lodovico Antinori founded Ornellaia in Bolgheri- then an undeveloped area near Tuscany's coast, but famed for Sassicaia, a cabernet sauvignon-based wine owned by Antinori's cousin.

Antinori planted cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot with a vision of making a Bordeaux-styled wine. In the 1990s, Ornellaia's reputation flowered, but the costs of producing a world-class wine required more money.

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MacRostie chardonnays keep their balance

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on October 01, 2015

For decades, I've enjoyed chardonnays made by Steve MacRostie.

MacRostie founded his eponymous Sonoma County winery in 1987 after more than a decade as the winemaker at Sonoma's Hacienda Winery. I appreciated Hacienda's balance, and, in the 1980s, had its wines on my list at Le Delice restaurant. And in the 1990s, MacRostie chardonnay retained a prized placed on my list at Sonoma Grill.
As a chef, I valued balance. Too much alcohol, oak flavor, tannins or fruitiness in the wine destroyed my dish; MacRostie's chardonnays never did that.

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Emilio Moro's quality begins in its vineyards

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on September 24, 2015

Bodegas Emilio Moro embodies the story of Ribera del Duero's wines.

Ribera del Duero is two hours by car north of Madrid, Spain. For ages, its wineries followed the Spanish model of producing huge quantities of insipid wines at rock-bottom prices.

In 1982, Spanish wine authorities granted Ribera del Duero its own appellation; there were only eight wineries at the time, but one was Spain's most famous: Vega Sicilia.

In 1932, Emilio Moro was born in Penafiel, the wine center of Ribera del Duero. Over a lifetime, Moro developed vineyards and produced bulk wine. In 1959, Moro's son was born; also named Emilio, he followed in his father's footsteps.

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Goldeneye's pinot noir is thrilling

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on September 17, 2015

Pinot noir aficionados never confuse Goldeneye, one of America's best pinot noir wineries, with GoldenEye the James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan.

Ian Fleming, the creator of the James Bond novels, named his Jamaican estate Goldeneye and wrote all the stories there. Twelve years after Fleming's death, Bob Marley bought it, and, in turn, sold it to record producer Chris Blackwell. Today Goldeneye is a resort on Jamaica's north coast.

Goldeneye winery was established by Dan Duckhorn in 1996, and named for a species of duck.

Duckhorn founded his eponymous Napa Valley winery in 1975; while he made delightful Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines, Duckhorn's fame arrived through merlot-based wines and the rightly-acclaimed Three Palms Vineyard merlot bottling.

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Kosher wines for Rosh Hashanah

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on September 10, 2015

On Sunday night, Jews in New Jersey and throughout the country, will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Wine is an integral part of the Jewish celebration and kosher wines are as modern as the year 5776.

Start the celebration with the kosher nonvintage Drappier Carte d'Or Champagne. For two centuries, the Drappier family has produced champagne where Romans once planted vines, and ages it in cellars built by monks in 1152.
In 1952, the Carte d'Or cuvee was created with 80 percent pinot noir; the balance was divided between chardonnay and pinot meunier. That recipe remains intact, with a slight adjustment for nature's yearly impact at harvest.

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Friends and friendly wines make your Labor Day party

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on September 03, 2015

Last week, I had my summer moment on the New Jersey shore.

It was a sun-filled, blue sky midafternoon when I joined a circle of friends anchored in sand clinging chairs a few yards from the breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

I brought a bottle of 2014 Cenyth Rose' made from Sonoma County cabernet franc grapes by winemaker Helene Seillan. Before its chill was removed by the sun's rays and surrounding heat, we drank it from plastic vessels shaped like wine glasses and decorated with turquoise-colored fish.

I was reminded by my partner Rose that I would resemble the wine's brilliant red color if I did not apply more sun screen. But the wine was refreshing-- just what rose' is meant to be.

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Silvio Nardi's Brunellos bottled the Tuscan sun in 2010

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on August 27, 2015

Tenute Silvio Nardi delivers two outstanding 2010 Brunello di Montalcino wines.

In 1893, Francesco Nardi arrived in America from Umbria, Italy. Two years later, he returned home with a design for a new plow that planted the family's future in manufacturing agriculture equipment. It remained the family's focus until 1950, when Nardi's son, Silvio, purchased the Tuscan estate Casale del Bosco in Montalcino. In 1958, Nardi produced his first Brunello di Montalcino; in the ensuing years, he acquired two other vineyards: Manachiara and Bibbiano.

Emilia Nardi is the youngest daughter of Silvio Nardi; she joined her father in managing the winery in 1985, and assumed full control in 1991. She applied her hands-on experience and business education to the tasks of clonal research of sangiovese grapes for her vineyards, and traveling the world marketing her wines.

In May, Nardi was at Manhattan's SD26 restaurant presenting her twin 2010 Brunello di Montalcino wines.
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Stag's Leap Wine Cellars stands the test of time

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on August 20, 2015

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars has had a much longer run than Andy Warhol's quip "everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."

Former philosophy lecturer Warren Winiarski founded Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in 1970 in a section of Napa Valley thought to be too cold to grow quality cabernet sauvignon grapes. His second vintage, the 1973 cabernet sauvignon was carried to Paris by English wine merchant Steven Spurrier, who organized a blind tasting of unknown Napa Valley wines with some of France's greatest Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. To the shock of the French wine judges, they voted the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon the best red wine in the tasting.

The tasting became known as The Judgment of Paris; it launched California wines on to the world stage, and placed Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in books, movies, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and its wines in the best restaurants and wine shops.

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Marques de Vargas has noble wines at yeoman's price

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on August 13, 2015

Marques de Vargas is a graceful wine with a patrician lineage.

In 1840, Felipe de la Mata, the eighth Marques de Vargas, planted the first family vineyard in Logrono, the capital of Spain's Rioja region. Successive generations continued the wine business, and, in 1989, Pelayo de la Mata, the 13th Marques de Vargas, built a new winery on the family's estate, Hacienda Pradolagar.

With a degree in economics, and a master's degree in business administration, de la Mata brings a modern vision to an ancestral family business under the umbrella Marques de Vargas Family Wines & Estates

In 1970, de la Mata worked for the wine and spirits Seagram Corporation in New York; two months ago, he returned to the city to present his wines.

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Seghesio makes Zinfandels that zing

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on August 6, 2015

From the beginning, zinfandel and Seghesio were inseparable.

In 1886, Edoardo Seghesio arrived in Sonoma County from his home in Piedmont, Italy. Nine years later, he and his wife, Angela, planted zinfandel in Alexander Valley, making Seghesio's 120 year-old Home Ranch zinfandel vineyard the oldest in California.

Three generations of Seghesios made wine in Sonoma County through Prohibition (using the loophole for sacramental wine), the Depression, two World Wars and California droughts. All of it was bulk wine, and in volumes that required a train line next to its Healdsburg winery for the tanker cars that were filled with Seghesio wine a few months after every harvest.

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Napa Valley's Antinori shows patience is virtue in wine world

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 30, 2015

Piero Antinori sits on top of the world.

In June, I ascended Napa Valley's steep and curvy Soda Canyon Road to the top of Atlas Peak. The last inch of its blacktop touches the gate of Antica Winery, which stands for Antinori, Calif.

At 1,800 feet, Antica's estate manager Glenn Salva, and owner Marchese Piero Antinori greeted me. The only thing higher was Antinori's home.
Antica Piero outside.jpgMarchese Piero Antinori at Anticaphoto by John Foy

Around 1983, I stood beside vintner William Hill as he explained his pioneering vision for planting vines in this cool climate, rocky environment. Unfortunately, it didn't go as planned; in 1986, Hill sold the fledgling vineyard to a partnership of the English drinks company Whitbread, Bollinger Champagne and Antinori.

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Three wines to beat the summer heat

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 23, 2015

In summer's heat, lightness is prized in wine and rewarded at the checkout counter.

It was a hot day in Rioja, Spain, when I enjoyed the refreshing nonvintage Campo Viejo Brut Reserva Cava sparkling wine.

Cava is the Spanish term for a sparkling wine made in the Champagne method — the second fermentation, which creates the bubbles, takes place in the bottle not in tanks. (The Charmat method creates bubbles by pumping gas into a tank filled with still wine, the method used for prosecco).

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Slovenia delivers friendly white wines

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 16, 2015

Slovenia might be the first place that comes to mind for a glass of refreshing white wine after tasting the wines of Puklavec & Friends.

I admit that my first reaction to the name Puklavec & Friends was to think of it as a gimmicky imitation of a television sitcom.

Puklavec & Friends can be deconstructed into two parts. The Puklavec half starts with Martin Puklavec, who, from the 1930s to the 1960s, was the general manager of a farmers' wine cooperative in the Ljutomer-Ormoz area of Slovenia.

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Champagne and Bordeaux for Bastille Day

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 9, 2015

I'm neither French nor fond of revolutions, but next Tuesday, I'll be celebrating Bastille Day because it gives me one more reason to drink my favorite wine: Champagne.

My friend Renee claims not to like bubbly drinks, yet she's all smiles whenever I pour a glass of Champagne for her.

Champagne's refined aromas range from citrus to floral to caramel and fruits; its flavors span from apple to pear to apricot and crème brulee, and are carried on a steam of acidity that refreshes the palate for another sip. Yes, Champagne's bubbles are present, but never in a boisterous or distracting manner.

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New Jersey brings wine and history to the 4th of July party

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 2, 2015

New Jersey is dotted with battle sites and meeting places of our Revolutionary War with the British. One link is the award-winning Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes.

In nearby Hopewell, General George Washington led the largest meeting of Continental Army generals at the Hunt House, which is owned and preserved by Unionville's founder, Robert Wilson. Behind the house is Unionville's prized Pheasant Hill Vineyard, planted with chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, grenache, mourvedre and viognier grapevines.

Napa-trained winemaker Cameron Stark made the 2013 Unionville Home Vineyards Chardonnay from fruit grown around the winery. When first tasted directly from the refrigerator or ice bucket, the wine's coldness restricts it to a tart apple scent and flavor. But give it 15 minutes in the glass, and the wine displays its full body, lemon-lime aroma, and mild pineapple flavor supported by a dry, stony, mineral finish.

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Campo Viejo forges quality with value

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on June 25, 2015

Outside of Logrono, the capital of La Rioja, Spain, sits the 21st century Campo Viejo winery with roots to the Roman Empire.

Retiring Roman soldiers, who served with distinction, were given a plot of land in Campus Veteranus in the Rioja town of El Villar de Arnedo. Colloquially, it was called Campo Viejo (old or elderly).

Fast-forward approximately 2,000 years, and in 1959, winemakers Jose Ortiguela and Bernardo Beristain founded their Logrono winery, which was named Campo Viejo in the early 1960s.

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Guigal for Father's Day

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on June 18, 2015

Give your father a gift of E.Guigal red wine; its history is an inspiration for every man (see last week's article).

While most of Guigal's red wines are from the northern Rhone Valley, winemaker Philippe Guigal produces two delicious red wines from the southern Rhone at strikingly fair prices.

The 2010 Cotes du Rhone Rouge is part of Guigal's Cotes du Rhone wine trilogy. It is made of nearly equal parts syrah and grenache with three percent mourvedre.

From my glass, the 2010 Cotes du Rhone Rouge displayed a very modern style of dark red color, smooth, very ripe, black olive and black fruit aromas and flavors. I'd prefer more tannins and a Rhone Valley identity, but I know consumers will be pleased by its New World plushness and less than $14 price tag.

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Guigal ascends to the top

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on June 11, 2015

"Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is an expression Americans idealize; Etienne and Marcel Guigal lived it.

In 1924, Etienne Guigal was the youngest child in a family that could not afford to care for him. He joined his brother picking fruit in Ampuis, a town in France's northern Rhone Valley; later, at 14-years old, he worked in a vineyard. Over the next 15 years, he became the cellar master and general manager of the winery. In 1946, with Europe destroyed by World War II, Guigal started his wine business. Audacious is a mild descriptor.

In 1961, Guigal unexpectedly went blind; his 17-year old son Marcel took over the company. Over the next four decades, father and son worked together buying and developing vineyards, and producing wines that made Guigal internationally renowned.

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April rains rose' wines for all seasons

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on June 4, 2015

This is rose' season for many wine consumers; but for me, a glass of rose' is perfect throughout the year.

In the depth of winter, rose' transports me to a sunnier place. And in summer, its citrus traits ward off the baking sun and humidity wrapped around me like spandex.

My rose' is fermented dry; and its acidity refreshes the palate like a glass of homemade lemonade. Simi's winemaker Susan Lueker understands that.

Sonoma County's Simi winery dates to 1876 when the Tuscan immigrant brothers, Giuseppe and Pietro Simi began making wine.

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Ducourt shows small vineyards can build a big wine company

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on May 28, 2015

Unlike large wine businesses in the New World, Europe's system of appellations creates a paradox of requiring everyone to think small, no matter how big they get.

Unbeknownst to Pierre Ducourt when he began his winery in 1885 in France's Entre-Deux-Mers region, his tiny 9 hectare vineyard would spawn a family enterprise of 13 chateaux, covering 440 hectares (1,074 acres) of vineyards.

The expansion began in 1951 when grandson Henri Ducourt assumed control and began purchasing vineyards; and with the assistance of his three children, bottled the wine for the bulk market.

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Memorial Day weekend brings summer's wines

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on May 21, 2015

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff for summer parties and lively, good value wines.

California pinot grigio is a wine I never liked until two weeks ago, when I tasted the 2013 Swanson Sonoma Mountain Pinot Grigio.

What was my problem with the other Golden State pinot grigios? Let me count the reasons: sugary finish; too much alcohol; made in oak barrels; smelled and tasted like anything but pinot grigio. That's four fingers, leaving a thumbs-up for the 2013 Swanson Sonoma Mountain Pinot Grigio.

Swanson's retiring winemaker Chris Phelps sung his farewell with a snappy citrus and thyme-scented and-flavored 2013 Swanson Pinot Grigio. It's made from 89 percent pinot gris fruit (pinot grigio is the Italian name for the French varietal) grown in the cool climate of Sonoma Mountain.

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Alsace springs to life

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger on May 14, 2015

Blooming floral and fruit fragrances, lively fruit flavor and pleasant acidity make Alsatian wines the liquefaction of spring.

Alsace is in northeastern France; its wine history begins with the Roman Empire, and by the Middle Ages Alsatian wines were renowned in Europe and correspondingly expensive. Today its wines are overshadowed by other regions, but offer some of the best values in the wine world.

Sparkling wines are a stylish way to start a party. Cremant is the French term for a sparkling wine made in the Champagne method, but not originating in the Champagne region, an area 90 miles northeast of Paris. The best cremants originate in Burgundy, Loire and Alsace.

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Mother's Day, how sweet it is.

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on May 7, 2015

Dessert wines are rarely in this column, but rarer yet, is the mother who doesn't like a little sweet something with her meal.

The literal translation of demi-sec is half-dry; in Champagne's lexicon it is the term for its sweet wine. Demi-sec has between 33 to 50 grams of sugar per litre; whereas wines labeled Brut have less than 15 grams of sugar. The higher sugar content comes from the last step in Champagne's production when pure cane sugar is mixed with reserve wine and added to the bottle.

At 40 grams of sugar, the nonvintage Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec is in the middle of the sweet range, but at the top in flavor and elegance. It is a blend of Champagne's three grapes: Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, with chardonnay holding the plurality. Laurent-Perrier selects the grapes from more than 55 vineyards and ages the wine three years (Champagne's regulations require only 15 months for nonvintage wines).

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Mother's Day is historical at Spottswoode

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on April 30, 2015

In more than one way, Mother's Day at Spottswoode winery is part of a historical story.

In 1972, Dr. Jack Novak and his wife Mary moved from San Diego County to Napa Valley to raise their five children. They purchased the 31-acre Spottswoode Estate with its Victorian home, vineyard and gardens, along with 15-acres of neighboring farmland.

Spottswoode's vineyard dates to 1882, making it one of Napa Valley's historic properties. The Novaks began replanting the vineyards and selling the grapes to Heitz and Caymus wineries. Five years into their new life as grape farmers, Jack Novak died from a heart attack.

Mary Novak focused on the tasks at hand: raising her five children and continuing the dream that she and Jack had of making their own wine. Novak sold her grapes to Napa's top wineries for the next five years; in 1982, exactly a century after the founding of Spottswoode's vineyards, Novak bottled her first Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with winemaker Tony Soter.

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Aia Vecchia plays in the major league

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on April 23, 2015

Like Elia Pellegrini, Aia Vecchia moved from the minor to the major league.

Aia Vecchia is a new player in the wine world with properties in Tuscany's prestigious Bolgheri and Maremma appellations. Bolgheri is home to the renowned Sassicaia-- and the nearly as famous-- Ornellaia wines.

Last month, 25-year old Elia Pellegrini presented his family's wines at Manhattan's Craftbar restaurant. Pellegrini was a professional soccer player until a knee injury ended his career when he was only 22-years old. But being in the limelight, combined with his youthful energy, made him a relaxed spokesman for Aia Vecchia.

The Pellegrinis entered the wine business two generations ago growing and buying grapes for the production of bulk wines. Their decision to "up their game", so to speak, took place in 1996 with the purchase of land in Bolgheri.

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Winning with Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on April 16, 2015

Many wine consumers think Australian wines are new kids on the block, but Wynns winery's roots date to 1891.

In the 1880s, Scottish pioneer John Riddoch raised 160,000 sheep on an estate of 350 square miles in the Coonawarra region. He subdivided a fraction of it- 2,000 acres- for fruit trees and vines. In 1896, Riddoch erected the now famous triple-gabled winery surrounded by the vineyards, naming it Chateau Comaum.

Five years later, Riddoch died at the age of 73. The deteriorated vineyard and winery was sold to wine merchants Samuel Wynn and his son David in 1951, saving the wine estate from becoming a sheep run and wool shed.

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A cool wind delivers elegant wines at Rivera

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on April 09, 2015

Last June, I visited one of the hottest areas of Italy (in temperature not fashion) and was cold most of the week.

Puglia, which is the heel of Italy's boot-shape, is one of the country's prime sources for olives, vegetables and wine. With thoughts of its Mediterranean climate and sun-filled days, I packed my summer shirts and light-weight pants, leaving jackets and umbrellas in the closet.

But after landing in Brandisi in southern Puglia, I discovered that the region has two climates: a cool north and a sunbaked south. I went north.

Rivera winery lies an hour north of Bari and is a major winery in the Castel del Monte appellation, named for the octagonal 13th-century castle built by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. Its eight towers with eight rooms on each floor is a splendid monument in the middle of nowhere--but as the Michelin Guide states "it's worth the journey" to this UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Zind-Humbrecht's riesling blooms with spring

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on April 02, 2015

Nothing in the wine world says springtime to me more than a glass of riesling.

Riesling's floral scent and bright fruit flavors are the sensual equivalent of forsythia's brilliant yellow and Iris' shades of blue. In a scent, a taste and the blink of an eye, they banish winter's greyness.

In Alsace, the French region that borders Germany, riesling is king of the hill. And to paraphrase Carly Simon, nobody does it better than Zind-Humbrecht.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht was founded in 1959 when Leonard Humbrecht married Genevieve Zind, uniting two wine families. The Humbrechts trace their wine lineage to Sontag Humbrecht in 1620. But the force behind the rise of the family's place to the forefront of Alsatian wines is Leonard Humbrecht.

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Rejoice with quality wines at Passover & Easter

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on March 26, 2015

Passover and Easter arrive next weekend, and wine has its place on the table of Jews and Christians during their respective celebrations.

Whether it is Friday night's Seder or Sunday's Easter dinner, the kosher for Passover nonvintage Laurent Perrier Rose' Champagne will enhance the celebration.

Made only of pinot noir from 10 Grand Cru-rated villages, the kosher nonvintage Laurent Perrier Rose' captures the eye with its burnt-orange hue, created by macerating the grape skins and juice for two to three days before fermentation. After bottling the Champagne, it was aged for four years (more than double the required time for nonvintage Champagne).

From my glass, strawberry and cherry aromas are pushed upward by refined bubbles, and raspberry and black cherry flavors flow across the palate. You'll want to make this magnificent Champagne the first wine of your Seder or Easter dinner. Expect to pay about $65 for the nonvintage kosher for Passover Laurent Perrier Rose'.

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Want good value wines? Try looking in unexpected places

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on March 19, 2015

Looking in unexpected places is one way to find good value wines. Sometimes familiar appellations generate a gift, too.

Damien Barreau is the third-generation owner of Domaine de Pajot, a hilltop winery in the Gascogne region of France. From the estate's certified organic vineyards, Barreau produced the delightful 2013 Domaine de Pajot Quatre Cepages white wine that's named for its four grapes (quatre cepages): ugni-blanc, colombard, sauvignon blanc and gros-manseng.

Ugni-blanc, known as trebbiano in Italy, is mild-flavored, but valued for its acidity; colombard brings a fruity character; gros-manseng contributes pronounced fruit and floral accents; and sauvignon blanc donates its citrus personality.

Keep it simple was Barreau's motto for the 2013 Domaine de Pajot Quatre Cepages: crush the grapes, separate the skins from the juice, ferment and age the wine in stainless-steel tanks, then bottle it. Done. But simple doesn't mean boring.

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Elvio Cogno blends talent with tenacity for great wines

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on March 12, 2015

Elvio Cogno's wines are what you want in cold or warm weather.

Nadia Cogno, and her husband Valter Fissore run this 27-acre hilltop winery in Novello, one of the 11 villages in Piedmont's Barolo appellation. The winery was founded in 1990 by Elvio Cogno, Nadia's father, after working at Marcarini, a top Barolo producer.

On another frigid February night (this one bordering on zero), the charming couple brought their award-winning wines to Manhattan's Elan restaurant.

When the weather warms up, the pomegranate-colored 2013 Elvio Cogno Dolcetto d'Alba Mondorlo is waiting for you. This juicy, pungent blackberry- and pomegranate-flavored wine will make springtime even more exhilarating. But if you can't wait, I understand why. And the less than $19 price tag is comforting, too.

Springtime's daffodils signal the start of white wine season for me. Three decades ago, Fissore set himself on a mission to save the indigenous anas-cetta grape. Grown only in Novello and neighboring Monforte, it was blended with moscato to make a passito, or sweet wine. But Fissore began making a dry wine from the anas-cetta grape "out of passion, not for money," he said.

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Perticaia winery plows its way to the top

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on March 05, 2015

Last March, on a cold, rainy day, I visited Perticaia, a winery in Gualdo Cattaneo, Umbria. I hopscotched around the puddles as I passed the old plow planted alongside the walkway.

After a career in agriculture, viticulture and winemaking, Guido Guardigli founded the winery in 2000. Guardigli purchased 50 acres of farmland and named it Perticaia, the Umbrian dialect word for "plow."

Guardigli planted 36 acres, with more than half dedicated to the indigenous sagrantino grape; sangiovese, colorino, merlot and local white grapes and olive trees are cultivated in the other sections. He selected sagrantino, which is loaded with astringent tannins and substantial acidity, as the challenge for his second career.

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Corison does it her way

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on February 26, 2015

If Cathy Corison's life and winemaking were a Broadway show the opening song would be "My Way."

Corison stumbled into the wine world. While studying for a biology degree at Pomona College-- where she was a member of the men's diving team as the college didn't have a women's team--- she took a wine appreciation course. It was an epiphany that led to a Masters degree in Enology from the prestigious University of California at Davis in 1978.

While at Davis, a professor told her that Napa Valley wineries would not hire a woman winemaker; her tenacity and talent overcame that discrimination.

After graduation from Davis, Corison took an entry-level job on the bottling line at Napa Valley's Freemark Abbey winery, and worked the harvest as a "cellar rat," in wine world jargon. That gained her an introduction to Napa Valley's Yverdon winery, who hired her as its winemaker in 1979. Two vintages later, Corison became the winemaker at the higher-profile Chappellet winery.

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Sandeman's tawny ports warm a winter's evening

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on February 19, 2015

On a freezing night in January, George Sandeman arrived at The Modern restaurant in Manhattan and warmed me with his tawny ports.

Sandeman is the seventh generation of an internationally renowned family-directed Port house that was founded by his namesake in 1790.

Port wine is made in Portugal's Douro Valley. Tawny and ruby ports start from the same mix of Portuguese grapes, but the winemaking is significantly different for each. At its simplest, rubies develop in the bottle; tawnies develop in the barrel.

Tawnies gained their name by losing their color. Once red, the wine gradually relinquishes its hue by aging in barrels. The best tawnies are labeled 10, 20, 30, and more than 40 years-old.

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Rosé Champagne and roses brings Valentine's romance

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on February 12, 2015

Long-stemmed roses and rosé Champagne or sparkling wine in long stemware creates a romantic mood for Valentine's Day dinner.

Champagne is the French region 90 miles northeast of Paris; only sparkling wine from that region is entitled to its name. Rosé Champagne is created by steeping the skins of pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes in the juice before the first fermentation is started, or adding some pinot noir still wine before the second fermentation is done- the process that creates the bubbles. Most Champagne houses use the latter method as it gives them greater control over the color and taste.

Moet & Chandon is the largest Champagne house. Founded in 1743, it bottled its first vintage Champagne in 1842. Since then, it has produced only 71 vintage Champagnes.

It's been nearly two years since I last tasted the 2004 Moet & Chandon Rosé Champagne, so I was pleased to witness its progression when I opened a bottle last week.

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Prestige Cuvee Champange brings style to Valentine's Day

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on February 5, 2015

Prestige Cuvee Champagne's elegance and refinement reflects the essence of your Valentine's Day dinner.

Prestige Cuvee is the Champagne term for the finest wine from a Champagne house. It's made from the purest chardonnay or pinot noir grapes grown in the best vineyard sites, and vinified in separate lots under exacting standards. The wines are then tasted, and the very best are selected and blended for the second fermentation that creates the bubbles, then the Champagne ages for years.

These Champagnes usually have unique names, and are packaged in artistically-designed bottles and boxes.

Drink your Champagne from a white wine glass; its wider opening allows more oxygen to flow into the glass. You will forego the streaming bottles in the flute glass, but you'll gain greater aromas and flavors.

Taittinger is one of my favorite Champagne houses. Whether it's the nonvintage Taittinger La Francaise, or the Prestige Cuvee 2005 Comtes de Champagne, I love its elegant wines.

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Chateau Phelan Segur changing its style

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on January 29, 2015

Chateau Phelan Segur is a well-made, reasonably-priced Bordeaux wine, but its current owners, the Gardinier family, want it to be more than that.

Located in Saint Estephe, a prestigious wine village in Bordeaux's Medoc region, Chateau Phelan Segur's formation began with Bernard Phelan, a young Irish wine merchant.

In 1805, Phelan purchased Clos de Garamay; five years later, he acquired the Segur de Cabanac vineyard, merging the two under the name Chateau Segur de Garamay. In 1820, he built a residence with cellars; after Phelan's death in 1841, his son Frank Phelan united the vineyards, residence and cellars as Chateau Phelan Segur.

Xavier Gardinier made a fortune in the fertilizer business in Florida (his son Stephane lives in Florida overseeing their orange grooves). After he returned to France in the 1970s, Gardinier bought two Champagne companies, Pommery and Lanson. He sold both in 1983 and purchased Chateau Phelan Segur. Today Gardinier's son Thierry oversees the chateau.

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Yealands sauvignon blancs are as vibrant as their vineyard's owner

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on January 22, 2015

Peter Yealands stands guilty of being a serial entrepreneur. And I confess that years ago, I unknowingly assisted him.

A grocer's son from Blenheim, New Zealand, Yealands was a twentysomething when, in 1971, he secured his country's first commercial marine farming license and began producing the large green mussels that chefs and restaurateurs like me had to have on our menu in the 1980s.

Then, in the mid-1980s, he started a deer farm, which grew into a 12,000 acre estate subdivided into housing, a golf course, woodlands and a vineyard. In the 1990s, New Zealand farm-raised venison was another Must Have item that appeared in my former kitchen.

In 1998, he founded Yealands Estate, which now consists of eight properties, and is New Zealand's largest privately owned winery and vineyard.

In November, at a dinner at New York's Marea restaurant, Yealands said that for two years he drove past barren land planted with a for sale sign. Eventually, the owner reduced the price by 50 percent, so "I bought it because it was cheap." Then he had to figure out what to do with it.

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Wines of the week:
The underappreciated values of Bergerac and vinho verde

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger  January 15, 2015

Producing inexpensive, flavorful and balanced white wine is more challenging than making good value red wine. Winemakers can mask red wine flaws by using a longer maceration of the grape skins with the juice, manipulating the tannin structure, or aging time in oak barrels. White grapes are more revealing, and less tolerant of manipulation.

Yet there is a route to good value white wines: travel to less known areas where passionate winemakers are at work. Bergerac is such an address.

Located east of Bordeaux's world-famous St. Emilion, Bergerac has 13 appellations; one is Montravel, where Chateau du Bloy makes a tasty, balanced 2011 Montravel Blanc.

Over the years, I've noted that professionals changing careers for winemaking apply to their new endeavor the intelligence and discipline that made them successful in their prior profession.

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Petit Bordeaux wines at small prices.

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger  January 08, 2015

Spent too much money on Grey Thursday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday? Gifted yourself one-too-many times through the just-completed holiday season? Here are two wines that will please the palate and not burden the purse as you write your checks to the credit card companies.
A Bordeaux value

It might seem counterintuitive to think of Bordeaux as a source for good value wines, but the image of the stately 18th century chateau with black iron gates, gravel driveway and manicured gardens selling wines with thousand dollar price tags is deceiving.

The truth is that nearly all Bordeaux wines these are produced by families living in modest houses adjacent to the vineyard — and that many of these wines are reasonably-priced and flavorful.

The village of St. Andre de Cubzac isn't as prestigious as some of Bordeaux’s other villages, but that’s where you’ll find winemaker Helene Fenouillet producing delicious wine from her three acre Domaine de Montalon vineyard.

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Contino brings modern Rioja wine to Cune

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger – January 1, 2015

We start the New Year with a modern winery linked to its more traditional mother ship.

In 1879, the brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua founded Cune winery in Rioja, Spain. During the first half of the 20th century, Cune (which stands for Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana) became a leading winery in the region, and internationally known for its quality and winemaking advances.

After World War II, Cune continued producing supple and silky award-winning wines. However, in the 1980s, it was overshadowed by new Rioja wineries that produced bigger, richer, fruit-forward wines such as those found in California, Australia and Tuscany.

In 1974, Jose Madrazo Real de Asua partnered with other family members of Cune to purchase vineyards in the Alavesa region, from which Cune was buying grapes. They named the new enterprise Vinedos del Contino.

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Bubbles that will make you sparkle on New Year's Eve

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger – December 25, 2014

Benjamin Franklin said the only things certain in life were death and taxes. I’d add a third certainty from the wine world: drinking sparkling wine or Champagne on New Year’s Eve.

Sparkling wine can be made anywhere, but Champagne is the sparkling wine made in France’s Champagne region, 90 miles northeast of Paris.

Some want sparkling wine only for its celebratory image; others enjoy it with the evening’s menu. Here is a selection of sparkling wines and Champagne that fit both needs; all are made in the Champagne method, meaning the second fermentation, which creates the bubbles, takes place in the bottle.

Cava is the Spanish sparkling wine appreciated for its quality and affordability. A great value is the nonvintage Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad; aged for 30 months (twice the time requirement for nonvintage Champagne) and packaged in an attractive silver-based bottle.

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Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon stands the test of time

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger – December 18, 2014

Croatian-born winemaker Mijenko “Mike” Grgich rose to fame when his 1973 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley chardonnay was entered in a blind tasting and voted the best white wine by a panel of French judges in the historic 1976 Paris Tasting of French Burgundies and California chardonnays.

I think he might have achieved the same result with red wine, had he been making Grgich Hills cabernet sauvignon.
Flushed with the recognition and honor of the first-place standing in the Paris Tasting, Grgich partnered in 1977 with Austin Hills, a member of the Hills coffee family, and opened Grgich Hills winery in Napa Valley.

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Affordable wines for your holiday party

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger – December 11, 2014

Wines for holiday parties bring added enjoyment to the festivities when they are affordable and plentiful.
One such example is the fruit-filled 2013 August Kesseler R Riesling Kabinett, which can be served from the moment your guests arrive to the last serving of dessert.

In addition to its savoriness, your guests will also appreciate its low 10 percent alcohol; with most New World wines at 14 percent or more alcohol, this means at least 28 percent less alcohol consumption per glass. It’s another reason why I like German wines.

August Kesseler is one of Germany’s top winemakers and estates. Famous for its pinot noirs and Rieslings, the 2013 R Riesling Kabinett offers Kesseler’s expertise and attention to detail at an everyday wine price.

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Even a gadgetphobe can operate this cordless wine preserving tool

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - November 27, 2014

There are two kinds of men in the world: those who like gadgets and those who don’t. I’m the crown prince of the latter tribe.

Since September, I’ve been operating a better mousetrap that will make a welcomed holiday gift for beginners and wine collectors alike.

Air is wine’s best friend and worst enemy. Once you remove the cork, the drink-it-or-lose-it quandary begins because of oxidation. In the 1990s, I discovered the Vacu-Vin: A rubber cork is inserted into the bottle, and using a plastic hand pump, the air is pumped out of the bottle. If done correctly, it preserved the wine for days.
“Done correctly” was the challenge.

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Thanksgiving Day wines for a rainbow of flavors

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving is America’s only holiday devoted to food. But selecting wines to match the mild-flavored turkey, seasoned stuffing, sweet cranberry sauce, earthy Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, sweet potatoes and any number of nontraditional dishes, challenges the novice and wine savvy person alike.

Some wine collectors pour their biggest, boldest zinfandel, syrah or cabernet sauvignon. I encourage American wines for this American feast; but not high-alcohol, bold wines, especially if you don’t want grandma nodding off at the table.

Set a stylish tone by welcoming everyone with a glass of the nonvintage J Vineyards & Winery Rose’ Brut, sparkling wine. Judy Jordan founded J in 1986 as a sparkling wine company; today it offers outstanding pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris from its nine Russian River Valley vineyards.

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Banfi played a major role in elevating Brunello di Montalcino

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on November 13, 2014

As a satellite of Siena, the hilltop town Montalcino was conquered by the Florentine forces of the Medici family in 1559 and dominated until 1861. But the real prize arrived a century later in a bottle.

Montalcino’s centuries of economic decline was arrested only 40 years ago with the development of its red wine, Brunello di Montalcino. And the Mariani family has played a major role in the wine’s elevation.

In 1978, Long Island brothers John and Harry Mariani, owners of Banfi Vintners, a highly profitable New York importing company selling millions of cases of the frivolous, fizzy, sweet wine Riunite Lambrusco, wanted a location to make a serious Italian wine. They found it in Montalcino.

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Cakebread's harvest brings chefs and wines to its table

By John Foy for The Star-Ledger, November 06, 2014

They may not have known it at the time, but a $1,500 deposit and handshake more than 40 years ago purchased — and built – a Napa Valley legacy for Jack and Dolores Cakebread.

Jack, a former professional photographer, and wife Dolores purchased the Sturdivant’s Napa Valley ranch in 1973. Today, Cakebread Cellars is one of America’s most acclaimed wineries and is led by sons Bruce and Dennis Cakebread.

Along with its Napa Valley wines, Cakebread produces savory pinot noir from its Anderson Valley vineyards. But it also has other important tasks that have grown in stature over the years. Dolores began cooking for the harvesters, which led to organized cooking classes, a Dolores Cakebread cookbook and the annual American Harvest Workshop.

In September, New Jersey-based chef Josh Thomsen returned to Napa Valley (he cooked for two years at the internationally acclaimed French Laundry in Yountville), for four days of farm visits, wine tastings and cooking at Cakebread’s 28th American Harvest Workshop.

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Modern wine-making levels the playing field

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger  - October 30, 2014

A recent comparative tasting of two wines from Domaines Rollan de By was a stroll down memory lane.

Domaines Rollan de By is a collection of eight Bordeaux chateaux in the broad Medoc appellation owned by Jean Guyon.

In September, Guyon’s son Matthieu orchestrated a blind tasting of their Chateaux Rollan de By and Haut Condissas, with the First Growth Bordeaux Chateau Margaux; Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Canon (both Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe), and the distinguished Chateau Lagrange.

We began with three 2006 wines: Guyon’s two chateaux and what I discovered was Chateau Canon. I, and the participating wine writers, voted Chateau Rollan de By first; followed by Chateaux Haut Condissas and Canon.

The second flight had five 2004 wines: Guyon’s two chateaux and Chateaux Margaux, Cheval Blanc and Lagrange. We voted Cheval Blanc first, followed by Rollan de By, Haut Condissas, Lagrange and Margaux.

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Explore Campania's unknown red wines

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - October 23, 2014

Campania, the southwestern region of Italy surrounding Naples, is famous for its cuisine and culture, but its red wines live in obscurity.

Although the Spanish and French ruled Campania from the 13th to the 19th centuries, its wines lacked the attention that both countries lavished on their vineyards. But the Wine Media Guild (I am a member) focused on Campania’s wines at its October meeting.

Campania’s white wines, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, and its red Taurasi, are known by wine consumers. But Lacryma Christi, pallagrello and casavecchia are as foreign as the Napolitano dialect.

Lacryma Christi- it means the “tears of Christ”- derives its fanciful name from the story that Christ cried when he discovered Lucifer’s fall from heaven and his tears landed on the vines.

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Helfrich offers noble wines at peasant prices

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - October 16, 2014

Helfrich offers one of the best white wine values in our market.

Helfrich is a family owned wine company in Alsace, France. From purchased grapes of a growers cooperative, Helfrich produces the region’s four major wines: riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris and pinot blanc. It also makes Cremant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine.

A few months ago, 26-year-old Anne-Laure Helfrich, the third generation of her family to enter the business, presented Helfrich’s new wines. The grand cru bottlings are well-made, but the regular wines, called Noble Varieties, offer excellent value and arrive this month in our market.

Pinot gris has as many angles as a Picasso painting. In Italy, it is pinot grigio, often a thin, tart wine from northern regions. Oregon gained a reputation for its medium body, white fruit and allspice-flavored pinot gris. And Alsace delivers richly scented and flavored wines in the plumb, fruit-filled style of the 2013 Helfrich Noble Pinot Gris.

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There's good value at Chateau Mylord

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - October 09, 2014

Good-value Bordeaux is an oxymoron for many wine consumers, but it doesn’t have to be.

Bordeaux’s image is built around its 16th to 18th century stately grey stone chateaux with turrets, formal gardens, gravel driveways, reclusive nobility and prices that only the 1-percent can afford. But pulling back that dusty curtain punctures the picture.

There are more than 6,000 wine-producing chateaux in Bordeaux, the majority of which are family run wineries with kids playing in the back yard and toys strewn about. Many are struggling in a wine trade that spans the globe, is dominated by multinational corporations, and requires constant promotion. Grand and noble they are not.

The largest sub region in Bordeaux is Entre-Deux-Mers, which means “between two rivers.” It lies between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, and is the source of many good value wines. The white wines are permitted to use the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, but the reds must be labeled with the generic Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur classification. Superieur is not a quality designation; it means the wine met specific winemaking requirements and alcohol level.

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Take Tedeschi's wines to heart

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - October 2, 2014

Tedeschi wines are good for your health, purse and cellar.

Tedeschi is a family-run winery in Italy’s Veneto region. Founded in 1824 by Nicolo Tedeschi, today’s fifth generation, winemaker Riccardo, and his sisters, Antonietta and Sabrina, are directing the business.

About a decade ago, I attended a seminar where Sabrina, a food scientist, presented the results of her two-year research project at the San Michele all’Adige University on the value of antioxidants in wine.

It showed that corvina, one of the principal grapes of the region, has the highest resveratrol content of all grapes. Resveratrol is the polyphenol found in grape skins that has cardioprotective effects.

Recently, Sabrina was at Battello restaurant in Jersey City, presenting the family’s current wines. Of the seven, three stood out for me.

For value, go straight for the 2012 Tedeschi Lucchine Valpolicella Classico.

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Round Pond's cabernet sauvignon moves center stage

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - September 25, 2014

In a decade, Round Pond Estate has quietly established itself as a producer of high-quality cabernet sauvignon.

In 1983, financier Robert MacDonnell purchased 29 acres in Napa Valley’s highly-regarded Rutherford appellation. During the next two decades, he added another 300 acres, forming one of Rutherford’s largest vineyards.

Until 2002, Round Pond sold its grapes to other wineries; after that point, it retained a portion for its new winemaking program. The following year, MacDonnell’s two children, then 29-year old Miles and 31-year old Ryan took the reins of Round Pond. Today the estate is 460 acres, of which 362 acres are vineyards.

Last month, I visited Round Pond to get a better understanding of this under-the-radar winery. In order to evaluate Round Pond’s younger wines, I began the tasting with its 2008 and 2009 Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

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Elegance is the prize at La Fiorita and Bouchard Pere & Fils

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - September 18, 2014

La Fiorita and Bouchard Pere & Fils personify the elegance over power that I prize in wine.

La Fiorita began in 1992 as a one-acre project by Italian winemaker Roberto Cipresso in Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino area. In 2011, American Natalie Oliveros partnered with Cipresso, creating a winery producing 25,000 bottles from two vineyards. A third vineyard is planted, but not yet producing quality grapes.

I first tasted La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino in 2012, and it left a positive impression of the wine: a rich, fruit aroma and flavor that is not overwhelming, oak-aged but not oaky, balanced, and a lingering finish.

In January, those notes came to mind when I tasted the 2007 and 2006 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and its 2008 and 2007 Brunello di Montalcino non-riserva, or normale, as Italians informally call it.

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Floral, fruitful flavors makes Grgich Hills Fume Blancs irresistible

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger - September 10, 2014

Miljenko (Mike) Grgich is probably the reason why you like fume blanc wine

Grgich (pronounced GUR-gich) joined the Robert Mondavi winery in 1968, when selling sauvignon blanc was a challenge because the grape was unknown and the wine had a sweet edge.

He created a dry sauvignon blanc in oak barrels, and Mondavi, a master at marketing, named the wine fume blanc after France’s Pouilly-Fume, a pure sauvignon blanc. The wine was an instant success.

Grgich went on to partner in 1977 with Austin Hills, a member of the Hills coffee family, and open Grgich Hills winery in Napa Valley. Two years later, he added fume blanc to the portfolio.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I had Grgich Hills Fume Blanc on my restaurants’ wine lists. So, three weeks ago, I was pleased to taste five of the winery’s fume blanc vintages, from 2008 to 2013 (2010 was not available). All the fruit is from Grgich’s estate vineyards.

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Great values from unknown wine appellations

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on September 4, 2014

Here are two wines that are light at the checkout counter, heavy in flavor, and not from marquee areas.

Rias Baixas is an appellation in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain that borders on the Atlantic Ocean. The albarino grape rules in in this damp, rainy area of Spain because its thick skin protects it from fungal disease.

Rias Baixas (pronounced REE-ahs BUY-shuss) is a nearly pure white wine zone. Until recently, the wines were made in stainless-steel tanks with a combination of melon, green apple or citrus aromas, with flavors carried on a backbone of bracing acidity. But in the last few years, I’ve noticed a movement to retain some residual sugar, or tame the wine with barrel aging or malolactic fermentation. That might be nice for the sales department, but it obliterates the essence of albarino.

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Newton Vineyards unfiltered cabernet sauvignon

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on August 28, 2014

Labor Day’s arrival is my marker for thinking about fall dining, including intensely flavored red wines such as the stylish, unfiltered 2011 Newton Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

Former corporate executive Peter Newton was one of Napa Valley’s pioneers when he began Sterling Vineyards in 1964. Twelve years later, he founded Newton Vineyards on Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain. Today it is owned by the luxury goods company LVMH, who also own Napa Valley’s excellent sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon, and world-renowned Bordeaux Chateau d’Yquem.

Two weeks ago, I traversed Newton’s vineyards from its base to its 1,600 foot peak, which is crowned with a lone 100- foot-tall pine tree and a platform for viewing the famed valley below.

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Three Labor Day wines you don't have to work hard for

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on August 21, 2014

Your Labor Day weekend party will be twice as enjoyable with these flavorful and affordable wines.

Start by pouring your guests the nonvintage Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. It’s Champagne in style but not in price.

Cremant (CRAY-ma) is a French sparkling wine from outside of the Champagne region, but made in the Champagne method. In Alsace, rosé cremants must be 100 percent pinot noir.

The nonvintage Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé has an eye-appealing orange-tinted salmon hue, and dried strawberry and cherry flavors balanced by mild acidity. Soft and delightful on the palate, this cremant is gentle on the purse at less than $17.

Fedway Associates in Basking Ridge distributes the nonvintage Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

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Oberon Sauvignon Blanc began with a summer job

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on August 14, 2014

This is a story about why it’s better for everyone when your kid gets a summer job.

While growing up in Napa Valley, Tony Coltrin worked a harvest at the Robert Mondavi winery. What was thought of as a normal passage for teenagers in the area became a lifelong passion for Coltrin. More than 30 years later, winemaker Coltrin moved from the Robert Mondavi winery to join Michael Mondavi’s Folio wine company as the winemaker for Oberon Wines.

For the delicious 2013 Oberon Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley wine, Coltrin sourced his fruit from two Napa Valley vineyards: Oso and Milliken.

Oso, which means bear in Spanish, is a vineyard in the rocky soil that rises above the Napa Valley floor. Black bears like the flavorful fruit that grows at this elevation almost as much as Coltrin does. His 2013 sauvignon blanc blends 46 percent of Oso vineyard fruit with 54 percent from Milliken Vineyard, which is named for the creek that meanders 12 miles through the cooler southern end of Napa Valley.

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Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino brings a smile

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on August 7, 2014

Poggio Antico gives you three brunello di Montalcino wines, and the younger sibling, rosso di Montalcino, that are as lively and pleasing as its owner.

Poggio Antico was founded by happenstance, and is led with determination wrapped in a smile. In 1970, investment banker Giancarlo Gloder and his wife Nuccia purchased property in Montalcino for their weekend country escape from Milan. Over the course of fourteen years, the idea of making wine slowly seeped into their consciousness. In 1984, they sold the country house and purchased a larger Montalcino estate 1,500 feet above sea level and began planting vineyards and making wine.

Three years later, Paola Gloder, then 20, joined her father at Poggio Antico and began learning the business, and became Poggio Antico’s sales force by putting wines in her car and traveling around Italy, Germany, Switzerland, England and France promoting the wines to the best restaurants and wine shops. She was young, linguistically gifted, and armed with a smile that opened doors, but it was Gloder’s commitment to Poggio Antico that made both the winery and her successful. Later, her beau Alberto Montefiori had to prove his dedication to the winery before they married. Today they manage Poggio Antico as a team.

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Lavau brothers expand family Rhone wines

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 31, 2014

Appropriately, it was a warm summer day when I met Frederic Lavau and tasted his southern Rhone wines at North Square bistro in Greenwich Village.

In 1964, his parents founded a company that made wine from purchased grapes in the Rhone Valley and adjoining areas of southern France, and sold it in the bulk wine market.

In 2000, they retired and passed the reins of the company to Frederic and his brother Benoit. Nine years later, the brothers made a strategic business decision to bottle the wine under the Lavau label, purchase vineyards, and partner the business with the owner of a 100-acre vineyard and winery in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Across the Rhone River from Chateauneuf-du-Pape is Tavel, a small appellation of only rosé wine. We started our tasting with the 2013 Lavau Tavel Rosé, a wine that personifies summer with its sunset reddish-orange color and cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors. It paired perfectly with North Square’s tuna tartare served on a creative base of marinated vegetables. Expect to pay about $17 for the 2013 Lavau Tavel Rosé.

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Charlotte's Home is California sauvignon blanc MVP

By John Foy|For The Star-Ledger on July 24, 2014

One of the best values in the wine world is Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc.

Rodney Strong pirouetted from a dancing career in ballet and on Broadway to the wine world in 1959, when he married his dancing partner Charlotte Ann Winson and bought a boarding house in Northern California. Strong purchased bulk wine and blended it to his taste in the cellar of the house while Charlotte sold it from the ground floor tasting room.

Three years later, Strong purchased an old winery and vineyard in Sonoma County’s Windsor. Strong developed his winemaking skills and used his stage personality to focus a spotlight on his wines at a time when California wines were unknown to the public.

In 1979, Strong hired Rick Sayre to be his winemaker. I met Strong around that time when he made a marketing trip to New York and New Jersey. And while he was perfectly trained for being in the limelight, Strong’s lack of business skills always challenged the winery operations.

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Felluga's full-bodied whites transcend Italian norms

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – July 17, 2014

Livio Felluga’s Terre Alte and Abbazia di Rosazzo are the counterpoint to the image of Italy’s quaffable, pay-it-no-mind white wines.

In May, Andrea Felluga, a youthful 51, was in New York presenting eight vintages of Terre Alte from 2012 to 1997, and the family’s newest wine, Abbazia di Rosazzo.

Felluga was handed the reins of winemaker in 1994 from his father Livio Felluga. He recounted how his ancestors made wine in the coastal area of Istria, when it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They moved inland to the Italian hills of Friuli, and after World War II, his father established a winery in Brazzano, near the border with Slovenia, producing the first Livio Felluga-labeled wine in 1956.

In 1981, Felluga aimed to make a world-class white wine with Terre Alte, a single-vineyard blend of fruilano, pinot bianco and sauvignon blanc grapes. Terre Alte, which means high hill or land, continues that recipe.

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For Bastille Day, Bordeaux and Burgundy with an American pedigree

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – July 10, 2014

Drinking a glass of French wine with an American accent on July 14 is a good way to celebrate Bastille Day, France’s Independence Day or La Fete Nationale.

Our revolution and France’s were separated by a decade and an ocean, but ran on parallel tracks: the overthrow of a monarch, the adoption of democratic forms and the incorporation of Enlightenment ideas. And one of the intellects linking both countries was our ambassador to France and future president, Thomas Jefferson, who was, without question, the greatest oenophile to inhabit the White House.

By horse, carriage and boat, Jefferson traveled through Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone and northern Italy tasting, buying and writing about wines and vineyards. And while in France and the White House, Jefferson maintained a vineyard and made wine at his Monticello estate in Virginia.

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Fourth of July wines: Three crisp American wines that hold their own

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – July 3, 2014

This year, July Fourth’s three-day weekend requires a few extra bottles of clean, crisp, refreshing American wines.
With his pinot blanc two-fer, Russell Hearn, the winemaker at Lieb Cellars on the North Fork of Long Island, throws a lifeline from the sticky humidity that's signature of our summer weather.

Grab on to the 2010 Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs Reserve sparkling wine. It’s pure pinot blanc that Hearn ferments with yeast developed by the Institute de Champagne in Epernay, creating a tasty, medium-body sparkling wine with a long, dry finish. It’s ideal as an aperitif or with a first course of crab cakes. The retail price is about $30.
And Hearn anchors a summer party with the refreshing and flavorful 2012 Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc Reserve. He captured pinot blanc’s floral scent and pure fruit flavor by fermenting and aging the wine in stainless-steel tanks.

The absence of oak barrels preserved the natural acidity and mineral character of the grapes, and by fermenting the wine completely dry, he gave it a crisp, clean finish.

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Drinking French-inflected American wine is your patriotic duty

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – June 26, 2014

Along with the morning parades and evening fireworks, celebrate Independence Day with American wines that have a French accent.

History records that years before we defeated the British, France recognized our sovereignty. It fought the British Navy, supplied us with arms and money and sent military forces led by the Marquis de Lafayette, who served under George Washington, and Comte de Rochambeau, whose army helped Washington defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Cenyth is a Sonoma County wine by French winemaker Helene Seillan, 27, and American artist Julia Jackson, 26. The Seillan and Jackson families (as in Kendall-Jackson wines) also own Chateaux Lassegue and Vignot in Saint-Emilion, where Pierre Seillan is the winemaker.

Educated in viticulture and oenology at a Bordeaux trade school, Helene Seillan made the 2009 Cenyth at Sonoma’s Verite winery, a Jackson property, with the assistance of her father Pierre.
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Ringoes' Unionville Vineyards wines gain awards but seek respect

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – June 18, 2014

The drive from Hoboken to Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes is not nearly as far as the gulf between the quality of its wines and the incredulity of many.

The journey from gentrified Hoboken crosses the gritty Pulaski Skyway; Route 78 transports you along another New Jersey of post-World War II homes and office parks. The drive concludes in Hunterdon County, where New Jersey remains a bucolic tableau of farmlands, horses meandering on fenced-in pastures, an alpaca farm next door to grazing sheep. You cross a stream and park next to a renovated barn lettered Unionville Vineyards. The trip is simultaneously disconcerting and reassuring.

The tall, self-assured, retired Johnson & Johnson executive Robert Wilson purchased Unionville in 2008 with two minority partners. A decade before, he converted a horse pasture and cornfield to a chardonnay vineyard in Hopewell. Napa-trained winemaker Cameron Stark uses the Unionville vineyards and purchased fruit from local growers for his plethora of wines: the George Series, Fox Series, Artisan Series and Single-Vineyard Series. Within the waterfall of labels are some first-rate wines.

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Rosé, summer's favorite wine

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – June 12, 2014

Rosé’s translucent color, crisp acidity, floral, citrus and red berry aromas and flavors make it the quintessential summer wine. But to experience rosé’s pleasures, drink it chilled, not iced.

Start your summer with the 2013 Laroche Mas la Chevaliere Rosé from southern France’s Languedoc region. Laroche began in Chablis, where it makes crisp, fresh wines. In the hotter Languedoc, Laroche harvested in the night’s cool air to capture the red berry aroma, flavor and acidity of this delightful wine. The 2013 Laroche Mas la Chevaliere Rosé pleases twice: as an aperitif or with seafood and poultry salads, and again with its price, about $12.
French and American movies made the French Riviera and Saint-Tropez synonymous with the image of the leading man and a chic, beautiful woman drinking rosé on a yacht or at a seaside café. If they are as discriminating as the movie makes them glamorous, they should be sipping the 2013 Domaine Bertaud Belieu Cotes de Provence Rosé. Its delicate touch and copper color set up the seduction. Gazing across their glasses, they won’t be thinking about the salt and herbal scent, or the clean, fresh orange-like flavor without the slightest hint of alcohol. But they’ll come back to this delicious wine again, and again. And so will you. The 2013 Domaine Bertaud Belieu Cotes de Provence Rosé retails for $20.

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For your dad, wines from a patriarch

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger – June 5, 2014

No one knows who fathered Bordeaux, Champagne or Barolo. But you can give your father a bottle of brunello di Montalcino from its father: Biondi-Santi.

Throughout Tuscany’s history, red wine included some white grapes. But in the mid-19th century, Clemente Santi made a red wine from only sangiovese grapes at his Il Greppo farm. In 1888, his grandson Ferruccio Biondi Santi produced a wine made only from sangiovese grosso grapes (called brunello in the local dialect) and aged it for four years in oak casks. Ever since, Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino follows Ferruccio’s formula.

When the Italian wine authorities granted the brunello di Montalcino appellation in 1968, there were only 11 producers tilling 140 acres. As the 21st century arrived, more than 200 wineries were plowing more than 4,000 acres.

During this explosion of vineyards, wineries and wine styles, Biondi-Santi was led by Franco Biondi Santi, the founder’s great-great grandson, who, from the age of 10, worked alongside his father, Tancredi.

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The art of Antonelli winemaking

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger - May 29, 2014

Antonelli is a historical estate with a modern vision.

The Bishop of Spoleto owned the estate from the 13th century until 1881, when it was purchased by Francesco Antonelli, a local lawyer. Since 1986, Filippo Antonelli, an agronomist with an entrepreneurial spirit, has directed the estate, which has a quarter of its 400 acres devoted to vineyards, nearly half to growing grains and vegetables, and 25 acres covered in olive trees. The remainder is woodlands.

Under his tenure, a new winery was constructed underground to ensure a constant year-around temperature, and the vineyards converted to organic agriculture. He redesigned a building for apartments for seasonal tourists, and opened a cooking school, where I tasted a range of Antonelli wines.

As Filippo poured the 2012 Antonelli Trebbiano Spoletino, he recounted a piece of history: In the 1800s, farmers weaved trebbiano vines around trees. As the vines ascended the tree and spread to the branches, the farmers redirected them to the earth, allowing the grapes to be picked from the hanging vines. It was cheaper than trellises

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Memorial Day-ready wines at wallet-friendly prices

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on May 22, 2014

Summer’s casual parties call for wines with a similar disposition.

“This wine is good with ginger snaps,” says my partner Rose Sangiovanni as I enjoy the 2012 Domaine Paul Buisse Touraine Sauvignon with Camembert. But the enjoyment didn’t start there.

It began with the floral and lime aromas that were big enough to fill a room, and the crisp lime taste that made this pure sauvignon blanc wine a repeated pleasure with our plate of delicately flavored spring asparagus purchased earlier that day from a roadside stand in Hunterdon County.

By the time I took the breast of chicken from the oven and the spring artichokes from the sauté pan, the 2012 Domaine Paul Buisse Touraine Sauvignon was fully expressing its ability to cut through the Dijon mustard spread under the chicken’s golden brown skin.

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Montalcino wines a must for barbecue season

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on May 15, 2014

Altesino is the wine you want for the barbecue season that begins with Memorial Day weekend.

Altesino lies about 15 minutes from the ancient hillside town of Montalcino. The winery was founded in 1970 by Giulio Consonno; he created Montosoli, the first-single vineyard (called a cru) brunello di Montalcino wine in 1975, and the area’s first winery-made grappa. When Consonno died in 2002, Altesino and Montosoli were recognized as one of Italy’s top wineries and red wines, respectively.

Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini, owner of the adjacent Caparzo winery and other Tuscan estates, purchased Altesino in December 2002; she upgraded the cellar and replanted some of Altesino’s 100 acres of vineyards.

My April visit began with a tasting of the 2012 Altesino Rosso di Montalcino. While this is the basic wine of the area, Altesino’s version is anything but basic. Winemaker Paolo Caciorgna sources the sangiovese grapes from four vineyards with 4- to 15-year-old vines. After aging the wine in 1,300- to 2,600-gallon vats for seven months, he bottles the wine and ages it for at least five more months to meet Italian wine regulations.

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Toast Mom with two fine sparklers

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on May 8, 2014

Going to brunch or dinner is a mainstay of Mother’s Day. If I can find a quality restaurant with a garden setting, my reservation is made. Once seated, I open the wine book to the sparkling wine section hoping to find Domaine Chandon’s Etoile Rosé Brut Nonvintage. It is a wine filled with good memories.

When Moet & Chandon created Napa Valley’s Domaine Chandon in 1973, it was the first American winery owned by a Champagne company devoted to sparkling wine. Along with raising the bar for American sparkling wines, Moet & Chandon set the standard for wine country dining with its restaurant led by French chef Philippe Jeanty.

A shaded table on the terrace facing the vineyards, a bottle of Domaine Chandon Etoile Rosé and Jeanty’s sumptuous cuisine are indelible pleasures.

You don’t have to go to Domaine Chandon on Mother’s Day; you can let the winery’s style come to you. Find a restaurant with a garden- ironically, not so easy in the Garden State- or opt for a terrace or patio. Present your mother with a bottle of Domaine Chandon Etoile Rosé Brut Nonvintage: Its salmon shade will flatter her, and the pleasing strawberry, cherry and citrus aromas and flavors will generate a camera-ready smile.

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These sauvignon blancs hold up in sun or snow

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on May 1, 2014

Charles Krug sauvignon blanc is pleasing in every season.

Charles Krug established his eponymous Napa Valley winery in 1861. After his death in 1892, the winery was purchased by James Moffitt, an entrepreneur and banker. Prohibition closed the winery, and, in 1943, Moffitt sold it to Cesare Mondavi.

In what seemed like the Endless Winter, grandson Peter Mondavi Jr, 55, bravely made an East Coast marketing trip amd presented a selection of Charles Krug wines at the Modern restaurant in Manhattan. As I entered the room, a glass of the 2012 Charles Krug St. Helena-Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was served. It made me forget the snow outside.

The Modern is attached to the Museum of Modern Art. Even in winter, the museum’s Sculpture Garden is magnetic, but the clear-as-water, grapefruit-scented, lime and cilantro-flavored 2012 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc broke the garden’s spell. I recalled New Zealand’s crisp, fresh sauvignon blancs and focused on my glass. Later Mondavi poured it with an appetizer of potato gnocchi, Maine shrimp and horseradish with avocado puree created by the Modern’s new chef, Abram Bissell. Along with forgetting the garden, that dish erased the name of the former chef.

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Trivento Eolo Malbec delivers elegance

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on April 24, 2014

Trivento Eolo Malbec wine stands out from the ocean of homogenous Argentine malbecs arriving on our shores.

Argentina’s wine history dates to the 1600s, when the conquistadors and Spanish missionaries brought vines over from Spain.

American consumers know its wines only from the 1990s; until then, Argentine wines were poorly made and only consumed locally.

But the potential of its soil and climate was recognized by American, Chilean and European producers; they made substantial investments, bringing modern viticulture and winemaking techniques to the country. One was Chile’s Concha y Toro.

In 1996, Concha y Toro purchased vineyards in Argentina’s Mendoza region and created Bodega Trivento, meaning three winds in Spanish. Gradually, Trivento developed eight vineyards with more than 3,000 acres producing four wine levels; Eolo is the most prestigious.

Last month, Eolo’s winemaker Victoria Prandina, 30, hosted a luncheon in Manhattan. On the table were six vintages of Eolo.

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Tannins tamed, sagrantino grape surprises

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on April 17, 2014

It was a cold, rainy spring day when I visited Tenuta Bellafonte in the Montefalco area of Umbria.

The Bellafonte estate is one of the newest wineries in this ancient land. In 2007, Peter Heilborn, then 48, purchased about 60 acres containing woodlands, 2,300 olive trees and a 6-acre vineyard. He planted another 11-acre vineyard and erected a modern, ecological winery.

Sagrantino is the principal red wine grape of the Montefalco appellation. By nature, it is not a friendly grape; pinot noir’s softness wants you to like it, but Sagrantino’s tannins are like the thorns on a rose bush.

Unlike others who enter the wine business, Heilborn brings to the task a career in the food and beverage industry, including managing director of Bacardi-Martini in Italy and the Middle East and Heineken in Italy. Perhaps it was that background that led Heilborn to retain the talented Piedmont winemaker Beppe Caviola as Bellafonte’s consulting enologist, instead of one of the internationally known French or Italian consultants that make formula-styled wines.

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A royal Rioja on a peon's salary

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on April 10, 2014

Rioja offers wine consumers some of the best values as illustrated in the 2009 Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva.

Rioja has the longest and most noble wine history in Spain. In 1102, the King of Navarre and Aragon gave legal recognition to its wines. In the beginning of the 20th century, a royal decree determined the origin of Rioja wines, followed by the creation of a regulatory council to limit the vineyard area and control the use of the Rioja name.

The Rioja tradition of not selling wine until it was ready to drink was codified:joven, a young wine with no aging requirement; crianza, aged at least one year in barrel and the bottle; reserva, aged at least three years with not less than one year in the barrel; and gran reserva, aged at least two years in barrel and a minimum of three years in bottle.

These aging requirements benefit wine consumers. For those without wine cellars, it makes it possible to purchase a wine such as the 2009 Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva and enjoy it without further aging. And thanks to the tradition of making reserva and gran reserva wines only in the best vintages, wine collectors can cellar these wines for additional complexity. Add the reasonable prices of most Rioja wines, and you have every reason to want them.

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Chablis Champs Royaux pleasures increase with temperature

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on April 03, 2014

In the off-chance that spring weather is here to stay, the 2012 William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux would please the Roman spring goddess Flora.

The Fevre family owns about 125 acres spread throughout Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. In 1998, they leased the vineyards and sold the winery and rights to the company name to the Henriot family, owners of the outstanding Henriot Champagne house and the rejuvenated Bouchard Pere et Fils wine company.

Upon acquiring the rights to William Fevre, Joseph Henriot transferred winemaker Didier Seguier from Bouchard, where he worked since 1992, to Chablis. Seguier ferments every wine in stainless-steel tanks, then depending on the vineyard, the wine is aged in old oak barrels to spare it from the aggressive aromas and flavors of new oak. The result is William Fevre Chablis, at every level a testament to the pristine fruit flavors and balancing acidity of its vineyards.

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Bulls-eyes for Archery Summit's pinot gris, pinot noir

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on March 27, 2014

Christopher Mazepink’s wanderlust brought him to Oregon and Archery Summit winery.

Mazepink grew up in Delaware and studied anthropology at Hardwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Via its study abroad programs, he spent semesters at the University of the West Indies in Kingston Jamaica and University of Cape Town in South Africa, and did research in Guatemala. After earning his degree, he visited the enology schools of the University of California at Davis and Oregon State University in Corvallis. At the latter, he noted the adjacent river offered salmon fly fishing, and nearby snow- covered mountains had skiing. Guess which enology program he enrolled in?

Upon graduating from Oregon State University in 2002, Mazepink worked as the assistant winemaker at Oregon’s Lemelson Vineyards. Other Oregon winemaking posts followed, and in 2013 Mazepink was appointed the winemaker and general manager of the highly-regarded Archery Summit winery about 30 miles southwest of Portland.

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A California cab that betrays winemaker's French sojourn

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on March 20, 2014

“I can’t believe how much I like this wine,” I said to my partner Rose, “considering it is from California.”

Then I did a double-take when I discovered the 2011 Silver Palm North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon was from the wine conglomerate Kendall-Jackson. And herein is an example of my rule that one should drink the wine, not the label.

Matt Smith is one of the winemakers at Kendall-Jackson; he is charged with making wines using cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other Bordeaux varietals. Smith spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris as part of his degree in French and political science from the University of Michigan in 1990. After living in France and Spain for two years, he returned to America and eventually enrolled in the enology program at the University of California at Davis.

Following his graduation in 2003, he worked at Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s top wine companies, and in Australia for Mitchelton Wines. Smith joined Kendall-Jackson’s winemaking team in 2004 and he became the winemaker for Silver Palm in 2010.

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Jersey winemaker's affair with California pinot noir

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on March 13, 2014

Atlantic Highlands resident David Rossi entered the wine world the way others unintentionally step into quicksand: slowly, then completely.

Rossi was born into an Arizona restaurant family; in 1991, he moved to Pittsburgh to work in the corporate food business. Six years later, he took a local winemaking course and soon found himself buying grapes from California, Washington and other sites. His house became a wine laboratory and the bathtub a depository for oak barrels. Fortunately, he says, he has an understanding wife.

In 2003, Rossi accepted a position with a New Jersey specialty food company and moved to Atlantic Highlands. Not long after his arrival, he was driving along the Navesink River when he saw a newly planted vineyard with the sign Two Rivers Winegrowers, a company that designs, plants and provides vineyard consulting services in Monmouth County. Rossi took another step and called the company to volunteer working for them with the goal of learning about vineyards. By 2005, nearly submerged in winemaking, vineyard planting and viticulture, Rossi made the final plunge and launched Fulcrum Wines.

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Warm your palate with brunello di Montalcino

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on March 06, 2014

The bad news is there seems to be no end to winter. The good news is that Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino is warming.

Montalcino is a beautiful hilltop Tuscan town about 20 miles south of Siena. During the medieval period, it was caught in the continual wars between Siena and Florence. The Florentines, led by the Medici family, conquered Siena in 1555; Montalcino’s hilltop position protected it for four more years. The ensuing centuries were not prosperous for its inhabitants. That changed dramatically with the rise of its red wine brunello di Montalcino in the 20th century.

Col d’Orcia’s lineage is intertwined with Montalcino’s history. In the late 19th century, the Florentine Franceschi family owned the property (then known as Fattoria di Sant’Angelo), producing various agricultural products including wine. In 1958, the brothers Leopoldo and Stefano Franceschi divided the estate. Stefano named his farm Col d’Orcia, meaning the hill above the Orcia River. Fifteen years later, Col d’Orcia was sold to the Cinzano family, internationally known for its vermouth. Today Col d’Orcia is led by Francesco Cinzano.

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Oscars 2014: Choose a standout wine to toast Academy Award winners

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on February 27, 2014

I reviewed many wine performances throughout 2013, so if you’re looking for a good bottle with which to enjoy Sunday’s Academy Awards, here are some winners.

Best Grape in a Supporting Role: And the winner is cabernet franc in the 2005 Chateau Lassegue Grand Cru Saint-Emilion. Its 35 percent contributed depth, structure and black fruit richness to merlot’s leading role as a voluptuous and tantalizing blueberry character. Chateau Lassegue’s director (okay, winemaker) Pierre Seillan cast cabernet franc perfectly for its tannic support to the suppler merlot.

Best Grape in a Leading Role: And the winner is sangiovese in the 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico. It’s 90 percent of the show, and dressed in flamboyant cherry and raspberry flavors with bright acidity. Cameo appearances by merlot and syrah combined for a flawless rendition of Chianti Classico. Don’t miss this stellar interpretation of one of the world’s most renowned grapes.

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Bouchard Père & Fils wine siblings: mirror images, equally delicious

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on Feb 20, 2014

Bouchard Pere & Fils created twins named Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru that are identical in everything but color.

The Bouchard Pere & Fils wine company was founded in 1731 in Volnay, a red wine village in the Burgundy region. Nearly a century later, Bernard Bouchard acquired the historic 15th-century royal fortress Chateau de Beaune in the city of Beaune. Over the course of nearly three centuries and eight generations, the family Bouchard built a reputation for first-rate wines from its portfolio of great vineyards.

But in the latter part of the 20th century, Bouchard lost its edge, and in 1995, Joseph Henriot, owner of the top-notch Henriot Champagne house, purchased Bouchard Pere & Fils. I was delighted with the news; Henriot’s standard of excellence was exactly the lift that Bouchard needed. Today Thomas Henriot and Christophe Bouchard have reinvigorated the company with a new winery, additional vineyards and an ongoing transition to organic viticulture.

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Look to Italy for wine worthy of Valentine's Day

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on Feb 13, 2014

Valentine’s Day is one of the moments made for special wines such as the Nova Domus Terlaner and Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino.

One of the most distinctive white wines in the world comes from the Cantina Terlano in Italy’s Alto Adige region. Founded in 1893 as a reaction against the large landowners, Terlano is a cooperative winery whose laser-like focus on every vine and aspect of winemaking results in wines of great complexity and legendary age-ability.

Cantina Terlano produces a range of wines, one of which is Nova Domus. Created in 1990, the most recent vintage in our market is the 2009 Nova Domus Terlaner Riserva. This wine is made from a blend of 60 percent pinot bianco, 30 percent chardonnay and 10 percent sauvignon blanc- the recipe varies slightly by vintage. It is fermented and age in large casks.

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A bouquet of rosé for Valentine's Day

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on Feb 6, 2014

A bottle of rosé Champagne is a must on Valentine’s Day. Here is a selection for a variety of moods (and a variety of couples):

For those with other responsibilities- such as school tuition or babysitting expenses- the pleasures of a delicious, reasonably-priced Champagne can be found in the nonvintage Moet & Chandon Imperial Rosé.

Its pretty salmon shade and delightful red fruit flavors arrive from its significant portion of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. Widely available under $50, the well-made nonvintage Moet & Chandon adds to the evening without subtracting from the budget.

Allied Beverage Group in Carlstadt, Fedway Associates in Basking Ridge, and R&R Marketing in Fairfield distribute the nonvintage Moet & Chandon Imperial Rosé.

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Olive groves (and groovy tunes) make B.R. Cohn's cab sing

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on January 30, 2014

If you love black olives like I do, you’ll be in taste bud heaven with a glass of the 2009 B.R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon Olive Hill Estate Vineyard.

If the name Bruce R. Cohn doesn’t ring-a-bell, it is not surprising. But if you are of a certain age (as is this writer), you’ll recall the songs of the Doobie Brothers- “Black Water,” “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “Take Me in Your Arms.” Bruce Cohn was the manager of the Doobie Brothers then, and, most amazing for the music world, still is.

In 1974, Cohn spent some of his money from his early music days to buy a 46-acre vineyard in Sonoma Valley; it was surrounded by century-old French picholine olive trees. During the next decade, Cohn sold his grapes to various wineries. In 1980, a bottle of the Gundlach-Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon Olive Hill Estate was selected by the White House as a gift to China.

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Boroli Quattro Fratelli Barbera d'Alba: Everyday wine still exceptional

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on January 23, 2014

The 2011 Boroli Quattro Fratelli Barbera d’Alba is from a family that knows how to please the palate and the purse.

Since 1831, the Borolis have been in Piedmont’s textile and publishing businesses; in 1997, Silvano and Elena Boroli decided to enter the wine world, and in 2001, the hospitality industry.

It is not unusual for successful entrepreneurs to enter the wine world, but when they do, it is usually at the high-priced end of the business. No better example of this exists than Napa Valley. The Borolis’ decision to plow the fields of Piedmont could have yielded the same result had they focused only on Barolo or Barbaresco; fortunately, they also cultivate Piedmont’s everyday wine Barbera d’Alba.

The barbera vineyard clings to the steep Madonna di Como hill, a few miles from the center of Alba. The hill has been a vineyard from time immemorial; it gained its name from the Romans, who used the term Como to describe a procession of young dancers honoring the wine god Bacchus. On Madonna di Como’s peak, the Borolis built Locanda del Pilone, a small guest house with a Michelin-star restaurant; I dined there in 2006 and 2008.

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A decade after 'Sideways,' a worthy pinot noir under $10

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on January 16, 2014

Good value is not a term often linked to pinot noir, but the 2012 Domaine La Forge Estate Pinot Noir earns the label.

Pinot noir was the fiefdom of Burgundy, followed by a coterie of collectors and worshippers of its delicate, translucent red wine. Their response to the exquisite aromas and flavors of the region’s pinot noirs was to idolize its vineyards and canonize the winemakers. For the followers, securing the wine was the challenge, regardless of cost. But the insularity of that world was shattered by a seismic wave a decade ago.

In 2004, the Academy Award-winning movie “Sideways” brought the pleasure of pinot noir to the consciousness of the average wine consumer. American wineries began producing an ocean of pinot noir. Some of it was terrible; lots of it was acceptable. If all you wanted was a glass of a cherry-strawberry fruit-flavored wine while you waited at the bar; a small number offered quality. Gradually the pinot noir fever broke, and what survived was better quality at above average wine prices. But the idea that you could drink inexpensive, well-made, flavorful pinot noir was oxymoronic. Or so it was thought.

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Sancerre's quiet cousin Quincy offers its own pleasures

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on January 09, 2014

Small museums are often a place for quiet reflection; so too are wines such as the 2012 Laporte Quincy Les Niorles.

In the world of sauvignon blanc wines, Sancerre is like the Louvre: Everyone wants to say they know it even when they don’t. Sancerre, located in the Loire Valley, reigns as the king of sauvignon blanc, dominating the conversation and garnering a comparatively royal price. Sancerre also produces a small amount of red wine from pinot noir that few consumers know, along with a rosé, known least of all.

But a few miles southwest of Sancerre lies the village of Quincy (KAN-see),where only sauvignon blanc is produced.

Quincy’s vineyards are along the banks and hillsides of the Cher River. The soil’s composition of gravel and sand are conducive to producing wines that display the citrus and herbal qualities of sauvignon blanc, along with a more delicate texture than those coming from Sancerre. They are wines that please without showboating.

The Laporte family produced Loire Valley wines from 1850 until 1986, when Rene Laporte sold the estate to Jean-Marie Bourgeois. The purchase preserved the renowned name of the Laporte estate and merged two dedicated winemaking families.

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In Gigondas, fruitful vines take root for Domaine du Pesquier

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on January 02, 2014

We start the new year with Gigondas, a new wine region for this column, and an old friend, Domaine du Pesquier.

Gigondas is in the southern section of France’s Rhone Valley. Its history dates to the Romans, who used the area for its soldiers to have what we call “R&R.” They named it Jocunditas, meaning pleasure and enjoyment in Latin.

Over centuries, farmers in Gigondas developed olive groves and vineyards alongside everyday produce. Its wines were overshadowed by nearby Chateauneuf-du-Pape and were transported to Burgundy for blending when that famous region suffered a poor vintage. In 1956, severe winter weather destroyed the olive trees; the farmers replaced them with vines. That interplay of nature and the human response to it had historical importance.

Grenache has always been the dominant grape in Gigondas. Other grapes were planted randomly, creating a mix of wine styles. Starting in the 1960s, syrah became the preferred grape for new vineyards or for replacing old vines. In 1971, the French wine authorities removed Gigondas from the list of the Cotes du Rhone villages and granted its petition to become an appellation of its own. With its new status came the requirement that Gigondas-labeled wines be a blend of a maximum of 80 percent grenache, a minimum of 15 percent syrah or mourvedre, and not more than 10 percent other Rhone varietals.

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Celebrate New Year's Eve with these fine wines

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on December 26, 2013

Wine collectors celebrate New Year’s Eve with their very best wines; you can join the fun with these superb selections.

In September, I visited Eric and Isabelle Coulon, the dedicated eighth-generation owners of Roger Coulon Champagne in Vrigny, a village near Reims.

Eric, the winemaker, produces a delicious, bright orange-tinted nonvintage rosé from Champagne’s two red grapes, pinot noir and pinot meunier, grown in premier cru vineyards. Its wonderful red fruit flavors carry a hint of licorice and the soft bubbles release a long, dry finish.

“Imagine how many people are drinking our Champagne tonight,” Eric wonders every New Year’s Eve, Isabelle recounts with a smile. You’ll be smiling, too, with a glass of the excellent nonvintage Roger Coulon Rosé. The cost is about $60; it’s distributed by Neal Rosenthal in Queens (518)207-9100.

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Fine Champagnes for all tastes

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on December 19, 2013

More Champagne is enjoyed during the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve than at any other time of the year. So for the holiday sippers and imbibers, here is a selection of nonvintage and prestige cuvee Champagnes.

Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. Only the sparkling wines originating in the French Champagne region, located about 90 miles northeast of Paris, are entitled to the Champagne nomenclature.

Nonvintage or multi-vintage Champagne is the basic wine of every producer. As its name implies, this Champagne is made from wines of various years. It is usually a blend of Champagne’s three major grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Along with being the lowest priced Champagne, many retailers offer substantial discounts during December. It pays to shop around.

Taittinger is one of my favorite Champagne houses, from its prestige cuvee Comtes de Champagne to its nonvintage brut, La Francaise. The latter is aged for four years, more than double the legal requirement for nonvintage Champagne, resulting in a white fruit flavor that is as soft on the palate as the French language is on the ear. The nonvintage Taittinger La Francaise Brut is priced $39 to $44 and distributed by Allied Beverage Group in Carlstadt and R&R Marketing in Fairfield.

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Five under $20: Delightful wines for holiday parties

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on December 12, 2013

Holiday parties are most enjoyable when everything is plentiful, from the smiles to the food and good-value wines.

A welcoming glass of Napa Valley’s nonvintage Domaine Chandon Rosé sparkling wine sets a buoyant mood. Its eye-catching effervescence, sunrise reddish color and pleasing red fruit flavors are perfect instigators for a carefree, stylish tone. Easy-to-reach platters of grilled shrimp, tuna rolls and spicy dips will delight your guests and flatter this well-made sparkling wine. And your smile with be broader knowing that at about $17 the nonvintage Domaine Chandon Rosé is less than half the price of rose’ Champagne.
Allied Beverage Group in Carlstadt, Fedway Associates in Basking Ridge, and R&R Marketing in Fairfield distribute the nonvintage Domaine Chandon Rosé sparkling wine.

Searching for a flavorful white wine that’s not another chardonnay or pinot grigio? Put some bottles of the 2011 Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Bianco in your basket. Sicilian by birth, its blend of inzolia, cataratto and grecanico grapes deliver a vibrant pear and jasmine scent, and a medium-light body filled with tasty white fruit flavor and citrus-like acidity. Ideal with spicy Asian foods, or Sicilian fried rice balls, fried calamari, or seafood salad. And at about $13, you can put the bottles back on the shelf and request a case.

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Oak is integral contributor to Lassegue wines

By John Foy/For The Star-Ledger on December 5, 2013

Winemaker Pierre Seillan’s Chateau Lassegue wines are rooted in his quest for the perfect oak tree.

Bordeaux wines are made from blending grapes and aging them in French oak barrels. In 1990, Jess Jackson, founder of the wine conglomerate Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, partnered with John Boswell, whose company was supplying oak barrels to Jackson Estates. They purchased a French saw mill and converted it to a stave mill, Merrain International, which gave them better quality control of the oak.

Nearly all French oak barrels come from trees in the forests owned by the French government; considered national treasures, the forests cover more than 20 percent of France. Seillan said that until he joined Jackson’s enterprise, he spent a lifetime at the mercy of various coopers for information about which forests the oak trees came from, and the length of time and the methods used for treating the staves that formed his barrels. But now, “I have the luxury to choose the forest and select the trees that I want for my staves.”

In October, I accompanied Seillan to the Darney forest in the northeastern corner of France. I wanted a better understanding of such a vital part of the winemaking process and Chateau Lasseque; we were joined by Jean-Marc Pernigotto, the director-general of Merrain International.

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