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WINE

Wine, New Jersey, and Airplanes
updated: Dec 15, 2012, 11:00 AM

By Marc Liberts

December 12, 2012

I was finally able to parlay my wine knowledge into a free trip last weekend. My cousins who live in New Jersey invited me to host a wine tasting at their Christmas party. The best part was they also paid for my travel expenses. My cousin got a very good deal - $292 round-trip from Santa Barbara to Philadelphia on US Airways.

I always fly United Airlines and for better or worse, have gotten used to them over the years. My cousin bought me tickets on US Airways, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to compare my normal airline with something new. First, US Air has service from Santa Barbara to just about anywhere in the United States and some international destinations, with service usually connecting through Phoenix. I flew an on time CRJ-700 plane from Santa Barbara to Phoenix on the first leg of my journey to New Jersey. I found it to be small, cramped, and generally uncomfortable. In US Air's defense, I'm not a big fan of any CRJ plane, including and especially the CRJ-200 which I loathe. I find these regional jets to be small, cramped, lacking leg-room, lacking seat width, and especially lacking overhead storage. The only good thing about these regional jets is the speed. They can fly from Santa Barbara to Phoenix in about 80 - 90 minutes which is impressive. This flight in particular was on time and uneventful.

My cousin had booked me 50 minute lay-overs on both departure and return flights which made me a little nervous. I've learned over the years that booking a 2-3 hour lay-over is usually safe enough to guarantee that you will make most of your flights. In fact, in the last 10 years, I've only missed one connection using my 2-3 hour lay-over rule. In this case, with everything running on time, I was able to get off the plane, get my bag plane-side, and make it to the next gate with a few minutes to spare. It was close but I made it. My flight from Phoenix to New Jersey was on a US Airways Airbus A-321 - one of my least favorite planes along side with Boeing's 737.

I love the A-319, I tolerate the A-320, and I loathe the A-321. All three are the same plane with the 319 being the shortest, the 320 being the middle size, and the 321 being the extended version. I find the 321 to be too long, too lumbering, and holding too many people for its size. The lavatories are too far away and illogically placed for a plane that is this long. I did pay $45.00 for a "Choice" seat near the front of the coach section which was an improvement over what looked like all the other sardines stuffed into the back of the plane. The seat width on these planes is average or better, but that makes the aisle so narrow that you can't walk down it without having to turn yourself one way or the other to avoid bumping into large shouldered people like me. United Airlines' Economy Plus is a huge improvement over this in that for an extra $75.00 each way you can buy 3-5 inches of extra leg-room. On a 5-6 trans-con flight like this, you really and truly will appreciate the ability to use those extra precious few inches to stretch your legs out in front of you and actually be able to use your laptop or table if you have one. The beverage service on this flight was typical. All snacks on this airline on this route cost money, and the food options for $8.00 looked decent enough. I had a soda and that was it. The flight landed in Philadelphia on time.

After a short drive from the Philadelphia International Airport down I-95 and then over the Commodore Barry Bridge, we were in South New Jersey. My function was to host a wine tasting for approximately 70 guests at a Christmas party. I was tempted to try a blind tasting, but I was afraid that 70 wine neophytes from South Jersey might not react well to my brown bags. So, I decided instead to do an open tasting of 6 whites and 6 reds. I told them that I was a wine writer, writing an article about the differences between wine preferences in Southern New Jersey compared to Southern California. For the wine tasting, I located 4 of Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2012 at an on-line wine merchant in New Jersey, purchased them, and had them shipped to my cousin's house before I arrived. I then picked out 8 ‘average' wines and mixed all 12 together randomly.

In a group of 70 random guests from South New Jersey, it was hard to predict what their wine knowledge would be. I guessed that they probably drank wine, they probably drank wines from Italy, France, and maybe California, and they probably would know and like Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chianti. Was it reasonable to expect them to be able to taste and or smell the differences between one wine and another? I figured that being from New Jersey they could probably differentiate between the aromas of Benzene and Sulfur Dioxide from the oil refineries near the Tacony- Palmyra Bridge in South Jersey and the aroma of vinyl chloride from the Conrail train that recently crashed into a creek near in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

The tasters carefully considered each of the 12 wines and picked their favorite red wine and favorite white wine. The one white wine I obtained from Wine Spectator's top 100 was a sweet Riesling from Austria. I had it last in the 6 wine white-flight, and it was by far the favorite. For the reds, the winner was an every-day Chianti. I think they were drawn to it because of their familiarity with Chianti, and the fact that it may have been the most familiar to them. I didn't think it was the best red, but It was predicable and easy to drink.

WHITE WINES:

WW1: EL GRIGIO, Pinot Grigio, Argentina, 2012 - plump, plush and lively for an inexpensive wine. Has just about everything you would want and expect for this varietal - 89 points.

WW2: KORE, Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, 2011 - Grassy nose with tangy ruby-red grapefruit and green apple on the palate - 88 points.

WW3: DOMAINE ANESTIS BABATZIMOPOULOS, Chardonnay, Macedonial Regional White Wine, 2001 - Pretty floral nose with nice tangerine on the palate with decent minerality and good body - a really pleasant surprise - 90 points.

WW4: HARMAN'S ROAD, 2011 Riesling, Margaret River, Australia - Surprisingly good! Dry with juicy minerality and professional balance - 90 points.

WW5: ROSENBERG DE WETTOLSHEIM, ALSACE, PINOT BLANC 2001 - A little too old but still has nice hazelnuts on the nose and pretty fruit and caramel on the palate - no one liked it at all but it was still worthy of 84 points - too old.

WW6: 2010 SCHLOSS VOLLRADS Riesling Spatlese (Wine Spectator #37 wine of the year) - Delicious, sweet, beautifully balance, nice minerality, great character - 92 points.

RED WINES:

RW1: 2010 Stehelin Gigondas (Wine Spectator #34 wine of the year) - Delicious with beautiful red fruit and minerality from the Grenache and a hint of spice and body from the Syrah - 93 points.

RW2: DOMAINE DU MISTRAL, 2011 Cotes-du-Rhone Villages - A bit undisciplined and out of focus - has all the elements but lacks integration - 84 points.

RW3: RODOLFO SADLER, 2011 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina - Not the best Malbec I've had this month, but not bad. Lacks depth and harmony to be great, but is good enough as it is - 85 points. (2nd most favorite wine of the reds).

RW4: CAN BLAU, Montsant Blau 2009 (Wine Spectator #33 wine of the year) - Interesting wine featuring spice, good balance, and interesting dry fruit. Not fruity but more earthy and spicy - interesting - 90 points.

RW5: PRINCIPE STROZZI, 2010 Chianti, Italy - Nice red fruit with decent minerality and balance - typical pizza and spaghetti wine - 85 points.

RW6: SCHILD ESTATE, 2010 Shiraz, Barossa, Australia (Wine Spectator #30 wine of the year) - A nice Shiraz with big dark fruit, meaty, hearty, light spice and some sweetness - 91 points.

WHITE WINE WINNER: 2010 SCHLOSS VOLLRADS Riesling Spatlese (Wine Spectator #37 wine of the year)

RED WINE WINNER: PRINCIPE STROZZI, 2010 Chianti, Italy.

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