Monday, April 9, 2012

Wine Epiphanies

When I interview candidates for employment at CoolVines, one of the most important questions I ask is “have you ever had a wine epiphany?” I ask them to tell me a story about a moment, a specific moment, when wine became something more than just a beverage to them. There is no wrong answer to this question – except no answer. We’re looking for passionate people, passionate about wine.

I remember mine. I had just graduated from business school and was working as a consultant on my first client assignment – a gloves and slippers company in Secaucus NJ. My colleague was a fun-loving guy from the firm’s Charlotte, NC office. We were knocking the ball out of the park with the client employing some very simple, practical operational practices and feeling like heroes (the bar was very low to start!) and so we felt justified in hitting the City one night a week for a good dinner. I was 26 and knew nothing about wine. My experiences in college, despite going to Cornell with its famed “Wines” course taught in the Hotel Management School, were more about “Hearty Burgundy” than Burgundy.

One night we went to a small Italian restaurant, tucked into a brownstone near the park. It was quiet and very serious. It was the first time I’d ever seen a cheese cart, let alone a sommelier! Although I’m sure we looked like total greenhorns, the waiter was impeccably polite. He walked us through the menu and we made our selections. Then he asked us about wine. He recommended something called a Barolo. I loved the name. It sounded so masculine, yet so poetic (which, now that I think of it, is probably how I love the world to see me!). I’d never heard of it and had no idea what it was; that it was one of the finest wine regions in the world, comparable to (the real) burgundy in its complexity and aging potential. “Sure, that sounds great,” we said with a shrug. I think we paid about $80, which in 1987, and especially for me, was quite a sum for a bottle of wine. When he served it to us, though, I remember sipping it and feeling stunned. I looked over at Kevin and said “oh my god.” “I know” he said. I was transformed. (It’s crazy, my eyes are misting over as I write this!) Suddenly, this stuff, this formerly static liquid in a bottle with fancy labels had become a living creature, filling me with sensation and experience that I’d never known before. That particular wine might not have even been that good. But I do know that it was the first time I’d ever tasted the “layers” of flavor and aroma that make up the most interesting of wines. To this day, it’s what I look for in wines – those layers and layers of flavor that remind me of listening to complex piece of music – Kind of Blue by Miles Davis or Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, it doesn’t matter – when suddenly, one day, after listening to it hundreds of times, you’ll notice the part where Robert Plant holds a note seemingly endlessly, only to realize that it’s no longer his voice, but the synthesized strings that have merged with him and taken over the note…that’s what happens on that 18th sip of an incredible wine.

And after that…there’s no going back.


If you’ve had a similar experience, we’d love to hear about it. Send us your story, to

Thursday, August 26, 2010 Ravioli & Wine Tasting 5 Course Dinner at Stage House - Good Vibes, CoolVines


On both September 14th and on the 28th CoolVines is pairing with
Stage House Restaurant and acclaimed Chef Eric Hambrecht to bring to you a 5 course wine dinner that features the Italian wines of A.I. Selections and cuisine from that Stage House’s new ravioli kitchen. Click here to see the fantastic new ravioli menus and superior wines that will be presented and paired with each course.

Stage House Restaurant keeps reinventing itself. It gets bigger and better and bolder. The expansive outside bar area has a totally different vibe than the 40th birthday dinner for ten in an upstairs private room. Both experiences are enhanced with a sophisticated yet traditional menu. One night we sat in the Tavern's front dini
ng room and we regularly felt a rumbling from below. Was it the nearby Fanwood train? was it a refrigeration system below our table? or just more good vibes from what is becoming my favorite go-to tavern?
Last weekend I had the pleasure to meet Tom, the owner. He gave my friends a big hello - I didn't realize they were such regulars. Stage House has a lot of regulars. I asked him why they removed the lavender vinaigrette from the menu. The plants were destroyed when the patio was paved. I felt like I was trapped in the middle of a Joni Mitchell song, until I realized I really love the patio. So chalk it up to progress and business: my fresh herb inspired dressing was replaced with a ballsy new concept: all you can eat free bbq.

Get this: you get heaps of free bbq, pay what you feel like paying, and in return they make money on the bar tab and you walk home with a certificate in that amount for the elegant dining room that you may or may not use. Click here for their free bbq ten commandments. Somehow it is win-win and Stage House emerges once again as the place to have fun and eat well. And it's a night to dine alfresco in a cool setting, sometimes with live music without sitting right next to the dirty filthy street, which is always a plus.

Let's add drink expertly and a new ravioli menu as 2 more reasons join one of the special 5 course pairing menus with CoolVines, the most pleasurable wine store in Westfield. CoolVines has regulars too, and their wine purchase information is stored on a database. From this data they can make guided recommendations to the purchaser and remember what wines you loved, even when you can't remember the type or name of the wine yourself. What I thought was a pinot noir with a name that had something to do with happiness proved to be a biodynamic shiraz called Hedonist, that I highly recommend.

At the pairing dinner, learn firsthand from wine guru Damon O'Gara about the selected Italian wines and how they were chosen to complement each course's tastes and textures. I'm more than curious to taste how the oaky Moroder Rosso Conero 2006 will play off the creaminess of the smoked chicken ricotta ravioli. Or how the "ruby red color, intense bouquet and well-structured flavor" of the Vaona Valpolicella Ripasso 2007 might possibly enhance the richness of a butternut squash ravioli in a frangelico pecan brown butter sauce.

If the combination of wine and flavor can bring out the best in each other, I am there. And if it's that good I'll do it twice. I love ravioli and I love wine but the combination of the two promises to deliver. While Stage House is not an Italian restaurant, nor is the chef, and Damon is as Irish as they come, I am betting on this to be a night to venture out into new territory and try something different. The Italians may have invented ravioli and planted the original vines, but I feel this meal will be the reinvention of the traditional and expected, and it's happening right here in our town.

Click here for information and to register.


Friday, April 30, 2010

CoolVines CEO Mark Censits recommends the Palmina Nebbiolo 2005 for

This week's pick comes from Mark Censits, founder and CEO of the New Jersey-based retailer CoolVines. Mark has long been a fan of wine maker Steve Clifton, who has a knack for teaming up with the brightest talents in California and producing a number of unique and wonderful wines, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottled under the Brewer-Clifton label. He and his wife began the Palmina project to produce a range of wines made from Italian varietals grown in Santa Barbara County.

"All of the Palminas are terrific food wines, and unbelievable values. The Nebbiolo in particular has fine tannins and balanced acidity making it a great pair for Italian style dishes," Mark noted. "2005 was the inaugural vintage of the Nebbiolo, which grows best in Piedmont but has now proven its potential in the similar terroir of the Sisuoc and Stolpman Vineyards." This big red retails for under $30.

Years ago Mark combined his passion for wine with his proven track record in business with the launch of CoolVines. He has stores in Westfield and Princeton, NJ, and their website offers an inviting and novel approach to exploring wines online. On the site I was immediately presented with a concise summary of the wine's style, and saw right away where I could drill down for more detailed info. Also, customers can find a wine they like, and by hitting the "Explore!" button receive intelligent alternative suggestions. When I explored alternatives to the Palmina, the site suggested 3 other medium bodied reds of different varietals, new world and old. You can also sign up for their custom wine club to ensure your cellar is always stocked with wines you love. These services go far beyond those of most retailers, and show that Mark and his team have put a lot of thought into meeting the needs of their customers.

Click here to sign up for a free weekly wine pick from the top professionals in the industry.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Green Your Glass: Warren Bobrow writes about where to find organic/biodynamic wine for NJ Life Magazine

I demand wines that are small producer (garage wines) and if they are organic/biodynamic or sustainably produced, that’s a definite plus! Fortunately, there are quite a few wine stores in New Jersey that stock or even specialize in wines that are organic, biodynamic, sustainably produced, and/or handmade.

Westfield and Princeton both house plenty of wine shops, but one boutique, with locations in both towns, particularly resonates with me. CoolVines is this shop. Specializing in finding well-priced, small-producer wines, this store takes a different approach to wine shopping than most of its competitors. Owner Mark Censits firmly believes that wine should be an adjunct to complement food. Given the explosion of BYOB restaurants, both in Princeton and in Westfield, people are much more inquisitive about which wines taste best with what foods. Mark encourages his wine consultants to engage the customer in the story behind the wines, not their scores or how the popular marketing machines spin wine appreciation. CoolVines carries wines that taste great with food, and the engaging staff is well versed in parings. Organic and biodynamic wines are of particular note. Many great sustainably produced wines actually cost less than similar wines produced in greater quantities.

Click here for the full article.