Cambridge Wines- An Interview with Sommelier James Ricciardi

As a resident of Morristown, NJ and a frequent wine drinker I know that there is a bodega or merchant that sells wine just a hop, skip and a jump away from any given point in town. This is very convenient and great for a quick pick up when I have a sudden hankering for a cabernet.  The only problem is that almost none of the shops offer a knowledgeable and dedicated staff that will help pick your wine selection. As I have mentioned in past posts I am on the quest for wine knowledge this year and understanding my purchases is just a small step in the right direction. I also love to bring wine as hostess gifts or special occasion presents. I wouldn’t want to present any old bottle as my gift so this is why I would love an expert to help pick out my special selection.

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A few months back I noticed a new wine shop, Cambridge Wines, had opened up in town. I was eager to check it out; as I always am with new food and wine related ventures. I found that it was still convenient in location and the staff was exactly what I had been searching for, educated and helpful. It quickly became my regular stop in town for all my wine needs. I asked Anthony, David, and James (The men behind Cambridge Wines) if I could come pick their brains a bit about the store and they happily invited me in for a chat.

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I sat down with James Ricciardi, the resident sommelier of Cambridge Wines, to ask some questions. The store was a buzz the night I dropped in and between questions I observed plenty of customer interactions with James. One thing was for certain, he is passionate about his wines. If you happen to ask for help, you will be asked some standard initial questions to assist in narrowing down your search. Then the story telling begins. James often goes from wine to wine and provides the background on the winery, winemaker, tasting notes etc. It is never a simple “this one is good” reasoning. If you are willing to listen, you are privileged to tidbits about your selection that make you feel closer to it.

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James, what was your path to sommelier? Is this something that fell in your lap or something you pursued?

It was a pursued path. I trained with the Court Master of Sommeliers.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Court Master of Sommeliers. It is a series of courses provided to expand knowledge and train wine professionals. There are 4 levels needed to become a Master Sommelier (only 200 individuals have made it to this level in the world). With each level passed a new Sommelier title is provided.

I notice Cambridge Wines carries only lesser known, and possibly smaller production wines. It is more of a boutique style shop. You’re not selling the popular Cavits and Kendall Jackson’s of the wine world. Why is that?

Cambridge provides wines from vineyards and winemakers that care about the integrity of wine; the companies that are not solely in it for money making purposes. He mentioned that the company’s product should be something that they would drink in their own spare time. (He is very outspoken and passionate about this one!)

Coming from a small business, James states “Why would we expect customers to support Cambridge if we are not supporting small wines”.

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Do you have a favorite varietal or region you tend to suggest to customers more?

About 70% of the business Cambridge does comes from domestic wines (ie Oregon, California..etc). For these he tends to lean toward suggesting big bold reds from Washington and softer reds like Pinot Noirs from Oregon.

As for the international selections one of his favorites regions is the wines from the North Rhone (Typically Syrahs).

His all-time favorite wine, which the store carries at a steep price tag of $380, is Vega Sicilia “Unico” from Spain.

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I did ask the question of what the ideal wine for all occasions was and both Anthony and James exchanged glances and responded that this is like comparing what the best thing to wear for all occasions and weathers is. Apparently there is no one answer! My suggestion: Go in and talk to James. He knows his stuff and can help you narrow down to the perfect wine for your specific occasion.

I also had a chance to speak with Anthony who is one of the owners of the shop. We caught up on why he started the store, how Cambridge Wines sets themselves apart from the competition, and some exciting “expansion” news for the team.

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What made you decide to open up Cambridge Wines in Morristown?

David and I attended Manhattan College together with dreams to open a restaurant. After college I became a GM at a restaurant here in town (unnamed). I was surprised to find so many BYOB restaurants. I also noticed that many of the diners who went to eat at these places were unaware that they needed to bring their own wine. That’s when I realized there was a need for a wine shop that delivered directly to the restaurants. David and I were lucky enough to get a liquor license and we started the venture.

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What sets Cambridge Wines apart from the other wine retailers in the area?

We developed our shop around the tasting bar. We wanted to focus on classes, tastings, parties etc. Cambridge Wines offers free tastings every day and do structured ones a few times a week.

You can sign up for their e-newsletter on the website for weekly updates on upcoming tastings and events.

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We also deliver to every restaurant in town except for 2 (Guerreros and Fiore). Each restaurant has a menu that is changed approximately every 2 months with our current selections. We deliver free of charge and make house calls too. We will deliver to any local residence.

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Some exciting news!

Anthony informed me during our discussion that Cambridge Wines has acquired what is currently Sebastian’s Steakhouse on Elm Street in Morristown. As of April 1st the current establishment will close and the men of Cambridge will begin their brainchild. The concept is yet to be determined but there were promises of something new and exciting.

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I had a great time getting to know the staff behind my local wine store. The passion, charisma, and dedication that this group has to their craft shines through in each interaction with a customer. I know that every time I set foot in that door I will get an individualized experience. I also love supporting small business and this company makes their living off doing the same with their small production wine products.

Cambridge Wines is located at 10 Lafayette Ave #2, Morristown, NJ 07960 (It is under the Highlands Apartments)

Their website is: www.cambridgewinesnj.com

You can also follow them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/cambridge.wines#!/pages/Cambridge-Wines/337843792994497

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