By Sarah Unger
As owner of Jack’s Wine Sense in Ewing’s Parkside Plaza, Jack Lehew couldn’t be happier to help you make sense of choosing a wine that goes well with any occasion.
All you need to do is ask.
With a recent midday sun pouring over the greens and ambers of neatly shelved bottles, LeHew’s store sparkled as customers stopped in to pick up bottles to accompany dinner. LeHew interacted easily with all, answering questions and spilling the news of wines worth tasting.
“I’m always trying something different,” he said, adding that he won’t recommend a selection he hasn’t tasted. To LeHew, that’s as much good business sense as it is evidence of the passion that’s evolved since he met Betty, his wife and partner in wine, a good 10 years ago.
About to hit the two-year mark in April, Jack’s Wine Sense “is holding its own now,” following a rocky first year that typifies new businesses.
Having left behind the Information Technology world for the world of wine, LeHew is immersed these days in preparation for his sommelier certification through the International Sommelier Guild of Canada, offered at Philadelphia’s Restaurant School. He takes the licensing exam in August, when he’ll undergo blind taste tests to assess his knowledge not only of grape variety, but its country of origin; dress in a tuxedo to properly uncork and serve wines; and even design a restaurant menu with a wine list budgeted at $20,000. “When you finish this class, you know your wines,” he said.
Despite the restaurant design assignment, LeHew has no plans to open his own: “I love to cook, but I’m not a chef.” Offering a world tour up and down the aisle, LeHew stopped often to draw bottles from their shelves and count off their virtues and values.
“The best wine I ever tasted was this,” he said while reaching for a top shelf $150 El Nido Cabernet Sauvignon from Spain. While there may not be a huge market for a price tag like that. LeHew said he must be ready for the occasional customer who’s looking for something special.
When customers are hesitant, he tries to suggest new wines. Despite delivering advice on pairings, award-winners, and good values, there are some customers who like what they like and can’t be enticed. Others, though, will walk in and ask for their usual favorite, to which LeHew will say, simply, “Try this.” And they do.
LeHew is particular about choosing a variety to accompany a meal, and eagerly imparts his suggestions with customers, including Trenton resident Jordan Rouse, a good customer who stopped in with his son Phenom to find something for the roast chicken with rosemary and garlic he’d cook that night. The winner? A Borgo Conventi Friulano Collio Friuli, a white from northeast Italy. “You haven’t led me astray yet,” he said to LeHew as Phenom picked out a couple of lollipops.
Jack’s Wine Sense receives its share of walk-in business. His gleaming granite bar, too, welcomes a good crowd. “I know them all,” LeHew said of his patrons, mentioning that a birthday party was planned for the evening. LeHew made the Buffalo-style shrimp for it, and pizzas would be ordered from the Italian restaurant Mamma Flora’s, located next door.
LeHew hosts weekend wine tastings quarterly, inviting customers to the four-hour events by e-mail. The tastings are fun for customers, he said, and the feedback is valuable.
Rounding out its wine selections, the store maintains a collection of spirits, microbrews (beer made in small batches at smaller breweries), and imported beers. There are Japanese and American sakes, too, and plenty of craft and import beers, from Belgian Chimays to southern German hefeweizen, to high-quality Americans.
For those in recession mode, LeHew said there are plenty of excellent wines available for lower prices. One $10 white he likes is an Albarino, from Spain’s northwest region. Stop by Jack’s Wine Sense Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m at its location in the Shop Rite shopping center at 1750 N. Olden Ave. Call (609) 434-0101 or visit jackswinesense.com.