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A Jersey Girl who loves Jersey wine ...and the fermented fruits of the tri-state area.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kiwi-tastic at Cream Ridge Winery

In his book Inventing Wine Paul Lukacs cites balance, length and depth as the three factors that we use to gauge wine. Perhaps. Then again, just as everyone has a different definition of balance, length and depth, everyone has their own reasons for getting into wine. Personally, I'm into wine for the sensory rush of a tasting, as well as the social and even intellectual curiosity of the experience. Simply put, if Lukacs rates on balance, length and depth, I rate on flavor, personality and vibe.

Man, there are some gorgeous vibes at Cream Ridge Winery.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend Cream Ridge Winery's 25th Anniversary celebration. A lovely 2-day affair featuring live music, BBQ and tastings inside and out, this event was the perfect example of the fun you can have at a winery on a weekend afternoon. Families with kids on picnic blankets, bridal shower parties, couples young and old soaking in the springtime sun - these are good vibes.

A tour of the facility was given by founder Tom Amabile. Knowledgable and sweet, Tom not only gave us the history of the vineyard, insight into the tanking and bottling processes, and great tips on corking, we were also introduced to his lovely wife Joan who passed through to announce that more family had arrived, including their cousin Vinny.  (It's a Jersey thing.)  After giving Tom a helping hand with some extra chairs we were treated to a taste from the tank - the Eastern White, a sweet Niagara clear, clean and crisp from the steel tank where it sat ready to be tapped.

Known for its fruit wines, Cream Ridge has an extensive list of reds and whites as well. The Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were both flavorful, light-bodied whites in their own right and the Muscato Amabile put the Barefoot stuff you find on the rack to shame. The Cab Franc, Chambourcin and Red Zin were just as dry in their own right with some powerful tannins.

Favorites included the Raley's Red - their Chambourcin blended with NJ blueberries. The Chambourcin's tannins and the fruit balanced nicely creating a unique red that could serve as both a table wine as well as a sipping sensation for dryer drinkers.

The Cherry - the description reads pie and that is no lie. This Governor's Cup winner is meant to be savored; not too sweet, nor to tart, this is a just-right cherry wine that begs for a summer afternoon.

Both the Cranberry and the Blueberry hit acidic and fruit nodes like a tightrope walker at Barnum & Bailey's.  Walk the line with these fine wines.

AlmondBerry - There's a reason we left with 2 bottles. This fantastic blend of raspberry and white wine with almonds is legendary for a reason. Sweet with a slightly tangy finish. Sipping with appetizers or savoring for dessert, this wine will become one of your best cellar friends.

Javaberry - Blackberry, chocolate and espresso make for a menage a trois for the tongue.  Wow, what gorgeous coffee flavor.  Drink this and you'll never waste your time with an Irish coffee again.

Kiwine - Premiering at this event, this kiwi-infused Niagara blend is sweet, light, tropical and begs to be served at your upcoming summer party along with the Frozen Sangria (we loved the Red - a perfect sweet/tart blend!).

Pineapple - Ok, so we've been before.  This gorgeous stuff wasn't available at the fest (they were in the process of restocking) but we were able to snag a bottle from the back when we checked out.  What gorgeous stuff - and you won't find anything else like it around here.  It's pineapple in a glass - tangy, fruity wine.  Drink it out back, with a Hawaiian pie.  Don't miss this!

Visit Cream Ridge for the experience. The festival was $5, but we've been in the past and the tastings on a non-event day have been free. You will not leave empty-handed and you'll have one heck of a good time!

PS - Turn left out of the winery and head to Allentown for a fun afternoon of shopping and dining. Turn right and hit up the back 9 at the local golf course.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Willow Creek Winery - Cape May, NJ

This is one hell of a gorgeous place.

If you ever find yourself in Cape May (which you should - for the beach, the Victorian setting, the great shops and eateries, and especially the wine) you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't venture out past the town, towards the lighthouse, and make a hard right into what looks like the middle of nowhere.

Nowhere, or rather 160-168 Stevens Street in Cape May, NJ, is home to Willow Creek Winery. South of the Mason-Dixon line, you'd easily confuse the 50 acre farm for an antebellum plantation. A gorgeous historic private home shining out yellow against the clear blue sky signals you're at the right location.  Follow the dirt path down-a-ways to a newly built tasting room ready to entertain. (Brides, don't blink twice if you're looking for romantic seclusion.) Inside, you'll find a broad, open space with an outdoor patio and, most importantly, a wine bar ready for tasting.

Out of the 14 wines on the list, 10 were available for tasting. Technically there are 2 labels happening here - Willow Creek, pulling grapes from the estate, and Wilde Cock, named after one of the owners, which is a mix of farm-grown grapes and ones shipped in from out of state.

Don't miss the 2011 Malvasia Blanca (White Estate Wine).  Barrel fermented and lightly oaked (in other words, it starts out in barrels and finishes in steel tanks) this Malvasia proved to be an aromatic, light-bodied white with a unique flavor that balances both dry and fruit-forward characteristics. Uncommon to the Jersey pallate, this wine proves a special treat due to the fact that Malvasia is a Mediterranean grape. Kudos to the folks at Willow Creek for having the guts to plant some different vines!

The Bacchus Red proves an enjoyable estate blend of 3 grapes - Merlot, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I've always enjoyed a good blend and this is no exception. The fruit breathes into this medium-bodied wine, making it a great dryer table wine for otherwise sweet drinkers.

Wilde Cock Red is a delightfully dry specimen.  Dubbed by the winery as their "very own Dago Red" this is a blend of estate Merlot and Shiraz from Washington state.  Reminiscent of a chianti of sorts, this is your pasta wine, guaranteed to please the most discriminant of dry drinkers at your table.

You can't taste wine in Jersey without throwing at least some fruit in the mix. The Wilde Cock Apple is made to impress from 100% NJ apples. A delightful treat, this wine captures the sweet-tart essence of apples picked right at the farm.

The Wilde Cock Southern Sangria, sold by the refillable jug, changes weekly.  A mix of the Wilde Cock Sweet and fruit flavor, the flavor of our week was Strawberry. If you loved Jolly Ranchers as a kid, this will be your favorite. Personally, I tasted more sugar than wine and longed for more fruit in the mix, but this hit my husband's sweet tooth and proved the winner of his day.

Tastings are $10, which is slightly steep, but not terrible considering a tour of the winery is incorporated into your fee.  We visited on a Saturday while an event was in progress - while our servers were extremely attentive, they were running fast; if you're looking for a more intimate experience, a weekday visit is highly recommended.

Find an additional review at Hudson Valley Wine Goddess.