The first NJ Wine Weekend of 2011 was kicked off with a snowy bang. Jonaid and I traveled the finally plowed roads to southern NJ. We crossed two more wineries off of our list (and ladies+gents, we are down to the FINAL NINE on the wine tour!!!). To keep us all on the same page, we learned that the passport is actually due by the end of April 2011, so we're not in any peril.
Back to the snowy weekend in January. Jonaid and I pulled into the quiet Amalthea Cellars. The artistic building was shaded with icicles and a snow backdrop that couldn't have been more stunning if it were designed to always look like that.
We headed inside to meet Debbie, our wine host. The tasting is free and we seemingly had no limits on the number of wines we could try.
Dry White Wines
Elara - A chardonnay, reisling, and rayon d'our mix. "Rayon d'our is a very unknown grape," Debbie explained. The chardonnay in this blend was most noticeable.
Green Dragon Chardonnay - We tried this twice, once fresh out of the fridge and once after it had sat out. "Both whites and reds are actually supposed to be just below room temperature," Debbie explained. "Americans do it all wrong; our whites are too cold and our reds are too warm. This wine is better after it sits out, in my opinion." The first time I tried this, it was extremely crisp with remnants of champagne. The licorice flavor was very bizarre but noticeable. The second time we tried it, after it had been sitting out and after we had done all of the reds, the flavor was much milder. I didn't taste the licorice this time, but the aroma was evident.
Chardonnay Sur lie - Sur lie meaning 'on mud', which is how this wine is made. The sediment is a huge part of this wine's aging process. The floral flavors came on strong here but its creamy texture had me buying a bottle to bring home.
Chardonnay Reserve - not available for tasting
Viognier - Higher acidity but is very buttery.
Rkatsiteli - Pronounced "rah-kat-sit-elli" which Debbie explained was an Eastern European/Russian Grape that I'd never heard of. Aged in French Oak (which, bytheway, I had no idea was $1200 a barrel). This flavor is only very mild.
Semi Dry Wine
Vilalrd Blanc, Metis, Callisto Rouge - all did not try
Late Harvest Villard (2007 & 2008) - did not try
At this point the cat, Juicy, decided to join us. She sniffed around and then was taken back upstairs. "All wines except for the Green Dragon Chardonnay are from NJ," Debbie explained. The Green Dragon was from Napa.
Dry Red Wine
Cabernet Franc - As this was a new release, Debbie had never had this before. As Jonaid and I attempted to decipher the flavors and aromas, Debbie had to pour herself a taste. The very unique tannic flavor was that of currants.
Cab Franc Reserve - Not available for tasting
Cab Franc Limited Edition - Did not try
Syrah - Not Available for tasting
Merlot - "This is only 9 months old, so it is reaching its wine puberty," Debbie noted. The plum flavor here is only a slight undertone. It is aged in American Oak (which is only $600 a barrel) and to me was quite harsh.
Merlot Reserve - Not available for tasting
Cab Sauv Reserve - Not available for tasting
2008 Europa III - A blend of Cab Sav, Merlot, and Cab Franc, this was a sensory overload. I definitely wish I would have tried this with a meat dish to get a better review.
Europa II-IV, VII (various years) - Not available for tasting
As we headed out of the tasting room Debbie offered to show us the barrels. The chilly room housed the entire wine making scheme.
As usual Jonaid and I entered the winery with the expectation to veer toward the reds but were amazed at how remarkable the whites were. We left feeling happily surprised with the wine kickoff of 2k11 and with a sweet new bag that can hold six bottles of wine at one time.