The winery’s slogan — ‘Life Is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine.’
Cape May Winery and Vineyard takes the art of wine making, sprinkles in stretching views of 22 acres of grapes, subtracts the pompous atmosphere associated with the wine culture, and adds a smile, all equaling a great first stop on a typical tour of southern New Jersey wineries.
While not the most lavish of wineries in comparison to, say, Renault’s five-star restaurant and golf course, Cape May Winery uncorks the wine culture of New Jersey in a simple, modest and tasteful way. Self-guided tours are free to the public and open resting areas in their oak barrel fermentation room and on their porch are easily accessible, overlooking their award-winning Chardonnay grapes. Wine tasting is available every day beginning at noon and is an affordable $6 for your choice of six wines.
Susan Frost, Ocean City resident and knowledgeable staffer at Cape May Winery, warmly greeted me as I came through the building’s French doors. As I tasted each wine, ranging from their award-winning Barrel Fermented Chardonnay to their Isaac Smith Port (with an alcohol percent of 18.5) she enlightened me on the history of Cape May Winery and how each wine was created.
Starting off with their dry white wines, Frost explained to me that although I tasted two different wines, I was actually drinking a product of the same grape.
Their 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay is their only barrel-fermented white wine. Fermented in an oak barrel, it made my mouth pucker from the blast of zesty citrus flavors, salivate at the peachy undertones, and smack my lips at the oak finish. Second came their 2011 Cape May Chardonnay which, to my surprise, is from the same grape, but fermented in a steel barrel rather than an oak barrel. Being new to the wine tasting culture, I didn’t expect a noticeable difference, thinking that taking one grape and calling it two different things would be a tactful gimmick. However, after my first sip I had to stop and ask Frost if she was sure this wine came from the same Chardonnay grape. She simply smiled.
The first whiff offered a floral aroma and as I began sipping I tasted a smoother fruity blend with less pucker — due to the use of a steel barrel rather than the oak.
While sipping on the next selection, my favorite of my chosen six — a smooth and minty Cabernet Sauvignon — she explained the significance of the bottles’ label shapes and designs, such as the coffin shape, meaning the grapes used to make that particular wine are a mix of their own grapes and imported grapes — only 20 percent of their grapes are imported.
The coffin shape has cultural significance to New Jersey as well. Cape May Winery’s current owner, Toby Craig, purchased the historic estate of Isaac Smith — a coffin maker in the 1820s — instigating the use of the coffin shape label for such wines as their Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
My next wine was the first of the Isaac Smith selections, a 2009 Isaac Smith Red Reserve. This Bordeaux is a combination of wines that is specially blended every year, mixing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Frac and Syrah, giving it a peppery finish on the palate.
The Isaac Smith Estate label is found on their premium wines such as their Fini Blanc, Port, and Apple wine — my fifth choice and their only non-grape wine, tasting like a spoonful of applesauce and smelling of a sour apple Jolly Rancher.
Moving on to the sweeter wines, I tasted a variety of the “Lighthouse” wines, featuring a painting by Victoria White of the Cape May Lighthouse on the label. While personally I am not partial to the sweeter wines, Frost suggested drinking such wines — Lighthouse Blush, Riesling, etc — with spicy food, as the residual sugar helps cut the heat and compliment the food. She went on to say that wine should never be as sweet as the food you are eating, that is why one would never drink a Cabernet Sauvignon while eating ice cream — which I ashamedly admitted I had done just last week.
To my defense however, it was chocolate, which is the best form of sweet to eat with particular wines, enhancing the flavors in such wines as the Isaac Smith Port. The Port wine, being my final tasting, packed quite a punch and was the only wine I poured into the dump bucket.
I opted to pour it out, however, not because I didn’t like it, but because this brandy-fortified Port was 18.5 percent alcohol and after indulging in more than the six wines I chose, the alcohol was triggering my Irish flush. The Port, Frost explained, is often enjoyed with dark chocolate or blue cheese, which enhances the brandy flavor. I tried it with dark chocolate and with each sip and bite of chocolate it tasted as though I was eating Cherries Jubilee. It is no surprise the Isaac Smith Port received the Governor’s Cup, naming it the best of the best for dessert wines.
Beyond all the education one can get on wine and identifying labels, Cape May Winery offers a hospitable place to drink their lovely selection of wines. Grabbing a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, I wandered around the vineyard, coming across individual wine drinkers with their dogs, couples looking to change up the typical date night, and groups of friends looking for an excuse to celebrate. Despite Cape May Winery’s modest appearance and decision to only sell their wines in restaurants rather than liquor stores, they are constantly bustling with activity.
Reservations for their Wednesday Night Grill Night and daily winery tours must be made in advance — for Grill Nights call a week prior — as they often sell out due to their popularity.
Finishing up my evening at Cape May Winery, Frost wrapped up my complimentary wine glass, and urged me to come to a Grill Night, waving goodbye and laughing at my wine-stained lips.
Read Lindsey Appleton's article on regional wineries and summer events “Southern New Jersey Uncorked,” from the July 19 issue of AC Weekly online at acweekly.com.
Historic Cold Spring Village (HCSV) will be celebrating the maritime culture and history of “The Jersey Cape” on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 25-26, at the Village from 10am-4:30pm.
Recently, they were honored by Wine Spectator magazine with a prestigious 2012 Award of Excellence. At present they are the only diner in America to receive this lofty commendation.
My day at the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival featured trips to the Blues, Brews and BBQ, the Crab Fest at Harry's Oyster Bar and a stroll through the Grand Market.
Culinary superstars are all aboard for annual Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival July 26-29
Find out about local summer wine tasting events and the Atlantic and Cape May County Wine Trails.
Tucked into a quiet corner on Caesars' third floor, Nero’s Tuscan Steak House is a little hard to find. But take our word for it, those extra steps are worth the effort. Visiting here is like being clued in to a privileged little private dining club.
“This is an aggressive beer,” he says. “You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate an American strong ale of this quality and depth.”
The Wrecking Crüe
Laughing with George Lopez
Fight Night at Boardwalk Hall