Monday, June 05, 2006

Silver Decoy...Some of the Best Reds On the Eastcoast

To paraphrase what Time magazine wrote about Bruce Springsteen three decades ago, “I have seen the future of New Jersey wine, and it’s name is Silver Decoy Winery.”

I have been hankering to get to Silver Decoy Winery in Hightstown for quite some time. Unfortunately, they were a fledgling winery when I was doing the research for my vineyards book, and my editor at Rutgers told me I could not include another winery, my book was already 12 months late at that point. The problem however, is that the east coast winery industry is one of the fastest growing regions in America, if not by quantity of wine produced, at least by the number of boutique, hand-crafted wineries.

For months I have been trying to persuade my wife, in our few spare minutes, to take a ride with me across Route 33 from Freehold, to at least see this little, new winery and to taste their wares. She has been exhausted of late with a new home we are planning, and her work and the boys and the dogs, and the answer had been no, 10 times over.

So a couple of Saturdays just past, I told Dominique I would go without her, but that I was going. She happily bid me a fond adieu and I was off.

Nestled in the rolling terrain of Mercer County, New Jersey, Silver Decoy Winery was founded in 2001 to create high quality wines that celebrate the Garden State. At Silver Decoy, they believe the unique terroir of central New Jersey produces grapes with distinct flavor characteristics capable of making exciting wines.

Silver Decoy Winery is run by seven partners who shared the vision of becoming a premier producer of estate-grown wines in New Jersey. “What started out as a hobby quickly turned into a business as we realized the demand for high-quality locally grown wines in the state<“ claims the wineries’ website. “Our partners bring together over 50 years of experience in the wine industry and over 30 years of expertise in agriculture.” The partners include: Todd Abrahams, Brian Carduner, Mark Carduner, Russell Forman, Richard McIntyre, William Perrine, and Jerry Watlington. Each partner brings a different skill set and passion that makes the sum total greater than the individual parts.

I happen to drive up during a rainy Saturday, following the signs to the tasting room. It was confusing, however, because all I found were the partners bottling. They were bottling their newest blush. Mark Cardner, the ring-leader of this motley crew of vintners stuck out his hand and greeted me.
“I’m looking for the tasting room?” I asked.
“You’re in it. Sorry, we’re bottling. Can I pour you something?” he said with an easy, confident smile. For 25 years he owned and managed Carduner's Fine Wines & Spirits of East Windsor, New Jersey. His knowledge of wines and friendly personality made the store a destination place for wine enthusiasts across the Eastern seaboard. I bought my first Talbot Chardonnay from him, and many more wines, as well as many specialty beers. While he had waited on me in a very professional manor, despite my love of wine, the patterns of where I bought wine changed because I left near-by McGraw-Hill (their Hightstown offices) and went to work in Philadelphia. Now here I was.

Our conversation was vibrant, and his face lit up the more we talked about wine.I tasted the Trimanette first. Outstanding. Lots of fruit up front, but nice acidity saves this from being cloying. Far be it, it’s fun, light wine, great for summer sipping, and will go fabulously with seafood as well as salads and cheeses. Next I had their Chardonnay, which is a blend of stainless steel fermented wine and wine left in oak for some amount of time. there are wonderful fruity aromas up front, but a smooth finish, with a hint of oak, vanilla, and a nice creaminess. Very nice.
I then asked to try the blush. He pulled a bottle that had not yet been corked straight from the bottling line with the swashbuckling confidence of a musketeer, though the boys in the bottling line gave him a corkscrew sideways glance. The gallant gesture was not lost on me. Their blush is a Cayuga that is tinged with dry Foch and Chancllor red wines. The result is a fruity but not too sweet blush that is wonderful. There’s plenty of fruit for those seeking their sugar-like fix, but the wine is light, and the residual sugar is actually minimal. It’s a refreshing, off-dry wine, light and delicious.

Next I had the Retriever, named after the winery mascot, a chocolate lab, which is made from California grapes, which includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera. While they say drink now through 2009, I actually think it will be fine well beyond 2009. I bought a bottle or two and immediately laid it down in the cellar. I’ll pull it out in thre or four years and decant it to make sure I get all the flavors I can out of it with a nice charcoaled New York Strip or a nice sirloin.

Now, here’s where the biggest surprise took place. I began to taste their reds. And I was shocked. One after another were fabulous. Let’s start with the Cabernet Franc. It was big, dark and purple. And the nose was wonderful. And then I tasted. And their was what I would later come to understand as the signature style of Silver Decoy. Silver Decoy is a red lovers’ dream. The fruits were all there. Big bright and dark cherries. Hints of chocolate and vanilla came through. And a nice soft finish. Excellent.

The Merlot was like a bright bowl of cherries with some darker berries as well. Hints of vanilla, and a smooth finish. A nice dry red.

The Chambourcin was also very nice. A little darker wine and a darker berry came through. A very nice Chambourcin, and very drinkable.

Then came the KC-10 Select Marechal Foch. Honoring the flyers of the KC-10 of McGuire AFB, this quiet wine has a lot to say. The nose is big and fruity. I caught thes subtle anise and bing cherry. And the slight vanilla overtones brought on by the oak.. It’s picy and msooth, with a lovely dry finish.

All in all, the best reds in the state of New Jersey, and one of the best red wine makers I’ve tasted in a long while. There is tremendous promise here. The Foch was easily the best Foch I have ever tasted, and instantly becomes one of the best on the east coast. And the cabernet franc was every bit as good as Millbrook’s, or my favorite reds from Long Island…and at a very affordable $17.00 a bottle. This stuff really compares with Bedell and Raphael and the rest for drinkable reds, they if you tasted them, you would never guess they were from New Jersey. Remember to include Sal Turdo's wines in that group too!

But, wait, there’s more! Mark took me into the back, and I tasted the 2005 wines. The 2005 Merlot, traight from the barrel is sure to make Kip Bedell blush with jealousy. It’s smooth bright cherry flavor melt in your mouth to a fine smooth vanilla. Absolutely fabulous. The 2005 Cabernet Franc was incredible, with dark, jammy plum flavors and a hint of oak, with a nice dry finish. And the 2005 Foch ws a glorious discovery. Big and jammy, like a giant plum pudding, with enough chocolate and vanilla to ground it’s tannins and give it a nice, dry finish.

And they have a pair of lovely dessert wines. A light raspberry and blueberry. Light wines, with just a hint of sugar, made for those who want to participate in the dessert experience, but are tuned off by wines way to sweet for your palette.

Mark and I became fast friends, discussing other winemakers we knew in common. Mark is the winemaker at Silver Decoy, but once you see the vineyards, as he is quick to tell you, he gets a lot of help from his friends. Their goal is to leave half the fruit on the vineyard floor by July, and each vine will get touched a minimum of ten times throughout the summer.

The rows are impeccably kept, and you begin to realize what the other players bring to this venture. You have never seen more well cared for vines. They re trimmed and stripped, the dirt is maintained in neat rows and the grass is cut almost to putting green length to keep the insect quotient to a minimum. You see where the other even put their effort in. The field…and of course, the bottling line.

I bought a bunch of wine to lay down, and I know I will be back for the 2005s.And long there after. Go there now, so you can say two and three years from now that you discovered them way back, when they were still small. Because if things keep going the way they are now, you won’t be able to say that for much longer.

As a reality check, I opened a bottle of Silver Decoy two nights later. My skeptical wife, Dominique, giving me a corkscrewed look, as I effusively blabbed on and on about Silver Decoy. I had not stopped chatting about them. But even her disbelief was dispelled by a few sips of these wonderful dark red elixirs. And my review was confirmed. Of course, being a wife, she wouldn’t tell me I was right. But her hurried request for another greedy glass gave her away.

Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays
Phone: (609) 371-6000
Address: 610 Windsor-Perrineville Road, Hightstown, NJ (approximately 1/4 mile from the intersection of Rt. 539)