Friday, March 19, 2010

Who Says You Can't Go Back? Cream Ridge Winery, NJ

When I was in my teens, going through my "Breaking Away" phase, speaking French and Italian, and riding my ten-speed to the shore and back, I used to pass, on Route 539 riding out of Trenton, Tom Amabile's Cream Ridge Winery. I rode past that winery dozens of times, and I was always enamored of it.

Years later, when I had moved back to New Jersey as an adult, and was of drinking age, I went there to see it for myself. Passing by the winery in my youth, it had inspired me to explore the wines and wineries of other local regions. Now was my chance to finally enter and part take.

The winery specialized in fruit wines almost exclusively. Tom was an friendly man. A retired gentleman, he made wines like Cherry Amabile and Plum Wine. He was always ready with a story, a joke, or a bit of information. He was always eager to talk wine. He didn't know me from Adam, but he was ever the font of information and knowledge as I wrote my wine book, and dreamt more and more about owning my own farm.

So when I went down to Wineries Unlimited, I found myself getting off of Exit 7 and winding my my way to Cream Ridge on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. The winery is open seven days a week. It was strange. Certain things had not changed - the building, the parking lot, the landscaping. Other things had changed.

The first difference I saw was all the trained vines behind the winery. Tom couldn't seem to grow vines effectively, which was why he made fruit wines, but now here were mature vines, trained and pruned, with a large pile of cuttings placed near the parking lot. People were in the vineyard working as I arrived.

A very nice, genial young lady greeted me at the tasting counter. She handed me a slip filled with tasting notes. There were many wines, but only some were fruit wines. The rest were vinifera and hybrids. Dry reds and wites filled the list of wines available to taste.

The wines today are made by Brian Mulligan. He's a third generation Amabile. And he's got a more classic palette than his grandfather.

I started with a Suvignon Blanc that was fruity and dry and lemony, and then moved onto a fragrant Gewuztraminer which was grapefruit-y and delicious!

The next was one of my favorites - Chambourcin. That is not to say Chambourcin is my favorite, or even among my favorites, but in New Jersey, Chambourcin has taken on a life of it's own. There are now many good Chambourcin's in New Jersey. Add Cream Ridge's to the list. This was a nice, medium bodied, dry red. Aged in oak, this had lovely cherry and dark berry notes. A hint of vanilla. Nice tannins and good structure. A very, very nice red!

Next up was the Merlot. Lot's of raisin and plum. A very, very nice medium bodied dry red. Very drinkable.

Then came the 100% New Jersey Cabernet Sauvignon. A big, full bodied red, with a beautiful garnet color. Dark cherries. Raspberry. Hints of vanilla. Plum. A very, very nice big, dry red with nice balance. Very impressive.

There were lots of beautiful gift baskets made up. Not available when I was there, were the Freedonia and the Cream Ridge Red, two of their best sellers. Regardless, it was a nice visit. I felt so good after I made my purchase, and proudly brought a bottle of New Jersey wine with me all the way to upstate New York and our farm. A little piece of home. Made me feel good.