I’ve made it my career to share information with people about amazing wine from all over the world. I do this in a store I run, a restaurant I serve, and a class I’ll be teaching at Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC).
But people who know me know I’m unequivocally a devotee and student of “the grape.” I’ve studied wine and winemaking extensively, received various titles and degrees, and tasted countless wines, but it would mean nothing if I weren’t able to share what I’ve learned and enjoyed with other people.
I ask you this rhetorical question — has there ever been a better time to be a wine-drinker? The answer, judging by breadth of selection and variety of wine we can find nowadays, the answer is an emphatic “no!”
In the past decade the winemaking world has become a lot larger — and this is great thing. Local liquor stores are carrying wines form previously unheralded areas such as Portugal, South Africa, Canada and New Jersey even while old favorites such as Italy, France and California are still producing some of the best wines money can buy. With each country having its own winemaking tradition and climate, it may appear daunting to make the best possible selection. Thanks to the impact of the internet, magazines, bloggers and books, however, information about our beverage of choice has never been more digestible — pun intended.
Ironically, from the outset of writing this article I told myself I wouldn’t be the seasonal trend-piece wine writer who discusses “winter reds” and “summer whites” but yet, there I was a couple nights ago confronted with the dilemma of which wine to enjoy on a Sunday evening. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t shake the urge to “Grab-a-Cab” — read: Cabernet Sauvignon. The Instagram photo I took that night after opening the bottle even read “#grabacab” and that little inspiration led me to delve a bit deeper into winter-ready reds that deserve to be in your glass.
When it comes to full-bodied red wines, who said Napa Valley, Calif., should have all the fun? Great cabernets are being made all over Washington State including areas such as Horse Haven Hills, Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley regions. Take for instance the lovely Hogue Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Reserve’ 2011 ($15.99 at White Horse Wine & Spirits), it’s from Columbia Valley, Wash., and is an elegant red wine with the classically ripe fruit sensibility reminiscent of California, but with more floral notes and softer tannins that blend seamlessly into the fruit to produce a thoroughly mouth-pleasing experience.
Similarly, exports from across the pond have been making some noise for wine drinkers at very attractive price points. La Forge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($10.99 at Atlantic City Bottle Company) from Pays d’Oc, France would not be out of place in a lineup with the best of Cab Sauvs from California with its own core of fresh-picked red and black currant fruit, much softer tannins and a youthful finish so ripe it’d make Robert Parker blush. For those unfamiliar, Robert Parker is the wine critic infamous for introducing the 100 point evaluation scale and oft-lampooned for his love of riper, more alcoholic red wines.
Considering the centuries of wine-making tradition in some of the western European countries such as Italy or France, it’s important not to overlook a relative newcomer making equally as exciting full-bodied red wines: the Douro Valley in Portugal. Sure, this area is world-famous for its fortified port wines, but their ‘still’ wines — i.e. not sparkling or fortified — are a recent development with its increasing imports into the U.S. Seek out the Quinta do Portal ‘Mural’ Reserva Douro 2008 ($10.99 at White Horse Wine & Spirits), a polished wine consistently enjoyed by critics and wine drinkers alike. While not a Cabernet Sauvignon, the core varietal — or grape — is Touriga Nacional which is typically made into full-bodied wine not unlike its more famous counterpart.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the lovely full-bodied reds produced in the Garden State. If you haven’t tried a New Jersey wine lately, now’s the time — and no doubt as long as I’m writing this column, I will be mentioning New Jersey’s finest when possible. The seeds of modern viticulture — a.k.a. grape-growing — were planted awhile ago and many of the state’s vineyards and wineries have come of age and are producing world-class whites and reds. One of our state’s biggest proponents for fine, dry wines is Louis Caracciolo, owner of Amalthea Cellars in Atco, who brings us his full-bodied and spicy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Clone II’ 2009 ($19.99 at A Time For Wine in addition to Atlantic City Bottle Company). It’s a classic expression of cherry fruit with the tang of pomegranate complimented by a spicy, cedar-y note and whiff of vanilla, no doubt from its extended maturation in French Oak barrels. This wine and others like it will change the hearts and minds of those who say New Jersey can’t make fine wine!
This winter, don’t let the cold weather get you down, but should you get stuck indoors, you can be well-equipped with great wines like these, most of which can be found right here in Atlantic City!
Until next time.
In Vino Felicitas!
Paul Tonacci, Managing Partner of Atlantic City Bottle Company & The Iron Room, is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) through the Society of Wine Educators, a sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ Société Mondiale du Vin and a wine-judge-in-training through the American Wine Society. He’s attempting to raise the profile of wines from all over the world, including New Jersey’s own, and feature those among others in a list of over 750 different wines in his restaurant. His column runs every other week.