This past Sunday, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story in their South Jersey section titled “New Jersey’s Wine Market is Aging Well”. The piece was written by staff writer, Chelsea Conaboy and featured the Sharrott Winery in Atco, NJ. I wrote about this winery earlier this year and even went over to Hops n Grapes and purchased a bottle of their award-winning Cabernet Franc. I had it at Siri’s in Cherry Hill and even gave it a slightly favorable review. It was hardly a wine that would have me choosing Garden State wines over those of Napa, Sonoma, or just about any AVA in California. Therefore, when I read Sharrott winemaker Tom Sharrott declaring this years vintage in the NJ Outer Coastal Plain, “Napalike”, and fellow vintner, Louis Caracciola of nearby Amalthea Cellars stating “New Jersey wines will eventually emerge as a competitor to California in quality, if not in quantity”, I have to add my two cents to the equation.
Let’s begin with the “Gold” medal that the Sharrott Cabernet Franc won at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The statement on its own makes it seem like the Sharrott wine was the best, or at least, the best of the Cabernet Francs in the competition. That would be news to the Cabernet Francs produced by Big Dog Vineyards, Dusted Valley Vintners, Imagery Estate Winery, or any of TWELVE other Cab Franc producers who ALL won a “GOLD MEDAL” at the same competition. It would REALLY be news to Cosentino Winery and Zerba Cellars who both won “DOUBLE GOLD MEDALS” for their entry, and absolutely shocking news to DH Lescombes Winery of New Mexico which took the top “BEST OF CLASS” prize at that competition. So, as you see, there is just a little less luster to the Sharrott “Gold Medal”. Is it meaningless, certainly not, it’s better than the Silver and Bronze medals won by the 47 other Cabernet Francs in that same voting. Let’s just say that many Wine Competitions are generous in their distribution of medals.
In her article, Ms. Conaboy interviewed Vladi Nickolich, the Wine Manager at Wine Works in Marlton, NJ. He stated that many wine buyers who sought out local wines were looking for the familiar blackberry, cranberry, “name your assorted fruit” sweet wines. Some of the other wines which are seeking credibility are at price points that simply make choosing wines from California, Oregon, France, Argentina or any one of the other wine growing regions who are producing better wines for less money, a better choice.
Certainly, there is a place for local wines, and for some of the better ones, I understand why they have to charge what they do to make a profit. I’m simply saying that the use of terms such as “Napalike” is a bit premature. For casual wine drinkers, a day spent visiting the local New Jersey wineries can be fun and informative. They might even consider capping off the day with a nice Napa Cab at a local BYOB.