Fri 25 Feb 2011
I love trying wines from appellations and designations that I haven’t come across before, some obscure, barely-populated little valley in Lombardy, say, or a hidden enclave nestled in a backwater of the Loire. And then there’s the Outer Coastal Plain, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) completely new to me. In fact, to be grossly parochial, it had never occurred to me that anyone might grow grapes and make wine, especially not real wine, in New Jersey. Hope springs eternal, of course, so I received a polite communication from the good people at Bellview Winery asking if they could send some samples for me to taste and review. Having never tried a wine from The Garden State, I agreed, on the usual stipulation that there was no guarantee that I would like or ultimately write about these products. Soon there arrived at my front door two bottles from Bellview’s roster of wines: the Syrah 2008 and the Cabernet Franc 2008. Syrah in New Jersey? I’m happy to report that both are more than decent or merely creditable, though the Cabernet Franc 2008 is the better of the pair. The wines are available only in New Jersey, but I think it’s important in a country where California dominates hearts, minds, wine lists and wallets, to understand that legitimate matters do occur in the rest of the country.
Bellview Winery is owned by Jim and Nancy Quarelle. He is a fourth-generation farmer; the winery and 30 acres of vines occupy part of the original farm established by Jim Quarelle’s great-grandfather after he immigrated from Italy in 1914. Jim and Nancy planted their first three acres in 2000; now they farm 20 grape varieties, mainly European wine grapes, but also some French-American hybrids. As many producers in secondary (or tertiary) winemaking states must do to keep the doors open, Bellview also makes a range of fruit wines.
The Outer Coastal Plain AVA, which takes in most of the lower half of New Jersey, was approved by the federal government in 2006. The terrain is mainly flat or slightly rolling, and the soil is sandy or sand and loam. It’s not surprising that the primary influence is maritime, from the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. Summers are hot, winters fairly mild. The Outer Coastal Plain Vintners Association lists 18 wineries and 11 commercial vineyards.
The Bellview Winery Syrah 2008, Outer Coastal Plain, with a dollop of viognier, presents an attractive ruby-purple color; the bouquet is ripe and spicy and permeated by scents of black currants, blackberries and plums touched with notes of leather and wet fur. The wine is nicely framed by modest oak and slightly more prominent tannins, chewy yet fine-grained. Bellview Syrah 2008 is quite dry, brushy with elements of briers and brambles, and its tasty but spare black and blue fruit flavors open to highlights of licorice and mint, smoke and ash. While this is a good effort, what’s lacking is the punch of a more powerfully sustained structure and texture, though marked acidity keeps the wine vibrant. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $14.
A couple of sniffs of the Bellview Cabernet Franc 2008, Outer Coastal Plain, and I thought, “Ah ha, this is the real deal.” The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet is a smoldering cauldron of cedar and thyme, bell pepper and black olive, smoke and iodine and black tea, black currants and blueberries. The wine is boldly structured, boldly spicy, very dry, and you feel the austerity of burnished oak and finely milled tannins that would like to (but don’t quite manage to) sequester the earthy, loamy black currant, blackberry and plum flavors. Fortunately, a few minutes in the glass free up the wine considerably and allow those flavors more play and even the accompaniment of potpourri and bitter chocolate. Make no mistake, though; the Bellview Cabernet Franc 2008 ain’t for sissies. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19.