While we’re off gallivanting, I thought it was time to post about another overdue, wine-oriented trip: to Passion Vines down in Somers Point. It’s a wine store in a strip mall, yes, but it’s more than that. It’s owned by one of the nicest, most dedicated wine vendors we know, Michael Bray (check out our interview with him back in January, here). Any time I have a wine question, he’s my go-to guy. He doesn’t just sell wine- he lives wine. If he happens to talk about a winery he’s fond of in Argentina, he will tell you not only what he knows about it, but about his trip to check it out directly. He’s that informed and that dedicated- and it was high time we checked out their wine bar and had ourselves a tasting.
We missed Michael that day, but he’d prepared a few options for us to try. And we were obviously in good hands with Ryan, who poured and explained the wines, and Emily, who had cheerfully volunteered to chase Lizzie around the store so John and I could sip together. I had asked to try few surprises, something to really get an education from….
The biggest surprise for me were the rose`s. I’ve had them a few times- and decided I was “beyond’ them, After all, I didn’t care for White Zinfandel anymore did I? But tasting Propriet`a Sperino Rosa Del Rosa from the Piemonte region of Italy started to change my mind. This one reminded me of a favorite great-aunt of mine: it starts off sweet (with an extremely fruity nose of cherry and citrus), and you think you know what you’re getting…and then it takes a turn for the dry, and finishes with a red “punch” to it! According to Ryan, it’s because of the 65% Nebbiola grapes, making this more than the usual “lightweight grandma” wine. Priced around $14, it’s a nice informal get-together-on-a-hot-night crowd pleaser (without dumbing things down). Next was Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste 2009. Marketed as “Everyone loves an upstart…” it will absolutely change the way you view rose`s forever. It comes on with a cute, pink color and an innocent, sweet nose- but don’t be fooled. The Merlot base is blended with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Cabernet Franc and at first taste creates havoc in your brain (this is no rose`!). But once you move past the denial stage and into acceptance, you start to appreciate the completely sophisticated, dry experience that still includes notes of pear, strawberry, and the like, and finishes with a tannin end. It’s something you’ve got to experience, it’s beyond description! Priced at $22, it’s something to break out when you’re in the mood for something special but a bit crazy (kind of like a wedding that ends in a bungee jump).
But it was time for the reds. I found out that I like “big” reds. Which was why the Temporada Malbec, 2009, though “nice”, didn’t make me ready to run away with it. Smelling of cherries, it had an almost bitter finish to provide some interest, but was lighter, less “full” than I usually like. Ryan described it as a “red with training wheels”- a good wine you know everyone will enjoy on some level, a “crowd pleaser”. At around $8.99 it makes a good take-it-to-the-next-BBQ-you’re-invited-to wine. Next up was from the famed Cotes du Rhone region, Gonnet Cotes du Rhone, 2008. But unlike most wines from this area, this is an affordable, mid-priced selection ($13.98). Smooth and supple, it’s less trendy than a Malbec, but a respectable choice if you want a little more interest with your meal. Our favorite wine (the one that we decided to take home) was the Amalaya Vino Tinto 2008 , from Argentina. This was a velvety, sexy red, deep and rich all the way through, with so much to say it was best to keep silent and soak it in. It was 75% Malbec, but there was magic worked in with Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), Tannat (5%), and Syrah (5%). A bottle to enjoy sans food, after dinner, when the kiddies are in bed and you can really pay attention to it. It’s about $15.99 a bottle, but tasted like $30 bottle . Ummmmmmm….
As we were about to leave, I noticed that they were going to have a Bellview wine tasting event the following week, with the owner Jim Quarella himself introducing some of his wines. I’ve been to a few upscale, supposedly knowledgeable wine vendors in New Jersey- and not one of them sold anything remotely drinkable from their own Garden State. It’s good to know that there is a place that is aware of the better wines of the Outer Coastal Plain and is taking the chance of offering them to their customers.
What I really like about Passion Vines is that it’s more than just a store- it’s like a mission. Everyone there seems like they want to be there-not just to clock in their time and sell you the most expensive bottle. For the novice (like me) I also find there’s no intimidating snobbery- it only comes down to what you like, and a love of all things wine.
Passion Vines in Somers Point (Somers Point Plaza , 265 New Road) or Egg Harbor Township (3013 Ocean Heights Avenue). Call 1-888-601-VINE (8463) for hours.