NJWFF – Remarkable Wines and Luxury Accommodations
By Julianne Clancy; Photos by Sean vonLembke
Every year, those in the know head to Hamburg, New Jersey for a weekend of culinary and viticultural decadence that proves, once and for all, Jersey knows how to party—the 8th Annual New Jersey Wine and Food Festival (NJWFF). The extravagant event, hosted at the sumptuous Crystal Springs Resort, has everything of which a hedonist has ever dreamed—lighthearted tastings; educational seminars; more food and drink than you could ever reasonably consume (though we certainly tried); and an enormous Grand Tasting that would make even the most world-weary taster perk up with delight. Hedonist Shedonist was lucky enough to sample some of the best that NJWFF weekend had to offer: a smorgasbord of delectable edibles, divine vintages, and lush atmospheres that needs more than a single article to cover. Therefore, we will be splitting our coverage into three mouthwatering pieces covering the wine, the food, and, of course, the main event.
Crystal Springs Resort, which was started in the seventies, has been inexorably tied to food and wine since its inception, making it an ideal location for the NJWFF. What started as a golf destination quickly grew into a wine lover’s dream thanks to owner Gene Mulvihill’s rapidly growing collection of rare vintages. The clubhouse soon became the home of Mulvihill’s high-tech, one-acre wine cellar—a captivating maze of bottles and collector’s items that remains on of the most impressive aspects of Crystal Springs’s already spectacular resort. Sporting a 75,000 bottle collection, featuring 9,000 different wines and including historic bottles such as one from 1863, the cellar is a labyrinth that winds through the history of wines, from old world favorites (such as Mulvihill’s collection of Latour wines, the namesake of his restaurant) and new world standouts to a complete series of Erte designed cognac bottles and a 1912 port wine.
With such an impressive collection, it’s no wonder that many of the NJWFF’s events centered around the potent potable. The Taste of Italy event took a small group of attendees through some of Italy’s most classic finger foods, and, of course, classic wines, featuring reds from the renowned Castello di Gabbiano. Winemaker Federico Cerelli, a native of Tuscany, took us through three of his favorite bottles from Gabbiano’s collection, explaining along the way the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico (Chianti must be grown within a certain region of Italy to be considered “Classico”). The 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva, DOCG, made from grapes harvested from 20 year old vines, was aged for 24 months before its release. A medium bodied red, this dry wine had delectable notes of stone fruit that made it incredibly smooth and drinkable. The 2010 Bellezza, a wine made 100% from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Classico region and aged for 30 months, was richer and slightly more sour than the Riserva, a delicate blend of sweet and tart that had me craving more than just a sip. The 2009 Alleanza, made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines that are blended post-fermentation, was a heavier bodied wine, with deep flavors and a smoky tobacco finish. All of the wines had one thing in common, though: they were absolutely incredible.
Not to be outdone by their Old World counterparts, California made sure they were represented in the NJWFF’s festivities, with The Creation of an Award Winning Winery, hosted by Husic Vineyard owners Julie and Frank Husic. The couple shared their story, from buying 120 acre plot of land in Napa to winning second place in the first wine competition they ever entered. They also treated us to tastes of six of their wines: a 2013 Rose of Pinot Noir; a 2013 Chardonnay; a 2013 Pinot Noir; a 2012 Palm Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon; a 2012 Husic Cabernet Sauvignon; and a 2013 Late Harvest Semillon. The Rose was absolutely a standout. Made in the Province style rather than the California style, it was rich and acidic with strong fruit flavors and none of the sweetness that is often found in a rose. The Late Harvest Semillon was a delicious dessert wine, filled with floral honey flavors while not being sugary or cloying. The best part of the tasting, however, was comparing Husic’s two Cabernet Sauvignons—the wine for which Husic is most known. Both wines are made from the same grapes, but the difference lies in the blend. Every year, the winemaker perfects the ratio of wines from three distinct vineyards, each with their own flavor, crafting the Husic Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest is blended and sold under the Palm Terrace label. At first sip of the Palm Terrace, I was impressed. Meaty and dry with a ton of black cherry, I thought this was an exceptional Cab Sav. But, upon tasting the Husic, I could see where the blend makes such an overwhelming difference. The Husic was bone dry and silky smooth, with rich, creamy flavors and absolutely no bite to it. Both wines were fantastic, a tribute to the quality of the vines, but the blend of the Husic was truly something special.
To cap off our afternoon, before getting ready for the night’s big event, the organizers at the NJWFF treated us to a refreshing session of Rose and Sorbet—a tasting of four roses, paired with five different types of sorbet. The roses ranged widely in flavor. The first was very sour with a strong citrusy flavor. The second was dry and full of the richness of a red wine. The third was bursting with berry flavor and richness. The fourth, a spumante, was slightly sweet with a pleasantly dry finish. The most fascinating thing was that each of the wines tasted so different with each of the sorbets. The Rhurbarb, icy and verdant, seemed to bring out the fruity notes of the wines, while the Strawberry brought out the sour notes. The Chocolate Sorbet, which was like a rich gelato, and Coconut Sorbet, nutty like unsweetened flaked coconut, both changed the mouth feel of the wines, somehow lightening them up. The Orange almost battled with the flavors of the Roses and served better as a palate cleanser between the various combinations of bites and sips. It was a fun event that had the crowd conversing, laughing, and playing with the different flavor combinations that could be created.
Beyond the wine-focused events mentioned here, drinks were featured at nearly every other activity at the NJWFF. The marketplace lunch highlighted local vineyards, including Unionville Vineyards, Hawk Haven Vineyards, and Ventimiglia Vineyards. The bar was constantly staffed and bustling. There was even a small beer tasting station set up outside one of the Crystal Springs restaurants not associated with the event. Overall, this was not just an event for foodies—this was an event for wine aficionados as well, and a wonderful taste of the best that New Jersey and the wine world at large have to offer.