I just drank a bottle of improbably impressive barbera wine from . . . the Jersey Shore?! Yes, I did. And just so we can move on to the important details, let's get the snickering out of the way ASAP, both for the provenance and name of this North Cape May winery - Turdo Vineyards - which landed as a gag mention not once, but twice, by comedian Jay Leno.
"What can I say, it's our last name," says Luca Turdo, 34, who makes the wines with his father, Salvatore. "My family's from Sicily, so we go to brush it off."
That's easier to do when you run a labor-of-love winery that rises above both expectations and conventions. There's still plenty of plonk being bottled in South Jersey's rising Outer Coastal Plain AVA. But Turdo, which in 1999 planted 41/2 acres in rarely seen (around here) Italian grapes like barbera, nebbiolo, sangiovese, and grillo, is an exception, concentrating its fruit by sacrificing up to 20 percent of its crop yield to intensify flavors, and waiting patiently until grapes hit the proper ripeness (not just high sugar levels).
The results still vary, as I tasted a couple of bottles I didn't love (a thin sauvignon and a sangiovese that was still too young).
But the approach was especially evident in a convincing barbera. After 18 years of vine maturity, the 2015 vintage presents ripe, almost jammy blackberry fruit on the front, with a soft hint of cocoa and vanillin oak. But then, just when I wait for something, it comes through with a bracing finish of mouthwatering acidity and earthy spice that reflects the grape's classic, food-friendly charm.
- Craig LaBan