Gene Ventimiglia, patriarch and principal winemaker of Ventimiglia Vineyards, is a third-generation winemaker, having learned the craft from his grandfather, who emigrated from Italy in the early part of the 20th century. In the 1920s, the elder Ventimiglia, a member of a local Italian-American Club, produced wine for the club throughout the Prohibition era. With the demise of Prohibition in 1933, Ventimiglia continued to produce wine, albeit legally now, and passed the traditional hand-crafted winemaking methods he learned in Italy down to his grandson, Gene, who after growing up in Patterson, New Jersey, opted to continue the family traditions here on the East Coast.
As for the Ventimiglia Reds, Gene has produced a very interesting collection of California and New Jersey table wines:
Rocky Ridge Red 2006 The Rocky Ridge Red is a bland of eight different grapes, all grown locally in New Jersey. It is cold-fermented and aged in oak, and like all of the Ventimiglia Reds it is unfined and unfiltered. The nose is bright and fruity, and in the mouth there are lovely notes of dark berries and stone fruits. The wine has a slight tartness, which gives it a piquancy.
Chambourcin 2007 A Gold Medal Winner at the 2009 NJ Wine Competition, this is a very interesting wine. Chambourcin with a slight blend of Syrah, Merlot and a little Sangiovese, this is a medium-bodied wine with a lovely deep ruby color. The nose is bright and fruity, and the mouth-feel is lovely and full. Aged for 16 months in French and Hungarian oak, there are notes of dark berries, particularly blackberry, in the mouth, with a light pepper finish. 95% of the grapes are grown locally in New Jersey, making this one of three of Ventimiglia’s New Jersey Reds.
Syrah 2007 The last of Ventimiglia’s New Jersey Reds, the Syrah is made from grapes grown in vineyards directly across the street from Jon Bon Jovi’s house. Gene has added just a touch of Grenache to the Syrah and the result is a lovely medium-bodied wine with a delicate, fruity nose, a smooth, soft mouth-feel, and light cherry notes on the palate. The Syrah will pair well with a wide range of food, and will also cellar nicely.
Carignane 2006 This was my first taste of a Carignane wine, as despite it being one of the most planted grapes in France, it is often used for blending rather than as the primary grape. Medium-bodied with a soft mouth-feel and notes of stone fruits on the palate, it is designed to be a “companion” or table-wine, and is Gene Ventimiglia’s favorite everyday wine. It shares many of the characteristics of a good European (French or Italian) table wine – interesting and lightly complex, without being overpowering, it will pair well with a wide variety of foods.
Merlot 2006 Made from California grapes, the Merlot has a bright nose with notes of plum and cherry, and a lovely soft fruitiness in the mouth that is balanced by a slightly acidic finish. A nice wine, but not as interesting as the Syrah, Carignane, Chambourcin or Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Also made from California grapes, this is a full-bodied wine with a lovely deep garnet color. The nose is sharp and tangy, and in the mouth the wine is soft with nice notes of plum and a smoky, spicy, slight tobacco finish. The finish also lingers beautifully, and the wine grows more complex and interesting with each sip.
Cabernet Franc 2006 The afternoon ended with the 2006 Cabernet Franc, one of my favorites of the day. Aged in French Oak, the wine ages an additional 3 years in the bottle. Made in the Bordeaux-style, this is a full-bodied, dry red. The nose is earthy with a slight mustiness, and in the mouth the wine is rich, full, with notes of grass and berries and a strong earthiness that gives it depth and character. Very interesting wine.
A smaller winery, tucked in the northwest corner of the State, Ventimiglia is worth a stop. While I definitely had my favorites from among the selection, none of the wines disappointed.