Amalthea Cellars Review
Address: 209 Vineyard Rd. Atco,New Jersey 08004.
Phone Number: 856-768-8585
Tasting Hours: Tues-Sun 11:00-5:00
Region: Outer Coastal Plain AVA, New Jersey
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Review Date: 11/16/2013
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Whether you believe winemaking is an art or a science, Louis Caracciolo of Amalthea Cellars has mastered both. In 1908, his grandfather Emilio immigrated from Naples, Italy to Blue Anchor in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. As a teenager Louis worked on his grandfather’s farm, and would learn Old World winemaking techniques. After obtaining a degree in Food Science and Technology from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Louis bought his own farm in 1972 in the town of Atco, a few miles from his grandfather’s. In 1976 the first vineyards were planted at Amalthea Cellars, which is named after a moon of Jupiter, reflecting Louis’s scientific background and love of mythology.
In 1981, the New Jersey legislature passed the Farm Winery Act which phased out strict Prohibition-era regulations, and caused a renaissance in winemaking in the Garden State. Amalthea (pronounced am-ul-thee-a) opened to the public the same year, being at the forefront of new wineries that focused on making high quality wines from vinifera grapes. The winery specialized in dry European-style vintages rather than the sweet wines that predominate in New Jersey. Louis also worked for many years as a food safety consultant, and has eleven patents including one for cleaning wine barrels with ozone.
Amalthea is a strong believer in traditional winemaking techniques and uses egg whites, sulfur, oak barrels, and little else in the fermentation process. As a young man, Louis spent time visiting top French vineyards, and this has heavily influenced how he makes wine. He advocates a philosophy that he calls “The Third Wave” or “The Archaic Revival” where the vintner takes a hands-off approach and lets the wine develop without any chemical or mechanical intervention. The winery is a member of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, and participated in the Judgment of Princeton, a blind tasting where $20 wines from New Jersey outperformed $600 French vintages.
Amalthea Cellars is in the Outer Coastal Plain Viticultural Area, which consists of more than 25 Southern New Jersey wineries, and produces wine from 15 types of grapes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chancellor, Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Rayon d’Or, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Traminette, Villard Blanc, and Viognier. Amalthea also makes wines from blueberries and peaches. It is the only winery in New Jersey to use Rayon d’Or, which is a white hybrid grape developed in France in the early twentieth century. Currently Amalthea has 10 acres of grapes under cultivation, and produces 5,000 cases of wine per year.
The winery is located on a narrow lane, aptly named Vineyard Road. A large sign and grapes vines make the entrance easy to find. Outside, there are a few patio tables and a large canopy for events. The winery is in a nineteenth-century chalet-style farmhouse. There is a door for the “Green Dragon Tavern” which was named after the famous watering hole in Boston. The Green Dragon Tavern was formerly a restaurant but now is only used for special events. The winery’s main entrance is beautifully decorated and leads to a gift shop which has a bar and racks of wine. After choosing between several different types of tastings, I was guided into the cellar to an austere but charming tasting room.
My server was knowledgeable and during my visit I tried 13 of Amalthea’s wines, many of which were named after moons of Jupiter. The white wines were generally acidic except for the Chardonnay Reserve which is aged in French Oak for twelve months and is full-bodied. I could see myself drinking it while eating salmon.
Amalthea is largely known for its Europa series of wines. The Europa I and Europa II, which are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blends made in the respective styles of Bordeau’s Chateau Margaux and Chateau Latour. Europa I was too acerbic for me, but Europa II had a fruity aroma and a soft texture. Serve Europa II with a duck dinner. The IO collection is a pair of semi-sweet fruit blends that are sold as a set. The first one is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% blueberry, and had an unpleasantly harsh taste, whereas its 75% Chardonnay, 25% peach partner was mild and refreshing.
Louis Caracciolo has been a key figure in the development of the New Jersey wine industry over the last three decades. Besides producing fine wines, he has challenged how people should think about winemaking. Amalthea’s wines range from $13 to $36 per bottle and are sold in restaurants, liquor stores and at festivals throughout the state. They can also be shipped to residents of New Jersey and 38 other states that permit wine deliveries.