Cape May Winery Pairs Tapas and Wine

The winery's new program encourages experimenting with food and wine combinations in a rustic, elegant setting.

Yellowfin tuna poke tacos featuring Hawaiian marinated raw ahi tuna, avocado and cilantro on wonton tacos Photo courtesy of Wendy Collins

Last winter, Cape May Winery added a top-of the-line kitchen, enabling it to serve gourmet tapas with its signature wines. The combo has all the makings of a perfect day or evening out.

While the pairing program is still evolving, its rollout is currently showcased three ways: food and wine pairings from noon to 5 PM, Saturday through Thursday, and from noon to 8 PM on Fridays, on which there’s an extended Happy Hour; Flights and Bites tours featuring wine and tapas tastings; and, in-season Wednesday dinners that sold out as soon as they were announced this summer.

The tapas menu is the creation of chef Mike Siegel, who also oversees culinary operations at the winery’s sister companies—Cape May’s Washington Inn and Lucky Bones—all owned by the Craig family. While limited by design—wine is the main focus here—the tapas menu redefines bar food with favorites such as lobster sliders and yellowfin tuna poke tacos. The menu features eight tapas, each of which is paired with a suggested wine. The winery produces 20 different wines.

Betsy Craig Sole is co-owner and general manager of the winery. “We’re in the wine business but people really seem to be enjoying learning about which wines to pair with what foods,” she says. “We’ve certainly learned a lot as we’ve gone through this summer.”

Sole’s first job was a dishwasher at the family-owned Washington Inn when she was 12. She moved up to hostess, then server, but remembers that not working out after she “spilled wine all over a customer.”

Chickpea hummus with crispy chickpeas, Israeli salad, Za’taar spice and toasted pita. Photo courtesy of Wendy Collins

Her current position crystallized when the Craigs bought Cape May Winery in North Cape May in 2003, which then produced 2,400 gallons of wine a year. Following major new construction, the winery reopened in 2007 as a full-service operation with 27 acres of vineyards, production and bottling facilities, and a baronial barn for tastings and tours. Today, the winery’s annual production averages between 38,000 and 42,000 gallons.

My husband and two good friends joined me on a recent Friday visit. We took a quick self-guided tour, collectively ooohing and aahing over the rustic elegance of the grounds and building. Not surprisingly, wine barrels figure prominently in the decor. Most noticeably, barrel staves—the wooden pieces that form the barrel—have been repurposed as art, wall coverings, and serving trays.

We were directed to the Tap Room, where we perused the tapas menu, which, along with the wine-savvy staff, steered us toward compatible food and beverage pairings. We did one tasting: three 2-ounce pours each of rosé, oak-aged chardonnay and a red blend—then moved on to full pours.

We ate outside on the patio—with live music, a fire pit and a fountain—where we split four recommended tapas: the chickpea hummus with crispy chickpeas, Israeli salad, Za’taar spice and toasted pita; the Chef’s Charcuterie Selections, with Serrano ham, La Peral bleu cheese, Salchichon de Vic cured pork sausage and French bread; the yellowfin tuna poke tacos, made with Hawaiian marinated raw ahi tuna, avocado and cilantro on wonton tacos; and the night’s special, burrata with field greens, multi-colored cherry tomatoes, charred Jersey peaches, Serrano ham, balsamic glaze, olive oil and sea salt.

Burrata cheese over field greens with cherry tomatoes and Jersey peaches, balsamic glaze, olive oil and sea salt. Photo courtesy of Wendy Collins

Mid-meal, we spotted another attractive dish one table over, the mushroom and asiago flatbread, so we ordered that too. Everyone was pleased with our selections, with the hummus and charcuterie eliciting the highest praise. In hindsight, however, we may have ordered a little too much food for the four of us.

With all of its pastoral charms, Cape May Winery is a great place to go to relax and recharge. There’s a positive vibe, a great energy and a one-big-happy-family feeling there. “People tell me all the time it’s their happy place,” Sole says. “It’s cool.”

Cape May Winery, 711 Town Bank Road, Cape May; 609-884-1169

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