Throw some country music on. My preferred tunes for the journey: Robert Earl Keen‘s “What I Really Mean”. Skip the highway and cruise the back roads through the farms of the Garden State, passing roadside stands offering zucchini, tomatoes, and zinnias with an honor system coffee can labeled “Money Can”. Make a few sharp turns, trust your GPS and there’s the sign: Laurita Winery.
Follow the curving driveway up and around to a massive building crafted from two historic barns originally slated for destruction. Walk the final hill to the entrance and be rewarded with a valley vineyard spread out before you, as far as your eye can see. In the center of the horizon a huge American flag waves proudly above primarily European vines.
Inside the barn, sidle up to one of two tasting bars offering 6 wines for $7. For an extra $4 you can try the Grand Cru, Laurita’s Chardonnay double fermented in aged Hungarian oak. This is a powerful wine, reminiscent of a single malt whiskey, meant to be savored after a great meal. A rich mouthfeel with flavors of butterscotch, oak and vanilla make the Grand Cru a succulent dessert experience not to be missed.
The Grand Cru wasn’t the only surprise in store for the tasting. Dubbed “extra dry,” the Lemberger, an Austrian dry red, proved to carry a remarkable fruit forward character. A light body carrying a black raspberry tang and spice nodes, I immediately took to this unique wine proving once again my palate’s preference for the spicy, fruit forward characteristics of German wines over the complex body of French grapes like Merlot or Cab Sav.