New Jersey’s Outer Coastal Plain has the same geological composition as the infamous wine region of Bordeaux, France, without the snobby undertones. And wine critics are starting to notice. Want to get in early on what promises to become the Napa explosion of the East Coast? Start drinking Jersey wines. And there’s no better way to begin than by sampling some of the Outer Coastal Plain’s finest at a Jersey wine festival.
Renault Winery, NJ’s oldest vineyard still in operation, hosts two annual festivals that aren’t to be missed: The Winter Chill and The Summer Chill. Opening their Tuscan villa hotel, ballroom, and French chateau-inspired tasting room/museum, Renault plays host to 12 of the Outer Coastal Plain’s finest wineries. After gearing up with hand-crafted wineglass holders (and picking up some unique wineglass charms) from AHG Creative, my husband and I set off to do some serious sampling.
Amalthea Cellars, best known for their vinifera wines, offered a well balanced Vidal Blanc with a light mouthfeel carrying tones of melon, honey and a crisp green apple finish. Their L’uva Rosa carried the slight oak flavoring of a vinifera red without the heaviness, making this a great choice for a dry rose.
For those interested in labrusca/vinifera blends (a.k.a. American/European grape hybrids) Bellview Winery was not to be missed. Their Jersey Devil White carried all the body of the cayuga grape with the floral essence of the traminette, making for an excellent dry white table wine. Jersey Devil Red is a blend of 6 vinifera grapes that creates a truly unique and flavorful chianti style wine perfect for an Italian BYOB. Like White Zin? Try Under the Arbor for a refreshing summer blush.
Renault Winery changed our opinions of chardonnay with its 2011 Chardonnay unoaked. Steel-tank fermentation allowed the slight buttery quality traditional to the grape to linger throughout a rich mouthfeel and full bodied experience. Instead of wrestling with oak, we were invited to linger in the perfect balance of tannin and fruit.
Following the white wine trail led us to Sharrott Winery‘s Dry Riesling, a crisp fruit-forward offering with a pleasantly dry finish that could easily compete with Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region, known for producing the finest of the German grape. We couldn’t leave the table before sampling a Crimignoles, Sharrott’s house blend of Vignoles (a semi-sweet white with apricot and honey tones) and Crimson Sky (a light bodied semi-sweet red) that makes for the perfect party drink.
Coda Rossa Winery was the standout in the crowd with their powerful vinifera blends. Challenging the notion that Jersey can’t produce full bodied dry red wines, Coda Rossa offered up 1526, an unbeatable Cabernet blend with an oak tannin that embraced the full bodied fruit of the grapes. The Super Tuscan, a bold blend of Chianti and Cab Franc with a rich mouthfeel and tannic bite is bound to become a standard at my dinner table.
Our own personal favorite of the fest was Tomasello Winery’s Palmaris Outer Coastal Plain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010. The rains ended in September, providing a unique growing season and harvest that would produce one of the most complex and outstanding Cab Sav wines we’ve tasted. On the wine list at the prestigious Capital Grille this is a Cab Sav at a great value that needs to be on your cellar shelves.
These and many other wines showcased at the Summer Chill Festival inspire fine wine drinkers to challenge their assumptions about wine in the Garden State. Now is the time to get into New Jersey wine. With George Taber hosting judgments in favor of Jersey, we may very well be seeing the birth of the next great American wine region.