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Valenzano Winery and the Surprising Appeal of the Garden State


Looking to get into wine? Look no further than Valenzano Winery. One of the Outer Coastal Plain's finest, this New Jersey winery offers nearly 20 wines and champagnes to tickle your tastebuds. Located on Route 206 in Shamong, Valenzano has cultivated a reputation as one of the most well known and well loved South Jersey wineries.

The other week my husband and I dropped by for a tasting on a sunny summer afternoon. Having previously been to their wine tasting room, we planned to arrive shortly after they opened and were pleased to beat the usually busy crowd. Andrea greeted us from behind the bar; $5 to taste, a fee refunded with a bottle purchase. We began with the dry whites, a pleasant Chardonnay and palatable Vidal Blanc.  Drinking the two together reinforced my preference for the Euro-American hybrid, Vidal and its clean, fresh mineral finish versus the buttery oakiness of Chardonnay. Among the dry reds, Valenzano's Merlot Reserve was a standout in the crowd offering a rich detail, as if the fruit pursued that second date in oak knowing this was a sure thing.

Valenzano's gift, however, is their careful manipulation of labrusca grape varieties including Niagara, Concord, and Ives. Often looked down upon by "serious wine drinkers" for their fruity flavor and foxy nature, these powerhouse grapes forge the backbone of the east coast wine scene. And call them the gateway wines if you will, they're also the yellow brick road to the Oz of the wine world. While some drinkers remain satisfied with their sweet fruitiness, others pursue the more complex character of these grapes until they find themselves drinking the driest of vinifera wines with serious appreciation.