I have been lucky enough to be invited to several incredible tastings over the last year, or so, of eastern seaboard quality wines. And on a recent trip, I teamed up with fellow wine writer and friend Lenn Thompson of The Cork Report (and the founder of Taste Camp) to be the guests of the The Winemaker's Coop, which is comprised of four New Jersey wineries seeking to encourage and promote the fine wine movement in the Garden State. But we were fortunate enough to taste six different New Jersey wineries while on our trip. All of them put out a full list of accomplished, elegant, and complicated quality wines.
Lenn and myself have both been covering local wine for more than a decade. But, maybe you don't want to hear from two local yahoo wine writers. You'd rather hear from someone more notable. How about Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal, or Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post, or Mark Squires, from The Wine Advocate? Are those names big enough?
After a recent tasting, Wall Street Journal wine columnist Lettie Teague wrote, "a handful of producers are working to ...create a wine region of note." She noted about Alba Vineyards and winemaker John Altmier, "His wines definitely warrant mention, most notably the 2015 Dry Riesling, which was bright and lively; the 2015 Chelsea Dry rosé, a juicy and quaffable wine made from Chambourcin; and the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, a light and savory red with true varietal character."
Clockwise: McIntyre, Teague, and Squires
Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post recently wrte an article about east coast wines, with a head line that raved about a Garden State entry, writing, "A sparkler from New Jersey steals the show at East Coast winemakers’ event." Writing about the Mid-Atlantic tasting that compare wines from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, McIntyre wrote, "The first was a 2014 brut made in the champagne method from chardonnay and pinot noir from Heritage Vineyards in New Jersey. Winemaker Sean Comninos explained that he wanted to make dry chardonnay and pinot noir, but the grapes weren’t ripening. So he decided to make bubbly, which uses grapes picked considerably earlier and less ripe than dry table wines. The result was fantastic."
Even the venerable Wine Advocate gave William Heritage's bubbly a stunning score! "William Heritage Winery... has just received a 90 point rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate; one of the world’s most respected wine publications. This is the first 90 point score ever awarded to a New Jersey winery by the Wine Advocate. Richard Heritage who oversees marketing and sales for William Heritage Winery states,
“To receive 90 points from the Advocate is a groundbreaking achievement. Think about it… We are talking about a New Jersey wine receiving 90 points from one of the world’s top wine publications. This is really going to turn some heads. Congratulations are due to my father for growing the grapes and our winemaker, Sean Comninos. This review is not just great for our family winery, but for the New Jersey wine industry as a whole.”
And the venerable New York Times reported several years ago, "Last year, [George] Taber helped organize the so-called Judgment of Princeton, in which a panel of respected wine critics, including two from France, compared New Jersey wines with some of the best French ones in a blind tasting. Shockingly, the results showed a near tie. Several Garden State vineyards — Heritage, Tomasello, Silver Decoy and Caracciolo’s Amalthea — scored nearly as well as Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. In several cases, the Jersey wines were hundreds of dollars cheaper per bottle, too."
Mark Carduner of Working Dog, Sean Caminos of William Heritage,
and Stephen "Zeke" D. Johnsen of Unionville, John Cifelli director of The Winemake's Co-op, and Conor Quilty of Unionville.
Mike Beneduce of Beneduce and
Peter Leitner of South Salem.
Nick and Tom Sharko of Alba
We were also impressed by the commitment of the people making the wine. They really wanted to make something that would stand out. They wanted to make wines of distinction. And thy were committed to making wine in the vineyard. Many of these were estate wines, and the quality was extraordinary. We're talking sizable plantings in most cases, and passionate individuals who were absolutely hell bent on crafting quality world class product.
We met with Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards, Peter Leitner of South Salem Vineyards, Nick and Tom Sharko of Alba Vineyards, Mark Carduner of Working Dog Winery, Sean Caminos of William Heritage Vineyards, and Stephen "Zeke" D. Johnsen, John Cifelli and Conor Quilty of Unionville Vineyards. All absolutely passionate about quality wine.
Beneduce Vineyards Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2016 was a spectacular chardonnay with hints of tropical fruit, green apple, vanilla, and even a dollop of caramel. Lean and fragrant but filled with flavor. and acidity. A fantastic chardonnay.
This is as big and deep a Beneduce Vineyards Blue 2 Blaufrankisch 2014 is a gorgeous fruit bomb of a wine, with deep plum and strawberry, and hints of cassis, but aged in French oak for a big tannin to match the big acidity. Almost like a Tempranillo! A delicious wine! One of the best Blaufrankisch wines on the east coast!
Gruner Veltliner has become more and more a popular grape amongst quality producers on the east coast. Leitner Gruner Veltliner Sophie Anne 2015 from mount Salem Vineyards immediately steps to the forefront of those Gruners! This fruity, spice bomb was made in oak! using natural winemaking techniques, and has flavor to spare and acid to keep it all in line. Made A delicate but impressive wine! Remarkable!
Leitner Blaufrankisch/Zweigelt/St. Laurent Matthias 2015 made at Mount Salem Vineyards is a mertiage-styled blend of three classic Austrian red grapes to make one superb wine! Blaufrankisch 50%, Zweigelt 40%, and St. Laurent 10%. This had made, small production wine is a revelation - it's what can be done on the east coast with Austrian red grapes. It has big, dark, deep red fruit, with tannin and structure to spare Their Zwigelt is also incredible. Amazing!
Alba Vineyards Chardonnay 2016 in a gorgeous example of an oaked chardonnay. Aged in 40% new French oak, and the rest in older or neutral French oak, this chardonnay (made it Dijon clones and five different yeast strands) goes through a 40% malolactic fermentation, meaning that this is an incredibly complex white. The wine is steely with lots of bright green apple and young pear, but also with lots of bigger tropical fruit and an exotic nose fit for a king or queen. Layered and luxurious!
Alba Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014 goes through a 4-5 day cold soak and is assembled from the winery's four Pinot blocks using five clones. It's aged for 18 months in French oak. This is an impressive Pinot Noir with big deep dark cherry, vanilla, graphite, and tannin. Lots of mineral in there too! Absolutely an impressive, complex Pinot Noir worthy of any region!
Semillon is a classic French Bordeaux white varietal. But it is grown sparingly in North America, let alone on the east coast. Only one I know of ! This estate grown William Heritage Semillon Outer Coast Plains 2016 wine has incredible fruit with notes of tropical fruit delicate, elegant, with a long, long finish. 10% of the wine in finished in new French oak, so it has lovely hints of oak, but it remains an incredibly brilliant, lean, acidic wine with immense flavor and delivery. A must drink!
William Heritage Cabernet Franc Outer Coast Plains 2015 was an impressive wine with tons of dark cherry and hints of plum and cassis. Graphite and dark fruit rule the ray, in this dark red fruit stew bomb of a wine. With healthy dose of oak, this incredibly balanced wine is a sure fire hit with any crowd. An elegant expression of this varietal.
Easily and instantly one of the best white blends on the east coast, this estate grown Unionville Hunderton Mistral Blanc 2015 is elegant, flavorful, complex, and exotic as any wine I have tried from Maine to Virginia. This immensely powerful and all the same elegant expression of terroir is made from a classic blend of blend of Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier. I loved it from its exotic nose to it's first taste on my lips. This small production wine is on the increase at perennial quality producer Unionville, one of the best producers on the east coast.
Unionville Pheasant Hill Syrah 2013 is an estate grown syrah that exhibits hints of lavendar and bright and dark cherry and plum with hints of vanilla and spice in a way that makes it an instant classic worthy of any wine region! The wine is made with 5% viognier, old world style, to give it complexity and layers. Perfumy and powerful! Rhone Rangers report here immediately! Also, the 2015 Pinot Noir was outstanding as well.
Working Dog Viognier 2015 is like a big ripe peach, with floral and tropical aromas and bigger body than one expects from an east coast white, while retaining some of the acidity often lost in warmer climes. Picked in the firt week of October, it's aged for two years in older or neutral French oak. Lots of spice and white pepper at the end. Absolutely impressive!
You need to try these wines asap!!!!!!! They were excellent. And all deserve a place on any wine table in North America. Luck for you east coast yahoos that this small production, quality wine is right in our backyards! Buy it up now...because someone else will!
LETTIE TEAGUE: WALL STREET JOURNAL
DAVE MCINTYRE: WASHINGTON POST
MARK SQUIRES: WINE ADVOCATE