Although not as famous as Napa Valley or the Finger Lakes, New Jersey has a long history of grape-growing and winemaking. The state’s wine industry has been growing in prominence for more than a decade, winning competitions and media attention along the way.
In fact, the Outer Coastal Plain (one of New Jersey’s four wine-growing regions), with its sandy, mineral-rich soil, has been likened to that of Bordeaux. Here’s a look at some of the best wines available this fall that call the Garden State home.
Estate 2012 Syrah
Vineyard: Heritage Vineyards
Description: Noted for aromas of dark or black cherry, cocoa powder, licorice and savory herbs, this wine won a silver medal in the 2015 New Jersey Wine Competition. No surprise there — it was produced by family-owned Heritage Vineyards, which was named Winery of the Year in 2015, 2014 and 2011 by the Garden State Wine Growers Association. Aged 14 months in a blend of French and American oak, this full-bodied, dry syrah offers flavors of sweet vanilla, dark raspberry, tobacco, white and pink peppercorns.
Ideal pairings: Pork shoulder, smoky mashed potatoes, grilled T-bone steak, Asian-spiced ribs, lamb shwarma.
Estate Reserve 2013 Chardonnay
Vineyard: Heritage Vineyards
Description: 2013 was a killer year for New Jersey wine, with a warm summer and much rain — which is what grapes need to produce their best. This dry chardonnay, is what happens when a fine vintage comes together with great winemaking. The natural bright apple-blossom and lemon-led aromas features notes of honeysuckle and almond, and on the palate delivers a smooth roundness tipped with crème brulee and vanilla. The finish is long enough to extend from bite to bite of just about any meal.
Ideal pairings: Grilled chicken breasts, Atlantic salmon, shrimp, roasted asparagus with pomegranate glaze, and soft cow or goat cheeses.
Amwell Ridge 2013 Counoise
Vineyard: Unionville Vineyards
Description: A dry, very pretty red wine with aging potential. The experience of this wine — 98% counoise and 2% syrah — opens with aromas of rose petals and violets, blackberries, blueberries, and bright note of white pepper. On the palate, the dark berries come forward, along with vanilla, sweet spice, and that surrounding white pepper glow. The finish is long and elegant.
Ideal pairings: Roast chicken, duck, hearty vegetable soup, and roasted squash soup.
Amwell Ridge 2013 Viognier
Vineyard: Unionville Vineyards
Description: Like the Amwell Ridge counoise, this is another entry in Unionville’s Single Vineyard series, and another beautiful Rhone wine with aging potential. This is a dry, quietly intense wine, with a luscious perfume of lemon meringue, kiwi and tart Gravenstein apples. It sings and even dances around the palate with complexity, the restraint of experienced winemaking, and a roundness contributed to in part by 7 months of aging in neutral oak.
Ideal pairings: Thanksgiving dinner, roast chicken, pheasant, and even goose.
Vineyard: Bellview Winery
Description: Another award winning wine from Bellview Winery, which has been run by the Quarella family for nearly 100 years. With pronounced notes of peach and apricot and a lengthy finish, this value wine really illustrates the potential of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA (in Southeastern New Jersey) to rival the Rhone Valley.
Ideal pairings: Butternut squash ravioli, roasted spaghetti squash, grilled chicken or quail with mango or pineapple salsa, fresh halibut or flounder with herbs.
2012 Alba Estate Chambourcin
Vineyard: Alba Vineyards
Description: Consistently rated one of the best wineries in New Jersey by New York and New Jersey winegrowers, Alba Vineyards are located in the Warren Hills American Viticultural Area, in the heart of the scenic Musconetcong River Valley. Chambourcin is a relatively late-harvesting grape, typically aged in French oak. The nose on this wine is rich in black fruit (such as dark cherry and black currants), red and purple flowers, as well as sweet baking spices and vanilla. The palate delivers on the promising aromas with overtones of mocha and roasted nuts. The finish is lovely, and it’s drinking superbly in 2015.
Ideal pairings: Grilled steak, beef brisket and lamb chops, stuffed pasta with pesto and Grana Padano.
“Palmaris” 2012 Outer Coastal Plain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Vineyard: Tomasello Winery
Description: It’s impossible to talk about New Jersey wine without talking about Tomasello Winery, one of the oldest vineyards in the Garden State. The 2012 is only the second release of this unique blend of 75% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petit verdot and 5% cabernet franc, and it’s a definitely a winner. Roses, violets, dark red raspberries and cherries lead the aromas of this wine, all tied together with savory bell pepper, sage and thyme notes characteristic to cabernet sauvignon. Twenty-eight months of aging in French oak add balanced roundness, character, and finesse that carries through to the long finish. This is a big, juicy red wine.
Ideal pairings: Pot roast, hearty pasta with vegetables, roasted Brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds, spicy chili, and rich, pumpkin soups and stews.
Vineyard: Sharrott Winery
Description: A relative newcomer to the big wine game (the first vineyard was planted in 2005), Sharrott has wasted no time producing wines that have won awards on the national and international stages. Made from chambourcin grapes in the style of a ruby port, Wicked is a deliciously sinful dessert wine. Cocoa-dusted deep red roses, black cherries, dates, figs, and brambly fruits lead the aroma; and deliver on the palate with mouth-watering sweetness.
Ideal pairings: Blue cheeses, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate cupcakes.
2012 Premium Merlot
Vinyard: Renault Vineyards
Description: It’s a small wonder this classic Merlot was named winner of the 2015 Governor’s Cup. (As “Best NJ-Produced Grape Wine.”) It’s lush, velvety and blueish-red in color. On the nose, this wine carries aromas of cherries, ripe plums and juicy blueberries, as well as violets. Oak aging and refined winemaking account for this wine’s smoothness and sweetly spiced flavor notes of vanilla and mocha.
Ideal pairings: Beef or pork tenderloin medallions with a blueberry or huckleberry glaze; pasta Bolognese with fennel and savory roasted chicken or turkey breast.
“Three Windows White” 2013 Riesling
Vineyard: Beneduce Vineyards
Description: There’s a reason Riesling is often called the “king of grapes” by wine nerds the world over. That reason becomes super clear in this bright, crisp, medium-dry Riesling from Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, NJ. This wine is polished and complex, with hints of yellow and green apple, peach, and a touch of ginger spice; wrapped in a bouquet of lime and apple-blossom. High in acid, this will age well, and sing with just about any meal.
Ideal pairings: Spicy Thai or Chinese food, fennel and sausage gratin, roast pork or ham.