Raise your hand if you’ve made a joke about New Jersey sometime in recent memory. I cannot be the only one, I’m sure. The Real Housewives franchise, Jersey Shore, and pretty much any other mainstream thing to do with the state has cemented this. It might not be okay, but it’s just how it is. So what does Jersey have to offer the world of wine? It turns out, quite a lot. During a recent #WineStudio, we got to learn about the Outer Coastal Plain of New Jersey, an area that I knew nothing about. Located in the southern part of Jersey, the area has sandy soils, a decent growing period, and a passionate set of vintners who made it clear that making Jersey wine is nothing of which to be ashamed. In fact, the wineries we encountered over this month were secure in their beliefs about their wine, what New Jersey has to offer, and the fact that the wines are more of a representation of their state than any trashy TV show. After tasting these bottles, I’m inclined to believe them.
The first I tried was the one that blew my mind. That’s not to say that the following wines were bad, but this one was a ‘woah’ wine that I would stock up on and enjoy until the end of days. The 2013 Palmaris Outer Coastal Plain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Tomasello Winery was full of dark fruit with floral lavender notes I have come to associate with Petit Verdot, which makes sense because 20% of the bottle was made up of that varietal. Smoke was another prevalent characteristic that did not dull at all as the wine opened up. It’s a great one to buy while we’re still in the midst of frigid winter months. For your first experience, I suggest opening it in front of a fireplace, with someone you like. It was one of my favorite wines of 2017, and it might be one of your favorites of 2018. It clocks in at $40, so it’s not the everyday affordable wine for most, but it’s a great investment for those who appreciate something a little darker with a lot of depth.
The 2016 Sharrott Winery Barrel Reserve Chardonnay was a bottle that clearly feels like the Chardonnay you probably grew up around, yet with a smarter hand. It does have the oak aspect to it; however, it also has an elegant balance between the roundness of the oak and the general flavor profile of the grape. It feels more elevated and certainly more approachable for haters like me that used to scream ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). It admittedly still has too much oak for me, but my mom happily finished off a glass. If you like the big names like Sonoma Cutrer or Kendall Jackson like her, I’d encourage you to give this bottle a try. One of the other participants compared it to a Pina Colada too, so if coconuts and tropical fruits are your idea of a good time, open this one up. The SRP of $25 certainly makes it more accessible to a broader range of people, and it might just be the perfect gateway for you into how New Jersey is making a name for itself in the wine world.
After the tropical notes of the Chardonnay, I was ready for a red again and opened the 2013 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah from Unionville Vineyards, which was a brighter option compared to the broody Palmaris wine. More red fruit, particularly cherry, a mouthwatering touch of acid, and hints of oak and earthiness all created this balanced wine. It was not quite as nuanced as the Cabernet we tried, but I’d imagine it’ll age well and that might give it more ‘oomph’ over the coming years. This wine was approachable and flavorful, the best option for a red wine lover who generally likes Pinot Noir or Merlot that wants to break into something new.
The final two wines were from William Heritage Winery. The first was the uber pale 2016 Outer Coastal Plain Chenin Blanc and was a bit sweet for my taste, but I could imagine this pairing fantastically with some spicy Indian food. I ate it with a half of a buttered biscuit, and even that made the wine friendlier as the acidity in it cut all the fat in my choice. This is one that clearly needs food. For friends and family who like moscato, this is a great option to open them up to other grapes, and it’s one you can make confidently. The notes I found here were apples, sweet citrus fruits, and a touch of lemongrass. At $18, it’s the perfect price point to take to a BYO and give these wines a chance.
The sparkling wine I saved for last. After two months of all things bubbly, I needed a bit of a break, yet this bottle was very different than the prosecco we dove into in the latter part of 2017. Effervescent but with an incredibly soft texture, this 2014 Outer Coastal Plain Estate Reserve Vintage Brut was like slipping on a pair of silky pajamas, hopping on the couch, and watching your favorite series for the twentieth time. Or maybe instead of your favorite show, you could sip this while you reread The Great Gatsby since the logo on this bottle seemed very reminiscent of the 1920s to me. Either way, you won’t be going wrong once you pop this cork. The SRP here is $40, so I say buy a bottle or two and put it away for a fun occasion. After your first try, I’m sure the $40 will make sense and you’ll invest in a few more to stash away.
So have I convinced you to give this part of the east coast a try? The first bottle I mentioned was all I needed to change my mind. Not all the bottles were ones that fit in with my preferred flavors. Still, what I can say is that this session highlighted how Jersey has a wine to suit every need. Girls night? Pop the bubbles I mentioned. Visiting mom and dad for a holiday? Take that Chardonnay. Want to impress a date? Bring the Cabernet. Yeah, you could wait a few years to see if everyone else is as impressed with New Jersey as I am, but you’ll be missing out in the meantime. That would be a shame.
These wines were kindly provided to me by the wineries/importers listed above, but all opinions are my own.