Jersey Wines Rise to the Occasion

New Jersey wines hold their own against prominent French vintages.

Courtesy of Heritage Vineyards.

It was a bold gambit: restaging the Judgment of Paris, the landmark 1976 blind tasting wherein then-unknown Napa Valley wines beat out world-class French Chardonnays and Bordeaux. Only this time it was New Jersey bottles going head-to-head with those same French wines.

The tasting was held June 8 in Princeton at the annual conference of the American Association of Wine Economists. The organizers—among them George Taber, who famously wrote about the Paris event—structured the tasting to mimic the original, with 10 whites and 10 reds being ranked. Prestigious judges both times included a winemaker, a restaurateur, wine critics and wine scholars. Taber told the Princeton group that the Paris event “showed for the first time that great wines could be made in places other than France.”
But could that include New Jersey? As it turns out, oui.

New Jersey whites from Unionville Vineyards (in Ringoes), Heritage Vineyards (Mullica Hill) and Silver Decoy Winery (Robbinsville) took the numbers two, three and four slots, respectively. Among the reds, the Heritage Estate Reserve BDX 2010 finished third.

One of the judges, Francis Schott of New Brunswick’s Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi restaurants, admitted to being surprised when his scores were revealed. “That the Unionville Vineyards Chardonnay scored in my own rankings above the Batard-Montrachet and the Meursault, which cost between $200 and $300, that’s pretty remarkable.” (The Unionville winner, Single Vineyard Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, sells for $46.)

Gary Pavlis of Rutgers University, a leading authority on Jersey wines, pointed out that the French entries cost on average 10 times more than their Jersey counterparts. Taber said of the results, “Clearly, a lot of very good wines are made in New Jersey.”

We can all drink to that.

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