When you think about New Jersey, you might think about the Jersey shore, The Sopranos, or Bruce Springsteen—but maybe you should also think about fine wine.
Long Island may fancy—and even occasionally promote—itself as New York City’s wine country. But if Manhattanites cross the George Washington Bridge, they’ll find an underappreciated wine region in the Garden State. And guess what? Some of New Jersey’s top wineries are actually closer to midtown than anything on the East End.
Though the overall quality of New Jersey wine—with its history of sweet, often hybrid-based wines—is lower than on Long Island, if you know where to look, New Jersey wines can be every bit as good as anything made here on Long Island. Some are even better.
Like many East Coast regions, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc are successful statewide, but beyond those grapes, there is a lot of diversity to be found. Northern New Jersey is characterized by varied elevation, slopes and soils, including significant deposits of limestone and granite. There you’ll find quality Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah and Gewürztraminer. Grapes, like Blaufränkisch, Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt, are also gaining traction here.
The southern half of New Jersey, which includes New Jersey’s largest American Viticultural Area (AVA), the Outer Coastal Plain AVA, tends to be flatter, with well-drained, loamy sand soils that have lots of gravel. The similarities to the North Fork are obvious and, just like here, red and white Bordeaux varieties dominate.
Like many wine regions—including ours here on Long Island—quality varies from winery to winery. So, it’s good to have a guide to help you find the wineries worth visiting and know which wines to taste at those wineries.
This is that guide. If you begin your exploration of New Jersey wine with these five wineries, you’ll get to taste many of the state’s best wines.
There are beautiful vineyard views on offer at many tri-state wineries—but it’s hard to beat the views at this Milford, NJ estate. With vines planted up the side of a small mountain, in soils that have visible granite outcroppings, it only makes sense that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir would be the stars here—though the Riesling and Cabernet Franc are worth tasting as well.
A relatively new producer located 60 miles nearly due west of Manhattan, Beneduce focuses on cool-climate varieties. Visit a converted barn tasting room and taste terrific examples of Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankisch and some of the best Gewürztraminer in the East.
This small, out-of-the-way winery is a great example of growing what you think will succeed in your vineyard rather than planting grapes that people know. The estate vineyard is planted almost exclusively to varieties best known in Austria—with names like Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Grüner Veltliner. They source some grapes from further south too, but focus on the estate-grown wines to taste their best.
One of the jewels of not just New Jersey wine but East Coast wine overall, Unionville Vineyards makes a wide array of wines, but its best wines are its single-vineyard Chardonnays—the Pheasant Hill bottling is benchmark material—and its Rhone-style blends. Those blends—white, rosé and red—are labeled under the “Hunterdon Mistral” label, a nod to the famous winds of the Rhone Valley in France.
The Bordeaux varieties—both white and red—are the stars at this southern New Jersey winery only 20 miles south of Philadelphia. The red blend “BDX” will taste familiar to Long Island red wine lovers. Beyond Bordeaux, you’ll find Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and some terrific sparkling wine too.
Read more from wine writer Lenn Thompson in our archives here.