The Judgment of Rittenhouse: A blind tasting puts N.J. wineries to the test
March 14, 2012By Jen Howard
Video by Lindsay Lazarski
They deal with the same things we do. And our wines actually drink very similar." Now we see how New Jersey wines play against their European cousins.
Part two in a two part series on New Jersey wine.
If you've ever been to a winery in New Jersey, chances are you've heard this: "Our soil and climate is so similar to ... Bordeaux, France. They deal with the same things we do. And our wines actually drink very similar."
That's Richard Heritage of Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill. So many people have told me this — it's a pretty big part of the New Jersey wine narrative.
And, you know, I could fact-check it — compare the humidity levels in the summer and the amount of rocks in the soil between the two regions. But I thought there might be a better way.
So, I called Keith Wallace, the executive director of the Wine School of Philadelphia. And he agreed to host a blind tasting. Without cutting any corners.
"I made sure that the wines were comparable — to the point of totally geeked-out — making sure the barrel programs were the same and making sure the region was fairly similar," said Wallace. "And making sure the economic status of the wineries was similar, because that's what really matters."
Wallace says, give him enough money, and he could make a good wine in Newark.
But that's a competition for another day.
A matter of taste
For now, four of us tasters will try three flights, or rounds, of two wines each. In each flight, one wine from Jersey and one from Bordeaux.
To my right is Jennifer Malme, a wine and food blogger for the site Jersey Bites.
"I'm not super experienced," she said. "But I know a little bit more than a novice."
I'm the novice here, representing the "normal people" opinion.
Frank Cipparone, further down the table, is a little more knowledgeable. He's a longtime wine reviewer and educator. His secret?
"You have to drink a lot," he said. "Seriously."
He sips his wine, now on the second flight.
"I don't know about you, Zach, and you ladies, but the second one was so monotone for me."
Zach Morris, on the end, agrees. He's an instructor here at the Wine School, and thinks New Jersey has a fighting chance today.
The Jersey stigma
"There's a stigma with New Jersey not just with wine but with everything," he said. "That's not in the glass. That's an outside factor that doesn't mean anything. It doesn't have a bearing on what kind of pleasure the wine induces. So, why not New Jersey?"
Well, if there is a good reason, we're about to find out.
Wallace collects all of the scorecards and tells us that, in all three flights, wine No. 1 was voted the best.
He then, with some effort, opens the twice-sealed results envelope.
"First flight: Wine No. 1, the winner was French. Second flight: Wine No. 1 was French again," announced Wallace. "However, wine No.1 from the third flight was actually Chateau Amalthea from New Jersey."
That's a 2008 Merlot Cabernet Franc blend from Amalthea Cellars in Atco, Camden County.
And there's no gasping. Everyone agrees: All the wines were good. Better than good, even.
But there is an interesting twist. At the bottom of each scorecard, Wallace asked "Where do you think this wine is from?" And everyone answered the same.
"Whatever you voted for, on average — the one that you preferred the most — you thought was French."
So now we know.
Why not New Jersey? When it comes to wine, even we Americans apparently are French snobs.
See below for The Judgement of Rittenhouse: New Jersey vs. France blind taste test wine list and results, flight by flight.
Louis Jadot 2010 Macon-Village, Burgundy, France (winner)
Hawk Haven 2010 Chardonnay, Outer Coastal Plain, New Jersey
Chateau Saint-Sulpice 2009 Bordeaux, France (winner)
Heritage 2010 Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, New Jersey
Amalthea 2008 Europa VI, Outer Coastal Plain, New Jersey (winner)
Clos Albertus 2009, St-Georges-St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France
Watch reporter Jen Howard appear on NBC Philadelphia NonStop at 7:00 p.m. to discuss the blind wine tasting, Comcast channel 248 or Verizon channel 460.