Posted by: tomciocco | September 3, 2014

FROM BURGUNDY, FRANCE TO THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON TO WESTERN NEW JERSEY

There are few grapes that elicit the reverence and the accolades that Pinot Noir does, and deservedly so. Likewise, there are few wine drinkers, winemakers or wine critics that will deny that Pinot Noir is one of the greatest grape variety ever husbanded by humankind, white, pink, red or black.

 As most folks know, Pinot Noir’s homeland is in Burgundy, France and there is also little controversy surrounding the common wisdom that the very finest Pinot Noir wines are produced there. That said, they can also be the most variable vintage to vintage, the most expensive, and all too often the ones that don’t live up to their elevated reputation.

 Beginning about 40 or so years ago it was discovered that certain areas of Oregon (like the now celebrated Willamette Valley) were the ideal alternative terroirs to grow Pinot Noir (almost?) as good as had been done in the grape’s motherland in France. And now there is my beloved and native New Jersey. No snickering. Really.

It comes as a huge shock to most wine people that New Jersey makes wine at all, much less some really good wine, and least of all some really fine Pinot Noir, but like it or not, that’s the way it is. In fact, New Jersey boasts over 50 wineries, and more are in the works. Now not all of these producers are turning out world-class wines, but there are a couple of handfuls that are, and tonight we drank one of them.

Established in 1982 in the little village of Finesville in Warren County about 7 or 8 miles from the Delaware River, Alba Vineyards has long been considered one of New Jersey’s top producers. Alba is nestled in beautiful, verdant patch of land in the Musconetcong River Valley (it’s a small, fast-running tributary of the Delaware) and more particularly, it rests on a swath of loose limestone soil which is a great rarity in any east coast wine region (even the great viticultural wine state of California has very little of this great vinophilic material) and which does wonderful things for Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, not to mention Riesling which arguably excels here more than any other place in the New World. 

Western New Jersey’s winters can be quite long and harsh which led to many producers all over the state to plant so called “French/American hybrid” varieties like the red Chambourcin and the white Traminette (both of which are grown at Alba) but as more and more is understood about the terroir and which clones work best in it, the percentages of pure vitis vinifera continues to rise. In addition to the cold in this region which is contained in a bona fide A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area) that goes by the name of Warren Hills, is the issue of water. In the perfect scenario, vineyards should get less percipitation than New Jersey wineries typically receive, and they’re more comfortable getting it in the winter rather than in the form of summer downpours than inevitably fall in the area. But all that said, Alba’s rough, limestone soils, the steady winds flowing down the Delaware Valley and fairly steeply pitched vineyard sites allow them to drain and dry rapidly, dramtically minimizing problems of dilution and moisture-based vine diseases.

 All of these site factors make for a truly fine, no-apologies-necessary home for Pinot Noir and the other cool climate varieties mentioned above, and Alba is also showing great early results with plantings of varieties like Pinot Gris and even Barbera. Now I wouldn’t say that Burgundy or Willamette or the The Langhe are yet quaking in their muddy boots considering the threat coming out of The Warren Hills, but like Plainfield, N.J. native George Clinton of Parliament says in his song Chocolate City: “GAININ’ ON YA!”

To keep this whole thing as much of a New Jersey affair as possible I made a cream of tomato (from my neighbor’s garden) soup with locally grown mint, followed by a main course of cornmeal (best corn in the USA! – especially sweet white corn) crusted chicken breasts stuffed with Taylor ham (“Trenton makes, the world takes”) and scamorza cheese made just up the street here in Jersey City, and a side of kale grown at a farm in Wyckoff…You got a problem with that?

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Alba Vineyards Warren Hills Pinot Noir 2010

Brownish/blackish medium garnet color. Rustically elegant and minerally aromas of blackberry, plum, currant syrup, mocha, briar, gingerbread, pickling spices, and dried flowers. The palate is medium-weight with a tart and juicy acidity and dry tannins with flavors of black cherry, myrtle, wild blueberry, juniper, dried herbs and ground cloves. Complex and savory finish.

 

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