Hey there, NJ wine lovers! It’s been awhile since we’ve written a formal review on our site, so apologies for that. We spent the month of January posting daily wine reviews on our Instagram page, so if you haven’t checked that out, please do! There’s 31 detailed wine features from NJ vineyards on our page to see throughout the month of January.
Back before the end of the year, we scheduled time to have a Grand Tasting at Unionville Vineyards with their General Manager, John Cifelli (Certified Sommelier). On their site, they describe their Grand Tastings as the “pinnacle of tasting experiences in New Jersey.” Clearly, we had to check it out for ourselves!
Our tasting began at 12:30pm on Saturday, December 29. We arrived a little early and got to spend some time hanging out with Festival, Unionville’s lovable cat that lives at the winery. Festival’s story is a heart-tugging “rags to riches” story where he showed up at the winery during a festival and decided to stick around for good. He’s receives lots of love and food (cheese is his favorite) from customers throughout each day. He truly has the life, now!
John met us upstairs in the tasting room to review the different vineyards that Unionville owns and operates in the area. There are a total of four vineyard sites:
Unionville Home- First vineyard site and located on the same property as the winery. Varietals grown are a mixture of French-American hybrids and European vinifera grapes.
Amwell Ridge- Located across the way from the winery, this plot houses the Rhone varieties that Unionville grows.
Pheasant Hill- Located in Hopewell, produces the high quality single-vineyard Pheasant Hill Chardonnay as well various clones of Pinot Noir and other varieties.
Coventry Farm- Located in Princeton, this is the newest vineyard for Unionville with yields expected in the next two years or so.
We then took a tour through Unionville’s crush pad and fermentation and storage areas which gave us a behind the scenes glimpse into their operations. We heard about some great things to come and were able to peak into some 2018 Chambourcin that was still fermenting in the barrel (we believe for the Port, but do not have it in our notes so cannot say we are 100% sure).
Now for the good stuff- the Grand Tasting itself! We went to the farm house to enjoy our private tasting with John and were greeted with customized tasting menus (with our names on them!). What a great touch. Included in the tasting was the following:
2015 Dry Riesling
2013 + 2015 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay comparison (paired with Trillium pasteurized cow’s milk and Oomami raw cow’s milk cheeses)
2013 + 2015 Home Vineyard Chardonnay comparison (same cheese pairings as above)
2016 Mistral Blanc (paired with Shepherd’s Basket raw sheep’s milk and Cirone raw aged cow’s milk cheeses)
The Big O Tasting Flight (2010, 2013, 2014) (paired with Midnight Moon pasteurized goat’s milk, Moliterno raw seep’s milk, and Cabrichamre raw goat’s milk cheeses)
Port Vat #24 Port (paired with Maytag Blue raw cow’s milk cheese)
John curated the various cheeses called out above for each of the wine pairings. He also provided different meats, bread, olives, dried apricots, and fig jam to pair with the wines as well.
The highlight of the tasting was the comparison tastes of the two different single vineyard Chardonnay’s (2013 vs. 2015 for each vineyard) and the vertical flight of The Big O (2010, 2013, and 2014). Our favorite Chardonnay from the four was the 2013 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay which was well balanced in the fruit notes and its acidity. The 2015 is delicious as well with more robust citrus notes in comparison. Two extra years in the bottle makes the 2013 a showstopper right about now. We look forward to saving one of our 2015 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay bottles to age for a few years to see its potential!
The Big O vertical flight was the other highlight of our grand tasting with John. This is Unionville’s Bordeaux style wine blend. We were able to taste three different vintages of The Big O- 2013, 2014, and 2010 (in that order). 2010 is the boldest of the three, so it was recommended to taste that one last to avoid overpowering our palates for the others. The 2010 was one of the best years for The Big O at Unionville with lots of dry heat during the growing season (closest growing season to CA). This vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. So smooth and balanced; we get strong fruit notes like ripe cherries and blackberries. This blend is bold and dry and we believe it will continue to age well in the bottle for more years to come. The coolest touch is that the wine does not have labels and the name and vintage are handwritten. Such a unique touch!
The final taste of the day was the Port Vat #24. This wine is fortified with brandy to bring the ABV to 18.5%. This dessert wine is bold and with notes of dark chocolate. You get a warming or ‘hot’ sensation on the nose with this Port. I’m not the biggest fan of Port wines historically, but this one is well-balanced and would go really well at the end of the evening.
We opted to purchase The Big O from 2010 and the 2013 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay to take home. We were also able to sit and enjoy a glass of the 2013 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay in the farm house before heading home after our Grand Tasting ended. The overall experience was around three hours and very well worth it. The price was $80/person, which seems a bit high for a wine tasting, but don’t let the price turn you away. We can assure you that the price is well justified given the amount of wine and food available to you over the three hour experience. We learned so much from John about Unionville’s past and future and feel even more connected to the winery than before. We enjoyed the experience so much that we look forward to doing it again in the next few years.
Have you been to Unionville Vineyards before? Tried their Grand Tasting? Let us know what you think! Would you opt to have this experience?
Wine is calling, we must go!
Nick & Ed