Tag Archives: Stage Left

Breaking News: NJ Wines Go Head to Head with France’s Finest

…and you will not believe the results of what is being called the Judgment of Princeton. It was, to say the least a bold gambit: A restaging of what has come to be known in the wine world as the Judgment of Paris, a landmark blind tasting held in 1976 wherein Napa Valley wines beat out French wines. Only this time, New Jersey bottles would go head to head with those very same French wines.

A collage of several producers who competed in...

A collage of several producers who competed in the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting event. From top left clockwise: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (California) Chateau Montelena (California) Chateau Haut Brion (Bordeaux) Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Bordeaux) Chateau Montrose (Bordeaux) Chateau Leoville Las Cases (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tasting was held and the results announced Friday afternoon at the annual conference of the American Association of Wine Economists, held at Princeton University. The tasting was mounted with the participation of none other than George Taber, who wrote famously about the game-changing Paris event which, he told the group, “showed for the first time that great wines could be made in places other than France.”

But does that, could that include New Jersey? Taber and the conference organizers had carefully structured the tasting to replicate the original as much as possible. The French wines – four whites and four reds – were the very same Chardonnays and Bordeaux blends as in Paris. (Different vintages, of course, and some different makers, but of the same caliber.) These were pitted against six each NJ whites and reds, since those were the original numbers. Prestigious judges in both tastings included a winemaker, a restaurateur, wine critics and journalists, and wine scholars. Both times, French wine experts were among them. The nine judges at the Princeton event also included two Jerseyans: John Foy, wine writer for The Star-Ledger and Francis Schott of New Brunswick’s Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi restaurants.

The results, you ask? New Jersey whites took the numbers two, three, and four slots, scoring higher than, for example, Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2009. Among the reds, New Jersey’s Heritage 2010 Brix came in at third place, ahead of Chateau Montrose 2004 and Grand Vin de Leoville-Las Cases 2004. As if these results are not astounding enough, it was pointed out by conference attendee Dr. Gary Pavlis of Rutgers University, considered the leading authority on New Jersey wines, that “the French wines are about a factor of ten times more expensive” than their Jersey counterparts.

THE CONTENDERS: WHITES (Chardonnay)

France:

J. Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches 2009

Jean Latour Labille Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru 2009

Domaine Marc-Antonin Blain Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2009

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2009

New Jersey:

Heritage 2010 Chardonnay

Bellview 2010 Chardonnay

Amalthea 2008 Chardonnay

Silver Decoy 2010 Black Feather Chardonnay

Ventimiglia 2010 Chardonnay

Unionville 2010 Pheasant Hill Single Vineyard Chardonnay (block 1A Row 1-12)

THE CONTENDERS: REDS (Bordeaux & Bordeaux varietals)

France:

Chateau Montrose 2004

Grand Vin de Leoville – Las Cases 2004

Chateau Haut-Brion 2004

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2004

New Jersey:

Heritage 2010 Brix

Bellview 2010 Lumiere

Tomasello 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Reserve

Almathea 2008 Europa VI

Silver Decoy 2008 Cabernet Franc

4 JGs 2008 Cabernet Franc

THE RESULTS:

Whites:

  1. Clos de Mouche
  2. Unionville
  3. Heritage
  4. Silver Decoy
  5. Puligny-Montrachet
  6. Tie: Bellview & Batard-Montrachet
  7. Tie: Bellview & Batard-Montrachet
  8. Amalthea
  9. Ventimiglia
  10. Meursault-Charmes

Reds:

  1. Mouton Rothschild
  2. Haut-Brion
  3. Heritage
  4. Chateau Montrose
  5. Tomasello
  6. Leoville- Las Cases
  7. Bellview
  8. Silver Decoy
  9. Amalthea
  10. 4 JGs

About 100 bottles had been submitted by NJ wineries. The whites had to be 100% chardonnay; the reds, any of the Bordeaux blend grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot. The grapes had to be grown in New Jersey, and only one red and one white wine from each winery would be allowed. A tasting panel of association members selected those that would become part of the Judgment of Princeton, and Mark Censits of CoolVines wine shops in Princeton and Westfield obtained the French wines.

The wines were scored using a widely-accepted 20-point scale developed at UC-Davis. The tallied scores were converted to rankings, from one to ten. The results were further analyzed for statistical significance by two prominent members of the Wine Economists, Orley Ashenfelter and Richard Quandt – both professors of economics at Princeton and both of whom had analyzed the results of the Judgment of Paris along with George Taber in 1976. In his remarks to the group, Taber himself said, “Clearly, a lot of very good wines are made in New Jersey.”

We can all drink to that!

Two Posts in One Day? Must Be Important News!!

Here’s the scoop: The new executive chef at the Ryland Inn, which is expected to come back online this summer, will be Anthony Bucco. Bucco, formerly of Uproot in Warren and for many years before that Stage Left in New Brunswick, happens to be one of my favorites, so I could not be more pleased.

Here is a reprint of what I wrote about my first visit to Uproot early in 2010, when it was still new and he was still in charge of the kitchen. (It may still be just as good, but since I haven’t been there since he departed, I can’t say.) Anyway, congrats to everyone involved. Those are big shoes to fill (those of Craig Shelton, of course), but I am very hopeful.

UPROOT YOURSELF

When I learned that Anthony Bucco, longtime chef at Stage Left in New Brunswick, is the executive chef at Uproot, a new restaurant in Warren, I wanted to check it out pronto. This meant not waiting to dine there in my official capacity as restaurant critic, but rather as a civilian – one of a group of six friends out for an evening on the town. What follows is a report on my experience, which differs from the norm because the folks there knew I was coming, there was no need for me to don the disguise I have used in the past, and I dined there on my own dime.

The name of the restaurant has both literal and symbolic meaning. Uprooting himself is exactly what Bucco has done. And the exciting design of the restaurant includes a whimsical take on an inverted tree suspended overhead. Amazingly, the tree isn’t the most dramatic element in this sleek, sophisticated space that manages to be inviting and comfortable as well as ultramodern.

Service is pretty sleek, too. I sometimes forget what it feels like to have your every want and need anticipated, but was reminded of that here. As, too, when a restaurant pays attention to every last detail, including good, crusty rolls, an intelligent cheese plate, and excellent coffee.

Other pluses here: adult cocktails and an interesting wine list. Sommelier/general manager Jonathan Ross (formerly of Anthos in New York) found some impressive vintages within our $60 cap, including a 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape and a 2002 Alsace Riesling.

Every dish on Uproot’s modern American menu peaked my interest. Even the amuse bouche provided excitement: crostini topped with elk tartare. Chef Bucco has a very special way with fish, so I ordered the special appetizer of local fluke with onion marmalade followed by black cod poached in grapefruit-accented broth and, in between, my tablemates and I shared a portion of lightly seared tuna. I smiled contentedly through all three courses while the meat-lovers in my group extolled the venison with rutabaga gratin and huckleberries.

Other dishes, while still good, didn’t quite match the ‘wow’ factor of the above. Pear and bitter greens salad, gnocchi with Surryano ham, and roast chicken with root vegetables, for example.

These days, it is heartening to see a restaurant open that doesn’t stint on style or dumb down its menu in deference to today’s economic conditions. With seven out of ten entrees under $30, the folks at Uproot “get” the economy while providing a welcome respite from the currently ubiquitous “upscale” burgers, mac and cheese, and short ribs.