The first time I had dinner at Valenzano Winery, in Shamong, New Jersey, was about a year ago when my wife and I were doing a tasting and our server mentioned the dinner that evening. When Valenzano first started their weekly Thursday night dinners they were catered by an external service. For the past year, all the work has been done by Valenzano staff.
While the tasting room was closed for our 7:00 reservation (they close at 5:00 p.m.), Valenzano offers flights of four wines, 2.5 ounces each, to help you make your selection for your dinner. The flights are set up by a bartender at a nearby bar in the ballroom and served by their wait staff. A couple of patrons sat at the bar, drinking wine by the glass, as we ate our dinner. So if you are tasting near closing time and know there is a wine you would like to enjoy a little more of, this is a great option.
While we sampled our wine, I noted the adaptations in the room, based upon the number of patrons dining that evening. The dining room is a large formal ballroom, used for weddings and other special occasions, in addition to the Thursday dinners. They utilize portable greenery and other dividers, which can “shrink” the room size and increase the sense of intimacy even within the large room. On most nights, it is possible to eat in the tasting room, which is also very attractive and a bit more romantic. We ate there at our previous dinner and enjoyed it very much, but opted to try the larger room this time.
Bread was, thankfully, promptly placed on our table, with dollops of a cheese-infused butter and a balsamic vinegar and red-wine dipping sauce. The bread provided a helpful baseline for our palates, while partaking in a more extended pre-dinner imbibing than usual.
Reds and Whites
We tasted several dry reds (including Cabernet Merlot, Chambourcin, Old Indian Mills Blend, Cynthiana, a.k.a. Norton, Malbec, Zinfandel, Carmenere and Sangiovese) and three dry whites (Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. As I was more impressed with the reds and they were even recommended to be paired with our entrees, we chose the Malbec (paired with the Pork Chop) and the Carmenere (paired with the mahi-mahi) to accompany our meals.
I selected mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat for my appetizer, while my wife chose the scallops (three large scallops with bacon, served over a bed of risotto and basil-infused olive oil and topped with greens).
Our house salad (a nice mixture of greens, tomatoes, carrots, onions and black olives) was served family style.
For my entrée, I chose the pistachio-crusted mahi-mahi, topped with a balsamic “Blackberry Syrah” compote. It was served with mashed potatoes and whole baby carrots. My wife selected the 12 oz. boneless Pork Chop, topped with a sweet Cabernet grain mustard demi-glaze and served with identical side dishes. My Mahi Mahi was cooked to perfection – not too dry and while not local, certainly tasted fresh. The pork chop, which I was obligated to try (ok, I pleaded with my wife to let me try it) was thick-cut and cooked to the right temperature. Fortunately, my wife is not a big eater, allowing me to finish her pork chop (yes there was still a sizable piece left) for lunch the next day.
Though the desserts looked and sounded fabulous (New York-style cheesecake with a blackberry wine sauce and a chocolate cake topped with a raspberry wine sauce) we opted to linger over our wine and leave without overeating and the obligatory guilty conscience.
Our meal was reasonably priced, considering the addition of the wine flights and wine to accompany our meals. The service was excellent. Everyone was pleasant, helpful and eager to please. We were not rushed and look forward to returning in the future with friends.
1090 Route 206