In 2014, I earned my wine certification through phillywine.com, which required me to travel to Philadelphia to sit for the exam. During my trip, one of my classmates convinced me that I need to try Pennsylvania wines
Countless American wineries begin with a moment of clarity when someone decides to change direction and follow his or her passion. Such is the case with Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery in Chester County, Pennsylvania, founded in 2005 by Brad Galer, a doctor, and Lele Galer, an artist, who at the time decided that they wanted to do it right or not at all.
For those of you have been reading my posts, Penns Woods Winery should be familiar to you. I previously reviewed the winery in 2014 after my first visit and as part of my year-end roundup of favorite things. I’ve also reviewed two of the wines, the 2013 Bancroft Riesling and the 2012 White Merlot. At home, I have four Penns Woods wines awaiting my palate: the 2005 Ameritage, 2010 Chambourcin, 2014 Grüner Veltliner, and 2014 White Merlot. To say that I like Penns Woods’ winery experience and wines would be an understatement. I am honored to share with you my latest visit to Penns Woods Winery on September 7, 2015, written for and published by American Winery Guide.
Cheers to Penns Woods Winery!
Seriously, where has September gone? Where has this year gone? September has been another whirlwind month for me, with a new career and writing opportunities unfolding before my very eyes. My time has become a hot commodity and I feel like I am playing catch up most of the time. However, as has become tradition, below are some of the interesting wines I’ve tasted this month. The two Pennsylvania wines were gifts and the wines from Chile and New Jersey were samples provided by the producers.
Blair 2010 Wedding Cuvée
Blair Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery located in Kutztown (Berks County), Pennsylvania that primarily focuses on cold-climate, European grapes like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. Ten different grapes varieties grow on 23 acres. The red cuvée is a proprietary, Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which was originally made to be served at the weddings of two of the Blair family children. It is a medium garnet color and medium bodied, with flavors of black cherry and vanilla and firmer tannins than I expected from this five-year-old offering. I paired this with steak, which brightened the fruit flavors. $19.99 at the winery. This was a gift from a friend.
Galen Glen 2013 Stone Cellar Zweigelt
Galen Glen Winery, located in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley AVA and owned by winegrower and winemaker Galen and Sarah Troxell, is the culmination of six generations who have farmed this land. The winery is named after Galen and the property’s shape, a glacially-formed, narrow valley, a glen. Galen Glen produces cold-climate grapes on 20 acres, including Cayuga, Chambourcin, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, and Zweigelt. The Zweigelt is a nice, light-bodied transitional red, perfect for late summer and early autumn. Its crisp and fresh combination of cranberry, black cherry, raspberry, and black currant delights the nose and palate. $16.99 at the winery. This was a gift from a friend.
Apaltagua Colección 2013 Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile
The grapes for this limited production Pinot Noir from Viña Apaltagua come from a vineyard that is only 12 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean, a Mediterranean, maritime-influenced climate that is cooler than other grape growing areas of Chile. The wine is a rich garnet color. On the nose, the first scent I detected was cinnamon. While very fruit forward on the palate, a mélange of black cherry, cranberry, raspberry, red currant and blackcurrant fruit flavors, it is also cinnamony, spicy and smoky, with good tannin structure and lively acidity. It is quite young, so I recommend decanting for a short while. Approximately 1392 cases produced. SPR $25. (SAMPLE FOR REVIEW)
Every couple of months, I participate in a Twitter tasting sponsored by Old York Cellars, accompanied by a YouTube video that serves as a good introduction to the wines being discussed. In July, I was unable to participate because it was too hot to ship wine samples. However, they graciously welcomed me back into the Old York Cellars fold for their September tasting. This month’s samples were a couple of their best since I started participating, especially for the price point. A tasting package of the two wines is available for $27.20.
Old York Cellars 2014 Vidal Blanc, New Jersey
According to winemaker Scott Gares, Old York Cellars produces Vidal Blanc, a hybrid variety comprised of Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano) and hybrid Rayon d’Or (Seibel 4986), because it is more tolerant of cold climates, is disease resistant, and yields about seven tons per acre in New Jersey. Because of its higher sugar levels and acidity, Vidal Blanc is often used to make ice wine. However, Gares crafts the variety as a dry wine. This vintage was harvested at 22 brix. Gares fermented the wine at colder temperatures in stainless steel, using Premier Cuvée yeast, which enhances the wine’s citrus aroma and flavor profile. The wine is a clear, pale yellow-green color. It has a weightier mouthfeel than some whites. On the nose and palate, it is all citrus and mouthwatering acidity, primarily grapefruit, lemon, and lime. I paired this wine with shrimp.
Old York Cellars 2014 Malbec, New Jersey
Malbec has its roots in Bordeaux as a blending grape and in Argentina as a single-varietal wine. Gares uses Pasteur red yeast and malolactic fermentation to create an approachable style of Malbec that even white wine drinkers may enjoy. The wine is medium garnet in color. Softer tannins and acid yield a rounder mouthfeel. Berry flavors such as cherry and raspberry dominate the palate, while oak plays more of a supporting role with regard to structure and mouthfeel, rather than imparting flavor and tannin. Suggested pairings include aged cheddar, lean red meat, and dark chocolate, although this wine is easy to drink on its own. I paired my sample with tri-tip sirloin, which brought out the wine’s darker fruit side.
Of course, these are not the only wines I have tasted this month. If you missed my other September features, Va La Vineyards and Kemmeter Wines, please click the links and enjoy reliving my wonderful experiences. Forthcoming are reviews of Galer Estate and Penns Woods Winery, which have been submitted and are awaiting publication dates.
As to October, it’s shaping up to be another busy month, with trips to Seattle, Washington and Charlotte, North Carolina planned, along with more tasting and winery opportunities, including MacLaren Wine Company, Magnum Wines International, LLC, and Nieto Senetiner. I hope you will stay tuned!
Thank you as always for reading and for your support!
Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved. ~ William Jennings Bryan
When deciding to follow his passion of producing wine, Anthony Vietri had to make a choice: give it a go in California, where the climate and soils are nearly perfect for wine production, or at his family farm in Avondale, Pennsylvania, where he had been told, Nothing good can come of mushroom soil. Vietri chose to go against the odds, but on the side of family, creating the winery we know now as Va La Vineyards.
The name Va La has multiple meanings. The Vietri family comes from an Italian village named Giusvalla. The phrase va la in Italian can loosely mean go there, but dialectically it can mean go away or take a hike, as in saying to the naysayers, including those in academia and the neighbors who were sure that quality wine could not be made in Avondale. Now producing around 750 cases, more or less, since 2002, Vietri has proved these cynics wrong and has created a successful family business without compromising his choice of making vins de terroir using Old World methods from the unlikely soils of Avondale, never submitting his wines to competitions or for ratings or scores. As per his tasting menu, he writes, We consider your decision to take our wines into your home a sacred honor; it is the reason that we can devote our lives to pursuing this thing we love.
The vineyards are comprised of four distinct soils types. Every year, Vietri makes choices about which vines are producing the best fruit. The best vines remain, while those that are not are removed to make way for ones that do. Today Vietri produces four estate wines from vineyard to bottle, almost always Italian field blends from his 6.73 acres. However, this was not always the case. In the beginning, he tried other varieties, but as destiny would have it, Italian varieties have manifested themselves as the best choice.
During my last visit on Sunday, September 6, 2015, I had the opportunity to taste the following four wines: 2012 La Prima Donna, 2013 Silk, 2013 Barbera Batch III, and 2012 Mahogany, presented to me by the lovely, gracious, and professional Cyndy Barrett. One thing one will immediately notice is the understated bottle labels. The name of each wine is printed on a simple, white label. One realizes that what is inside the bottle is most important, with no bottle or label distractions. The wines are meant to speak for themselves. The wines are also meant to pair with food, so with each wine, you are given a local cheese or chocolate as a suggested pairing, as well as meal suggestions on the tasting menu. Neither Vietri nor the staff will tell you what you should taste, but rather describe the production process and leave it up to your palate to decide.
The grapes for all four wines are hand harvested and the wine filtered, but not fined, so as to remove spoilage organisms, but retain maximum color, aroma, and flavor. Vietri chooses to use old Bordeaux isolate yeasts that date from the 1950s, as they provide neutral, consistent winemaking from vintage to vintage. As he told me, he is striving for consistency as much as the vineyard will allow.
2012 La Prima Donna (12th vintage)
With this offering, Vietri has chosen to make this field blend white wine in the vin orange style, the way white wines used to be made until the 1970s and 1980s, when it was deemed that we the people preferred our whites with more clarity and less color. As always, Vietri’s choice to go against popular belief has resulted in one of the most interesting wines you will ever taste. The blend is malvasia bianca, petit manseng, pinot grigio, and tocai from lower-yield vines, most which are 17 years old, and grown in Kennett Square basalt and stony silt loams. Batches are fermented separately with skin contact of 27-31 days, unheard of with most white wine producers. This skin contact allows more flavor, color, mouthfeel, and tannin components, especially from the petit manseng and pinot grigio, which have long hang times, thus more physiological ripeness. The wine is aged sur lie for 17 months in stainless steel, no oak. The resulting wine is fleshy and plush, with a balance of tree fruit flavors, rusticity, a round mouthfeel, and lively acid. It pairs with a variety of foods, from fresh fruits to mushrooms to pasta with white cream sauce, as well as fish, poultry, and pork dishes. The recommended decanting time is one hour. 207 cases produced. Flavor peak around 3-8 years.
2013 Silk (12th vintage)
Vietri’s Silk is his rosato, his single-batch, field blend made from free-run juice, no pressing, using corvina veronese, barbera, carmine, petit verdot, and nebbiolo from vines that are 5-17 years old in silt loam soils overlying gneiss and Mt Cuba schist. The grapes are fermented slowly at cold temperatures. The wine is aged for 12 months in oak barrels that were first used to make his Mahogany red blend. As Vietri told me, this wine is calling to go in oak. Silk is aptly named, as it’s silky on the palate, with rich, red berry flavors, noticeable spice and tannin, and great acid, which means one can age this a few years instead of drinking it immediately like many rosato wines. Suggested food pairings include chicken, pork, prosciutto, salmon, and veal, especially those prepared in red sauces. The recommended decanting time is one to two hours. 107 cases produced. Flavor peak from now until 2018.
2013 Barbera – Batch III (14th vintage)
This vintage, Vietri had higher barbera yields. He did not want to alter the blend for his Mahagony, so he decided to make three batches of barbera, each aged for different lengths of time. This last batch is a small-production, single cuvée barbera, aged 15 months in oak. It is clonally significant, comprised of five clones, including a clone mutation which is unique only to his vineyard, grown in the now (in)famous black mushroom soils from vines that are 8-15 years old. The finished product is deep garnet in color, as well as rustic and spicy, with more earthy than fruity flavors, and a backbone of acidity. It pairs best with traditional Piemonte fare, pork dishes such as barbecue, and spicy foods. The recommended decanting time is two to four hours. 110 cases produced. Flavor peak around 2-7 years.
2012 Mahogany (8th vintage)
This is one of Vietri’s crowning jewels, a field blend red of barbera, malvasia nero, charbono, petit verdot, carmine, teroldego, lagrein, and sagrantino coming from black mushroom soils and vines that are 10-17 years old. The yields are limited to produce the best, most concentrated berries that the vineyard can offer. The wine is aged in a unique combination of Burgundy and Pennsylvania oak for 27 months. This blend is named Mahogany, because it is a dark, bold, and luscious wine, in color, aroma, and mouthfeel. The mushroom soil terroir dominates the nose and palate, offering a plethora of earthiness and black fruits. This is the choice for meaty dishes such as lamb, prime rib, and meats prepared in reduction sauces. The recommended decanting time is four to twelve hours. 126 cases produced. Flavor peak around 4-10 years.
My visits to Va La, while always wine-centric, also allow me to capture the human and the family behind the bottle. Vietri is simply a delightful conversationalist and teacher. I discovered randomly that his favorite sports teams are the Knicks, the Raiders, and the Cardinals. I also learned that he has lived around the world, including Italy, Southern California, and Avondale, which indicates that he has come full circle, back to the family fold, now raising the fifth generation of the Vietri family, his daughter, Sofia, with his wife Karen (Ren).
For those who are interested in keeping up with Va La Vineyards, you will be happy to know that there is a newsletter, as well as a presence on Facebook and Twitter. The winery newsletter is purposeful, sent periodically to announce a new release, an update on wine availability, and to share some of the good press that the winery is receiving, all with a massive dose of humor. It’s not often I recommend newsletters, but this is one to which one should subscribe. Better yet, if you have the opportunity, please make the choice to va la, go there. A visit and tasting will remove any preconceived notions you may have about winemaking in Pennsylvania. Be warned, though: Vietri has set the bar high for producers, not only in Pennsylvania, but around the world.
You have to choose the best, every day, without compromise…guided by your own virtue and highest ambition. ~ Philippa Gregory
It’s not quite yet the end of August, but below is my month-end roundup of great wines, from Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Pennsylvania, Sonoma County, Spain, and Willamette Valley. This is not an all-inclusive list, so if you haven’t checked out this post from my trip to Hudson-Chatham Winery a couple of weeks ago, please do. As always, your palate may vary.
2010 Martorana Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, SRP $45
If a wine could be extroverted, it would be this one. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 5% Petite Sirah, it’s definitely not shy, boasting floral aromas, ripe blackberry, blackcurrant, and cranberry on the palate, and grippy tannins. I tasted this over a course of a few days and the tannins were still very much at the forefront, so this wine is young, ready for a little more time in the bottle or decanting if you can’t wait. ABV: 15.4%. Winemaker: Gio Martorana. This was a sample provided by Martorana for a Dry Creek Valley Twitter tasting.
2013 Fritz Malbec, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, SRP $45
When I first saw and tasted this, I couldn’t help but exclaim what a beautiful, elegant wine this is. The purple-red, magenta color is eye catching. The aromas are floral and feminine. On the palate, it’s soft, round, and balanced, with an impeccably silky mouthfeel, and luscious, dark berry flavors. I am confident that this loveliness comes from outstanding estate vineyard fruit and meticulous production: stemless, whole berries that were transferred to open-top fermenters, a five-day cold soak, punch downs 2-3 times per day for 10 days, then aging for 15 months in 40% new French oak. ABV: 14.5%. Winemaker: Brad Longton. This was a sample provided by Fritz for a Dry Creek Valley Twitter tasting.
2013 DaVero Altobasso, Hawk Mountain and Valladares Estate Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, SRP $65
The name Altobasso (high-low) comes from the vineyard sources of the two grapes, Hawk Mountain, a higher altitude vineyard which contributes 60% Sangiovese, and Valladares Estate, a lower altitude vineyard which contributes 40% Barbera. Produced with native yeast fermentation and neutral oak aging for 16 months, the resulting blend is a wine that speaks to my palate. The floral aromatics, juicy, red berry fruit, earthiness, leather, texture, and acid are pleasurably abundant and scream for food, especially a rich, hearty Italian or holiday meal. ABV 14.3%. Only 189 cases made. Drink now through 2028, if you can wait that long. Winemaker: Evan LaNouette. This was a sample provided by DaVero for a Dry Creek Valley Twitter tasting.
2010 Seavey Vineyard Caravina Cabernet Sauvignon, Seavey Vineyard, Napa Valley, SRP $65
The Caravina Cabernet is a second-label wine first offered in 1999, whose name means “My dear vine” in Italian. I tasted this wine over the course of a couple of days. The second day open, this wine demonstrated its loveliness, with a soft, round mouthfeel, lush, dark fruit, chocolate, supple tannins, and a spicy finish. I had no idea this was a 92+ point wine (Antonio Galloni), but it sure lives up to that rating. ABV 14.8%. 980 cases produced. Winemaker: Jeremy Weintraub. This was a gift from a friend.
2012 Huge Bear Chardonnay, Sonoma County, $40 SRP
Chardonnay, unless from Burgundy, or made with little or no oak influence, is not usually a go-to wine for me. This was a gift from a friend. Huge Bear Wines, the second label of Knights Bridge Winery, makes this Sonoma Chardonnay that sees partial malolactic fermentation. It shows an intriguing mélange of tree and tropical fruits, citrus, vanilla, caramel, and baking spices, with a creamy mouthfeel, yet noticeable acid. This was a gift from a friend.
2012 Penns Woods White Merlot, Pennsylvania, $22 SRP (2014 is the current vintage)
I first tasted this rosé in May 2014 at Penns Woods Winery and brought a bottle home with me. I was curious how well this has held up after traveling across the country and being stored for 15 months. I am happy to say that it’s still lovely. This is a red wine lover’s rosé, with a rich, salmon color, juicy palate, and aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, stone fruits, and melon. The bright acid finish lingers long enough to make you want another sip. This was a gift from a friend.
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $50 SRP
This is an elegant, yet rich, Pinot Noir, from the warmer 2012 vintage. The mouthfeel is round and plush, due to time spent in French oak barrels, 56% new. It yields luscious darker fruit, like plum and blackberry, firm tannins, earthiness, and vibrant, tart cherry acidity. I tasted this with Cornerstone Cellars’ Craig Camp in his suite at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. ABV 14.1%. 1500 cases produced. 94 points Wine Spectator.
2013 La Caña Albariño, SRP $14-$18 (widely distributed)
This wine is a riper Albariño, with dominant flavors of melon and stone fruits. However, it still demonstrates lemony acidity and salty minerality. It’s crisp, yet has a more substantial mouthfeel due to a small percentage of the wine being fermented in French barrels and aged on lees. It’s the duality of warmer climate/citrus fruits and crispness/mouthfeel that make this wine interesting. I purchased this at my local grocery store for #AlbarinoDay on Twitter.
I have some exciting news for my readers. Next month, I begin writing for two new outlets, American Winery Guide and Snooth‘s Wine Writer Roundup Series, so I hope that you will continue to support me in these new writing ventures. Next month will also be a bit crazy for me in terms of travel and events. I’ll be flying to the East Coast for Labor Day weekend, then returning to California. I am booked every weekend in September for an event, as well as Garnacha/Grenache Day on Friday, September 18, when I will be participating in a Snooth Twitter tasting with some of my cohorts. It’s going to be a great start to fall!
Wow, it’s been one month since I posted. Where does the time go? This year is flying by! This means it’s that time again, a roundup of some wines I’ve been tasting. This edition includes wines from Portugal to California to Pennsylvania, some outstanding price-to-quality sippers.
Esporão Alentejo Esporão Reserva Tinto 2012, $19.99 SRP (sample)
The 2012 Esporão Reserva, DOC Alentejo, is a great wine for under $20. A blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s an intensely red wine, medium-bodied, with aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, spice, cedar, and vanilla. The tannins and acidity play well together after the wine is open or decanted for a while.
Esporão Douro Assobio 2012, $12.99 SRP (sample)
This blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional is quintessential Duoro and is outstanding for under $15. It’s rich purple-ruby in color. It’s a medium-bodied wine with rich fruit flavors of blueberry and black cherry, a hint of oak influence, and lovely acidity on the finish. It’s a lot of wine for very little money.
Esporão Alentejano Monte Velho Tinto 2013, $9.99 SRP (sample)
This is not my first Portuguese red, but again, I’m amazed at the price-to-quality ratio of this wine. It’s a nice, everyday food-friendly red. I taste cranberry, raspberry, and black cherry, with some toasty notes, and nice acidity on the longer-than-expected finish. Only $10, you can’t lose. I’d pair this with a hearty meal like Thanksgiving, pizza, just about anything.
Esporão Alentejano Monte Velho Branco 2014, $9.99 SRP (sample)
Fragrant and crisp, with a mélange of melon, grapefruit, lime, and stone fruits on the palate. I would never know this was a $10 wine. I think this is also my first Portuguese white wine. Saúde!
Note: If you’re interested in the Portuguese wines, the United States importer is Aidil Wines & Liquors.
Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2007, Green Valley, Sonoma, $50 from the winery
(Wine Enthusiast 91, Robert Parker 93)
This is an exemplary brut rosé from Iron Horse. Gorgeous color, nose, mousse, and palate. It’s 63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay, aged four years on the yeast, 2100 cases produced. The wine has yeasty, fruity notes, a crisp mouthfeel, luscious, ripe strawberry flavor, and finishes with a zing of acidity.
Ceja Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Adobe Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $22 from the winery
This Sauvignon Blanc produced by Amelia Ceja and her family is made in the Fumé Blanc style, fermented in stainless and oak barrels, then aged 13 months in second-fill barrels. It’s very fruit-forward, with aromas and flavors of grapefruit, lemon, and lime, but with a creamier, textured mouthfeel due to the time spent in oak. Enjoy this with seafood and salads.
Penns Woods Bancroft Riesling 2013 , $22 at the winery
(Silver Medal: 2015 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition)
This pale, straw-colored Riesling from Penns Woods Winery is perfect spring sipper, with floral aromatics and a lovely balance of golden delicious apples, nectarine, honey, and a citrusy finish. Remember that Riesling pairs with almost any food due to its often vibrant acidity.