Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Virtual Wine Tasting: Value Red Wines for 2021 (Recap)

 The other weekend, I held a virtual wine tasting in what has become another in a series of occasional online gatherings to sample, discuss and enjoy wines with fellow wine aficionados.  This time I asked participants to choose one or more wines in the list of recommended red wines from my previous blog post.  We tasted the following 4 wines which were generally available in local PA wine stores.  Although all wines were positively received, the Italian and Argentine wines seemed to have the edge in preference.  In any event, they all offer good value and a welcome accompaniment to your dinner dishes.

Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2019   ($9.99)                 

Origin: Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina

Varietal: 100% Malbec

Production/Tasting Notes: Estate grown in Uco Valley; cold maturation for 5-7 days before vinification with native yeasts; partially aged in French oak barrels; blackcurrant and plum aromas; full-bodied, black cherry and chocolate notes; velvety finish; structured yet soft tannins. (92 points, James Suckling)

Food  Pairing: Steak, burgers, barbeque

Alcohol: 13.7%


Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($11.99)

 Origin: Colchagua Valley, Chile

Varietal: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Tasting Notes: Estate grown and bottled; produced by Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite); stainless steel fermentations between 77 80 degress;10-15 days of maceration with frequent pump-overs; 3 months aging in stainless steel tanks; aromas of red fruit - plum, raspberry, cherry; laced with notes of ripe strawberries, nutmeg, cocoa, thyme, and black pepper; savory notes of tobacco, toasted hazelnuts, dark chocolate, tapenade; fresh lively tannins.

Food pairing: Barbeque and grilled meats; pizza

Alcohol:  14%


Planeta La Segreta Il Rosso 2017 ($8.99)


Origin: Sicilia DOC

Varietals: 50% Nero d'Avola; 25% Merlot; 20% Syrah; 5% Cabernet Franc

Production/Tasting Notes:    After diraspapigiatura (destemming), maceration for 7-14 days; racked then aged in oak; aromas of red fruits, black currant, mulberry,  cocoa, hints of balsamic; flavors of ripe berries; herbaceous notes; lightly spicy, mentholated finish; soft tannins.

Food Pairing: pizza, pasta, burgers; Mediterranean fare; bluefish

Alcohol: 13.5%


Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT 2016  ($19.99)

Origin: Veneto IGT

Varietals: 40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone; 25% Rondinella, 5% Sangiovese

Production/Tasting Notes: Average vine age 35 years; fermented with native yeasts in stainless steeel; aged 15 months in second-hand barrels; 7 months in bottle; aromas of crushed cherries, aged  balsamic, delicate spice; lively fruit, tart edge; angular tannins; moderate acidity; herb-, smoke-laced finish (90 points, Wine Spectator)

Food Pairings: hearty pastas; pizza

Alcohol: 14%


There's one more one wine (not on the original recommended list) that some people sampled and is also from the Veneto region. It was very well received and is a special bargain as a Chairman's Select if you can still find it:

Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese 2015

Winemaker Notes

Brilliant ruby in color, Alanera delights the senses with a variety of aromas and flavors that include fresh and dried cherries and prunes, sweet spice, and hints of coffee and tobacco. On the palate, Alanera is full-bodied with elegant and velvety tannins. Vibrant acidity brings balance and freshness, and supports a long and harmonious finish.

Pair Zenato's Alanera with medium-aged cheeses, cured meats, meaty fish such as sea bass fillet with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or with braised meats and stews.

 This is rich and layered with dark berries, chocolate and hints of hazelnuts. Full-bodied, yet bright and focused. Dusty texture. Drink now or hold. (James Sucking, 93 points.)

Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese 2015
An image of Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese 2015
SIZE: 750 ML
RATING: JS - 93 , WS - 88
PRODUCT CODE: 000081333
SAVE $3.00


Wine Notes

Los Vascos wines blend Lafite tradition with the unique terroir of Chile to create elegant wines that bring exceptional to the everyday. The vision of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) to expand their estate took them to South America in 1988, becoming the first French viticultural investment in modern Chile. Since then, a comprehensive modernization and investment program has been undertaken, oriented towards the production of fine wine using and adapting the viticultural experiences of Bordeaux and other areas where Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) is present. Los Vascos is located in Valley de Caneten (Colchagua), a closed valley in the central zone of Chile, approximately 25 miles from the sea. The valley provides a perfect microclimate for high quality viticulture, with Northern exposure to lands uncontaminated by airborne or water-borne pollutants. Daily on-shore winds provide temperature changes between 68-77°F, for optimum maturation of the grapes.

Allegrini is the Veneto’s most acclaimed winery, and their Amarone is the gold standard. The Allegrini family has been handing down grapegrowing and winemaking traditions over six generations, playing a major role in the Valpolicella Classico area since the 16th century.

Giovanni Allegrini is the patriarch of the modern estate and has worked hard to develop and perfect major innovations in the art of wine, particularly when it comes to Amarone. He was among the first in questioning local viticultural techniques, revolutionizing accepted practices, and speaking clearly about quality. He was able to combine the science of enology with strict grape selection, and between 1960 and 1970, made some of the Valpolicella's best wines.

The estate is based in Fumane di Valpolicella, just north of Verona in northeastern Italy. Valpolicella, or "valley of many cellars" is an area crossed from north to south by a series of hills, which in succession form three parallel valleys. These valleys are crossed by steep-sided, narrow riverbeds which remain dry except during spring thaws or autumn rains.

With 247 acres of vineyards in the Valpolicella Classico, the Allegrinis nurture a collection of remarkable sites, each with its own personality, soil, and microclimate. Together, they speak to the rich history and extraordinary quality of Valpolicella. All seven vineyards, ranging from the steep hillsides of La Grola to the perfect plateau of La Poja, offer unique, special terroir to express the full range of what is possible in one of Italy’s most prestigious and storied winemaking regions. The family has been a leader in a marrying traditional winegrowing styles with vineyard innovation, introducing modern trellis techniques, site, and varietal selection through meticulous evaluation.

Allegrini's winemaking philosophy is largely based on the concept of "cru" production: a single vineyard dedicated to the production of local varieties destined to become a single wine. These crus have been a success worldwide: The Palazzo della Torre, La Grola and La Poja have set the highest benchmarks for Valpolicella's wines.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The 30 Best Red Wines for 2021 (according to VinePair)

 As a general rule, I don't usually post second-hand ratings lists since the main purpose in creating this blog was to offer personal, first-hand assessments and recommendations of wine.  However, every once in a while, I come across a list that strikes me as worthy of passing on since I'm familiar with most of the wines featured and heartily grant my seal of approval for recommendation. (I'm especially fond of the Allegrini Pallazzo della Torre Veroneses IGT.) Furthermore, most of them are at very attractive price points and eminently affordable.

So here you have a varied and appealing cross section of wines for your 2021 list that won't the bank (except if you want an occasional splurge).  Cheers!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Virtual Wine Tasting - Central & Eastern Europe

 Last March I had a wine tasting class on Central & European wines all set to go - wine purchased, notes drafted and edited, and two full classes of students signed up, when all of a sudden, Alas!, everything came to a screeching halt.  Classes were eventually canceled for the rest of the year.  (An attempt to hold a reduced-size, in-person wine tasting fell by the wayside as no one dared to venture out - a wise choice!)

With several bottles of tantalizing wines lounging in my cellar, I decided to make a go of it on Zoom.  So, a few Saturdays ago, I held our first virtual tasting, and judging from the feedback by participants, this will be just the first of more to come until we can imbibe in person together.

This tasting offered me the opportunity to show off my latest wine preservation gizmo, the Coravin, by which a needle is inserted into a (natural) cork, wine is tapped out just a glass at a time, and the remainder is preserved for months to come, the oxygen being replaced by argon gas, and the cork left intact.  (The Vacu-vin pump and stopper system does a very good job for preserving wine for up to several days in the refrigerator.)

Participants were requested to purchase one or more of the wines listed below, according to how much they wanted to open and sample.  (Most were available in local Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits shops.)  After an initial technical glitch (which was totally my fault as I suddenly couldn't recall or recapture my password) things got rolling and we proceeded to taste and comment on the wines.  Pretty much everyone was happy to share tasting and socialize even under virtual conditions.  Thanks to all for your participation and good vibes.

(If any of you readers would like to participate next time, just give me a shout out and I will put on the list.  For the benefit of all, I am keeping the class size to about 12 people.)

Avia Pinot Grigio 2018

Apparently, this wine is currently out of stock, but it's a steal at about $6 a bottle, so grab it when you can!


Origin: Brda, Primosrska, Slovenia

Varietal: 100% Pinot Grigio

Production/Tasting Notes: Hand harvested; aromas of pear, melon, citrus; crisp, lively acidity; bright white fruit flavors; bracing palate; appealing mouth feel and structure; medium dry (Best Buy, Wine Enthusiast)

Food  Pairing: white meats;  fresh cheeses; prosciutto; risotto

Alcohol: 12.5%


Trapan Ponente Istrian Malvazija 2017


                                      (The cat has dog envy!)

Origin: Sisan, Pula, South Istria, Croatia

Varietal: 100% Istrian Malavazjia

Tasting Notes: fermented in stainless steel;  clean, crisp; fresh, fruity bouquet; minerally; pleasant bitter almond finish.

Food pairing: seafood; shellfish; pasta with asparagus

Alcohol:  13%


Evolucio Furmint 2017  


Origin: Tokaj, Hungary

Varietals: 100% Furmint

Production/Tasting Notes: Rich, smooth palate; floral, white peach bouquet;

Food Pairing: salads; sushi; white meats

Alcohol: 11.5%


Vina Istria Terra Rossa 2016


Origin: Western Istria, Croatia

Varietal: 60% Teran; 20% Borgonja (Frankovka/Blaufrankisch/Lemberger); 20% Merlot

Production/Tasting Notes: Manual harvesting, grape mulching and fermentation of varieties with maceration in stainless steel vinifiers; after fermentation, cultivation of varietals and continuation of malolactic fermentation on a fine precipitate of yeast; maturation in stainless steel continues for 10 months; dark ruby ​​red, blueberry, blackberry, floral aromas, extremely fruity soft and full, of pleasant durability and sweet tannins.

Food  Pairings: Istrian prosciutto and baby cow cheeses, spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce, margherita pizza, savory sardines, gnocchi or fuži with chicken liqueur

Alcohol: 13%


Avincis (The Dew Prince) Red 2018


Origin: Drăgășani, DOC, Romania

Varietals: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 15% Pinot Noir

Production/Tasting Notes:  Bouquet of blackberry and black currant; juicy berry fruit on the palate; fresh acidity

Food Pairing: grilled meats

Alcohol:  14%


Domaine Boyar Royal Reserve Mavrud 2015


Origin : Thracian Valley, Bulgaria

Varietal: 100% Mavrud

Production/Tasting Notes:  fresh, fruity bouquet; notes of cherry and vanilla and phenol (88 points, Wine Enthusiast)
Food Pairings: Lamb kofte; marinated beef yakitori skewers; steak and kidney pie


Alcohol: 14%


Via Istrum Chateau Borgozone Esperanto 2017



Origin: Danube Plain, PGI, Bulgaria

Varietals: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Syrah; 10% Gamza

Production/Tasting Notes:  Hand harvested; estate bottled; aromas of black and red fruits, spice, eucalyptus; flavors of black fruits, spice, black currant leaf, dark chocolate, cedar; long finish

Food Pairing: roasted meat; porcini; duck

Alcohol: 14.5%

Wine Notes

Furmint: The name Furmint is taken from the word ‘Froment’, for the wheat gold color of the wine it produces. It is widely believed that the grape originates from Hungary; however it seems most likely that it was brought in the area in the 13th century. In recent years, DNA profiling conducted at the University of Zagreb has shown that Furmint could have a parent-offspring relationship with the modest Gouais Blanc grape, which similar research elsewhere has shown to be a parent of numerous other varieties, including Chardonnay. Furmint has also been confirmed to be the same grape as the Croatian white variety Moslavac.

Furmint is mostly grown in the Tokaj region where it is used to produce dry wines as well as the famous sweet Tokaj wines. To make Aszú Furmint is blended with Hárslevelü and Muscat Lunel. It is also grown, to a much lesser extent, in the region of Somló, in the Great Central Plains of Hungary. Furmint is found in other countries such as Slovakia where it takes a similar role as in Tokaj, in Austria, where it is known as Mosler, in Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Furmint is an early budding late ripening grape and particularly prone to botrytis. Its naturally high acidity level adds to its aging potential. Furmint can be produced in a variety of styles ranging from bone dry to extremely sweet wines.

Affinitás & Evolúció come from the Tokaj region in Hungary. Tokaj is synonym of dessert wines and takes its name from the town of Tokaj-Hegyalja in the northern part of the country. Tokaj is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2002. It also has the world's oldest classification system which started in 1730, several decades before Port wine and 120 years before Bordeaux. The classification system was completed by national census in 1772. Tokaj Aszú was one of the Sun King Louis XIV’s favorite wines; he famously called it the "King of Wines, and Wine of King's".
Tokaji vineyards are located near the border with Slovakia and Ukraine and cover around 5000 ha, most planted against the south facing slopes. The area stretches over 85km long and 4km wide. The Bodrog and Tisza rivers dominate the plain and create the ideal conditions for Furmint and Hárslevelü to ripen and develop noble rot. The climate of Tokaj is continental with relatively high temperature variations. On the plain the average yearly temperature is 9 to 10ºCentigrade, 21 ºC in July and -3 ºC in January. On the Mountain slopes the average annual temperature is higher by half a degree, yet winters are slightly colder. The average change of temperature is 13 ºC throughout the year; this coupled with long, sunny summers and dry and sunny early autumns allow for growing healthy and ideally ripened grapes. The humidity from the two rivers brings the autumn fog and therefore allows botrytis to develop. The average annual rainfall is 591 mm, due to the proximity of the Great Plain to the south, winters are relatively cold. Tokaj Vineyards are blessed with a wide variety of volcanic soils. This diversity of soils, with riolit, andezit, riolittufa and andezittufa, not only retain heat beautifully to ripen grapes evenly, they also develop the rich fruitiness in the final wine and impart a remarkable mineral character. This combination of fruit and minerality is the ideal combination to make exceptional wines with a good aging potential.

Teran, in Italian called Terrano is a variety mostly found in Western Istria, a source of a drawn-out dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. In good positions it givesalmost purple wine of a fruity aroma that is easy to recognize, unusually high acidity and high tannins and not too high alcohol content: 12 – 13%. It’s usually enjoyed as a young wine, as the traditional wisdom is that it does not age too well.

Malvazija Istarska, also known by its Italian name Malvasia Istriana is a variety from the large group of varieties, indigenous to the region of Istria, where it is the predominant white wine. It is a versatile variety, allowing different styles for the wine, from young and fresh wine to be consumed within a year, to more serious barrel-aged wine, but it will remain a dry wine with low acidity.

Drăgășani has all the prerequisites of a registered designation, in the French fashion. The Drăgășani vineyard has always produced white wines that are fine, cool, with good acidity. The red wines from the region, produced chiefly from Cabernet Sauvignon and the local variety Negru de Drăgășani, also enjoy national and international appreciation.

Situated on the right bank of the Olt river, the largest tributary of the Danube in Romania, the Drăgășani vineyard extends over a length of 60 de km, between the Getic Sub Carpathians in the north and the Romanian plain in the south.  The dominant soil in the vineyard is clay, with traces of limestone, sand, gravel and marl. The vineyard’s climate is temperate continental, with Mediterranean influences, and its main characteristic is balance. Owing to its location along the Olt valley, which has a balancing role, the Drăgășani vineyard enjoys good humidity, even in the hottest months of the summer. Thus, other varieties have been readapted to Drăgășani, as a result of rigorous work of grapevine improvement, at the Research Station for Viticulture and Winemaking, founded in the area in 1936. Among the Romanian varieties, nowadays, Crâmpoșia Selecționată, Tămâioasa Românească, Feteasca Regală, Feteasca Albă, Negru de Drăgășani, Novac și Fetească Neagră are grown.

Mavrud, or Mavroudi as it is known in Greece, is a dark-skinned grape variety of Bulgarian origin. Its precise provenance is generally accepted to be Asenovgrad, an appellation in the West Thracian Valley of southern Bulgaria.

The low-yielding, late-ripening vine produces small, almost black grapes with thick skins. The grape’s name is derived from the Greek mavro, meaning black, which is appropriate, as the wines it produces usually are of an inky color. They also have pronounced tannins and excellent acidity, with an abundance of stewed-fruit flavors on the palate, which gives a glycerol mouth-feel. It also has a herbal characteristic, giving the wine a medicinal finish. (Wine-Searcher)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Featuring Another Southeastern Pennsylvania Winery Worth a Day Trip - Wayvine!

 Eschewing air travel as many of you are doing during the ongoing pandemic, especially in light the recent surge in cases, day trips will be the order of the day for months to come and I'm delighted to recommend yet another winery in Southeastern Pennsylvania which offers a bucolic escape from the congested city - WAYVINE Winery & Vineyard near Nottingham, just a few miles north of the Mason Dixon line off Route 1.

Managed by the Wilson Brothers, Zachary & James, this relatively new winery features mostly well-known Vitis Vinifera single varietals, such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  What distinguishes their portfolio, however, from other regional wineries is a grape I haven't seen much of in this area, Carmine, which they vinify as both a single varietal and their signature Chief Red Blend, a powerful, tantalizing mélange of this off-the-beaten-track grape, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. 

I had actually heard good things about Wayvine some time ago, through the grapevine, as it were, and so, determined to take advantage of the warm, sunny autumnal weather we've been experiencing of late, I and my wine-loving buddy, Richard, piled into my Prius and we set off down Route 1 on a bright, unseasonably warm recent Sunday all the way past Longwood Gardens, and Kennett Square (and the best winery in Pennsylvania, Va La,  in Avondale) to the Nottingham exit  to enjoy a leisurely afternoon of wine and song (live music provided courtesy of Amy Faden) on the beautiful, spacious grounds of the Wilson Estate, right next to the rolling vineyards showing off their array of fall colors.

The Tasting Flight du jour featured a dry Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Barbera Rosé, Merlot, the aforementioned Chief Red Blend, and Carmine.

The 2019 Riesling, Richard's favorite of the bunch, started us with on a high note as this was the best Pennsylvania Riesling I have sampled thus far and is a worthy neighbor of the many renowned Finger Lakes issues.  Dry, crisp, appetite-whetting, with high acidity, floral and white grapefruit notes this is a well-balanced, harmonious version of the classic German varietal that marks another step in winning me over to a wine that I had shunned for many decades.

The Pinot Grigio was, as expected, a light, easy drinking white with a subdued nose and palate which demonstrated why it has become so popular among less adventurous wine imbibers.  I enjoyed the Barbera Rosé as a summer kind of pink with just enough pizzazz, tartness and tannic hints of the red varietal to keep it interesting.

Carmine, a three-way hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carignan developed in California in the 1940s, is a cool climate grape with notable tannins, herbaceous aromas and peppery notes, that seems to have found a welcome home in the challenging terroir of Pennsylvania (as well as New York).   The Chief Red Blend brings all these elements together to produce a bold, juicy red that would pair well with a hearty, cold weather stew.  It happens to top out at $35 a bottle but worth a splurge if you're inclined to support local business.

Wayvine also offers a variety of mostly local craft brews on the premises, including a few on tap.  There is even a short list of hand-crafted cocktails available as well as local cheeses (I especially liked the Seven Sisters from the Farm at Doe Run in Coatesville).  You can bring your own snacks or munchies, but they do encourage you to patronize the food truck which on site.  You may bring your own chairs if you like, but there are plenty available there and during inclement weather, there is limited outside seating under a large, open tent they have set up.  Live music on weekends makes it an especially pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

By the way, the tasting includes a free souvenir wine glass sporting the winery's logo, a nice memento.

So there you have it - another PA winery within an hour's drive or so from Philadelphia very much worth checking out, especially on a sunny fall day. Cheers!

P.S. Here's a link to some more information about local wineries:

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Further Notes on PA Wineries for a Day Trip from Philadelphia

 As an addendum to my most recent post on PA wineries in Lancaster, here's another reference and guide from the Inquirer.  I have already reported on several of these in previous posts, but there are a few other suggestions here that you may entertain.

Keep on tasting!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

New Adventures in Pennsylvania Wineries

 In these times of pandemic lockdowns when people are staying closer to home and avoiding trips by plane, day outings have become very popular. I've already written about a number of nearby wineries (Southeastern Pennsylvania) which are worth a visit; indeed, my last class focused on PA wineries.

Over the Labor Day holiday, I discovered a few more wineries just a little further afield, but readily accessible within an hour or two from the Philadelphia area.  One of them, Nissley Vineyards, is located on a beautiful, expansive estate comprising over 300 acres near the Susquehanna River, above Bainbridge, PA ; the other one, Waltz Vineyards, is a very small, boutique winery, located near Manheim, on a hilltop overlooking undulating fields of corn, soybeans and vineyards  A family-run business, Waltz has produced its own estate wines since 2000, and before that for a few years, grew grapes for the wine-making market, after transitioning from more traditional crops.

Nissley Vineyards

As I arrived at the winery on a late Saturday afternoon, after following the long, winding and descending lane off a country road, I ran smack dab into a wedding party in the process of taking pictures post-ceremony, and was directed on a detour to a large, open grassy field where visitors were parked.  The wedding reception was just starting, but the wine shop was open nonetheless and had received a fair number of imbibers enjoying wine outside adjacent to the tasting room.  

It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon, and surely the bride and groom and their guests were delighting in the perfect weather for an outside wedding ceremony and reception.  Safety protocols for visitors were followed and included limiting the number of customers in the wine shop, and requiring masks while inside.

The standard tasting ($6) consisted of 6 generous selections from the expansive wine list which included native varietals (mostly sweet), fruit wines, as well as familiar European single, blended or hybrid varietals.  Of the 3 dry whites, one rosé, and 2 reds I sampled, the whites were clearly preferable to my tasting.

In the photo above are displayed, from left to right, Seyval Blanc '19  (French hybrid blend); Vidal Blanc '18 (French hybrid blend); Chardonnay Reserve '18; Rosé Select '18 (Vinifera and French hybrid blend); Merlot Reserve '18; and Chambourcin '19 (French hybrid blend).  My favorite was the Seyval Blanc, which happened to be the most inexpensive of the six at $14.90, demonstrating once again that price does not necessarily mean a better, preferred or higher quality wine.  (In fact, I was quite disappointed by the Merlot, which I found to be overly tannic, woody and not well-balanced;  other PA wineries do much better versions, including Waltz - see below.)  I took home a bottle of the  bright, tangy and citrusy Seyval as pleasant souvenir from my visit and as a token of my support for local business, especially in these trouble economic times.  

The Vidal, Chardonnay and Rosé were all appealing, if not particularly distinctive, representations of their varietals or hybrids, but on a lovely late summer afternoon, they served their purpose well enough.

The other red that I tried was the Chambourcin '19 (French hybrid blend).  This is a hybrid widely available  among PA wineries as it seems to have adapted well to the regional climate and terroir.  Unfortunately, this particular Chambourcin left me unimpressed, as I've tasted many other superior renditions at local wineries.  Although it is a lighter bodied red, I found Nissley's a bit thin and lacking in structure and flavor.  I would have liked to try the Cabernet Reserve and Cabernet Franc Reserve, but they were not available. You can never tell when one of them might shine through.

To sum up, whereas Nissley is not necessarily a go-to destination from Philadelphia, if you are in the Lancaster-Elizabethtown area, it's definitely worth a visit as an idyllic rural setting in which to sit back, relax and enjoy a few sips.  (They also serve alcoholic smoothies of different flavors, if that's your thing.)

Waltz Vineyards

Perched on a hilltop off another winding country road outside Manheim, PA, Waltz offers a very cozy and attractive tasting room inside next to the barrel room (where you can also sit for a tasting), and an expansive tree-shaded lawn outside where you can enjoy a picnic lunch accompanied by a glass or bottle of one of their wines.

Waltz features two types of wines - Estate bottled, meaning that the wine is produced solely from grapes grown on the property, and a Cellar brand, whose grapes are acquired from outside the estate (usually California, Washington or New York), but vinified by the Waltz winemakers.  A cursory glance at the wine list indicated that these wines were of a higher class and quality than the average PA wine.  How can you tell? There is the price factor, of course, although as I pointed at above, it's not necessarily proof of a finer wine.  Mostly, however, it's apparent in the description of the wine, the length and type of barrel aging.  In addition, the relatively small wine list focused almost exclusively on dry vitis vinifera varietals.

The sample wine tasting consisted of 5 selections of your choice for $12.  Although the price may appear a little steep, you may choose from wines that top out at $40-45 per bottle.  (More on those price points below.)  I selected a mix of Cellar and Estate wines, including the 2019 Cellar Sauvignon Blanc, the 2017 Estate Reserve Chardonnay, the 2019 Cellar 1599 Rosé, the 2018 Cellar 1599 Merlot and the Estate 2016 Crow Woods Cabernet Sauvignon.  The samples were served in a novel type of vessel for wine tasting: test tubes!  You then pour the test tube fluid into your wine glass. This saves table space and allows you to taste from your glass at your leisure. 

Following what I believe is a newly enacted PA regulation due to the pandemic, you are obliged to order a cheese or salami plate with the wine tasting, but this affords the opportunity to partake of more locally produced delights.  I chose the Special Reserve Cheddar, made from raw cow's milk, which was so flavorful and rich! (See for more about Lancaster County gourmet cheeses.)

The Cellar wines were well produced and featured the typical, pleasing characteristics of these popular varietals: crisp, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc with notes of grapefruit and minerality;  plum scented Merlot, nicely balanced with sturdy tannic structure.  Nonetheless, I was especially interested in the Estate wines to see what the local terroir could produce.

The Chardonnay exhibited the typical characteristics of such a wine that has been aged 9 months in French oak, with extra aging on the lees: hints of pear, apple, with a slightly buttery texture.  While respectable, I would be hard pressed to lay out $38 for a bottle, especially since I'm very particular about Chardonnay.  Still, you could do worse for $12 a glass.

The 2016 Crow Woods Cabernet tops out the Estate wines at $45 a bottle so you would expect this to be the "pièce de résistance" of the winery's production, however, I was somewhat disappointed.  Aged 24 months in French oak barrels, this Cab exhibits some of the usual notes found in well made versions of  the varietal - dark fruit, strong tannic backbone, green pepper.  Overall, though, I found the tannins and oak to be a bit overwhelming.  Perhaps less aging in oak or simply more bottle aging would soften and mellow these notes to a more velvety palate.

On the other hand, the 2016 Cherry Tree Merlot

hit all the right notes for me - nicely balanced red fruit and spice, fine tannic structure, and a pleasing, plush mouthfeel. It was certainly one of the best PA merlots I've sampled, along with Karamoor's.  At $40 a bottle, it's still not too easy on the wallet, but for a well-made local product, it's worth an occasional splurge.  The personal touch to the wine-tasting experience and hospitality certainly added to the enjoyment.

There are many other interesting attractions and activities in the Lancaster-Lebanon-Harrisburg area, such as biking, hiking, boating, craft breweries, markets, etc., so do yourself a favor and take a day or two to enjoy the local colors.

P.S. I will be holding wine tasting classes November 10 and 17 for the Mt Airy Learning Tree. They will be small classes (8 maximum) with strict safety protocols. See the link for more info:

Friday, July 3, 2020

What IS a Super Tuscan? (Hint: it's NOT an Italian Superhero)

In these times of pandemics and lockdowns, I hope you and yours are staying safe and able to enjoy nonetheless some of the pleasures of life, including a glass or two of fine wine.  And speaking of fine wine, may I introduce you to a class of wines (if you're not already familiar with them) that have fascinated and tantalized wine professionals and the discriminating wine consumer for a number of years now: Super Tuscans.  (It's not clear who first coined the term (one source points to wine writer Burt Anderson), but basically they are wines grown in Tuscany that do not conform to the traditional DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) regulations that dictate what types of grapes may be used in DOC wines in particular areas.  Instead, these wine producers typically vinify Bordeaux style blends using varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc,and also throwing in some Italian varietals, Sangiovese, for example, which have become some of the world's most prized (and expensive) wines.  (A few years ago, a Sassicaia earned Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year.  It retails for several hundred dollars.)

Originally classified at the lowest level, Vino da Tavola, Super Tuscans were granted IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) status in 1992.  (The IGT designation is the equivalent of the Vin de Pays label in French wines.)  The Maremma region of southwest Tuscany is the primary source of Super Tuscans, and the village of Bolgheri is regarded as perhaps the mother lode of these wines. (Tenuta San Guido, which produces Sassicaia, is located there.)

Some weeks ago, my brother "Lorenzo", a longtime Italophile and connoisseur, discovered a good deal on line for the entry level Ornellaia, a top Super Tuscan producer. (For a detailed history of Ornellaia, please check out this link -  .)  I pitched in for a few bottles, and recently partook of this very fine wine.  I share with you now my impressions.

Le Volte dell'Ornellaia 2017

Plush, rich, ripe dark fruit bouquet followed by dense, luscious, dark fruit flavors; round, soft tannins; almost chewy mouthfeel; nicely balanced; medium to full bodied.  Characteristics on a scale of 5:

Body: 4
Acidity: 2
Fruit: 5
Sweetness (from fruit): 3
Tannins: 3

Overall rating: a solid 91 out of 100.

Varietals: 67% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Sangiovese

Production Notes: Separate vinification of each varietal; malolactic fermentation, following alcoholic fermentation, in stainless steel tanks; aged for 10 months in partly in barrique and in cement tanks

Alcohol: 13.5%

Retail price: $26 to $34

For more information on the estate, the vineyard and the vintage, click on this link: