Pandemic Thanksgiving Wine List 2020

This year has certainly been a stressful and unnerving time for everyone. Our dependable way of life has been thrown into chaos with no foreseeable return to normalcy anytime soon. Traditional Thanksgiving festivities will be adapted to conform to the pandemic protocols just like every other holiday or event had to do in 2020. Since our Thanksgiving dinners will hopefully be celebrated with a smaller gathering of friends and family then why shouldn’t we treat ourselves with good wine?

A Chardonnay with a touch of oak will stand up to all the flavor profiles of a family-style turkey dinner. My choice for a Chardonnay with all the right characteristics is Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2018. This California Chardonnay shows well in the glass with an alluring straw color and aromas of oak, apple, and vanilla. It has a good structure that supports flavors of apple, pear, melon, and, citrus that are accentuated by its medium acidity.

Often you need a red wine as a counterpoint to the white wine you are serving your guests. Saldo Zinfandel 2018 by the Prisoner Wine Company will accent your table with its beautiful ruby color and notes of oak. The flavors of dark fruit on a balanced bold body, supple tannins, and mouthwatering acidity are certain to please your red wine lovers. TIP: Decant before serving.

For me, no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a Riesling on the table. If you have read my blog then it is no secret that I like Finger Lakes Riesling but they can be hard to find. The two wines I have recommended are substantially above the price point I tend to cover so when I need to buy multiple bottles I have found this Washington State Riesling to be a great pick to fill that need. My go-to Washington Riesling for value and taste is Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2019. This Riesling is made in a very approachable style that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. It is easy to drink with crisp acidity and flavors of citrus, tropical fruit, and peach. The price point is in the $10-$14 range.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and please stay safe.

Saldo Zinfandel 2018
Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay
Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2019

White Russian

If you have visited this blog you know I am a big fan of the Georgian wine grape Saperavi. I have written about it often here and in print publications, websites, and online magazines. There’s another ancient Georgian white grape that is extremely widespread in that region whose wine I have also become fascinated with and that is Rkatsiteli. Rkatsiteli is a pale-skinned cold-hardy Vitis vinifera wine grape that can trace its origins as far back as Saperavi and like Saperavi it is considered to be one of the oldest wine-producing grapes in the world. Rkatsiteli is widely planted in the Caucasus Region, the area that connects Europe and Asia. While its acreage is considerable it is far less than it occupied during the Soviet-era when quantity was valued for the mass production of wine. The main reasons for the popularity of Rkatsiteli in that part of the world are that it has a strong resistance to cold temperatures while retaining a good level of acidity in hot growing conditions and versatility in the cellar where it can be made into anything from table wine to sparkling wine and everything in between. Rkatsiteli can be found outside of the Caucasus in China and the United States. You can find it being grown as Rkatsiteli in the northeastern U.S., mainly in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and also in Virginia. In China, it is being grown and produced as Baiyu.

Rkatsiteli is made in many styles and types of wine but it usually displays a light body and high acidity. Since Rkatsiteli is made into such a wide variety of wine by a diverse community of winemakers and cultures I will focus on the Rkatsiteli wine made on the East Coast of the United States where it is taking on the characteristics of each unique terroir it encounters. 

Like Saperavi, Rkatsiteli was first planted in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank where it continues to be grown and made into a classic style of Rkatsiteli by his family at the Dr. Frank Winery in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake. When you taste Dr. Frank Rkatsiteli 2019 the first thing you will notice is Rkatsiteli’s signature acidity and a lean body upfront but the flavors tropical fruit and pear come out on the finish. This wine is a nice light-bodied white wine now but will improve with time in the bottle.

McGregor Vineyard is one of the two vineyards that grow Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes. McGregor is most recognized for its iconic Saperavi blend Black Russian Red but their Rkatsiteli is one of their most popular and exclusive wines with only 41 cases produced in 2019. McGregor Rkatsiteli 2019 is a light wine perfect to drink at a festive gathering or on a picnic with friends because it has refreshing acidity and a long finish filled with fruit flavors.

Horton Vineyards in Gordonville, Virginia began growing Rkatsiteli after losing vines to the bitter Winter of 1996. Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli 2017 displays aromas of nectarines and Meyer lemon that when combined with its prominent minerality and acidity renders a fresh-tasting wine that you can enjoy alone or pair with lighter fare. 

As fall gives way to winter and our tastes turn to more full-bodied reds don’t forget about Rkatsiteli. My suggestion to you is to buy a couple of bottles to save for next summer because it will be here before you can say Rkatsiteli.           

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Today’s forecast for Western Pennsylvania was for sunshine and

Smoke from West Coast wildfires hazes Western Pennsylvania skies.

mild temperatures. The prospect of an extended period of sunshine and mild weather after a summer that set record high temps and a moderate drought was a welcome prospect. When I was outside doing some work around the house I suddenly noticed that while the temperature was in the ’70s the sky was not blue even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Later, a meteorologist on the local news gave me the explanation for the gray overcast conditions that had overspread the region. The reason was smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast. He said the smoke had risen and was swept eastward to the point that it was passing over the area at 30,000 feet. At that altitude, it didn’t affect our air quality but did filter out some sunlight leading to lower temperatures at the surface.

The smoke from the fires proved to be a curiosity for me but for the wine industry on the West Coast, it is presenting the possibility of being a disaster. The vineyards and wineries not directly impacted by the flames are subject to having their unharvested grapes damaged by “Smoke Taint”. Smoke taint is when grapes are exposed to smoke in the vineyard. Smoke in the vineyard doesn’t necessarily mean that the grapes will be damaged by contact with it. The grapes aren’t harmed by smokey soot settling on them but are injured because the smoke can be absorbed through their skin and goes directly into the grape’s sugars. It then gives the glycosides a smokey aroma, think what your clothes and hair smell like after you stood too close to a campfire. With that is in mind, growers aren’t finding much smoke damage from the wildfires, in fact, many are hopeful that any harm will be manageable. With the testing labs experiencing substantial backlogs of grapes for testing a definitive answer to the extent of the problem remains unknown. We will have to wait for the final judgment on the wine quality from the 2020 vintage in the affected regions.  

They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

Well, if they do they would be missing out on all the hidden value this economically priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills A.V.A of Washington has to offer.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has been a workhorse vintage after vintage when it comes to providing value in a varietal category that can easily become overpriced due to the hype that often surrounds some well-known producers.

Photo Courtesy: Columbia Crest

This is a bold Cab that opens with oak on the nose and follows with flavors of dark fruit and vanilla that are complemented by supple tannins in a lingering finish. Vintages of this wine have received critical acclaim from the likes of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Its malolactic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels then the wine is blended immediately after fermentation. It is aged in new and older French and American oak barrels for 12 months.

Year after year, vintage after vintage and grape variety after grape variety Washington State has moved its wine quality and value forward without fail. Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has taken its place in the wine market as an enjoyable Cab that can be easily found and purchased for $15 or less.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

The Sun Also Rises

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017

When you think of wine grapes grown in Rioja, Spain you naturally think of Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the predominant grape by far in acreage planted in Rioja, Garnacha plays a crucial supporting role in most of the wonderful Tempranillo-Garnacha Rioja blends coming out of that wine region. This enjoyable red grape is called Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone presented a candid view of Rioja on his television show “Field Trip with Curtis Stone” which airs on the PBS Create TV channel. Stone visits artisanal producers of food and wine around the world to get inspiration for new dishes at his Beverly Hills restaurant “Maude”. During his visit to Rioja, he was invited to supper at the home of a winemaker where he is treated to wine from the host’s 100-year-old Garnacha vineyard. Check your local listings for this insightful glimpse into some of the most storied food and wine regions on Earth.

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017 received a 90 pts rating from James Suckling and has also been well reviewed by many other notable wine critics. This is a great introductory Rioja with subtle oak notes, good acidity, and structure at a value price. On the palate, it is smooth and soft with dynamic fruit flavors. Don’t overlook this varietal just because of all the luscious Tempranillo- Garnacha blends that Rioja offers. Please be open to exploring wine from Rioja because you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will find in your glass. 

Here’s a fun fact if you are curious about the exact location where this wine is made checkout the longitude and latitude coordinates on the top of the label.

Longitude & Latitude Coordinates

Link to Field Trip with Curtis Stone below

 

http://www.fieldtripwithcurtisstone.com 

 

Invitation to my The Vintner Project Article

I am happy to announce that I am the newest contributor to The

Photo courtesy The Vintner Project

Vintner Project. http://vintnerproject.com The Vintner Project is an effort to make the sometimes confusing world of wine more approachable to consumers globally by offering a personal look at wineries, their wine, and the people that make them unique. It is a diversified collection of voices and points of view that bring all the wine regions and winemakers stories together so readers can explore and learn about segments of the winemaking community that might not be covered by the mainstream media.

Founded in 2018 by Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow, The Vintner Project has developed into a dynamic cutting edge media outlet

The Vintner Project founders Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow Photo courtesy vintnerproject.com

for news and insightful content for wine lovers worldwide.

Check out my article about the intriguing Austrian red wine grape Zweigelt and the versatile wine it makes. See why Zweigelt is often called the “Ultimate picnic wine”. Click here to go to my profile and my article vintnerproject.com/learn/zweigelt-austrias-little-known-signature-red-grape/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing the Zweigelt Waltz

When a vintner is considering adding a new variety of wine grape to their vineyard the thought process involved in choosing which vines they eventually plant can be very tedious and time-consuming. The most important consideration when making that decision is the vine’s compatibility with their growing conditions but it’s not the only factor to study when making a selection. Of all the other variables probably the most important influence on a winemaker’s decision to grow a particular grape is their belief they can make a premium wine from it. Winemakers often begin their search for that “perfect” match in wine regions around the world that are similar to their own and are producing quality wines from the grape under consideration so they can use them as a guide.

Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) is beginning to attract attention from growers in the northeastern United States and a few Canadian vineyards in British Columbia and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Zweigelt is a cool-climate Austrian hybrid red grape developed in 1922 by the hybridization of two Austrian grapes, Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) and St. Laurent. Zweigelt is the most extensively planted red wine grape in Austria. It is a very fertile grape that requires intensive leaf control and yield regulation because of its prolific yields. Zweigelt is a good choice for growers as an insurance grape because it’s bud break is later in the spring than many other varieties when the danger of a killing frost has passed and it ripens mid-season before most of the bad weather that damages the crop later in the harvest. These are some of the reasons why the acreage of this red grape has increased substantially in Austria between 1999-2015 but has now stabilized in recent years. Zweigelt displays characteristics from both of its parents. Blaufrankisch makes a bigger, bolder and deeper wine while St. Laurent is described as being fresh, agile, and akin to a Pinot Noir but with more muscle. Zweigelt is generally made into a dry, medium/light-bodied wine with low tannins and medium/high acidity but can also be made in a sweet style or ice wine. In the glass, it has a violet/reddish color and flavors of red cherry, raspberry, black pepper, and chocolate with a spicy floral aroma.

Zweigelt is a fresh light wine that pairs well with a wide range of food, making it a great picnic wine. It is common to find Zweigelt as a varietal but it is also widely used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to yield an Austrian spin on the classic Bordeaux blend. It is frequently blended with Blaufrankisch to double down on its Austrian lineage.

The great thing about wine is that there are so many completely different wines to explore. With that in mind, I suggest when judging a new wine grape don’t base your impression on a single bottle because with these unusual wines every winemaker has their own vision for the wine. It is a good idea to try as many samples as possible before forming your opinion. If you would like to taste an American Zweigelt consider trying one made in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by Rob and Kate Thomas at their Shalestone Vineyards. http://shalestonevineyards.com

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Tod & Jean Manspeaker

 

 

On May 22, 2020, Jay and Joanna Bell, owners of Bella Terra Vineyards Hunker, Pa became the new owners of Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery Bedford, Pa

When Jean Manspeaker’s great-grandparents immigrated from Germany and settled on a hilly farm west of Bedford, Pa nearly 200 years ago they had no idea what a wonderful future lay ahead for their descendants. They planted a small vineyard and 170 years later that vineyard is still going. The seeds that would grow into Jean’s unlikely career were sown in her childhood as she watched her grandfather tending to the vines he loved all summer and then seeing him sell his prized grapes to his friends and neighbors for their jams, jellies, grape juice and of course homemade wine. Jean grew up on her family’s dairy farm and while her father worked the farm he also had a job outside the farm but somehow had time for a vineyard and made wine at home. Little did Jean know at the time, Tod her future husband was growing up on his family’s show and quarter horse farm in nearby Everett, Pa. Tod and his family are avid horseman and had numerous champion quarter horses.

Like Jean, Tod had never planned on getting involved in the very demanding business of growing vinifera wine grapes and making them into premium wines. Serendipity intervened and that’s when Tod and Jean’s future took an unexpected turn down a different path after visiting wineries on the East Coast. They fell in love with the vineyards and their fates as winemakers were sealed. After a great deal of research, numerous classes, and endless hours of reading everything related to winemaking they could get their hands on they hired a consultant to find out as much about growing vinifera grapes in Pennsylvania as they could. The die was cast and there was no turning back when Jean did an internship at a winery and Tod worked the vineyard. Their mission has always been to grow the best grapes possible and make them into exceptional wines. That passion to excel is palpable when you talk wine with them. 

From its inception in 2005 Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery has chosen to grow all it’s own vinifera grapes and make only dry wines. The B.V. vineyards are planted on a southeastern facing slope at an elevation of 1200 feet above sea level and consist of Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger. This determination to stay true to their vision and not to give in to making lesser quality wines to enhance the profitability of the operation is to be admired and applauded in an industry that often puts profits before quality. By following their dreams Tod and Jean have been able to pursue careers that they felt passionate about and that afforded the opportunity to see the results of their hard work at the end of the day. 

A tribute to those labors could be seen on display in the Briar Valley tasting room on E. Pitt Street in downtown Bedford, Pa. It was quite an achievement when B.V. won a Double Gold Medal and Best of Show for one of their Rieslings in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, home to the best Rieslings in the United States. Briar Valley has also won the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, as well as gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Briar Valley wines have received high scores from world-renown wine critic James Suckling and the International Wine Review. Their wines were  served at the State Department for the 75th Anniversary of the Blair House.

It is the intangible things that have given the Manspeakers the most joy and satisfaction over the years at the winery. They love their small

Briar Valley Case Club members share good times at the winery

town of Bedford and the community it supports. It is a town where the residents take great pride in their small town culture and the people that make it all possible. The Manspeakers and their Briar Valley Winery have added greatly to the “terroir” of the area and will continue to do so far into the future. Of all the experiences and memories that they will take with them from their time at Briar Valley Winery, the one thing they cherish the most is the friendships they have made over the years and that will continue as they embark on their next great adventure wherever that journey might take them.

In the end, success is not judged by financial gain alone but by the lives, you have touched and were made better because of it. Thank you Tod and Jean for letting us share in your dreams, all the great wine and the wonderful memories you have given us. Wishing you both all the best life has to offer.

Scroll down for more photos of Tod & Jean Manspeaker and Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery

Tod & Jean at the State Dept.

The B.V. tasting bar

Briar Valley tasting room in Bedford, PA

B.V. tasting room

B.V. Cab Franc

Times They are a Changing

Organic, biodynamic, natural, sustainable, and many other techniques of viticulture and winemaking are once again making their existence known in the wine world. Yes, I said again because these farming methods are being updated using current technology but the basic premise of all of them is nothing new. The idea behind all of these methods of producing wine using the least human intervention possible was once done by necessity rather than by a conscious choice. In the not too distant past, there were no chemical controls and spraying programs available to vintners. Winemakers had to rely on taste and experience to know how their grapes and wine were progressing without a lab to verify their assumptions. Even after chemical controls became available the poorer producers still had to rely on biological controls and manipulating the natural conditions to bring in a harvest.

Understanding the delicate interactions between nature and agriculture has always been a passion of mine. My preoccupation with keeping the ecosystem clean and free of dangerous residual chemical compounds is completely understandable once you know a little about me, my background, and my education. I grew up across the road from my mother’s family farm where I watched my uncle, aunt, and cousins farming and caring for the land. I would pursue my higher education at California University of Pennsylvania where I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Nature Conservation. I have since combined that education with my interest in writing and the love of wine into an exciting journey of discovery. My writing has allowed me to become friends with many winemakers and vintners, not only in the northeastern United States but around the world. I have leveraged my access to these remarkable men and women to further my understanding of the practicality of using less chemical intervention in the vineyard. After years of conversations with the people who know first hand which practices work and which don’t work for their particular circumstances, I have assembled a mosaic of the feasibility of organic viticulture across North America and the world. My findings are that success and failure is very location and climate-specific. Climatic factors have never been predictable but are in flux now more than ever before.

In my ongoing effort to gather opinions on growing grapes organically, I recently had the pleasure to discuss the subject with Greg Winslow, owner/winemaker/vintner of Winslow Winery concerning his efforts to keep his vineyard as organic as possible using the options available to him. The Winslow winery and vineyards are located in the picturesque southwestern Pennsylvania town of Perryopolis. Greg grows a diverse collection of wine grapes, including a recent planting of a favorite of mine, Saperavi. Greg quit using glyphosate in 2016 because of the uncertainty surrounding the effects it might have on the eco-balance of his vineyard. That same year he decided to take a chemical-free approach to weed control when be purchased a weed burner manufactured by Flame Engineering. A weed burner is basically a flame thrower that incinerates the vegetation in the vine rows. It’s easy to see how this method of weed control is environmentally friendly even if it can be visualized as a plot from a cartoon where the results can be

Greg Winslow’s weed burner Photo courtesy Winslow Winery

both hilarious and disastrous. Greg pointed out some nice positives of using his weed burner. On the positive side is that it’s organic, weeds can’t develop a resistance to it, all the weeds and grass in the target area are destroyed instantly, and it has the unexpected benefit of helping sterilize the ground under the vines of fungus and mold that might splash up onto the vines during a rain. He also noted on the negative side the extra cost when compared to chemical herbicides and it doesn’t have the duration of chemical controls. Greg included one unforeseen danger of using this device in the vineyard that I hadn’t thought of. “It is absolutely devastating to bird netting. We use side netting that we leave up all year round then roll it down to cover the fruit zone during version. Once you drop the nets, don’t even think about using this.” 

Not completely satisfied with the weed control the weed burner was providing Greg purchased an offset tiller, a Rineri EL170 to be exact, to complement his weed control program. In addition to using his offset tiller to work the floor of his vineyard, he added drainage tiles and annual ryegrass between his rows to improve the water flow out of the vineyard and lessen soil compaction. His efforts are proving to be effective but are labor-intensive and costly but sustainable by definition. I suggested

Rineri EL
170 offset tiller Photo courtesy: Winslow Winery

he consider the organic broad-spectrum herbicide Weed Slayer to enhance his other weed controls. I first heard of Weed Slayer from Mary Rocca at Rocca Vineyards in the Napa Valley of California. I saw photos of her vine rows completely clear of weeds after vineyard manager Sergio Melgoza had applied the product. Weed Slayer consists of two separate products that are mixed with water to produce an effective herbicide. Weed Slayer is the herbicide and Arg Gold is the biological adjuvant. These two products work together to kill weeds from the root up while leaving no toxicity in the soil. If you have used Weed Slayer in your vineyard or another agricultural application please let me know of your experience with this product.

Greg Winslow believes in the idea of growing organically in his vineyard and pursues it as best he can while having to battle the same problems all producers of agricultural products face in the northeastern United States. When asked about the viability of growing his grapes completely organic and chemical-free he answered honestly and realistically. “I think that growing organically is a noble cause and it would be nice to market wines that were grown that way”. “I think growing organically would be difficult at best, at least in the mid-Atlantic states”. ” I haven’t met anyone in southern Pa and points south that is doing totally organic”. I do however use some organic products in my spray program, I use copper, sulfur, and hydrogen peroxide in my spray rotation, especially as harvest nears”. “I am trying to use only what I need when I need it and not spray irresponsibly for everything”.

Greg Winslow’s candid answers are very similar to the sentiments expressed by all the growers that I have posed these questions to in the Northeast. They say going totally organic would be great but it isn’t feasible at this time. Growing grapes and making wine is no different than any other business in that you need a product to sell. Growers are challenged every year to produce a harvest whether it be organically or with the help of chemical controls or a combination of both. I am always amazed by the ingenuity of these tenacious individuals and their sheer will to succeed.  

Winslow vineyards Photo courtesy: Winslow Winery

                  

 

 

We Will Rise

Fero Vineyards Lewisburg, Pennsylvania Photo Courtesy of Fero Vineyards & Winery

I wake up every morning only to realize that it isn’t a reoccurring bad dream I keep having but a new day and the new reality of a world suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic, I struggle to believe that the images and commentary from around the world are actually taking place and isn’t the plot from a futuristic sci-fi novel. I take comfort in knowing while most of the country is safe at home under a “Stay at home” order Nature is moving forward at its own pace unaffected by the current state of human affairs. That won’t last long because crops will need to be planted and vineyards will need to be tended. Those jobs will take labor and labor will be hard to find now that the flow of migrant workers has been severely restricted to mitigate the spread of the virus.The biggest question yet to be answered is if the virus will peak and recede soon enough to allow work to start or will it linger causing a catastrophic interruption of all food and material commerce. That is a question that no one can answer while we’re in the midst of this unprecedented disaster. My best advice would be to explore some of those bottles you have been saving for a special occasion and enjoy them now because when will you be experiencing a more memorable event that this? Stay Strong, Stay Safe and Stay Home