Just off Exit 146 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the foot of the Allegheny mountains lays the little town of Bedford. Nothing along the quaint business district in the center of town would give you any clue that something extraordinary is happening at 107 E. Pitt Street. That is the address of the tasting room for Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery, one of the best wineries in Pennsylvania. You might think that’s only my opinion of their classic European-style vinifera wines but I have a second opinion from someone with creditability greater than my own, Mr. James Suckling! Yes, you heard right, that James Suckling the world-famous wine critic.
At a recent tasting of more than 800 non-West Coast wines Mr. Suckling gave Briar Valley Chardonnay 2016
Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay 2016
a score of 92 points calling it “Concentrated and fresh, this is an elegant cool-climate Chardonnay with bright lemon and herbal notes. Very long mineral finish.” Quite a coup for Tod & Jean Manspeaker owners/wine makers at B.V. Mr. Suckling went on to award B.V. Lemberger 2016 an 89 point score and B.V. Cabernet Franc 2016 87 points. These two Reds are among my favorite Pennsylvania wines. It is easy to see why Tod & Jean have recently expanded their winery with a new production facility because when you make wine this good you will need extra capacity.
You can find these wines and all the other quality wines that Briar Valley offers at their tasting room in Bedford, Pa, online at http://briarvalleywinery.com or at many fine dining restaurants around the state.
Entrance to Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery
On every trip there is one experience that stamps its indelible mark on your memory. On this trip it was meeting Marti Macinski and the time we spent at her Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery. Upon our arrival she greeted us with a genuinely heart-felt welcome. Marti was accompanied by her personable and outgoing intern Griffin Lehman. She lead my wife and I through a tasting of all of her excellent wines. I was very impressed by how good all the wines were. If I were to use one word to describe all of the Standing Stone wines we tasted that day it would be balanced. Balance is very important to me when I taste wine because it allows me to taste all aspects of the wine without having certain overdone or underdeveloped characteristics create a biased wine. When you drink a wine made by Marti Macinski you can taste every nuance of the wine and the terroir of her vineyards.
Her Riesling were some of the best that I tasted in the FLX and I tasted the best Riesling that I have ever tasted there on this visit. I really liked her Saperavi and it confirmed my opinion that this grape has great potential in the Eastern U.S.. She convinced us to try her Ice wine even though we were never fans of Ice wine. We are glad we did because we loved all four of her offerings : Chardonnay, Vidal, Grwürztraminer and Riesling. The entire menu of wines offered by Standing Stone Winery are well crafted and certainly worth your attention when you visit. I can highly recommend a visit to this Seneca Lake winery in Hector N.Y. for anyone attending the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference or someone visiting the area looking for superior wine. Standingstonewines.com 607-582-6051 9934 Rte 414 Hector, N Y 14841
View of Seneca Lake & Vineyards from Standing Stone
The flavor and aroma of oak in wine is only second to Red or White in dividing wine drinkers. Many people simply will not give themselves a chance to appreciate how oak can be artfully used to enhance wine quality whether it’s Red or White. I like the flavor of oak in any of its applications especially when it is used to shape a wine into a more complex version of itself. Wine makers have leaned on oak barrels for centuries to give their wine both structure and flavors. The oxygen that seeps into the barrels helps mature the wine while causing the loss of a small amount of wine that is said to be the ” Angel
New Oak Wine Barrel
Share”. Oak wood for wine barrels is grown throughout the world and has a distinctive flavor associated with each region from which it is harvested. American Oak has a pronounced level of flavor that is imparted to the wine while French Oak is said to be more subtle (Let the arguments begin). Coopers are able to give wine makers more control over their flavors by the amount of toasting they do to the inside of a barrel, mixing different kinds oak staves used to make a barrel and even making the oak wood in to chips or sticks that can be floated in vats of wine. Today’s wine makers don’t have to paint the portrait of a wine using only broad brush strokes of oak, they can paint shadows of light and dark accents of flavors with the precision of an artist using small brush strokes to bring out all the nuances of a wine. The organic compounds that are released into the wine give it structure and flavor while drawing out hidden flavors to add complexity to the wine. When done correctly the addition of oak can produce a truly unique wine. The difference that oak makes in the personality of a wine can be seen by tasting three different Chardonnay. The first being made entirely in stainless steel to preserve fruit flavors, the second aged in used barrels for texture only and the third aged in new oak to get a creamy texture plus an aromatic vanilla taste. After tasting the differences in the three you will be able to the tell which methods you like the best.
Wagner’s 2011 Chardonnay
I am not a huge Chardonnay fan but I do like the style made in the Finger Lakes. They tend to be dry but not the bone dry examples that are so popular in California. We had a bottle of Wagner’s Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay and decided to pair it with our Easter dinner. It paired well with the sugar-cured ham that was the centerpiece of the meal. This dry Chardonnay has a full and solid mouth feel that allowed it to stand up to the flavors of the meal. Since it is fermented in small oak barrels it has an aroma of vanilla and the flavors of pear and melons which can be tasted throughout its smooth finish. Wagner’s Vineyards offers several different styles of Chardonnay that I had the opportunity to sample during my last visit to their tasting room in 2012. Each one was distinctly different in style , flavor and dryness. This wine is a good value at $13.99 from the Wagner Vineyards website. wagnervineyards.com
Christian W. Klay Winery Photo Courtesy: Christian W. Klay Winery
I had the pleasure to drink several Christian W. Klay wines at a friend’s wedding reception that was held very near the Klay winery’s home in Chalk Hill,Pa. I enjoyed their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both displayed good structure and a medium body that paired well with my steak dinner. The Chardonnay I tried didn’t impress me as much as the Cab and Merlot. When I asked my wife for her opinion on the White Zinfandel she gave me a favorable comment saying it was pleasing and easy to drink. The Christian W. Klay winery has been a mainstay of the wine industry in Western Pennsylvania since opening in Fayette county in 1997 and has always raised the quality of their wines with every vintage. These wines, as well as the wines of many other W.Pa. wineries, continue to improve every year and I look forward to the offerings that will come from the superb 2013 vintage. www.cwklaywinery.com
The Goulart Winery is a partnership between Mauricio Parodi and Erika Goulart. Mauricio Parodi is one of the most knowledgeable and accomplished agronomist in Mendoza and Erika Goulart, whose grandfather lead the overthrow of the Brazilian government in the 1932 Constitutional Revolution. Erika is a successful entrepreneur who with the help of Mauricio resurrected her grandfathers Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Mendoza that were originally planted in 1915. It took six years to rehabilitate the vineyards back to the point of perfect balance that is necessary to produce high quality wine and after the enlightened hiring of Luis Barrund all the pieces were in place for a world-class winery. Goulart wines have been hard to find, especially in Pennsylvania, below I have posted the New Vintage releases for the United States so you can focus your search for the wines of this exceptional producer. You can visit www.fincalugildegoulart.com.ar or click the link to the left to visit Erika’s Facebook page for more information that also includes the releases for Europe, Asia and South America.
Overture Photo Courtesy Opus One
CRU Photo Courtesy Vineyard 29
There is real value to be found inside the bottles of the second label offerings of famous wineries. These are very well-made wines by renowned wine makers that do not quite meet the high standards required for being sold under the flagship label of the winery. The November 2012 issue of Men’s Journal Magazine had an interesting article on this category of wines. Stoney Hill Winery is one of this country’s greatest white wine estates with their flagship label Stoney Hill Chardonnay costing $42 but the second label is SHV Chardonnay that can be yours for only $24. Opus One is well-known to everyone with the 2009 vintage selling for $225 but did you know that Overture is their second label and is only $80. You can buy a bottle of Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for $225 or go with the second label CRU Cabernet Sauvignon for $54. Great values can be found with some research and if you want to do some detective work who knows what wine secrets you will uncover. Here is an example of a great value that could be easily overlooked by the uninformed wine shopper. Boekenhoutsko is one of South Africa’s top producers and it’s flagship label sales for $45 but their secondary is called The Wolftrap 2010 and retails for $8. Second label wines are an affordable alternative to their big-name and highly touted first label counterparts and can competently fill the need when a well made wine at a reasonable price is the challenge presented to you.
aldo’s ice cream (Photo credit: surekat)
This isn’t one of the old standards when it comes to ice cream flavors but surprisingly it is very good. We got the chance to enjoy this special treat on the lake shore in Geneva N.Y. Like any wine list we were offered the choice of red or white with red consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Zinfandel while the white options were Chardonnay and Chablis. We tried the Cab, Merlot and Chardonnay and found them all very flavorful because the character of the wine was prominent in the taste palate of all the selected ice creams. These ice creams are made with real wine and have an alcohol content listed for each which makes them only available to persons of legal drinking age. I think it is funny that the possibility exists that someone could be carded when buying an ice cream cone. I look forward to my next trip down Rte 14 so I can try a big piece of grape pie and a wine slushie.
I have just completed another trip around the Sun, so my wife and I decided to celebrate in our usual way by having dinner at an interesting new restaurant. This year we decided on the Out Of The Fire Café in Donegal, Pennsylvania. I will keep this review short and simple because we agreed that after dining there that it was the most exceptionally delicious meal from start to finish that we have ever eaten. We are comparing our meal to meals we have had at restaurants that were owned by Mario Batalli, Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Emeril Lagasse and other celebrity chefs just to give you some point of reference on how good this meal was. I won’t bore you with my perception of the evening I will report it just as the BBC reports the news with just the facts. We began with the Seasonal Soup which was Crab Chowder that evening. The entrées were as follows per their menu description. My wife had Pan Seared Maine Monkfish with Carmelized Onions & Herb Polenta, Bristol Farms Cherry Tomatoes, Crooked Neck Summer Squash & Zucchini, Smoked Tomato Pesto and I had Orange & Fennel Crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Sweet Corn & Lump Crab Griddle Cakes, Grilled Scallions, Orange Section Salsa. This is how I would describe our dessert ” Strawberry Marscapone Parfitt, Marscapone Cheese Layered in Balsamic Vinegar Infused Strawberries with a Topping of Crumpled Thin Oatmeal Wafer. Out Of The Fire Café is a B.Y.O.B. establishment that has a $2 per person corkage fee. I have always avoided B.Y.O.B. places and I must tell you I was wrong in doing so. The atmosphere was festive and the bottle of Swedish Hill 2009 Reserve Chardonnay (Finger Lakes) we brought was excellent. I would recommend making reservations any time you plan on going because they are always crowded. Out Of The Fire Café 3784 State Rt 31 Donegal, Pa 15628. 724-593-4201 www.outofthefirecafe.com
We are back on the road again and on our way to Wagner Vineyards where they have a winery, brewery, restaurant and gift shop. I would like to take this opportunity to advise you to be careful when tasting and driving and also ask you to be sure that you act in a responsible manner to ensure public safety because if you don’t the police around the Finger Lakes will. Wagner is probably the most commercially developed winery around the lakes and should be on your must see list. They produce an extensive variety of wines and if you are fortunate enough to have Bill serve you in the tasting room you will get to experience every one that your heart desires. I asked him for a good red for making Sangria and he suggested the Sunset Red then he gave me his favorite Sangria recipe. I tasted all of their Chardonnay and chose the dry 2011 Barrel Fermented. I didn’t taste at the brewery this trip but I remember that the last time I did their portions were the same as the wine room samples and let’s just say they were more than generous. The Ginny Lee Cafe has a trendy menu and we have had lunch on the deck overlooking the vineyards on several occasions. If you do decide to stop for lunch try one of their wraps, my favorite is the Tuscan. Wagner Vineyards is located at 9322 State Route 414 Lodi, New York.