Homeward Bound

If you have followed this blog you know that I’m fascinated by uncommon wine grapes and where they are being grown by innovative vintners. I usually write about grapes that originated in other parts of the world but today I’m writing about a grape that was developed in the United States and is widely planted in my home state of Pennsylvania.

Traminette was created in 1965 at the University of Illinois by crossing the Vitis vinifera grape Gewürztraminer and the French-American hybrid grape Joannes Seyve 23.416. It was originally created as a white table grape but was then found to possess qualities that make it favorable for making wine. The result was a grape with a complex flavor profile, good productivity, resistance to cold temperatures, and versatility in the cellar. Traminette produces a straw-colored wine that has an enticing floral aroma and flavors of apricot, honey, and to a lesser extent, tropical fruit. I had the pleasure of tasting Traminette juice as it flowed from the press at Ripepi Wnery & Vineyard Monongahela, PA. It was bright and had a depth of sweetness with a flavor that is hard to describe. Traminette is most often made in a dry to off-dry style. I like both styles but prefer the off-dry wine when enjoying a day at the winery with my friends.

Traminette can be found throughout Pennsylvania but is most heavily concentrated in the southeastern and northcentral regions.

Australian & South African Winemakers Need Your Help

Winemakers in Australia and South Africa are facing a crisis. Australia is embroiled in a trade dispute with China in which China has halted the purchase of Australian barley, most beef, seafood, coal, and yes,wine. By early December 2020 Australian wineries had lost 1.2 billion in sales. South Africa has banned all alcohol sales as it battles a resurgence of Covid-19. You can help by buying a bottle or two of Australian and South African wine when you visit your wine shop. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite from these countries or explore something new, either way it’s a win/win situation.

                                                                       


 

A Wrinkle in Time

I just received an interesting email from my good friend Steve Casscles. You may recognize Steve from his many articles about wine grapes or his book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the U.S. and Canada” available on Amazon.com. Steve is a winemaker at Sabba Vineyard in New York’s Hudson Valley. He wanted me to share the exciting news with my readers that Sabba Vineyard has embarked on a new project and is offering a very limited quantity (about 20 gallons) of wine made from heritage wine grapes. Steve and Sabba Vineyard owner Abby Youghabi have worked tirelessly at preserving these and many other heritage grapes so they can be enjoyed by future generations. Anyone interested in purchasing these unique wines can go to sabbavineyard.com and click on “Order Now” to view the wines or use this link: http://sabbavineyard.com/s/order At this time they are offering:

 

-Baccchus Marion –  a Ricketts Red variety developed in the Hudson Valley in the 1870s  a flinty red variety, medium body, but a true wine grape developed in the 19th century (which was unique then) $25

– Baco Blanc – as steely and flinty white with fruits of soft lemons and green apples.  The variety is used a lot in Cognac and Armanac to make brandy. $25

– Pallmer Noir – a chance hybrid Steve found at his farm.  A big Malbec kind of wine.with lots of vinifera in its genetic makeup. $25

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.           

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

Smoke & Mirrors

Robert Mondavi “invented” Fumé Blanc because he wanted to

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

distinguish the high-quality Sauvignon Blanc he was making in the French-style from the other California Sauvignon Blanc that was widely viewed as ordinary “run of the mill” sweet wines. Mondavi realized that changing the name wouldn’t be enough to change people’s idea of California Sauvignon Blanc so he decided to age it in oak barrels. His bold move to rename his dry-fermented barrel-aged wine Fumé Blanc quickly paid off as demand for this “new” wine grew in California and across the United States. Mondavi’s decision not to trademark the name was a stroke of brilliance on his part because more people could use the name and by doing so increase its name recognition and acceptance worldwide. The name Fumé Blanc is commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States since the late1960’s. Robert Mondavi never intended to imply that Fumé Blanc was a specific style or method of making wine but only a name for his wine. There is nothing that dictates Fumé Blanc must be oak-aged. You can find Fumé Blanc that is not aged in oak and that is perfectly acceptable because under current U.S. law the terms “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Fumé Blanc” are synonymous. 

If you are curious I suggest you try Fumé Blanc from the winery

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

that started it all, the Robert Mondavi Winery. 2017 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley from Robert Mondavi Winery has aromas of peach, citrus and of course, smoke followed by crisp acidity and flavors of pear, citrus, and vanilla/buttery oak. 

The wine world is full of interesting stories like this and others where you may find yourself asking is it “Lemberger” or “Blaufränkisch”? Don’t even get me started with the marketing genius behind the “Syrah” or “Shiraz” campaign.LOL My advice is to ignore the marketing hype and drink what you like no matter what is printed on the label.  

Wine Me Dine Me

The Bogle family has farmed in the Clarksburg region of California’s Sacramento River Delta for six generations dating back to the late 1800s. Bogle has over 1800 acres of estate-grown grapes and sources grapes from some of the best-growing regions throughout the state of California. Their wines are often described as “Value wines” or “Everyday wines” but don’t be fooled because they are widely available and have a price point in the low teens if not lower. These wines are well made considering the size of Bogle’s production. Bogle Chardonnay is barrel fermented on the lees and hand-stirred once a month while the reds are aged in small oak barrels. These methods are rare in wineries the size of Bogle. If you are looking for quality wine at an affordable price that you can pair with your weeknight dinner and is always a reliable choice when you’re “out on the town” take a close look at the menu of Bogle wines. A good place to start is with Bogle Merlot. This is a very drinkable Merlot with notes of oak and slightly rounded edges because of its lower acidity and tannins, dry but not overly dry. Enjoyable flavor.  

Bohemian Rhapsody

If you like Sauvignon Blanc but sometimes want a wine with a little more body and complexity then you should try Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is the signature grape of Austria and has evolved almost entirely as the result of natural hybridization over time in the region. It is a white Vitis vinifera grape also called Grûner Mushateller but is better known by the colloquial name “Grūner”. Grüner Veltliner is a versatile grape that can be made into a wide variety of wines ranging from light and easy-drinking to rich and packed with varietal character. Grüner vines have medium-sized leaves with 5-7 lobes. It’s grape clusters are medium to very large conical clusters of medium density with round or oval greenish-yellow berries. These vines have adapted perfectly to the wet mineral-rich loess and loam soils of the lower vineyard sites near the Danube River. The lots higher up the hill are planted with Riesling. The rocky soils of these sites force the Riesling to struggle to survive but result in a wine that has concentrated flavors and complex taste profile. This farming practice utilizes the attributes of the land and yields the best grapes possible from the prevailing conditions. Although the largest plantings of Grüne Veltliner are in Austria and surrounding countries it has been dispersed throughout many of the wine regions of the world. While most Austrian Grüners are dry, full-bodied and acidic with flavors of citrus fruit, spice, and white pepper you can easily find others that are weightier with a more structured body that requires years to reach maturity in the bottle.

If you haven’t tasted Grüne Veltliner and you’re curious about where to start I would suggest trying a few from Austria first then expand your search to

The United States and Italy to find good Grūner at very reasonable prices. Here are a

South Shore Wine Company Gruner Veltliner 2015

Gruner Veltliner 2018 Photo Courtesy: Fero Vineyards & Winery

few to get you started on your journey.

AUSTRIA: Singing Grūner Veltliner 2017 Niederösterreich, Austria or Domane Krems Grüner Veltliner 2018 Kremstal, Austria 

ITALY: Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Grüner Veltliner 2018 Alto Adige, Italy

 

The United States of America: Grüner Veltliner Fero Vineyards & Winery

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,  Grûner Veltliner South Shore Wine Company North East, Pennsylvania or Grüner Veltliner Hosmer Winery Ovid, New York (FLX)

Hosmer Estate Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner

 

Places I Remember

Sometimes I like to go back and taste wines that I drank often years ago but somehow moved on from or just lost interest in. Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is one of those wines. When I revisit certain wines I realize why I don’t buy them anymore but with some like this Riesling, they seem to hold up and remind me how my tastes have and have not evolved.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling has been a reliable white wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley for years and because it is widely available it can be easily overlooked as a very drinkable option for the money. Riesling is often referred to as a “wine lovers grape” because with all of it’s outstanding qualities and punctuated by the fact it might be the most food-friendly of all wines it has never gained acceptance with causal wine drinkers. I once heard a CEO of Altria, the corporation that owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, describe the wineries in that group as ” a string of pearls”. Quite a fitting compliment when you consider they have managed to maintain a level of quality and consistency that is extremely difficult when you consider the scale of the operation.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2018 Columbia Valley is not dry by any means but isn’t sweet either. This wine offers ample body, flavors of peach and citrus that are enhanced by just enough acidity to tie it all together. It’s a solid choice when your dinner guests usually don’t drink wine with their meal and you need an approachable wine everyone can enjoy.

If you are unsure of what white wine to serve at any of your gathers play it safe and pick up some bottles of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.