Top tips from the wine cellar: A few to sip, savor during Pa. Wine Month
With glorious autumn colors unfolding across the commonwealth, commercial wineries have plenty of fun events planned to attract visitors as part of Pennsylvania Wine Month throughout October.
In Pittsburgh, two restaurants, Cinderlands 3705 in Lower Lawrenceville at 3705 Butler St. and The Allegheny Wine Mixer at 5326 Butler St., are offering delicious tastes of top Pennsylvania wines by featuring special pours by the glass. (See pennsylvaniawine.com for a complete list.)
Kelly Peterson-Bates, general manager and beverage director at Cinderlands, and Jamie Patten, owner at The Allegheny Wine Mixer, both look for quality, food compatibility and drinkability as top considerations in selecting Pennsylvania wines for their customers.
“We wouldn’t carry Pennsylvania wines if we didn’t think they were good quality,” Patten says. “All the wines on our list reflect on our reputation.”
That said, Pennsylvania wines remain a challenge to sell in restaurants. Most customers associate the wines with fun tourism experiences. They often fondly recall buying wines for either a tasting or picnic on site at a beautiful Pennsylvania winery. But it doesn’t come naturally to think of buying Pennsylvania wines at a neighborhood restaurant or wine bar.
Potential is growing
According to both Patten and Peterson-Bates, however, the potential exists and is growing. And it requires looking a little harder for quality wines to offer as Peterson-Bates learned firsthand.
After honing her professional skills for 16 years with mentors at top restaurants in Boston and Chicago, Peterson-Bates returned to her home state knowing virtually nothing about Pennsylvania wines. In the fall of 2018, Cinderlands’ co-owner, Jamie Warden, enabled her to travel extensively visiting wineries around the commonwealth with the goal of discovering excellent Pennsylvania wines to offer customers.
“Pennsylvania’s generally cool winter climate resembles European terroirs in Alsace, Germany, Austria and northern Italy, so I was tasting for similar qualities in top Pennsylvania wines,” says Peterson-Bates, who holds the highly regarded industry title of Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. “I also love introducing customers and our staff to esoteric grape varieties, and I’ve found a number of young Pennsylvania growers with the same mentality.”
“Galen Glen Winery in the Lehigh Valley just blew me away. They’re doing great work,” she says. “I also loved Mazza Vineyards’ dry red wine made from Teroldego grapes grown near Lake Erie. We sold the wine until the last vintage ran out, but we’ll have it back with the new vintage.”
“We always offer customers a taste before buying so that takes off the pressure,” Peterson-Bates adds. “Most people are pleasantly surprised and say our wines don’t taste like the Pennsylvania wines that they’ve tried before.”
Patten agrees. She says it always helps to offer customers a sample taste to overcome any hesitancy about ordering a Pennsylvania wine at the restaurant. Patten likes wines from Briar Valley Vineyard and Winery in Bedford and counts herself a big fan of wines from Galen Glen Winery.
“Galen Glen wines are well made and affordable,” she notes. “During October, we are offering a Galen Glen Riesling by the glass as well as the Galen Glen Chambourcin, a fruity, dry red wine.”
During October, at Cinderlands, which has a second location in the Strip District, Peterson-Bates is offering a Pennsylvania wine tasting flight for $13. It includes three sample wines as selected by the customer. For the autumn season, Peterson-Bates recommends the Karamoor Estate Vineyard and Winery Chardonnay — a delicious, delicately oaked dry white, the Galen Glen Stone Cellar Gewürztraminer — an aromatic and fruity, slightly off-dry white, and the Galen Glen, Red German Bastards, a fruity, yet spicy red blend.
Peterson-Bates and Patten both prefer wineries making wines from grapes grown in Pennsylvania. Many Pennsylvania wineries make their wines from either fruit or juice produced outside Pennsylvania.
“There’s certainly nothing wrong with using grapes from out of state. But I want to serve wines reflecting Pennsylvania’s unique terroirs,” Peterson-Bates notes. “Serious Pennsylvania growers are still matching grapes and to soils and figuring out what grapes to grow where. But you know from tasting the current top Pennsylvania wines that it is only going to get better.”
Meanwhile try the following tasty Pennsylvania wines:
• 2016 South Shore Wine Co., Grüner Veltliner, Lake Erie (PLCB code 9684; $13.99): Winemaker Mario Mazza and grape grower Mike Morehead have enjoyed great early success in collaborating on growing Grüner Veltliner, a European variety famous for producing crisp, dry Austrian white wines. South Shore’s award-winning Grüner Veltliner offers delicious grapefruit, ripe peach and white pepper flavors with crisp acidity and a fresh, dry finish. Highly Recommended.
• 2017 Courtyard Winery, Chardonel, Lake Erie (Available either online at courtyardwinery.com or at the winery’s stores in Pittsburgh’s Strip District and Ross Park Mall; $14.99): This tasty white comes from the La Courette’s Chardonel, a winter hearty hybrid grape variety developed at Cornell University. The wine’s pleasing floral and apple aromas open to ripe apple and citrus flavors. Fresh acidity balances a fruity, but dry finish. Recommended.
• 2018 Galen Glen, Red German Bastards Vinology, Lehigh Valley (Available shipped directly from the winery; $18.99. Go to galenglen.com) This tasty red skillfully blends three cold weather hearty Germanic grapes, Zweigelt, Cabernet Dorsa and Regent. The wine delivers ripe blueberry aromas and lush flavors with intriguing spiciness. With medium concentration and a soft, dry finish, it is a sheer pleasure to drink. Highly Recommended.