Allegro Winery & Vineyards, Brogue, PA – October 17, 2013

Allegro Winery & Vineyards, Brogue, PAThis year has been a challenging one for coordinating vacation time in my household.

Busy work schedules for my wife & I plus planning a trip to Italy in 2015 have provided enough motivation to keep it simple his year. If you consider a couple of day trips and a wine tour through Northern Maryland simple, that is.

Today we kicked off the tour with Allegro Winery in rural York County, en route to visiting family in Westminster. Allegro has a well established reputation for making consistently high quality, Pennsylvania wine. Their highly touted Reserve Red blends were my main motivator for venturing off the beaten path to see this place today.

Carl Helrich, Allegro's WinemakerAllegro’s winery & tasting room sits back off the road in a nondescript facility surrounded by a generous quantity of outdoor seating. There is a covered picnic pavilion which would have been perfect for lunch, if we had the foresight to bring some. Unfortunately we were miles from the nearest Wawa or 7-11. Next time.

The plain looking building opens up into a gorgeous tasting room. Allegro’s owner/winemaker Carl Helrich was manning the front, taking a break from his more demanding duties. Allegro is still very much in harvest mode, evident by the bustling staff in the production area behind the tasting room.

Carl is a tall, jovial guy who says what’s on his mind. I personally find that refreshing. He provided us with tasting sheets and the pouring of the juice commenced. Here are some of the highlights:

2012 Riesling Traminette2012 Riesling Traminette – a sweet but mild blend of these two estate grown grapes. An easy drinker perfect for summer or Thanksgiving dinner.

2011 Chambourcin – This bold & distinct wine is a favorite of mine. Though 2011 was a challenging year for local wine producers with lots of late season rain, the Allegro Chambourcin came through nicely. Carl uses this varietal primarily for blending, but this raw ‘PA Zin’ remains a favorite of mine.

2012 Claret – Aged for ten months in French Oak. The Claret is a Cab Franc blend that is a very versatile table wine that stands great on it’s own.

Raw Chambourcin grapes!2012 Merlot – My pick for today. This Merlot is fantastic with great presence. Fruit forward with lingering tannins. As a side note, Carl felt that the Merlot grape should be grown more in Pennsylvania. Hybrids like Chambourcin has been a popular staple for winemakers in PA for years, but could there be a shift to more Vinifera grapes like Merlot? We will see.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – Smooth & powerful. The Cab is tougher to grow in this area. It’s a site specific varietal and takes about two to three weeks longer than Merlot to mature.

As I mentioned above, Allegro has a reputation for their fantastic Reserve Reds, which I found out were not available for tasting. The latest is their 2010 Cadenza, in it’s 13th vintage and is nearly sold out. The fullbodied Bordeaux blend is comprised of Merlot, Cab Franc & Cab Sauv aged for twenty-two months in oak and according to Allegro … “Unfined & unfiltered, this wine represents the finest in Allegro winemaking”. I have no doubt. Though I have not tasted it, I bought a bottle for my cellar. Carl says it could age twenty years but I guarantee it won’t last that long. My friend Vic did a thorough video review earlier this year, check it out:

Allegro Vineyards 1980 Cabernet SauvignonAs I visit these places, I continue to be amazed and sometimes a little intimidated by the brilliance of winemakers. They have to be farmers, scientists, expert tasters and often public relations experts. And in every scenario, it’s evident that they love what they do. Carl Helrich is no exception and he had some interesting opinions on the culture & future of the local wine community.

Carl took some time out to give a tour of the place, which is always a cool experience. Allegro is outgrowing their current structure, which is a good thing. He showed off his collection of vintage Allegro wines dating back to 1980, which they use when hosting twice-a-year Library Tastings. Overall, the winery has a very active event calendar which includes Winemaker’s Dinners, Friday Happy Hours & art exhibits at their York Wine Gallery and participation in local wine festivals and promotions.

A small section of the vast wine archives at the wineryAllegro’s wine is available locally in York & Harrisburg at eateries, Giant & farmers markets. It can also be found at fine restaurants as far east as Lancaster & Philadelphia.

The word is out, Allegro wine is helping to put PA Wine on the map. Stop by the tasting room and tell him that I sent you. And you probably should eat first or pack some food.

A worthwhile trip, I’m glad we ventured off the beaten path to experience it.

Links:

Allegro Winery
Mason Dixon Wine Trail
Vino Vic

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Penns Woods & Righteous Felon break new ground – October 12th, 2013

Penns Woods Winery - Chadds Ford, PAFirst things first. I really have to give the staff at Penns Woods some props for all of the hard work & creativity that they put into these events. It sounds like a lot of fun, but they are exhausted. And it’s really paying off for them. Today’s pairing was a bit more challenging, but they pulled it off. I didn’t doubt them for a minute.

Righteous Felon Jerky CartelThe equally ambitious guys over at West Chester based Righteous Felon Jerky Cartel offer natural seasoned jerky made with locally raised beef. They broke onto the scene in 2012 with three styles of this awesome stuff. For today’s pairing, RF is test driving two new flavors.

Now if you’re thinking ‘Beef jerky & wine?’ I’m way ahead of you. It took considerable experimentation from Penns Woods and RF, but as you’ll see this turned out to be a successful, well planned endeavor.

Hungry yet? Enough small talk, let’s get to it.

Traminette 20121. Traminette 2012 & Habenero Escobar (light)

Penns Woods’s crisp, citrusy Traminette is one of their top sellers. I got some for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Righteous Felon provided a toned down version of their hot & spicy Habenero Escobar to go with this straw colored, easy drinking wine. The Traminette cooled down the jerky and the combined finish was pleasant and lasted forever. We finished this off with some creamy, local cheese to help put out the fire.

2. Sauvignon Blanc 2011 & Bangkok Brown Fave pick of the day!

This is the combo that really sold me today. The not yet released Bangkok Brown is a Thai flavored gem, with soy sauce and lemongrass infused in the seasoning. This was accompanied by the dry Sauvignon Blanc, a primo choice pairing with asian cuisine. Subtle acidity and citrus flavors bring out the flavors in the beef like a mini Thai dinner.

Today’s featured dried beef spread3. Merlot Reserve 2010 & O.G. Hickory

The O.G. is Righteous Felon’s original recipe with classic hickory flavors. Penns Woods put the powerful Merlot Reserve up against this one. The hickory brings out the smokiness in the wine. The Merlot has a full bodied, dark fruit character but doesn’t overpower the beef. The flavors in the wine and the jerky fused together and lingered together nicely with a pleasant finish.

4. Ameritage 2004 & Che Potle Guevara

This jerky is well named. As the spicy restaurant conglomerate Chipotle is one of my choice lunch spots, I have to say that the Che Potle Guevara is very characteristic of that. Cumin & chili powder give the dried beef a very pleasant southwestern character. Penns Woods classic Bordeaux style Ameritage is an awesome, fruit forward wine with hints of tobacco & chocolate. A very nice combination.

Yes, the bachelorettes got here first yet again!5. Lacrima Dolce NV & Cocoa & Hazlenut

Can you say C H O C O L A T E ? The Cocoa & Hazlenut jerky is not yet for sale, but the skinny is that it may be released in time for Valentine’s Day. Coincidence? You decide. Anyway, this is really a treat. The sweetness of the chocolate & savory hazlenut flavors really combine well into this very unique delicacy. Now if you throw in the well documented dessert indulgence, Lacrima Dolce … well, let’s just call it decadent. This Merlot based cherry chocolate wine balanced the similarly flavored jerky very nicely. This was a close second to the Thai experience for me.

The tasting was wrapped up with a glass of Penns Woods seasonal Mulled Wine, available now until February.

Kyle, Geoff & Brendan of Righteous FelonAll of Righteous Felon’s products are available at the winery and keep your eye out for the above mentioned new releases.

Thanks to the efforts of Carley, Andrea, Cliff and the hard working staff at Penns Woods for yet another great experience. And hats off to Brendan, Geoff and Kyle of Righteous Felon Jerky Cartel for your innovative, much needed detour from the average, mass produced truck stop jerky that until recently, was all that was available. Cheers from a self proclaimed meat lover.

This event, along with Penn State’s 4 OT classic victory over Michigan today makes me prouder than ever to be from Pennsylvania. (I had to get that in there. WE ARE!)

Buy Local!

Links:

Righteous Felon Jerky Cartel – West Chester, PA
Penns Woods Winery – Chadds Ford, PA
Buy Local PA
Penn State Football

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Brandywine Valley Harvest Festival 2013

Celebrating ten years!October has been designated Pennsylvania Wine Month by the Pennsylvania Winery Association. The transition into fall is the perfect time to take advantage of PA’s rich wine culture and award winning juice. Activities are going on at wineries all over the state for the entire month. Take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and experience it for yourself if you can.

The signature Harvest Festival by the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail has become an annual staple of my fall activities. As the weekends have been filling up, I was afraid this one might pass me by. Luckily, a scheduled family visit to Lancaster County made a stopover at two of the Valley’s finest possible today.

October is Pennsylvania Wine MonthBlack Walnut Winery’s impact on the local wine scene is well documented. They continue to offer innovative blends in their lineup as well as come up with creative local events (Fire & Wine is already slated for next year). Also, their tasting room in Phoenixville has helped the town’s resurgence into a trendy shopping destination.

Today the winery’s beautifully restored barn in Sadsburyville was decked out for Halloween and there was already a bustling crowd here in the early afternoon. Yes, complete with your standard limo full of bachelorettes. They always seem to manage to get to these places just ahead of me.

The main bar was two lines deep so we were directed to the slightly less busy side room. Behold, I found the bachelorette party. Black Walnut co-owner Valerie was overseeing the activity here. She explained that two busy tasting rooms during the festival and two other events today has spread the staff a bit thin.

Valerie from Black Walnut WineryThe standard passport tasting today includes any seven wines. The white Port-style Deception was not part of the standard tasting and cost a dollar per pour. Money well spent, I might add. I got Vanilla on the nose and hints of caramel. Similar to brandy. There’s not another wine quite like it on the Trail. Rumor has it that a Merlot based Port-style offering with notes of bourbon may be making an appearance on the tasting list soon. And it might be called Seduction. But don’t quote me.

Some other notables:

- Tryst 2010 – A 50/50 Pinot Noir/Merlot blend. Very powerful & finishes nicely. This wine can be aged for awhile but it was awesome now.

- Bank Barn Red NV – This wine has mild sweetness up front which evolves into more tart flavors. A friendly table wine which will complement barbeque or Thanksgiving dinner.

- Merlot 2009 – In your face berry & cherry flavors. Great presence. Finishes light.

- Smitten 2009 – Syrah/Merlot blend with seasonal spices. Christmas in a glass. Really.

The complete list of Black Walnut’s current offerings can be found HERE

Think Pink, Drink Pink - October 1-31, 2013The Trail is promoting “Think Pink, Drink Pink” during the month of October. In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all BV Wine Trail wineries will donate $1.00 per bottle from select wines to local breast cancer charities. In addition to that, all wineries are participating in “Stomp for a cure!” to kick things off on Saturday, October 5th. Five dollar minimum donation will give participants an opportunity to partake in the old school practice of grape stomping.

Black Walnut scheduled their stomp at 4 p.m., but our next stop, Twin Brook Winery, was set up to go at two. We got there just in time to witness the messy festivities. Twin Brook’s Winemaker, Tim Jobe was overseeing the event. There were two large vats of fresh grapes waiting I have to say it looked like a lot of fun. I was informed that the stomped grapes won’t go into the wine. They weren’t really ready to pick anyway. There may be a market for old school crushed wine in the future, I guess time will tell.

So, Twin Brook was just as busy this afternoon. Of course the bachelorettes beat us here. There was live music and plenty of juice flowing.

Old school grape stomping at all eight Trail wineries todayWe were able to sample six of any Twin Brook wines, minus the Esperanza, which is their sparkling, estate grown Chardonnay based wine which won awards in the U.S. and Internationally. I imagine they don’t want open bottles of this fine sparkler sitting around & going flat.

When doing consecutive tastings at different wineries, differences in winemaking styles can be very apparent. Twin Brook is known for their sweeter wines. Though both are very good, Black Walnut and Twin Brook each offer distinct character in their wines, which comes out in back to back tastings.

Twin Brook Winemaker, Tim JobeMy picks from Twin Brook today:

- 2011 Vidal Reserve – Delicious, award winning off-dry wine with pear & citrus on the nose. Flavors of summer fruit.

- 2011 Vignoles – Sweet & medium bodied. Swimming with notes of tropical fruit. The consensus from the staff is that it beats the pants off of the last vintage.

- Icebreaker Red NV – A dry, complex Norton blend with dark cherry flavors. Very enjoyable wine throughout. Smooth, even finish.

- Strasburger Red NV – Dark fruit flavors & aromas. Easy drinking, sweet wine.

This year marks ten years of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. The word is out as these events are getting more crowded every year. Book early and get out to see what the trail has to offer.

Wine & beef jerky coming up next weekend! Followed by our Maryland invasion. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

Links:

Pennsylvania Wine Month
Brandywine Valley Wine Trail
Black Walnut Winery
Twin Brook Winery

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Stone Barn Cellars Winery, Spring City, PA – September 28, 2013

Stone Barn Cellars Winery, Spring City, PASummer … gone. I can’t believe that fall is here already. Time has a way of getting away from you if you don’t stop, smell the roses (or the Rosé, haha. Sorry, poorly executed wine humor) and take advantage of what life has to offer at this specific moment.

Stone Barn Cellars is located on a rural stretch of Route 100 between Downingtown & Pottstown in northern Chester County. I first heard about them from an astute member of my wine group who passes it on her commute every day. I’ve been eagerly awaiting reports of the sign in front to change from ‘Opening Soon’ to ‘Open’. I’ve also been watching them closely on Facebook for the big announcement.

Stone Barn Cellars owner Ben MorrisonThey finally opened their doors on July 15 to a lot of local fanfare. I’ve been trying to get a visit in, but work & social commitments have made it difficult. I was finally able to throw a date out there that worked for my band of revelers. We had a group of about thirteen and the weather was perfect. I’m glad that it happened before sweater season. I love it when a plan comes together.

The winery & tasting room are both headquartered in a converted 150 year old barn with several rows of Niagara vines planted out front. Owners Ben Morrison and his wife Suzanne have done a spectacular job of creating a pleasant & welcoming environment to enjoy their young lineup of locally sourced juice. The winery is flanked by a large deck on one side of the tasting room and a handicapped accessible ramp wraps around to the other side. In addition, there is seating in the backyard. Bring the whole family.

Fall is here! Football!Tastings are $2 for six wines which is waived with a purchase. Patrons can choose from five whites, five reds (both dry & semi-sweet) and two specialty wines. I of course tried all of the dry reds and mixed in a few others. I spent the last few weeks evaluating Riesling so I was ready for a glass or two of some powerful PA red. My choice today was the 2011 Wildman Red, a light & spicy, Lemberger based gem that had a good presence and should age well. Young & tannic, nice finish. Another standout was the Spice of Life. This spicy dessert wine can be served chilled, warm or at room temperature and oozes with pumpkin aromas & flavor. More details later on this unique wine, very nicely done.

Choose Peach or Cran-Grape Sangria. Both excellent!The winery makes their own brand of Sangria, which I understand has been a big hit since opening. They mix a Peach Sangria with the semi-sweet, white Morning Glory and a Cran-Grape with the Deliciously Red, also semi-sweet. Michelle & I shared one of each and they were fantastic. I’m curious what the staff will come up with at Christmas time.

I want to note that since Stone Barn is the newest member of the local wine community, their young offerings have the opportunity to gain some complexity over time. But what I tasted today is very drinkable now, especially the sweeter stuff. The first vintage here was 2011 and they are off to an excellent start. The winery just brought in four thousand pounds of Chardonnay grapes from the farm next door and the same amount of Merlot from the southern part of the county.

Susan, our awesome bartenderWe spent the afternoon out on the deck and enjoyed the early fall weather. Visitors can bring food to enjoy on site with Stone Barn’s versatile selection of wine. Which we did, we usually overdo it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a good thing we got there early because the place got more crowded as the afternoon wore on. A busload celebrating a 60th birthday rolled in as well, which made for a lively tasting room. A talented young muse provided acoustic entertainment, complete with her own rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. The spacious room has high ceilings, numerous tables, nice acoustics and a large tasting bar that wraps around the front part of the room.

Going back to my statement about living in the moment, I don’t know where that three hours went on this perfect Saturday afternoon. Or the numerous bottles of Concord & Deliciously Red that we went through. I’m thankful today for good friends, tasty food and quality Pennsylvania juice.

Cheers to Ben & Suzanne and the friendly, attentive staff at Stone Barn Cellars. This is just the beginning.

Links:

Stone Barn Cellars Winery
Stone Barn Cellars Winery on Facebook
Sangria recipes

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