Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lehi Valley passports on verge of sellout

Wanted to clear the notebook before we get too far into a new week. It appears that passports for the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail's March Madness are either all sold out or almost sold out as of this morning. Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery noted in an e-letter yesterday that tickets were all sold out, although the home page of the wine trail this morning suggested giving Cherry Valley Vineyards a call at 570.992.2255 and see if they have any left to sell.

March Madness runs every weekend in March, starting on the 7th. Not only do you get to sample the wines at each of the trail's nine wineries and receive a trail gift (which this year is a Prodyne Vino Gondola 2 bottle wine bucket), but all of them offer wine and food pairings that are distinctive and, in all cases, look like they would suffice for lunch or dinner as you make your way around the trail in March.

Here is a sampling of what you're get to drink and eat, this courtesy of Clover Hill:

Week 1

March 7-8: Pinot Grigio paired with RotisserieChicken served on French bread crostini with a lemon-caper sauc DeChaunac paired with a spicy meatball slider with cheddar cheese served on a butter roll. Please note, this is the last weekend forour annual wine rack sale. All wine racks are discounted 10-60%! Visit for more information.
Week 2

March 14-15: Pinot Grigio paired with Rotisserie Chicken served on French bread crostini with a lemon-caper sauce DeChaunac paired with a spicy meatball slider with cheddar cheese served on a butter roll.
Week 3

March 21-22: Riesling paired with shrimp and tasso (spicy Cajun pork) gravy served on a homemade buttermilk biscuit Sangoivese paired with warm, fresh mozzarella and tomato fresco served on a sliced baguette
Week 4

March 28-29: Riesling paired with shrimp and tasso (spicy Cajun pork) gravy served on a homemade buttermilk biscuit Sangoivese paired with warm, fresh mozzarella and tomato fresco served on a sliced baguette

Speaking of Clover Hill, I asked marketing manager Kari Skrip last week about a couple of her winery's favorite wines. The first she mentioned was the Merlot. "For years we made Clover Hill Red," she said. "which actually was a blended form of Merlot. And the past couple of eyars we've been making it at least 75 percent Merlot; actually, the past two vintages were about 95 percent merlot. So we decided to change the name and we released the 2006 as the 2006 Merlot. Basically it's the same style. We were confident we had a good source of Merlot. We don't grow it outselves. But we have a good source of Merlot that's coming from Oley, Pa., and we've contracted with them. So we were confident we had a good quality of fruit coming from them on a yearly basis coming form them. So it's a really beautiful wine; it's not too full-bodied, it's medium-bodied, just really nice strong, rich flavors."

Skrip also mentioned the Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon as two more reds with delicious fruit that rank atop her list. "The Cab, I love to showcase it because we're really pleased with how far it has come. A few vintages ago it was green and we worked a lot in the vineyard to try and get things riper. I'm really impressed with how it's come. I'm not saying it's the end-all, be-all, but I'm proud of the changes we've made and the style we're achieving with it now.

"And we do an oaked Vidal. We do a dry version of it and we age it in French and Hungarian oak and I love that wine. It's . . . a really neat alternative to Chardonnay because it's got more acidity to it than most Chardonnays and just has really vibrant flavors. That's another one of my favorites."

Woodhall gets its barrel tasting weekends rolling

Wanted to give a public shout-out to the folks at Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md., where we stopped Saturday on the first day of their barrel tasting. That's free for case club members, who also get a chance to walk back out of the cellar and enjoy a glass of wine with five chocolates from Kirchmayr Chocolates in Timonium, Md. The cost for noncase-club members is $15 per person.

Winemaker Chris Kent reported a couple of weeks ago that his yield from suppliers in 2008 was less than in previous years. That reduced the number of wines to sample by a few, to 12. But that didn't impinge on the quality, in our view. The Gunpowder Falls red and white both show a lot of promise, as did the Golden Run Reserve Vidal Blanc. And the two 2007s, the Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Parkton Prestige, will be wines worth cellaring for a few years, if you'd like. This is the sixth Copernica Reserve in the history of the winery, produced out of special vintages, and that vintage is as special as they get. In fact, wherever you go this spring and summer, grab those 2007s that you see are left over. It was a great year throughout the region that produced outstanding red and white wines. Indeed, we took with us a mixed case of 2007s that Woodhall still had in its inventory. As for the barrel tasting, we ordered two more cases and put 50 percent down; the rest is paid after the wine is bottled
and available for pickup. What we ordered likely will be ready to be taken by summer.

Woodhall's barrel tasting, by the way, will continue on weekends well into March.

There was one big group in the tasting room as we arrived, obviously what had spilled out of a stretch limo that was parked in the lot. Calls to a few wineries today revealed that business was bustling yesterday and today, especially at those places that were offering wine and chocolate as part of a Valentine's Weekend celebration. A perfect example was a response I received by e-mail from Brad Knapp of Pinnacle Ridge Winery in Kutztown, Pa.: "We just had our Berks County Wine Trail wine and chocolate event yesterday and it was huge. We probably had over 500 folks through the winery. It was nuts and more to come today."

Florida in news for more than spring training

Again, here are two items off this week's e-letter from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and director Jim Trezise. He reports on how his state's wines performaned in a competition in Florida and then spends a bit of time offering his views of Florida wines.

NEW YORK GOLD was mined in the Sunshine State last week at the super Florida State Fair International Wine Competition, where New York wineries came home with 186 medals including 6 Double Gold, 26 Gold, 73 Silver and 81 Bronze awards. Topping the list was the Casa Larga 2006 Fiori Vidal Ice Wine which won “Best Dessert Wine” of the competition, with other Double Golds going to Arbor Hill Rhine Street Red, Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling, Imagine More Passion Ice Wine, Swedish Hill 2007 Dry Riesling and Svenska Blush. Gold medals went to Atwater 2007 Vidal Blanc, Chateau Frank 2002 Brut, Cobblestone 2007 Cherry, Dr. Frank 2007 Gewurztraminer, Fox Run Sable, Fulkerson Red Zeppelin and Airship White, Goose Watch Renaissance Red, Hazlitt White Stag, Heron Hill 2007 Semi-Sweet Riesling and 2007 Late Harvest Vidal, Hosmer 2007 Dry Riesling and 2007 Pinot Gris, Keuka Spring 2007 Lemberger, Lakewood 2007 Gewurztraminer and 2007 Dry Riesling, Peconic Bay 2005 La Barrique Chardonnay, Penguin Bay Tuxedo Red and 2007 Rosé of Chambourcin and Percussion, Swedish Hill Natural and Spumante Blush and 2007 Cayuga White and Blue Waters Chardonnay, Torrey Ridge Blue Sapphire and Diamond. In this competition with 1,382 entries, New York wines won 3 out of the 5 Gold medals in the sparkling wine category; the only Gold in the Lemberger category; 1 of 2 Golds in the unoaked Chardonnay category; both Golds in the Dry Gewurztraminer category; all 3 Golds in the Dry Riesling category; the only two Golds in the White Hybrid Blends category; 2 of 4 Golds in the Red Native American Blends category; the only Gold in the Native American Blush/Rosé category; the only Gold in the Stone Fruits category; and the only 2 Double Golds in the Ice Wine category. This clear quality throughout many different varietals and categories, combined with the broad diversity of New York wines, is a major strong suit for the industry.

DR. KONSTANTIN FRANK 2007 Gewurztraminer Reserve won Best New York White and Best Overall White on the national level at the recent Beverage Testing Institute Wine Competition, along with three other Gold medals for 2007 Gewurztraminer, 2007 Dry Riesling and 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling, which also earned a Best Buy Award. All four wines rated 90 points or higher with the Gewürztraminer Reserve taking the highest score of 93 points. The vintage Gewurztraminer secured 90 points and the two Rieslings each got 91 points. Standing Stone Vineyardsalso got racked up some impressive scores from BTI for its 2007 Vidal Ice Wine (93), 2006 Cailloux (91), and 2007 Cabernet Franc (91). Wine & Spirits magazine gave a 93 to Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards 2007 Homestead Reserve Riesling; and Wine Spectator a 90 to Wagner Vineyards 2007 Riesling Ice Wine.

FLORIDA WINES are lots of fun, just like the people who make them. After last week’s competition I met with representatives of the state’s Viticulture Advisory Council and Agriculture Department to discuss organizational structure, program development, and regional branding (they have a decent-sized annual budget based on a portion of the wine excise tax). There are now 16 wineries spread around the state, and the meeting was at Florida Orange Groves Winery in St. Petersburg with its copyrighted slogan “Finally, Wines that Taste Good”. Its selection of over 30 different tropical, citrus and berry wines include sparkling wines made from grapefruit, tangerine, mango and blueberry, complemented by table wines made with banana, passion fruit, pineapple, kiwi, key lime and tomato, capped by the best-selling Hurricane Class 5 White Sangria blend which has won Double Gold medals in Florida and Indiana (and deservedly so—it’s real good!). There’s even a Finger Lakes transplant in the industry, Peter Schnebly of Schnebly Redland’s Winery in Homestead south of Miami, who is making an avocado wine to add variety to his carambola (star fruit), guava, lychee, and other varietals. And yes, there are even some grape wines—muscadine varieties like Carlos and Noble—which have unique aroma and taste characteristics, along with high levels of healthful resveratrol due to the humid growing conditions. Muscadine, like the labrusca varieties in New York and other eastern states, are very different from Vinifera wines, particularly in terms of a more pronounced aroma (flowery for muscadine, fruity for labrusca), so you need to shed your prejudices to appreciate them. Like wines of all types, it really comes down to balance: the interplay of sugar and acid, and the varietal character of the grape. For more information, go to