Wine Blends Highlight Mid-Atlantic Tasting

Second tasting event features alternative wine styles, varieties and blends

by Linda Jones McKee
Paul Vigna (standing) organized the second Mid-Atlantic wine tasting held at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Md

Rohrersville, Md.—In this country we often tend to think of wineries not by a region, but by the state in which they are located. Sometimes identity by state is useful, but often the wineries in southeastern Pennsylvania have more in common with those in Maryland and New Jersey than they do with wineries in the Appalachian Mountains or along Lake Erie that are also technically in Pennsylvania. 

The Mid-Atlantic region is many thousands of acres in size, and extends from the Hudson River Valley and Long Island southwest through New Jersey and southeastern Pa. into Maryland, Virginia, and even north-central North Carolina. The region has a similar climate: cold winters, late spring and early autumn frosts, warm/hot and humid summers, and the threat of hurricanes arriving just before or during harvest. Obviously, there are variations within the region as well; for example, it is cooler to the north and at higher elevations and the track of hurricanes occurs more frequently closer to the Atlantic coast. Soils vary, and specific site location is critical.

Several weeks ago, the second Mid-Atlantic Tasting Event was held at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Md., in the heart of this region. Paul Vigna, a wine writer who covers this territory for PennLive.com in Harrisburg, Pa., asked winemakers from 13 wineries in six states in the Mid-Atlantic area to each bring two of their best wines to the event. Participating in the tasting were winemakers from three wineries in Pennsylvania, two in New Jersey, three in Maryland, three in Virginia., and one each in North Carolina and from the Hudson River Valley in New York.

Dr. Joe Fiola, specialist in viticulture and small fruit at the University of Maryland Extension assisted Vigna in running the tasting. Several east coast wine bloggers and members of the wine media tasted the wines and listened as the winemakers talked about the vintages, how the grapes were grown, the winemaking techniques used and the challenges they faced in producing those bottles of wine.

This tasting reflected the fact that while many Eastern wineries produce a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, those are not necessarily the wines that either produce the best fruit or make the highest quality wine in the region. At last year’s Mid-Atlantic tasting, which was held at Waltz Vineyards Estate Winery in Manheim, Pa., four of the seven white wines were Chardonnay and there were no blended white wines. At the 2018 tasting, four of the 13 wineries brought Chardonnays and three of the most interesting whites were blended wines.

Mat Worrell and Katy Kidd, winemakers at Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery in Ronda, N.C., brought a white wine named “Liguria” that was a blend of Vermentino, Pinot Gris and Traminette; Dave Collins, co-owner and winemaker at Big Cork, poured a wine called “Russian Kiss,” a blend of 30% Muscat Canelli and 70% of three Russian varieties that currently have not been named. Lauren Zimmerman, winemaker at Port of Lenardtown Winery in Leonardtown, Md., brought an Albarino that included 7% Viognier, in part because Zimmerman likes “their amazing fermentation aromatics.”

At the 2017 tasting, there were two Cabernet Sauvignons, one Merlot, three Syrahs, four Cabernet Francs, and four blends. This year, there were only two Cab Francs, no Merlots, no Syrahs, but six wineries brought red blends. The 2014 Sangiovese from Raffaldini included four different clones of Sangiovese and is 5% Malbec. In addition, 10% of the Sangiovese grapes were handled with the appassimento drying technique. The 2015 Karamoor Estate Meritage, the flagship wine of Karamoor Estate Winery in Fort Washington, Pa., was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, while the 2014 Meritage from King Family Estate in Crozet, Va., was a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

Jeff White, owner and winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal, Va., blended 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 15% Petit Verdot in the 2014 Hodder Hill. Bluestone Vineyard in Bridgewater, Va. used 56% Cabernet Sauvignon and 44% Petit Verdot in its 2014 Cadenza. The most expensive wine at the tasting, at $54 per bottle, was a 2015 Malbec from Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy, Md. Ed Boyce, co-owner, noted that his wife, Sarah O’Herron, co-owner and winemaker, used a cooler fermentation to help smooth out the tannins in the Malbec, and blended in 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other red wines tasted included a Chelois and a Baco Noir from Hudson-Chatham Winery in Ghent, N.Y.; a Saperavi from Fero Vineyards and Winery in Lewisburg, Pa.; a Pinot Noir from Alba Vineyard in Milford, N.J., the oldest winery of those attending (founded in 1982); a Blaufrankisch (a.k.a. Lemberger) called Blue Z from Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, N.J.; and Cabernet Francs from Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in Kennett Square, Pa., and from Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Md. The final wine tasted was a 2014 Port made from Chambourcin by Port of Lenardtown Winery in Md.

The average price for the 27 wines was $28.73, which is significantly lower than last year’s average price of more than $42. While the largest amount produced for any one wine in the 2017 tasting was 600 cases, the 2018 tasting had five wines with production of more than 600 cases, and three of those wines were over 1,000 cases. The largest production was the King Family Vineyards 2014 Meritage at 1,290 cases.

Once again, this tasting provided an important opportunity for winemakers in the mid-Atlantic region to taste and talk about their wines, their styles and their challenges, with other winemakers. For members of the media, the tasting reinforced the concept that there are numerous excellent wines being made in the Mid-Atlantic region from many grape varieties. The region’s signature varieties may not yet have been determined, but in the meantime, there are many excellent wines, both white and red, that are available for consumers to enjoy at reasonable price levels.

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