Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stop Number 13: Presque Isle Wine Cellars

Our next stop was Presque Isle Wine Cellars, also in North East, PA.
As you can see from just the sign alone, there's a lot going on at Presque Isle. There are two main places that visitors will want to see- the Isle House, which is where the tasting room is, and the creekside building that has wine and beermaking supplies for sale. The creekside building is close to a small waterfall where visitors can have a picnic- it's very scenic and very peaceful!

It was really crowded in the tasting room when we were at Presque Isle so we didn't get a chance to talk to our tasting server as much as we would have liked to. Regardless of the crowd, however, our experience here was mediocre. The gift shop has the same items most other wineries have, the decor wasn't anything over-the-top impressive like any of the wineries we visited earlier in the day (Mazza, South Shore, Courtyard), and while our tasting server was nice, she didn't seem to know much about wine. I would have liked to know more about the history of Presque Isle too, but she didn't seem to know much about that either.

The wine itself was so-so. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was decent. It had a hint of licorice and cocoa in the flavor but all around it didn't have the bold flavor a Cab should. The 2010 Syrah was similar in the fact that there wasn't a lot to be excited about. There was a little blackberry in the flavor and cherry cola in the finish but it wasn't full of flavor like you'd expect a Syrah to be. The Noiret was my favorite of the reds we tried since it was smooth and mild a Noiret should be, but there wasn't anything notable or overly exciting about it.

The whites we tried were a little better than the reds. The 2011 Chardonnay had a bright citrus flavor and a smooth finish, which would be good to pair with fish or a fresh salad for a summer dinner. The 2012 Gewurtztraminer had too many floral notes for me. A Gewurtz is supposed to have floral notes, yes, but drinking a glass full of fermented flowers wasn't going down easy. The non-vintage Pennsylvania Viognier was the best of the three. It's oaked for six months before it's bottled and has a light body with clear notes of oak in the finish. It reminded me an oaked Chardonnay with a lighter body. This would be a good wine to pair with heavier winter dinners, such as a lobster bisque or any pasta with a creme-based sauce.  This is the bottle that ended up coming home with us.

For those who like sweet wines and fruit wines, there are plenty of them here that we didn't try, so this may be a good place for you! If you don't bring your own picnic, Presque Isle offers small plates to pair with tastings. Be mindful that the prices here are a little on the high side, at least for the wines we tried. If you can't make it out to visit or want to taste a few wines before your trip to North East, Presque Isle's wines are available for purchase in their online store- check it out to see if they can ship to you! 

Overall, Presque Isle Wine Cellars didn't wow us. Presque Isle's scenic setting is very nice. As I mentioned, there are a lot of sweeter wines and fruit selections here; those are more common given the climate of the area. They aren't for The Bear and me, but for those who like sweet wines and fruit wines, this might be a new favorite. The dry selections weren't bad by any means, but they didn't stand out to us as something unique or special. This is a place that any group of wine drinkers can go and everyone can find something that will be suitable for their tastes. If we lived closer, I could see us meeting our coworkers here on a Friday after work like we do at John Christ Winery in Avon Lake, OH; we go mostly for the atmosphere. It might not be a go-to winery for those of us who like dry wines, but it's a decent place with passable options and nice scenery. I wouldn't say this is a must-go for dry drinkers, but it's worth a shot if you're in the area and you can fit it in. 

Next up, we go back to Ohio and visit Markko Vineyard, which is one winery I've been excited to write about since our trip in August. See you soon, enjoy your grapes responsibly! Cheers!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stop Number Twelve: Courtyard Wineries

After leaving Mazza's sister winery, South Shore Wine Company, we arrived at Courtyard Wineries in North East, PA.
The Bear and I both have SO many nice things to say about Courtyard. This was truly an enjoyable visit from start to finish. We were wowed by just about everything here, from the people to the wine to anything in between.

Courtyard Wineries opened in 2010 and has two separate brands: La Courette, which has Courtyard's dry to semi-dry wines and Barjo Bons, which is comprised of their sweet selections. While having two different brands from one winery isn't a first, the way they were presented was impressive- each brand has it's own tasting bar. The Barjo Bons bar will definitely be the first thing to catch your eye, and not just because it's close to the entrance. It's mostly glass block and lit by color changing neon lights! I couldn't resist taking a video.

The gentleman that we met while we were tasting at Courtyard was such a pleasure to talk with. He was so knowledgable about the wines he was serving, I almost felt like I was in a wine master class. It was clear that he enjoyed talking to us, he could tell how much we appreciate good wine and the hard work that goes into making it.

We felt welcome and comfortable here, and our host was the kind of person that you can meet for the first time and feel like you've know them for life. He even allowed us into the Barrel Room, which he is building by hand- it is remarkable. The handcrafted wooden wine storage area was still under construction while we were there, but it spans more than a full wall of the room. True to it's name, the Barrel Room has large oak barrels full of wine, and getting to see these up close was a first for me so I was pretty thrilled.
The stunning wine storage display in the Barrel Room
I told The Bear to take good notes because I want something like this in our home. A girl can dream...

Courtyard's wines were some of the more impressive ones we had on our trip. Generally we prefer the dry wines, so we spent our visit at the La Courette tasting bar. Overall, the most outstanding aspect of our tasting was that this was the first time the description of the wines matched the taste. Many times we try a wine and we get some of what the notes say it's supposed to taste like, but Courtyard's were spot on.

The Chardonnay was delicious. It's oaked for fourteen months and has the robust flavor an oaked Chard should have, and has a toasted buttery caramel flavor in the finish. This would be a good wine to pair with bold flavored seafood dishes. The Cabernet Sauvignon was another notable selection. There's a vanilla-cherry burst of taste at first, a smooth body, and a rich, velvety finish. If you're having a hearty meat dish, this is the wine for you.

The Noiret really wowed us, me especially. I haven't had a lot of experience with Noirets, but I'm quickly coming to like them. It's a perfect fit for the climate of North East, PA; I really enjoy tasting wines that are made from grapes the vineyard actually grows themselves rather than imports. Courtyard's has a full-but-subtle body and a slightly peppery finish. It would pair well with just about any meal but could also easily hold its own.

We tried the Chardonel, which is a newer grape and isn't very popular in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area yet. Chardonel is very similar to Chardonnay and is another delicious creation out of Cornell University. It's not oaked but the natural acidity of the grape gives the wine a little bit of a bite. It has a apricot-tangerine flavor and a bright finish. This is a little more versatile for food pairings than the Chardonnay since it's more mild and wouldn't overpower more delicately flavored meals. We ended up taking the Noiret and the Chardonel home with us.

We didn't taste the sweet wines, but it should be noted that the shiny, glowing Barjo Bons bar shares the same whimsical air as the names of the wines it serves. With names like Radiance, Dazzle, and First Kiss, I cannot think of a better stage for presenting these vintages.

If you're looking to visit Courtyard, they're open year-round, seven days a week and offer standard and group tastings as well as a Reserved VIP tasting in the Barrel Room. You can find various upcoming events on their website and Facebook page. Courtyard also can help you host a private event at their location or accommodate a group if you're interested in having a party with some good friends.

If you can't make the trip to North East, Courtyard's wines (and some gifts!) can be ordered online. You may also be able to find some of their wines in a store near you. I was pretty jazzed to see a few La Courettes and Barjo Bons in a Pennsylvania wine and spirits store when we were shopping yesterday (October 19)!

Courtyard was far and away one of the more memorable wineries we visited on our trip. Not only was the wine excellent, but it was nice to be able to have a good conversation with someone so knowledgable and enthusiastic. This is another must-go if you're in the area or looking to try something new on a weekend getaway. We both really liked the fact that they separate the sweet and dry varieties by brand and have completely separate tasting bars. Make a reservation for the Barrel Room for your visit, it's worth it just to see the beautiful craftsmanship. You won't be disappointed at Courtyard Wineries and it is well worth the trip.

Next up, we head over to Presque Isle Wine Cellars, so check back soon for another update. Thank you for visiting and enjoy your wine responsibly!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stop Number Eleven: South Shore Wine Company

Our next stop was the South Shore Wine Company, one of Mazza's sister wineries.
South Shore is one of the most historic wineries in North East, PA, and was established in 1864. Originally, there was a beautiful French-style wine cavern underground and a barn-like building upstairs. Prohibition in the 1920's took it's toll on the wine production- the cellar remained though wine wasn't produced for years- and the above ground facility had been renovated into a party hall.

I'm not sure when exactly South Shore started to produce wine again. I'll be sure to ask on our return visit.

As you enter, you'll immediately notice the beautiful stone on the walls and ceiling, which is the original architecture from 1864. Being below ground level, the cavern has a naturally cool temperature and is somewhat dark- perfect for storing wine. Through a stone archway in the back is the most stunning tasting room I've seen to-date. The breathtaking stonework continues into the tasting room; it's impossible not to be swept away by the distinct, old-world European ambiance. The tasting bar is poured concrete, which fits in perfectly with the stonework that surrounds it.

It is absolutely incredible. We were in awe throughout our visit. I can't even begin to put into words how impressive the craftsmanship is; it is truly a work of art. This is so unique and so beautiful that it is worth seeing even if you have no interest in wine whatsoever.

Being a sister winery of Mazza, we saw a lot of the same wines at South Shore as we did at our previous stop. However, any overlap on the wine list was completely forgivable as it was overshadowed by the gorgeous stonework and craftsmanship in the wine cavern and the tasting room.

As for the wine itself, we again were not let down. The Traminette was well done. If you're not familiar with it, Traminette is a white wine that's generally pretty sweet and similar to a Gewurtztraminer in style. South Shore's was billed as semi-dry and truly was semi-dry, which was not what I expected. There were some floral notes in the taste, a slightly peachy nose, and a little bit of a spicy kick in the finish- the kind that gives you a warm feeling that radiates from the sternum. This is a very unique Traminette and I would recommend it for someone who is transitioning from sweet to dry wines.

The Noiret was a decent, full-bodied red with some berry in the nose and black pepper in the taste. The black pepper was almost reminiscent of a Zinfandel but the overall body was lighter. This would be another good choice for anyone transitioning to dry wines.

The Lemburger was outstanding- so much so that we both ordered our own tastings. This is another wine that boasts a black pepper taste but also has some blackberry, black cherry, and plum notes. I had never tried a wine like this before. For having so many dark, rich, fruity flavors, it's dry and crisp- very food friendly. The finish was smooth for a wine that is oaked for 23 months.

We had a good laugh with our next wine, which was the Bare Bones Red. The Bear ordered it and made me smell it right away. It smelled like Trail Bologna. Then we tasted it and it tasted like Trail Bologna. If you don't know what Trail Bologna is, it's an all-beef bologna product made by Troyer's in Trail, Ohio, that has a very strong garlic and processed meat odor. The Bear loves it. I find it to be particularly offensive and he knows this, so making me try it and getting my reaction was purely for his enjoyment. I had no idea that the very distinct taste and smell of Trail Bologna could be recreated by anything other than Trail Bologna, let alone grapes. I'll let everyone form their own opinion on this one since I clearly still can't get past my first impression of "OMG it's Trail Bologna."

Though I may not have liked this one, it at least gave us a fond and enjoyable memory.

On a lighter note, the Bare Bones White was another wine that totally exceeded our expectations and ended up stealing the show at South Shore. It's a blend of Vidal Blanc, Cayuga White, Traminette, and Riesling. With a blend like that, I fully expected this to be on a Sno-Cone-syrup level of sweetness. I was shocked when I tasted a true, semi-sweet white blend that leans on the dry side of the semi-sweet spectrum. It's bright and crisp with a fruity nose and a clean finish. Bare Bones White goes down smooth, making it a good wine to take with us on our friend's boat on a warm evening after work. This was the bottle we ended up taking home.
We recently uncorked the Bare Bones White to have with chicken and black bean enchiladas that I made for dinner. I had been craving them for a while but the Bear isn't fond of spicy foods at all. I chose the Bare Bones White in hopes that the slight sweetness from the wine would offset any heat from the flavor so it wouldn't be too much for him, but there would still be enough spice that I would like it, too. It worked wonders, we both really enjoyed it.

There is a cafe in the upstairs barn building that we didn't get a chance to see when we were there. They sell paninis, salads, soups, and other small plates that compliment a wine tasting well. There are also plenty more wines that we didn't try, so if you like fruit wines and sweeter wines, you'll certainly find something you like at South Shore. If you're interested in hosting an event, both the hall and the wine cavern are available for booking.

If you can't make it to North East, PA, South Shore's wines can be shipped within the state of Pennsylvania. If you're outside the state, call 814-725-1585 during normal business hours to place an order and see if they can ship to you. The discount rates are 20% on 12 or more bottles and 10% on 6-11 bottles. Some wines, as indicated on their website, are not discountable.

South Shore Wine Company is another must-go if you'll be in the area. To be completely honest, the unique stone craftsmanship is worth a trip on its own. This is architecture and style that you won't find many other places, at least not in the United States. The wine makes it even more worth your while, but even if you're not a big wine drinker, go just to see the facility- you won't be disappointed. It is truly a unique sight to see. We were both blown away by the beautiful cavern; I can't imagine the hard work that went into creating it. Tons of photos can be viewed on Mazza's official Facebook page and I strongly encourage everyone to check them out. Be sure to "like" them to receive updates on special events.

We will definitely be returning to South Shore and I will take pictures to share next time. Like Mazza, South Shore is a winery with good wine, great people, and a gorgeous establishment. Check back soon for the next winery on our list, Courtyard Vineyards in North East, PA. Enjoy your pours responsibly! Cheers!