E.signed up for this day trip as a little consolation treat. She is on her own (except for Jack, her dog)
for 6 weeks while her husband visits their son and his family in Krakow, and rides his bike all around Poland.
It was a day of visiting four wineries in the Lake Erie region of PA. via bus, a benefit fundraiser for public radio. Also, there was to be a lunch and a dinner. I thought it would be fun to splurge and go with her, and signed up too. We used to see each other regularly when we lived on the same street, but since I moved several years back, it's taken more effort to get together.
So this seemed a fine chance to spend some time and have a day off. E. is a very long term friend; we met in the hospital , when our now-adult daughters were born on the same day. Our daughters have also remained friendly, many years after we first propped their fuzzy, wobbly heads together to take a joint baby photo.
As you may have noticed, although I drink a fair amount of wine, I am not exactly well up on the topic. I tend to find (with help) wines I like with certain foods, and just keep on buying the same things. Having gone on a one day tasting adventure in the more uh, generally known, Napa and Sonoma wine areas, I thought I could use some pointers. I had a fine old time on that excursion, but found I forgot everything I tasted very quickly (no, no, not plastered, very restrained I was, considering the temptations, just mentally disorganized and overcome by variety and pretty places.) So I asked Lenn, who kindly offered some advice.
He suggested that I break each wine down to how it looks, smells, and tastes....with special emphasis on smell and taste. Is it fruity, oaky? He suggested that I take notes. (Why I did not think of this one myself, I cannot say.) He also suggested that I have fun, which was already part of the plan. I set off intending to follow these obviously sensible hints, and did so, to some extent. I was also hoping to mostly get white wines, since nearly everything I had in the house-which was not so much-was red.
I was distracted by many things, including a nasty sinusy headache which I got early on, and cured with a serious cup of coffee at one of our 4 stops. Everything else I was distracted by was all good. It had been rainy and gloomy when we set out in a bus from WQED in Oakland early Saturday morning, so when the day turned impossibly beautiful, it was especially charming. Besides the landscape, I was predictably produce-distracted, and wound up buying two kinds of gorgeous grapes for eating, purple Fredonias, and a pale green kind, called Niagara, which smelled and tasted heavenly and had slip off skins like the purple concords.. In fact, I was amazed and delighted to find that the air itself smelled unmistakably of grapes.
It had taken us about 2 hours to get from Pittsburgh to the area of North East, PA, a small town at the center of this wine region.I have not checked into the reason for this odd name for a western PA town. It is a very pretty, Edward Hopperesque place, with big old trees, clapboard houses, a center square, and row style businesses in long, low, modestly ornamented brick buildings. We did not stop here, but passed through several times, as all 4 wineries were nearby.
The vineyards were quite different from anything I'd seen in California or in Cyprus (about the latter, more another time). Those had been nestled among hills and valleys. In the Erie region, it is vast, flat stretches of vines to the horizon, with glimpses of the lake. Being a Great Lake, Erie has that ocean-like infinite look. Add on the smell of grapes, and it is so relaxing as to be nearly coma-inducing.
Not relaxing was tasting wines at a crammed counter jammed with all the very pleasant people who arrived on the bus with us. Nobody was at all pushy, and everyone was good humoured, but it was too hectic to be thoughtful about what we were sampling. This is a bit of a dilemma for tasting jaunts, I think. How to not worry about drinking and driving, and yet not to arrive with a cast of thousands everywhere you go? The bus was nice in other ways, very comfy, nice big clean windows, and the people were companionable and laid back at the 2 picnics. Also, although I enjoyed the first three tours of the wineries, and generally am endlessly curious about how such complex things are done, I skipped the last tour entirely. I was experiencing information overload, and the immediate need to sit outside under a big old tree.
I was thwarted in my aberrant desire to find a Western PA pinot noir for Wineblogging Wednesday. There was not a bottle on offer anywhere. I bought 4 other bottles, however.I came away with two wines from Mazza. One was a Cuyuga ($8.95), which was a sort of off-dry white wine with a distinctive and different, but not overpoweringly sweet taste. I later over heard our expert-from-the-bus saying that it was "well-balanced", which on reflection, seemed true. There were acetic tastes which made the sweetness less powerful, and changed it- kind of like when you add lemon juice to fruit jams, to bring out the flavor. Anyway, it seemed like a good idea to try a different grape that I'd not had, and that was of the area.
I also bought a bottle of their Reisling ($10.95), without pushing for a chance to try it. I had thought about getting it during the tour, and kind of dashed back to the shop to buy it. Mr. Mazza had compared the Erie area to German wine regions, because of the climate control of the lake. This, and the fact that Mazza specializes in white wine, made it seem like a good bet.
Mr M explained that in an extreme climate, the lake retains its heat, or stays cold, longer than the air would on its own. It thus affects the temperature of that air, resulting in a late spring and also a late autumn. This both reduces the danger of early spring frost kill, and allows the grapes a longer growing season into the fall, to mature properly. He noted that when he and his brother (both immigrants from Southern Italy as toddlers) switched the family business from table grapes to winemaking 30 years ago, they hired a German winemaker to help them, for this reason. So the Reisling seemed a good idea for a shot in the dark.
At Arrowhead wine cellars (you see the owner here, with stems and seeds), I liked a cabernet franc, which was yummy and fruity, and slightly teabaggy (which I understand means tannins). It was pretty and dark red, but also very sort of clear looking. It smelled of plum jam, which is my thing for sure. I liked it immediately; no major internal debating about this choice. It was $10.99. The winemaker said this grape grows well in the region. He is trying to convince more local growers to switch to wine grapes, as the Welch's Grape products scene is not a good one of late. I didn't like anything I tried at Penn Shore winery, but then my headache sort of peaked at that point. I noticed several folks bought quite a lot there.
My final choice was a Vigonier from Presque Isle. It was fifteen bucks, including tax.By the time I chose this last selection, I was pretty spacey, and full of their catering department's dinner: "Mexican" barbecue (fair), corn (frozen? why?) and custardy flan (excellent, served with great coffee)-I failed to take notes. I am suffering from some doubts on this choice now now, especially since it turns out E. had tasted it too, and said "ick."I'll find out when I open the bottle.
I fell asleep on the bus on the way back. Lucky for me, we came in E's car, so I had a ride home. Full of flan, grapes, a bit of wine, blue skies and lots of fresh grapey air, I stumbled into bed, and slept long and contentedly, and like the proverbial log. I am looking forward to trying my bounty with some food in the near future.