Ever just need to get away for a weekend? Consider the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail for your next adventure in short-term relaxation.
The association of 8 wineries sweeping a radius that ranges from the natural beauty of Jim Thorpe, PA in the north to the city life of Allentown, PA in the south is easily navigated. Follow your GPS as you ride the back roads to take in the beauty of PA Dutch farmlands and small towns like Kutztown (of Kutztown University fame) home to the Renninger's Antique Market and a sweet downtown shopping area.
Our favorite wineries along the trail featured a number of excellent varietals with a focus on vinifera. Most wineries charged a $5 fee for 6 tastings that was reimbursed with a bottle purchase. With barely 20 minutes between wineries along the western side of the trail, the day moves quickly - plan to stop and shop (and eat!) along the way.
Now, as for the wine, these were our favorites on the trail:
Galen Glen Winery Andreas, PA Located atop a mountain a short drive from Jim Thorpe, Galen Glen should be a mandatory stop just for the view from the tasting room. Inside a friendly staff proffers a full list from which you may select 6 wines for the tasting. Galen Glen specializes in award winning German varietals; do not miss the Gewurztraminer 2012, Stone Cellar, a dry white with an excellent nose and crisp finish, accurately described as "boasting sweet rose and honeysuckle" nodes. From the many rieslings on the list I preferred the Riesling 2012 Semi-Dry, a golden rich brew with a creamy texture and crisp yellow apple flavor. Erin's Auslese is Galen Glen's unique semi-sweet blend of Riesling and Vidal Blanc, described as "the essence of Germanic wine" with its floral fragrance and green apple finish. Galah, the whitest blush I've seen to date, has a fruity, not sugary sweetness making it a pleasurable sweet wine for the sipping.
The red wines were pleasurable, most notably the Cabernet Franc 2012 Stone Cellar, a dry, light bodied red with strong pepper nodes, and the fruit-forward Chambourcin 2012 Stone Cellar. The Crooked Stick Red made for an interesting offering on the red list, a blend of Cab Franc, Zweigelt and Chambourcin producing a mildly peppery, balanced dry red that brings out the best in all 3 varietals.
Blue Mountain Vineyards New Tripoli, PA is the creation of a local winemaker with a California wineducation. A gorgeous tasting room that hosts live music and events offers a bird's eye view of a cellar loaded with tanks. Many of their wines favor the dry end of vinifera. The 2012 Vidal Blanc had a citrus edge, the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc possessed good acidic balance, and the 2012 Riesling was bright and tangy. I found the 2012 Vignoles light and refreshing. The 2011 Petite Syrah was a full bodied offering that packed a pepper punch. The winner here was the 2008 Merlot, a gorgeous medium bodied wine with a distinctive plum on ruby color, this wine offered a balanced flavor with just a hair of oak intensity. A smooth drinking wine, this blend attests to the winemaker's California influences and will be easily consumed by the bottle.
Pinnacle Ridge Winery Kutztown, PA is located in the basement of a huge red barn that backs up to the vines. Bringing a new, fresh attitude to winemaking, Pinnacle Ridge is a friendly place to explore the power of the grape. The 2012 Naked Chardonnay, unoaked like I like it, has a great nose and the perfect balance of butter and citrus on the palate. Their 2012 Traminette had a gorgeous perfume more noticeable to the taste than the smell. At 1.3% RS, it is billed as a semi-sweet wine for its reliance on tropical fruit flavors. The 2012 Vidal Blanc, a gorgeously wet wine, was the perfect balance of mineral on the palate and fruit on the finish.
The phenomenal part of the Pinnacle Ridge experience, however, comes with the tasting of two of their Rose wines. The 2013 Oasis is, indeed, a magical isle of flavor; this gorgeous fruit with a smack of acid on the finish is an addictive Pinot Noir brew. Down this elixir by the bottle. The 2012 Chambourcin Rose will convince even the strongest haters of the peppery labrusca grape that Chambourcin really is a gift of the vine. This gorgeous wine is an Olympian strutting the balance beam, crisp and refreshing, loaded with strawberry aromas for the picking.
At this point in your trip, you'll wind your way through Kutztown. As you near the town a blue sign pointing you to "Winery 2.0 miles" will appear; follow it! You do not want to miss the off-the-trail experience of:
Blair Vineyards Kutztown, PA This is gorgeous vinifera at its finest atop a beautiful ridge. With a great outdoor space for events, the tasting room also boasts a full open kitchen at which the winemaker hosts a variety of culinary pairing events. The lovely staff welcome you with an education on each wine and enjoyable conversation in-between. We left with four fabulous wines: The Savuignon Blanc, Metamorphosis, 2010 Pinot Noir, and 2010 Off-Dry Gewurztraminer. These folks know their wines, especially their Pinot Noirs, bottled based on the varying farm fields on which they were grown throughout the county. Each has its own unique terroir, providing an opportunity for a wineducation as well as the chance to taste some amazing eastern-U.S. pinot noir.
Both Pinnacle Ridge and Blair Vineyards are members of the Berks County Wine Trail. Two of the best on the ride, we plan to make both regular stops when we're out that way again.
Back on the trail....
Franklin Hill Vineyards Bangor, PA also has a tasting room in downtown Bethlehem, PA. This was the location we were able to visit, giving us a great opportunity to sample more wines from a winery we'd first encountered at the York, PA Wine and Beer Fest in spring. These folks know wine well enough to have some fun. Traditional offerings like Seyval Blanc, with its fresh, crisp flavor and Vidal Blanc with its gorgeous perfume make for award-winning wines. While Redhead, a dry blend of Chambourcin and Merlot flavored with a tinge of creme brulee that both softens the tannin and compliments the oak, proves to be an unique treat to the palate. Fruit wines include Thin, an acai berry wine sweetened with stevia, and Bliss, a blueberry wine that is electric blue in color - bring these bottles to parties with non-wine friends to prove that wine is, indeed, a fun thing to drink and easy to enjoy.
For a great sampling of vinifera wines fortified in American terroir, check out the wineries of the Lehigh Valley. Whether you're looking for a sweet sip on a summer day, or a Pinot that would make Miles proud, these wineries can't be missed.