Friday, September 14, 2012

Wine Country: Pennsylvania - O'Donnell Winery


The first vitis vinifera grapevines planted in Pennsylvania were put there by William Penn in the 17th century.  That’s reason enough to name the whole state after him, if you ask me.  It took about a hundred more years for the first commercial vineyard to spring up, but it was the first in the country.  Now, here’s the part where we write how Prohibition devastated the Keystone State’s wine industry.  Sadly, it wasn’t until 1968 that the state government loosened restrictions on the making and selling of wine, even if only in a very limited way.

Today, Pennsylvania’s wineries number over 160 and are largely family-owned outfits.  It’s not a bad place to grow grapes, as the northern clime is mitigated by Lake Erie and the Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic.

Pennsylvanians claim eighth place in wine production by state, although I’ve seen lists that had them looking up at the top ten.

Norbert O’Donnell, of O’Donnell Winery, fell in love with wine while living in Washington state.  Upon his return to Pennsylvania, he missed the wines he grew to love.  So, he decided to make his own.

The winery is located in Berwick, Pennsylvania, a little bit southwest of Wilkes-Barre.  The grapes in the O’Donnell vineyard have not come in yet, so these wines are produced from grapes he sourced from the area near Erie, PA.


Rory Red - Here’s a sweet wine made from Concord grapes.  The grape millions love under the name “Welches” is a real delight here under O’Donnell’s banner.  A medium purple in the glass, there’s a slight frizzante upon pouring.  It looks rather like Pinot Noir, but the similarity ends there.  The nose comes on a bit like grape juice, but more like grape Fizzies, if you remember those.  There’s a slight tartness that tempers the sweet candy on the palate, so it’s a perfectly good table wine.  O’Donnell says, “I enjoy it chilled and even on the rocks as its lush flavors can support ice.  Very good with chocolate.”  I concur.

Snapper - This is a dry, oaked wine made from Corot Noir grapes.  It’s deep red with an extremely earthy nose - blackberries and cherries figure into the aromas as well.  The mouthfeel is medium weight with a crisp acidity, the kind of wine that takes a chill well.  The easy tannins often found in cold-climate grapes are true to form here, actually taking a backseat to the acidity.  O’Donnell recommends it with burgers on a picnic.

Slàinte - Pronounced Slawn-cha, which O’Donnell tells me is Irish for “Cheers” - is made from Geisenheim grapes.  Light and thin-skinned, these cool climate grapes originated in the Rhine region of Germany.  The pale wine has a nose that is subdued and lovely.  Peaches and apricots battle with a floral note and the aromas glide on an herbal wave.  The palate pulls a switcheroo with the fruit taking the lead and the green element accenting.  The finish turns things back around with the herbal aspect lasting long beyond the sip.  O’Donnell suggests you “drop a few fresh blueberries in the glass and enjoy them at the last sip.”  He says a fruit salad is a perfect pairing.  It’s sold as a sweet wine, but it really clocks in at off-dry to me.  It offers quite a bit more complexity than I expected from a sweet wine.

Banshee - This is an unusual Catawba wine.  Bone dry and golden, instead of sweet and red, as that grape often appears in the glass.  O'Donnell is particularly fond of this one, and it's not hard to see why.  The aromatic nose shows an earthy herbal flair, while the palate is loaded with what he calls "the mineral notes of an old world Pinot Gris and a wonderful citrus finish."  The acidity is racy and the wine feels clean in the mouth.


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