Written by Anita Caufield
Shop Local… Dine Local. You have probably heard these popular expressions developed to encourage shoppers to frequent smaller and local businesses. For the past twenty years, this initiative, most prevalent around the holiday season, is an attempt to bring attention and resources back to local economies in the wake of ecommerce growth.
The expression translates also within different industries. With the recent wildfires, landslides and drought conditions in California, consumers are still loyal to the western United States vineyards, but have also started exploring other states offering wines outside of the Sonoma Valley region, including: Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and now (drum-roll, please…) Pennsylvania. Local wine growers, from Erie to Philadelphia are now enjoying a new-found status.
Recognized for having over 14,000 acres of the most fertile grape-growing land on the East Coast, there are over 200 wineries located in all regions of Pennsylvania. In fact, two wineries within a few hours’ drive from Beaver have received nationally-recognized awards, including Nimble Hill Vineyard & Winery for its 2017 Toczko Vineyards Riesling, named “Best of Show” in the 2018 Pennsylvania Sommelier Judgment, and Grovedale Winery for its North Branch White, a sweeter white which earned the “Best Hybrid Wine” honor in the American Wine Society Commercial Wine Competition.
Many noted sommeliers select Pennsylvania wines for their wine lists at top restaurants including Philadelphia’s Capital Grill. (Supposedly, William Penn planted the state’s first vineyards in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia in 1863).
But what about our local restaurateurs’ and other aficianados’ experience?
Since the Beaver area is lucky to have many incredible neighborhood restaurants, we wanted to get feedback from our local “celebrity” chefs (and from their customers’ recommendations!).
Although I grew up in Pittsburgh, and graduated from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, I first learned of Alex Sebastian of The Wooden Angel after reading an airline magazine while waiting to depart from the Pittsburgh airport. I typically ventured as far as Center Township to visit my brother’s family, but now I was motivated to learn more about wines, and the Beaver area. I had casually tasted wines, but never gave much thought to the complexity and chemistry behind the science. Now, I was intrigued.
Established in 1968, Alex’s knowledge of wines had gained a national reputation as a favorite ‘destination” experience for many locals and returning visitors. He was an early adopter of Pennsylvania wines, and has featured Mazza Vineyards for over 20 years. “These wines are the best value on the market, and even though Pennsylvania wines get a bad reputation, their quality is always consistent.”
Vidal Blanc is a semi-sweet white which has a balanced acidity. It’s perfect with a wide range of appetizers, including lamb-stuffed grape leaves and crab cakes to bring out its floral undertones.
The Latin Innovators.
When Jason Benegasi and his wife, Christine, opened Biba in Beaver, it was at the peak of the “farm to table” movement in sourcing locally-grown ingredients for their new menu. John and Angela Mitchell are weekly diners who love the ability to bring a different bottle of wine with every visit. “Although we lean toward the well-known California wines, we were really impressed with (Carnegie-based) Kavic Winery’s Chardonnay.”
Chardonnays, especially unoaked brands, work well with slightly richer, buttery dishes as well as simple salmon preparations. The soft pineapple and melon flavors also complement chicken tacos with mango and pastas in cream sauces. It brings out the freshness of the food.
The New Kid on the Block.
Within a five minute drive of downtown Beaver is a new BYOB restaurant, Tabula Rasa. Owner, Joseph Paul, is a certified Level 1 sommelier, who offers a “wine library” for patrons who are encouraged to “borrow” a selection, and then replace it with the same or another of the customer’s favorites on their next visit. “I’ve seen more and better Pennsylvania wines coming in with returning visitors.” Mr. Paul’s favorites include Deer Creek and Narcisi Wineries.
Narcisi’s full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon pairs perfectly with dishes like Sauerbraten. The complexity of the red wine vinegar marinade helps to accentuate the notes of blackcurrant and vanilla, and subtle smoke flavors. Buttery mashed potatoes & brussel sprouts assist in smoothing out the medium tannins, acidity, leaving a long, smooth finish.
Even though Mike Cerelli is a Beaver jeweler in his day job, he’s also known for his hobby of making his own selection of prestigious wines. Mike has been making both white and red blends for over 30 years, and has even won top awards in amateur competitions in California and Texas.
Although his wines don’t have a fancy label, he starts his hobby after the first harvest in September, and then allows his blends to age for over three years. “The biggest mistake a hobbyist makes is typically opening the wine before it is ready. There will be no wine before its time…” His passion and sense of humor has lead to serving as chair for Beaver’s annual fall wine event which solely features Pennsylvania wines.
It’ll be a while yet before Pennsylvania achieves the global status of Napa Valley, but at least some of the more established wineries have gained recent favor with both local “aficionados” and culinary experts alike. If given more time, and the climate and is just right for that perfect glass, perhaps more of Pennsylvania’s wineries might get a chance to shine. At the very least, it’s fun to experiment with the flavors and textures and learn what works well together.
Credits: Penn State University; PA Winery Association; Beaver Area Chamber of Commerce