No Spitting Allowed: Speed Dating in Eastern Vineyards

Drink reviews with honest verdicts

Europe had centuries to figure out which trysts in the terroirs were forever.  California grape growers have found some great marriages, but still have a fairly hefty divorce rate.  The rest of the country — particularly the East Coast — is still speed dating.

Will this grapevine and this soil just spend a few nights together, or will they be permanently wed?  Some Eastern vineyards have experienced more vinous couplings than a college ski trip.

But let’s make a few early judgments on these rutting rootstocks on the basis of the progeny they are producing.


2006 Biltmore Estate North Carolina Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine

North Carolina is a little late to the fine wine parade, even for the East Coast, so winemakers are still in the early stages of grape selection.  However, there is a lot of evidence that sparkling wine may be a comer throughout the region because of lower alcohols and good acidity.  This one, made from Tarheel chardonnay, is very nice and full without being heavy — creamy, lots of soft apples, well balanced.  However, there is a stray note of cola-like grapiness at the finish. Did a tad of catawba or other foxy grape slip in there?

Verdict:  It’s a good sparkler for celebrating a nice start. (about $25)


2009 Va La Vineyards Pennsylvania La Prima Donna

 Most Pennsylvania winemakers are Lady Gaga over Bordeaux varietals, especially cab franc, for reds and chardonnay for white.  But there is growing evidence that, for reds and whites, northern Italian grapes do better in southern Chester County than they do planted anywhere else in the U.S. — to date.  Va La’s winemaker, Anthony Vietri, is making excellent reds from Italian varietals, and his white blend of tocai, malvasia, petit manseng, pinot grigio, and viognier is full-bodied, very complex, and dry with floral aromas, ripe fruits, and spices, somewhat like a super-gewürztraminer. An excellent wine.

Verdict:In spite of its voluptuous come-on, this is a brainy, complex, well-mannered wine at heart. ($40)


2010 Paradocx PDX Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Touriga

Touriga nacional, the patron grape of Port and the Douro Valley, wouldn’t seem a natural for the much-cooler Pennsylvania hills — and it may not be.  But this is a good start — lovely, gamey, tangy flavors with crisp red raspberries on the front.  But then it seems too watery and light in the finish, needing a dose of tannins and acid. Makes an interesting carafe wine.

Verdict: OK, you got my attention, now come back, sonny, when you’ve put some meat on your bones. ($29)


2007 Macari North Fork of Long Island Merlot Reserve

Merlot has been planted on Long Island long enough to know that it doesn’t have to look to the future — it already has a bright present. This reserve has very good bright cherry flavors with a slight earthiness to balance the exuberance. There are hints of stems, perhaps for heft, and it is somewhat light — but still very flavorful and quite enjoyable.

Verdict:Reminds me of an old-fashioned, easy-drinking Right Bank Bordeaux before they quit testing for steroids. ($36)


2008 Macari North Fork of Long Island Merlot

Dark Bing cherry flavors with a touch of balsamic and a soft layer of chalk. A few hints of green herbs. This wine is well-balanced and very enjoyable.

Verdict:A more voluptuous version of the older, “reserve” sister. ($21)