Getting to Know European Varietals

Just because you enjoy European varietals doesn’t mean you have to buy wine grown and produced across the Atlantic. Many of these grapes have successfully migrated to Pennsylvania, fulfilling their potential in our state’s fertile soil.

The species of grape vine that originated in Europe is called Vitis vinifera, and many of the world’s most famous and beloved varietals fall into this category. Here are some of the wines you should know, along with a bit on what to expect when you crack open your next bottle of Continental vino.

A white grape variety typically grown in Portugal and Spain. Quite aromatic with intense floral and fruity aromas like: orange blooms, honeysuckle, lemongrass, grapefruit, peach, and green apple. Typically not aged long with little to no oak influence.

Cabernet Franc
In Pennsylvania, the dark-skinned Cabernet Franc takes on more of a traditional French-style: freshly herbal, with hints of balsamic and, occasionally, nuances of dried tobacco leaves. It ripens consistently across years in the mid-Atlantic region and has become a base variety for a lot of dryer red wine blends. Find out more about Cabernet Franc, here. (insert link to PA Wine School article)

Cabernet Sauvignon
Pennsylvania Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be closer to a European Cabernet Sauvignon wine with ripe red berry flavors, nuances of savory herbs, and black cassis (currants). These dark-skinned grapes can be used in classic red wine blends.

Pennsylvania Chardonnays tend to be produced in a more traditional European style with retention of acidity that separates it from those produced in California. Vibrantly full of citrus zest and floral aromas, Chardonnay can take on many styles: dry, unoaked, fruity white wine that exudes fresh apple and floral aromas, or an oaky, vanilla, caramel classic. Chardonnay may also be the base for many traditional sparkling wines.

A white variety that is typically produced with some sweetness, although the degree of sweetness will vary by wine producer. Aromatically intense with strong aromas of wildflowers, roses, tropical fruit, passion fruit and, of course, lychee fruits. Lychees tend to smell aromatically floral and contain similar aromas to that of Gewürztraminer.

Grüner Veltliner
An aromatic white grape variety that has been well established in the Lehigh Valley in the SouthEast region, but growing in production throughout the state. Some Grüner wines may have a grassy, green bean, or dill flavor with hints of tropical fruits like passion fruit or peach flavors. This style is very similar to a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, but typically less aromatically intense. More traditional Grüners exude a stronger citrus, green bean, or white pepper flavor with a full-bodied and minerality essence in the mouth.

Lemberger (also known as Blaufränkisch)
A popular dark-skinned variety grown across Pennsylvania. Lemberger has a tannic structure that creates a very masculine wine. The profile has dried herb, woody flavors that integrate well with its red fruit nature. This wine does well with some oak influence and aging.

Merlot tends to retain a softer mouthfeel than its Cabernet cousins. Typical profiles include savory, earthy, and, sometimes, hints of fresh mushroom flavors. Merlot takes on a red jam, black cherry, and pomegranate flavor in warmer, drier or better ripening years.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
A neutral white variety that produces a gray color berry when ripe. Provides citrus fruit flavors and is typically made in a dry, non-oaky wine style.

Pinot Noir
A delicate dark-skinned variety that makes a great introductory red wine or an ideal variety for connoisseurs. Pinot Noir is one of the trickiest wines to make, but when made well, the results can be magical. This variety is also one of the traditional base varieties for rosé sparkling wine.

This white variety is very terroir-driven so the flavor profiles vary across the Pennsylvania regions and is very reflective in terms of where it is grown. Ther terroir will affect the acidity and flavor profile of the Riesling. For example, Riesling picked and produced in the NorthWest region tends to have more of a peach or peach-candy flavor, with crisper sourness. Riesling from SouthCentral Pennsylvania tends to have more citrus and floral flavors. In the hottest of growning regions, like the SouthEast region, Riesling can be intensely aromatic with floral or tropical flavors, and occasionally, petrol, a unique flavor associated primarily with Rieslings.

Depending on the vintage year, this dark-skinned variety has many different flavor profiles. With warmer growing seasons, Syrah is jammy with lots of red fruit flavors. With cooler growing seasons, Syrah has more chocolate, coffee, and earthy flavors. Softer in mouthfeel compared to the Cabernets.

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