Explanation of PA Aromatic Whites

albarino and sauvignon blanc in pa
By Paul Vigna

Aromatic white wines will express interesting and distinct aromas from grape to glass. These varieties commonly contain compounds called terpenes and esters, which naturally are present in the grape and contribute to floral and fruity aromatics. Winemakers will often treat aromatic whites with special attention in the cellar, including fermenting at lower temperatures and limiting/reducing exposure to oxygen during the winemaking process.

Albariño, (pronounced ALBA-REEN-YO) a white variety well-known in coastal maritime regions of Galicia, Spain, and Minho, Portugal (known as Alvarinho) is also grown and produced in the eastern and southeastern regions of Pennsylvania. This white wine is usually dry with a fruity flavor profile and no influence from oak. It will generally be bottled within a year of grape harvest and meant to be consumed within a year of release.

Stony Run Vineyard in Breinigsville, Lehigh County, grows around 2 1⁄2 acres of Albariño and notes that it has a reputation for being “cursed in the vineyard and loved in the winery,” says Stony Run Vineyard’s owner, Larry Shrawder.

Shrawder says. “That’s what makes it such a nice wine. It produces such a low quantity of grapes so it can concentrate its effort on ripening each of those berries properly. In addition, it tends to be able to remain on the vine into October, allowing it extra time to develop its fruit flavors.”

On the Iberian Peninsula, Albariño is recognized for its salinity character, influenced by its maritime climate. In Pennsylvania’s continental climate, Albariño will exhibit flavors of ripened stone fruit, blossoms, citrus, and tropical fruit. Shrawder refers to his Albariño as “very aromatic, with hints of melon and tropical fruits on the nose, citrus on the palate, and a nice, crisp finish.”

1723 Vineyards in Landenberg, Chester County, makes 75 to 100 cases of Albariño per year. Owner, Ben Cody produces an Albariño exclusive to his wine club members. “People join the club just to get access to that wine,” he says.

Cody planted an additional 3 acres, making him optimistic that Albariño will be 1723 Vineyards’ signature wine in coming years. “When young, it is all lemon and lime and as it ages, it is peaches and apricots. The wine has a massive amount of acidity, making it age-worthy like a great Riesling. Over time it becomes incredibly viscous and has a [creamy] character somewhat like a high-end dry Riesling, too.”

Another white aromatic variety that grows well in the eastern and southeastern regions of Pennsylvania is Sauvignon Blanc. The variety’s terroir and winemaking style will vary depending on the vineyard location and the overall goal of the winemaker.

Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and Sancerre, France are generally aged in stainless steel and feature ‘in-your-face’ tropical fruit, grassy characters, and high acidity. In Bordeaux, France, winemakers will ferment and age the wine in oak barrels, and blend with another white Bordeaux variety, Semillon. Both examples of global winemaking styles can be found in Pennsylvania.

Rich Blair, the Owner and Winemaker of Setter Ridge Vineyards in Kutztown, Berks County, uses the latter style of blending with oak influence. Blair’s Sauvignon Blanc is blended with 15 to 20 percent Semillon – a decision that he and his wine consultant, a graduate from the University of Bordeaux, both prefer.

“It’s not that grapefruit New Zealand or the Sancerre grassy, herbally [wine],” he says. “It’s a little more round, a little richer, with a little less acidity, because you’re blending in a less acidic grape, and it’s in oak, so it has a little more oxidation rather than reduction. So, for me, it has a little better mouthfeel. It doesn’t have the acidic mouthful. I think it’s a little more food-friendly than the New Zealand style.”

Setter Ridge Vineyards planted Sauvignon Blanc vines in 2012. Blair says, “it can be as friendly in the vineyard as it is on the dinner table. It is a very nice grape to grow, sort of like Cab Franc,” he says. “it doesn’t take much attention. You just have to keep it trimmed, and it’s a safe bet it will come through each season and harvest real well. It’s really a nice grape to grow in southeastern Pennsylvania.”

Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford, Delaware County, annually produces 250 cases of Sauvignon Blanc. Carley Razzi, Co-Owner and Head of Marketing, says they love the grape because it is “easy to grow in our climate. It resists rot and disease typical of this area, it winters well and the crop load is incredibly consistent.”

As for its flavor profile, she says, “it is unique and a very special wine for our portfolio. If you were to try to compare to other regions, it is not as grassy as New Zealand and it is not as rounded as what France produces. Our Sauvignon Blanc tends to have bright citrus notes, white florals, and excellently balanced acidity.”

Pennsylvania wineries that grow and produce Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc give two more options to consumers looking for dry, food-friendly, and exciting whites within the Commonwealth.

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