With the purchase of Briar Valley Winery in 2020, Bella Terra — who had opened in 2015 as an event-focused winery — solidified their place as the leading dry vinifera producer in PA’s southwest. Funnily enough, being on the western side of PA, they tend to align more to a west-coast style of winemaking, highlighting oak notes like vanilla, cinnamon and caramel, especially in younger wines. From my experience with prior vintages, the former Briar Valley wines showed a defter touch with French oak — present but integrated — that’s not quite as evident here. This may either be growing pains that come with and business transition, or perhaps a different style from a different team. Nonetheless this estate continues to show promise and is worthy of consideration for any PA wine drinker.
Note: Media samples and images were provided by the winery
Bella Terra Estate Chardonnay, Briar Valley Vineyard 2019
This initially comes across as old-school California Chardonnay; in other words, the vanilla and caramel flavors take precedence over fruit ones. The latter do lean, however, more to the cool-climate side of things, with bright citrus fruits and green apple or pear peaking through. Brought together, there’s nice balance and structure. Pair with: grilled salmon.
Bella Terra Estate Cabernet Franc, Briar Valley Estate 2018
This is a tricky one, because there are parts of it I don’t love — the aggressive use of oak, as well as some under-ripe fruit — but it also has surprising complexity and sneaky charm. The structure is certainly there, and it improves over time in the glass or decanter. Give the oak a year or two to better integrate and we might really have something here. Pair with: steak.
Bella Terra Estate Lemberger, Briar Valley Estate 2018
Lemberger — also known as Blaufränkish — is a grape from the Germanic areas of Europe that offers a lot of potential here in PA. Its cheery, spicy personality shows best when there isn’t a lot of oak to cover that up, yet many local producers like to pair the two together, perhaps to make it taste more like mainstream reds. There’s lovely acidity here, with hints of cherry fruit, but vanilla and coconut are the dominant flavors. Pair with: pork chops.
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