Pennsylvania’s wine scene is not only known for its white grape varietals, but also for its unique and diverse selection of red grapes that produce high-quality wines. Let’s delve into the top 10 distinctive red vitis vinifera grapes that contribute to crafting exceptional wines in the Keystone State.
1. Cabernet Franc: This produces elegant and aromatic wines in Pennsylvania, and is arguably the state’s signature red grape. With notes of red berries, herbs, and sometimes a hint of green pepper, these wines exhibit a balance between fruitiness and herbaceous complexity.
2. Merlot: Known for its soft tannins and approachable character, Merlot can thrive in Pennsylvania’s climate, if producing wines that are lighter than those from the west coast. It yields wines with flavors of plum, cherry, and often a touch of chocolate, making them easy to enjoy on their own or as part of a blend.
3. Carmine: A lesser-known varietal that’s a three-way crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carignan, Carmine was developed in CA to produce fuller bodied wines in cooler climates, making it perfect for PA! With flavors of black fruit, spice, and earthy undertones, Carmine wines showcase a distinctive character that is worth knowing.
4. Nebbiolo: A grape that international winegrowers have struggled to find success with outside northwest Italy has somehow developed a reputation in PA for producing interesting, complex wines. They may not ever reach the heights of the best Barolo, but PA Nebbiolo is absolutely worth exploring.
5. Blaufränkisch/Lemberger: This Austrian grape can yield red wines of medium to full body. It is particularly successful in PA when producers embrace its juicy, fresh qualities.
6. Teroldego: Originating from Alpine regions of Italy, Teroldego produces deeply colored wines with flavors of dark berries, black cherry, and a hint of spice. In Pennsylvania, Teroldego is growing in popularity for its medium-bodied expressions of unique character.
7. Barbera: Barbera is an Italian grape that’s slowly gaining traction in Pennsylvania. While climate change is making it fuller-bodied in its home of northeast Italy, it had the potential to produce well-balanced wines in PA, so hopefully more producers will experiment with this grape going forward.
8. Cabernet Dorsa: A hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder, Cabernet Dorsa produces wines with a rich color but a bright flavor profile. Expect notes of red fruit, cherry, and often a hint of tobacco or cocoa.
9. Zweigelt: Another Austrian grape, Zweigelt, is starting to find a home in Pennsylvania’s vineyards. Like Lemberger, it does best here when seeking a fresh, juicy expression.
10. Saperavi: Originating from Georgia, Saperavi is often used to create bold red wines with a distinct prune note. These wines can display intense acidity, dark fruit notes, and an unexpected depth. Though only planted in limited quantities so far in PA, it shows much promise for the future.
While Pennsylvania’s climate and terroir suit a wide range of grape varietals, it’s worth noting what is missing from this list: the widely popular and well-known grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Pennsylvania’s cooler climate and shorter growing season can make it challenging to fully ripen these grapes, resulting in wines that might lack the depth and complexity that makes these grapes so popular in other regions. (That doesn’t stop wineries from trying to grow them though!)
That said, the beauty of Pennsylvania’s wine industry lies in its ability to embrace unique and well-suited varietals that showcase the region’s true potential. So next time you drink local, try something new!