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Beverage Corner: Regional wineries afford delicious diversion

Thursday, October 01, 1998

By Dave DeSimone

A drive through the Pennsylvania countryside on a glorious October day is a dazzling experience. The beautiful foliage refreshes the spirit, and the cooler temperatures and smoky autumn air enliven the senses.

Combining such a ride with a visit to Christian W. Klay Winery and Deep Creek Cellars makes an especially enjoyable itinerary in the Laurel Highlands southeast of Pittsburgh. Both wineries can be visited easily in the course of a casual afternoon excursion.

Christian W. Klay Winery (724-439-3424) lies south of Uniontown in Fayette County, off Route 40 in Chalk Hill. The vineyards are planted high atop the first bench of Chestnut Ridge, and this provides a breathtaking panoramic view. Hay wagon tours of the vineyard are available.

Because of extreme winter temperatures, co-founder Sharon Klay and winery general manager Ray Matthews focused on growing grapes, such as French American Hybrids and New York State Hybrids, with cold weather hardiness. In addition, they are exploring the suitability of various European vinifera grapes such as chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc and cabernet franc, which can ripen in cooler climates.

The resulting wines are blends with what Sharon Klay proudly calls "regional character." For example, the Blanc de Lafayette ($15) is a crisp, dry white with delicate citrus aromas and flavors. The Jumonville Glen Red ($15) is a fruity Beaujolais Nouveau-style red with good flavor and a soft, dry finish. The winery also produces a variety of semi-dry and sweeter wines.

Deep Creek Cellars (301-746-4349) is farther down Route 40 just over the Maryland border. The winery is nestled in Friendsville in lovely Garrett County. Deep Creek Cellars is the joint venture of two Pittsburghers, Paul Roberts and Nadine Grabania. This husband-wife team has focused on what Roberts calls "hand-crafted wines." Their wines are clarified without use of fining agents, unfiltered and bottled by hand.

Roberts adores the traditional blended wines of the Midi in southern rural France. In Maryland, he imports traditional Midi grapes like carignan and grenache from California and then blends them with his own estate-grown grapes, such as the beguiling native American Cythiana. The results are distinctive and delicious wines.

The Artisan Red ($13.36 from Dreadnought Wines, 412-391-1709; the price is lower at the winery) has black pepper and strawberry aromas and strawberry jam flavors with a dry finish and light French oak accents. The Artisan White has pleasant floral, citrus and figs aromas and crisp citrus flavors with good acidity and a soft finish. Both wines are solid table wines with good, accessible flavor.

Other "Best Buys" for October from around the world at the PLCB:

1997 Coppo "Moncalvina," Moscato D'Asti, Italy (Specialty 9936, $11.99): This is a charming, off-dry white wine with light effervescence followed by lovely aromas and flavors of peaches and apricots. The low alcoholic content (only 5 percent) is well balanced with good acidity. This delicate, light-hearted nectar washes away world weariness and restores the spirit. (Note: Some of the bottles are throwing a harmless sediment of tartaric acid. Relax and enjoy the wine.)

1996 Domaine de Matibat, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays de Haute Vallee de L'Aude, France (Specialty 1399, $7.99): This perennial favorite from the South of France has clean apple and melon aroma giving way to a medium body with a good balance of acidity and crisp flavors of apples and melons. This is a wonderful "food wine" with judicious oak seasoning and cleansing acidity.

1997 Vega Sindoa, El Chaparral, "Old Vines Grenache" Navarra, Spain (Specialty 2151, $8.99): El Chaparral is a delicious glassful of full-flavored red wine in the "international style" with spicy oak and strawberry aromas followed by flavors to match. The acidity is clean and the medium body is soft and velvety. An excellent everyday red table wine. Thanks to Vic Quaglia at the Waterworks Store for the tip on this little gem.

1996 Thorton, Barbera, South Coast, California (Specialty 1424, $6.99): This classic "Cal-Ital" variety has a pretty ruby color and pleasant aromas of black pepper and cherries with light oak. The flavors are spicy cherry and vanilla balanced by zesty acidity and soft tannins.

1997 Portico, Raspberry Zinfandel (on sale: $4.99): Sutter Home Winery, the granddaddy of the highly popular California white zinfandel, has introduced three new white zins with a combination of 99.8 percent California zinfandel and .2 percent natural fruit flavors. Portico Raspberry Zinfandel, for example, has a forward raspberry nose and a pleasantly sweet fruit flavor balanced by adequate acidity. This is a casual wine to please the crowd at tailgate parties and picnics.

Dave DeSimone is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society. He can be heard on KQV Radio (1410 AM) Monday through Friday with The Wine Cellar.

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