Unlike the famed vignobles of Burgundy or the sunny fields of Sonoma, Pennsylvania is not a place that is known for its terroir. To say that our state’s wines have gotten a bad rap isn’t accurate, since they’re barely even on the most wine-savvy Pennsylvanian’s radar. As a home to so many of the nation’s firsts, it’s not shocking that what is reputed to be the country’s first vineyard was established in our fair state in 1793. But the lethal combination of phylloxera and Prohibition wiped out a thriving viniculture movement.
Those concerned with eating and drinking close to home will be pleased to know that Pennsylvania wine is once again going strong, taking advantage of cooler climates and producing Old World-style wines with over 70 varietals.
Carl Helrich, owner and winemaker of Brogue’s Allegro Winery, is dead set on making serious wines — ones that will put Pennsylvania back on the map, or at least in your glass. Allegro is a bare-bones operation, focusing on the juice before anything else. It’s not the kind of place where you’ll find a gimmicky gift shop selling wineglass-stem charms. Instead, Helrich uses the space to produce a line of European-inspired wines on six acres of land between York and Lancaster.
The original owners were musician brothers, which explains the names of the vineyard (“allegro” translates to “lively”) and the wines. Prelude, a medium-bodied rosé, is a hot-pink blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Its up-front fleeting touch of sweetness fades to a juicy crispness. Sippable, to say the least, Prelude would be right at home with the bright and just-a-little-rough-around-the-edges rosés of Provence. It works equally well as an aperitif (with bowls of almonds and olives) as accompaniment to burgers, dogs or barbecue.
Blended to emulate the big boys of Bordeaux, Bridge uses the same three grapes to make a deep, velvety juice that’s aged in French oak. Unlike California oak bombs, Bridge’s wood is subtle. The 2006 is mellow even at 13 percent alcohol, with an acidity that is so integral in blends like these.
Pennsylvania soil and merlot get along swimmingly, and Allegro’s version could very easily become the state’s vin de table. It’s a lighthearted (and light-bodied) red with all of those red fruit notes that make for a versatile wine that’s pairable with virtually anything, from a plate of pad Thai to a slice of chocolate cake.