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Pennsylvania Wine 101

What wines can I find at Pennsylvania wineries?

Pennsylvania now has more than 160 wineries. What are these wineries making? What wines are good to try? These are questions I often receive from consumers. Pennsylvania wines can be broken down into three main categories: European, hybrid, and native varieties.

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European Varieties

European varieties are traditional wine varieties. Think Chardonnay or Merlot. These names describe the grape variety from which the wine is made. For example, Cabernet Franc wine is made primarily from Cabernet Franc grapes. These varieties have been around for decades, or even centuries, and are produced internationally.

Many of these varieties are “dry,” meaning that they lack perceptible sweetness. However, many can come in different styles. Pennsylvania Chardonnay, for example, can either be oaky (buttery, vanilla, and toasted oak flavors) or unoaked (bright citrus, apple, and pear flavors). Preferences are completely dictated by the consumer! Pennsylvania’s Rieslings or Cabernet Franc Rosés also come in a variety of sweetness levels and flavors and pair well with hors d’oeuvres, salads, and most appetizers.

Pennsylvania also produces various dry red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zweigelt (an Austrian variety). I always encourage wine drinkers to give these a try. Based on our region, these wines will have a noticeable acidity, some herbal/earthy characteristics, and a touch of oak and red fruit flavors. This style of wine is meant to be eaten with food, so try it with cheeses or dinner!

Hybrid Varieties

Hybrid wine varieties are crosses between European and native varieties and primarily grown for their hearty disease or cold tolerance. White varieties (e.g., Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga) come in a range of sweetness levels according to the winery’s preference. Some wineries make excellent sweet Vidal Blanc, and others make it dry. Ask the tasting room employees about their winery’s selection.

Red varieties (e.g., Chambourcin, Noiret) are usually compact with flavor: red fruit and spice with a touch of oak. Most of these are your everyday table wines, which means you can drink them on their own or with dinner. You’ll be amazed how enjoyable these lighter red wines can be with common family meals.

Native Varieties

Native varieties are often the kind people associate with Pennsylvania wines and include Concord and Niagara. Basically, these wines taste like grapes and are the same varieties used for red and white grape juice! Many people in Pennsylvania associate these varieties with jam or childhood memories of making preserves with their grandparents. Many of these wines are sweet and make good introductory wines for people who think wine is not for them. You can also use these wines for summer sangria, picnic food, or as dessert options. Remember to always serve sweet wines chilled, regardless of whether it’s red or white, as sweet wines taste better cooled.

Most Pennsylvania wineries offer something for everyone. The tasting room is the place to try new things and discover what you like! You never know what you may walk away enjoying. Cheers!

Denise Gardner

Denise Gardner is Penn State Extension’s resident enologist, working with Pennsylvania wineries to help them improve the 
quality of their wines. Contact Denise on Facebook or 
@winenews4you.