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North Hills Monthly

Wine Tastings Designed for Every Level of Experience

Aug 29, 2014 08:56PM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe
Wine enthusiasts, or those new to the many varietals, are in luck. Wine tastings are fairly easy to come by, whether attending a formal dinner that features flights of wine, stopping in at a local winery to sample their different offerings, or attending wine tastings that raise money for charitable causes.

One of the most notable benefits of taking part in a wine tasting is being able to learn from people who may have more experience. How do you know if a wine is harmonious, balanced, complex or complete? What wine would go best with fish, steak or salad? How do you determine what wines are worth their cost?

When visiting a winery, you can learn the answers to all of these questions and more. An added benefit is that rather than purchasing several bottles of wine that you may or may not finish, you can pay either a nominal fee or nothing at all to sample many varieties.

Nicolette Chilton, director of marketing and sales at Narcisi Winery in Gibsonia, welcomes guests at all levels of experience for free tastings. “Each person who participates in a tasting has the ability to sample three of our 22 available wines,” she explained. “Tastings are informative, simple and last approximately 10 to 15 minutes. If you’re not too sure about the wine you like, you can just let your wine tender know, and he or she can help you pick wines that suit your tastes.”

Heather Clark of Allison Park enjoys the variety of wines available for tasting at Narcisi. “They are friendly and helpful; there’s a good atmosphere and vibe,” she said. “It’s a nice experience and for being so close to home, you can’t beat it.”

For those who prefer a more formal and personal experience, private tours and tastings are available on Saturday and Sunday mornings. “These tours are conducted by owner Dennis Narcisi or one of our experienced winery managers who share the entire winemaking process, from grape growing and picking, to fermentation and bottling,” said Chilton, adding that the tours conclude with an extended tasting of five preselected wines.

At Soergel Orchards in Wexford, visitors can enjoy wine tastings in the Arrowhead Winery shop, as well as purchase a bottle or two to pair with their finds from the gourmet market. “Soergel’s partnered with Arrowhead Winery as a way to provide our customers with the opportunity to come in and try their different offerings in an informal setting,” explained Mike Marcus, director of marketing. “Instead of the ‘preconceived’ notion of a wine tasting, people can just stop in and sample any of their wines and talk to their very knowledgeable staff without feeling intimidated.”

Though the wine shop has been open for the past couple of years, the opportunity to sample Arrowhead’s products is becoming more recognized. “Because of growing interest, we decided to expand the program this fall,” said Marcus. “We purchased a small shed that we’ll be using during our fall festivals to promote wine tastings, and customers will be able to purchase bottles outside of the wine shop as well.”

Wine tastings have also become an important part of local fundraisers, including the very successful Harvest Moon Wine Festival in Millvale, which will be celebrating its fifth anniversary on September 27. This year, 10 wine vendors from western and central Pennsylvania will be showcasing their wares, in addition to a number of national and international vintners. Local wineries include Bee Kind Winery, Christian W. Klay Winery, Deer Creek Winery, Greenhouse Winery, Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery, La Casa Narcisi, Pittsburgh Winery, R Wine Cellar, The Winery at Wilcox and Wilhelm Winery.

“A $45 Wine Taster ticket gives guests the opportunity to enjoy unlimited wine tastings and food,” said Eddie Figas, director of Administrative Services, Millvale Borough Development Corp. “This year, we’re also adding a Very Important Wine Drinker ticket for $70, which includes unlimited wine tastings and food, as well as access to a special tent that will feature 10 to 12 separate wines from around the world. Those guests will also receive an artist-designed coaster and a wine tote that holds four bottles of wine, as well as early entrance into the festival.” A $20 food only ticket is also available for designated drivers or those who choose not to drink.

The money raised at the festival, which will be held in Millvale Riverfront Park from 5-8 p.m., will support the efforts of the Millvale Borough Development Corp., a nonprofit that puts on various events in the borough year-round, and also purchases abandoned buildings in an effort to return them to active use within the city. Entertainment will be provided by Etta Cox and her band, and the evening includes hayrides and a bonfire.

There’s a wine out there for every taste, whether you prefer dry and crisp or sweet and fruity. By attending local wine events, you can find the perfect vintage to suit your palate.

Whatever type of wine tasting you choose to attend, here are some things to keep in mind:

•    The stereotype of spitting wine out after tasting it actually has merit, because you do not need to swallow wine in order to taste it. Fully drinking each glass may limit your ability to make an informed decision about the rest of the wines you taste, and depending on how many wines you sample, could also hinder your ability to drive home safely.

•    Limit smoking beforehand and avoid wearing anything scented, including perfume, heavily scented hairspray or deodorants and lotions. The aroma of the wine is a key component to the taste.

•    Save your comments and opinions until everyone has had a chance to taste their wine. Many wine aficionados prefer to take their time and draw their own conclusions before hearing others’ opinions.