Berks Wine Trail celebrates Valentine's Day, despite snowstorm

Patriot photos by Roxanne Richardson Berks County Wine Trail hosted its annual Chocolate and Wine Pairing Event Weekend Feb. 15 and 16. Jackie Mondschein, right, of Pinnacle Ridge Winery, serving Merlot and gingerbread cookies paired with Merlot and Traminette wine to Louise and John Halasovski, New Tripoli.
Patriot photos by Roxanne Richardson Berks County Wine Trail hosted its annual Chocolate and Wine Pairing Event Weekend Feb. 15 and 16. Although Mikki Williamson, Bernville, and Carol Miller, Alsace Township, love going on the wine trail, their absolute favorite was Blair Vineyards. Miller said Ann Marie Recke, Blair Vineyards, was one of her former students.

Snow fell hard and fast making the roads slushy and slippery. Small compact cars with front wheel drive fish tailed coming down a main route. My own little Fiesta traveled as far as it could up the steep hill before being forced to turn around and edge inch-by-inch back down hoping to stop for the sign at the bottom.

Despite Saturday’s weather, wineries reported record numbers of 100 to 125 attendees and even greater numbers the very next day. It was the Berks County Wine Trail Chocolate and Wine Pairing Event Weekend.

“All the cars that drove up here were either trucks, SUVs, or Subaru’s like all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive,” said Missy Wilson, Blair Vineyards, Kutztown. “I think everybody’s so tired of this snow they’re ready to come out this weekend.”

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According to Wilson, 125 people visited the winery, which was a lot less than they would normally see, but a lot more than they anticipated after looking out the windows at the amount of snow falling. Wilson had prepared a homemade chocolate-ganache bread pudding to be paired with the Kutztown vineyard’s grown 2010 Pinot Noir.

“It’s very chocolaty, very decadent, very delicious and we’re pairing it with our 2010 Pinot Noir which tends to be really nice and big and fruity. You have that beautiful black fruit that comes across. A lot of black cherry, a lot of blackberry, and with the dark chocolate it accentuates the fruit, softens a lot of the tannins and just kind of gives you that nice big fruity feeling on your palette.”

The chocolate pairing with Pinot Noir brings out the wine’s fruitiness, but softens out the wine making it versatile as an accompaniment with dinner and with dessert.

“Because Pinot is that middle of the road type of wine where you can go anywhere from like a salmon or a chicken all the way up to a steak with some nice pepper on it, too, because it has a nice wide range of varieties of food that it works really well with,” said Wilson.

Wilson said to take the main flavors and work with that, such as duck and then add a cherry sauce or pork and make a blackberry sauce, something with a little bit of that fruitiness on the sauce to it works really well.

Wilson’s daughters took advantage of the opportunity to promote Girl Scout cookies with the wine samplings. Attendees discovered that the shortbread cookies went really well with Chardonnay.

Mark Tornetta, a student at Harrisburg Area Community College for wine making, said the pairing was excellent. He usually pairs a heavier red with a chocolate such as a Cabernet.

Carol Miller, Alsace Township, described the taste as being more cherry flavored.

“I can’t really say. It blends together beautifully,” said Miller’s friend, Mikki Williamson, Bernville.

“Somebody put a lot of thought into this,” added Miller.

Blair Vineyards’ chocolate-ganache bread pudding was a big hit for Robin and Dennis Fink. It was their first time ever on a wine trail and they were not going to let the snowstorm spoil their weekend.

“Pinnacle, Long Trout, Calvaresi, Clover Hill, and we’re going to cut off the last two of today’s tour,” said Robin. “I’m afraid we’re going to run out of time.”

With a big smile, she said she wrote down what each place was pairing except for the last two as her husband opened up their map. Their next stop took them up to Pinnacle Ridge.

Cars lined the road around Pinnacle Ridge. It didn’t matter that the snow formed massive walls along the road’s edge; the wine trail’s chocolate pairing was a big time favorite for many.

“It’s going very well. The snow didn’t deter too many people yesterday. We had a nice steady flow,” said Jackie Mondschein, server for Pinnacle Ridge Winery, Kutztown.

Mondschein said the pairing of gingerbread cookies swirled with a vanilla-chocolate drizzle and the winery’s Traminette white wine was going very well.

“The Traminette is very floral and goes nicely with the gingersnap,” said Mondschein.

The semi-sweet wine blended with the gingerbread spices into one smooth flavor. The cookie didn’t overpower the wine nor did the wine overpower the cookie. Next to try was the Merlot cookie with the Merlot wine. You could smell the dry Merlot wine, but when paired with the gooey chocolate cookie, you didn’t taste the dryness. The tastes were completely softened.

“My boyfriend is a chef and he was talking about how important that it is to pair wine and food together,” said Kristen Vender, Old Forge. “I think they did a really good job of doing so.”

“I’ve been to a lot of wine and pairing events, especially here, and they’re really good at pairing them,” said Katina Kambakis, Blandon. “They had a wine and cheese event and they were really good at pairing that so that’s why we came here first.”

Kambakis, her sister, Alexis, Vender, and Jenny Dietrich were on the trail in celebration of Katina’s upcoming wedding.

Jim and Deb Bowman, Hamburg, wanted to beat cabin fever, celebrate Valentine’s Day weekend, and enjoy chocolate and wine parings.

“It started with Merlot which was very good, the Naked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chambourcin Reserve,” said Deb Bowman. “They had a gooey chocolate Merlot cookie and a gingerbread iced with a white chocolate. They paired that with a white wine and the chocolate cookie with a Merlot. The red with the chocolate was just perfect.”

Bowman said the chocolate cookie softened the wine and the wine brought out the chocolate in the cookie. With purchases in hand, the Bowman’s next point along the trail was Blair Vineyards and then on to Bashore and Stoudt Country Winery in Shartlesville.

For more information about the Berks County Wine Trail, go to http://www.berkscountywinetrail.com.

Read more stories from Roxanne’s wine trail experience at www.berksmontnews.com.