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Unexpectedly Good Wines in Hershey, Pennsylvania – Cullari Vineyards and Winery

IMG_1452 Good wine pops up in the most unexpected places sometimes. Take central Pennsylvania for example. This is not exactly a hotbed of wine production, but like most every place in the country these days there are wineries about. We were meeting the kids at Hershey Park for a mini vacation recently, and since we arrived a few hours before them we decided to stop in at Cullari Vineyards and Winery, right on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey.

Normally we find that wineries which try and produce too many different varieties frequently don’t do any well. Not the case here, as several wines were really quite excellent. We tried fifteen, and will give you the rundown on what we liked, and what we didn’t.

First a little about Cullari, which is on Chocolate Avenue about a three minute drive from the Hershey Story IMG_1453museum. Owner and wine maker Salvatore Cullari, who was born in Caroniti, Italy, first started making homemade wine with his father when he was 12 years old. Cullari states: “A lot of my relatives in Italy had vineyards, or made wine for home consumption, or simply drank a lot of IMG_1454wine, so I guess I literally have wine in my blood!” He makes many varieties, as we’ve already mentioned, but not too much of any one. Total sales run about 25,000 bottles a year, or just over 2000 cases. This is really a boutique producer.

The tasting room itself is somewhat non-descript, and certainly doesn’t scream winery from the ouside. Inside there is a retail area and many tables for tasting, and the atmosphere is welcoming. They’ll bring the wines to you here, and you can opt for different numbers of wines. Some snacks are provided, which was nice. You also get a discount on any bottles you buy, which we also availed ourselves of. Here are the wines:

Vidal Blanc – this was light in body and flavor. It was clean with a surprisingly long finish. We thought it was OK. IMG_1456$12.99

IMG_1455Dry Riesling – this is in a German style. The petrol aromas were there in force, along with spice   Medium bodied it has some texture and good mouthfeel. Made from Finger Lakes fruit this is an elegant and good Riesling, at a great price. $13.99

Semi Riesling – not our favorite, the wine was light and very floral, along with a touch of bitterness at the finish. $13.99

Traminette – a hybrid grape, Traminette can make good wines. (see our review of Pail Shop Vineyards here) This is one of those good wines, as it presents a huge nose of fruit, flowers and honey. There is spice on the palate and good body and texture. A winner at $12.99

White on White – mostly Catawba, with Vidal, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio added, this wine is probably more for those who prefer fruity and semi-sweet styles. Not our cup of tea here, but many like it as it is their best selling white.

Black on Black – the counterpart to the previous wine, this presents us with Blackberry and Pinot Noir. It is delicious. Sharp blackberry flavors scream at you, but there is balance. It would be a great dessert wine. You could just sip it as well. It reminds us very much of the blackberry wine from Diamond Hill in Cumberland, Rhode Island, which we always enjoy (and buy!). $15.99

Now the reds, and we tried almost all of them:

Cabernet Sauvignon – very fruity with some berry character. Spice and some tannins as well. This has a long finish,IMG_1461 is quite good, and would be a perfect food wine with something fairly hearty. $13.99

Cabernet Franc – anise aromas and flavors dominate this wine, and since anise is not one of our preferred flavors the wine doesn’t work for us. Still, it is well made. $12.99

IMG_1462Merlot – very subdued nose but some nice fruit on the palate. What was surprising was the impression of high alcohol, which we both got very strongly. We were both wrong though, as all of these check in at or under 12%. I would have guessed 14.5%. It had the high alcohol and low tannins you can get in a Grenache. $13.49

Pinot Noir – heavy spice and extraordinarily light body and flavor profiles made this one of our least favorites. $13.99

Old Country Red – there are six different grapes in here, one of them being white. It had a lot of perfume on the noseIMG_1458 and strawberry. The acid was quite high, a bit too high in my opinion. This is made to go with food. $12.99

Simply Red #1 – there’s a little Malbec in here, and the wine is dark red presenting perfume and anise aromas. The tannins are stronger here. It also quite tart. We weren’t big fans. $12.99

IMG_1457Simply Red #3 – this is a Bordeaux style blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot. It is smooth and really brings a full flavor drinking experience. You would think it is Bordeaux. You might think it is $25 Bordeaux. We were quite flabbergasted at the quality here. We bought two bottles and opened one later at the hotel. Again we thought it was excellent. When we finally arrived home two days later, with some of the bottle left, it was still excellent. By far the best wine here, and a steal at $12.99. With our discount I wish we had bought half a case. Maybe I can get a good deal on shipping from Salvatore.

Spectacullari – this is a blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot and Syrah. It has a complex nose of spice, oak and dark fruits. There is noticeable tannin. It’s very good and made for steak, or pizza as they suggest. $13.99

KeyONtee – Salvatore’s play on Chianti, since he cannot, of course, call his wine by that name. Still, it’s Sangiovese, it’s got some nice fruit, and very high acid. Definitely another wine to consume with food. The acid here is too high for me to just drink by itself. $12.99

That’s a lot of wine, and we tried less than half of the portfolio. They also make three sparklers, which sounded good but are not available at the tastings. It’s impressive in breadth. It’s also impressive that some are really very good. A couple are downright excellent.

What would we buy? The Cab, Spectacullari and of course Simply Red #3, which we did in fact buy. On the white side the Dry Riesling and the Traminette. Add in the Black on Black as well. That’s pretty darn good for a local winery in Pennsylvania. When you consider the prices it’s even better. Salvatore Cullari knows what he is doing.

We recommend you stop in at Cullari Vineyards and Winery if you happen to be in or around the Hershey area. It is worth the trip.

A votre sante!

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