BYOB Insider – Sammy’s Authentic Italian Restaurant

by Zak Ortenzio

502 N.3rd Street, Harrisburg (717) 221-0192
Call to check on hours. Reservations suggested, street parking, no corkage fee.

Sammy’s has been a fixture on the Harrisburg restaurant scene for years. Upon arrival, “…you are family, whether you’ve traveled a block or a galaxy…” to get there. After ordering you can relax and enjoy a meal that was prepared with attention to detail.
For our appetizer we decided to order Portobello Oreganato and divided it among the four of us. The appetizer came with three Portobello Mushrooms served with oregano, bread crumbs and olive oil.  While eating the Portobellos we noticed a hint of spiciness which was not mentioned when we ordered the Portobellos. The spiciness did not mask the meaty flavor of the mushrooms, and the olive oil did not saturate them they had not lost their firmness. This was a fine start to the meal.

Our main courses were: Veal Florence, Veal Margarita, Lasagna, and Scallops Provençale. All of our main courses included a salad. The salad greens were fresh and the dressing was applied sparingly so as not to mask the taste of the fresh greens. The Veal Florence also included Italian sausage, spinach and lemon sauce over Angel hair pasta. The veal was not overdone and had the same lemon sauce, which did not over power the veal.  The Veal Margarita was tender and served with a tasty sauce as well.  Sammy’s Lasagna is not your typical Italian Lasagna. It had a mushroom brandy sauce, which was unusual, and included pieces of portobellos and tomatoes.  The Scallops Provençale were sautéed with diced tomatoes, garlic and herbs and served over Angel hair pasta. The Scallops had a wonderful sear, were fork tender, and paired well with the rest of the meal. All of the pastas were done al dente.  We did not ask about dessert. It is always pleasure to visit a restaurant where food preparation is of the highest quality and the wait staff has knowledge of the entire menu. Sammy’s is highly recommended.

Another Reason for Cork

by Dave Williams

If there is one wine that gets more scrutiny than others, it must be Champagne, if for no other reason than reverence and cost. And with science now catching up to what history has shown, once again another finding of minutia to ponder when consuming your bubbles. In a recent 5 year study science has shown a benefit to cork during tirage (champagne’s in bottle second fermentation) in comparison to lesser expensive crown caps which are plastic coated metal caps similar to conventional beer bottle caps.

The study was performed by Amorim, a Portuguese cork producer which included sparkling wines from across the globe, not just champagne. Three properties were assessed: 1) retention of CO2, 2) oxygen kinetics and 3) volatile components. The study found measurable differences of volatile components and oxygen kinetics. While cork had similar CO2 values with crown caps, it showed greater preservation of volatile components like esters which we can sense in the nose and taste.

However, it was differences in oxygen kinetics that the study highlighted. It was explained that there is a balance between oxygen and reduction. During tirage there is a breakdown of components such as dead yeast cells, which consumes some of the dissolved oxygen in the wine making the second fermentation reductive (reducing oxygen). This can lead to unpleasant Sulphur-like aromas. It was shown that the small amount of air trapped in the micro pores of cork were injected into the bottle when it was compressed for insertion adding 2-2.5mg of oxygen per bottle. This small amount of O2 helped reduce the oxygen consumption during tirage creating a better balance. On a scale of 1-10 most winemakers preferred a balance of 3-4. Crown caps had an average measurement of 2.5 whereas cork had 4. The lack of reductive aromas and better preservation of esters creates more flavors, more fruit, more toast and brioche in sparkling wines. While the study ran for 5 years many of these differences were noted after 2.5 years. The unanswered question is what happens after 10 or 20 years?

One Sommelier’s Guide to Picking a Good Pink Wine

by Dave Williams

With the recent popularity of pink wine, and explosion of new offerings coming on the market over the last 5-6 years, the question is – how do you select a good one? All too often wineries, negotiants or importers rush to meet marketplace demand without much regard to quality. Many wines have fallen victim to urgent capitalism, leaving a less than positive consumer experience. In fact, before we go any further I want to share a few traditional terms which more accurately identifies the origins of pink wine. In France “rosé” is the proper name. “Rosado” or “clarete” will come from Spain and in Italy “rosato” or “chiaretto” are used. In Abbruzzo, Italy it goes by “cerasuolo”.

Christopher Hoel, founder of Harper’s Club (an advisory firm that curates some of the world’s top wine collections) and sommelier, who established himself curating wine for clients, buys rosés based on color. He feels the lighter colored wines are higher in quality. It is generally regarded that the short maceration (crushed grape contact with juice) method is the best way to make quality pink wine. In this case the winemaker has a specific aroma and taste profile for the wine. Many are wonderfully refreshing, dry and redolent of flowers and summer fruits. Darker pink wines tend to be mass produced where maceration time is less closely controlled. Great rosé is about delicacy and finesse which lighter pink wines are more likely to deliver.

Another criteria he uses is country of origin, and “ABV” or alcohol level. France has a long history with rosé which always a good indicator. However, other countries and regions are remarkable as well. Dry wines will have an alcohol level of 12.5% or higher whereas wines with some level of residual sugar will be less than 12.5%, say 10-12%. (The old Rosé d’ Anjou comes to mind.) Good-to-great pink wines are almost always dry.

So the next time you are shopping for a pink wine and are overwhelmed by the selection, try this guide to see if you find something of your pleasure.

New Wines – There is more than Beaujolais Nouveau

by Dave Williams

I would bet most of us are familiar with “new wine” because of George DeBoeuf and Beaujolais Nouveau which appears annually on the third Thursday of November. George certainly did a marvelous job as a promoter or extraordinary marketer. To the point where it has become cause for grand, and some say crazy, celebrations; and certainly increased revenue for wineries and retailers across the globe regardless of whether one likes Beaujolais Nouveau or not. In Japan one such ritual is for the consumers to bathe in giant pools of the stuff. Makes one wonder if they drink their way out of the pool. While George may have latched on to a wildly successful marketing ploy, he certainly has no claim of exclusivity or originality, as new wine has been made in the Old World for hundreds of years.

As far back as Medieval times wine makers traditionally first tasted their “new wines” around St. Martin’s Day (November 11). In Eastern Europe the Czeck Republic and Hungary also have such celebrations around wines called Svatomartinske’ Vino and Marton bora or wine of St. Martin, respectively. Not all are made via carbonic maceration, though most are. (Carbonic maceration is when harvested grapes are fermented in closed vats bathed in carbon dioxide prior to crushing, producing simple wines with low levels of tannins. These wines are quickly bottled and consumed with no intent for longevity.) In fact, the Czech Republic has quality standards for Svatomartinske’ which undergoes evaluation by the state wine making institute. In Hungary, Marton bora is strongly connected to goose dishes with goose feasts occurring throughout the country upon release.

All so called, “new wines” are produced from early harvested grape varieties. Gamay being the most well-known. However, in Central Europe Muller-Thurgau, Fruhroter Veltliner and Muskat Moravsky used to make white as well as rosé “new wines”. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon your opinion of these wines, most are unknown outside the local areas they are made. For example, the Gaillac appellation in Southwest France makes Gaillac Primeur and releases it on the same day as Beaujolais Nouveau. I would bet you have never heard of this new wine, let alone tasted it. “New wines” also appear in Austria, Italy and Spain during fall in the year of harvest although few if any are imported to the US. Released on October 30, Italy’s “vino novello” is probably the only one likely to find its’ way Stateside.

In summary, “new wines” bring energy and some excitement to the wine world. Celebrations occur after release for a few weeks then all is quickly forgotten, very ephemeral.

Blue Grillhouse – Bethlehem PA

by Jim Lang

We had a late lunch here on Tuesday, July 21 and loved this place. Food, wine and service all exceptional. I know it’s out of the way, but it’s a good stopover when coming back from the Poconos or eastern states because it’s open essentially all day every day, and you can reserve or just drop in, as we did. They have a patio, but we chose indoor because of the A/C.

Tables and booths are well spaced, and masks are needed before seating, and then not needed. Starting with lobster bisque (in so generous a serving that we took home half of it) and bacon-wrapped scallops (bacon should be in everything if possible) we had glasses of CA Chardonnay and Oregon Pinot Noir, and both went perfectly with these appetizers.

I had to have a second glass of the same wine with my duck two ways. I have found that some PA restaurants think that medium-rare means medium, so I asked if I should order it rare, and our server assured me it would be medium rare.

This was the first indicator that the food, wine and now the service would be professional. We spent some time talking with her about being a server, and a Black single parent server during the pandemic, and without revealing some personal information she willingly gave us, I can just say that it was a privilege to meet her.

Nina had baby-backed ribs with a choice of two BBQ sauces, KC or Carolina, so she got both, and this favorite entrée of hers was exceptional. We both got doggy bags of both. We intended to get the almond cake for dessert, but we were stuffed and got that to take home, 90 minutes away. I needed no dinner that evening.

This is a fine dining restaurant with prices to match and they have a full menu of wine and food to satisfy everyone’s taste, and the jazz soundtrack and décor complete it. We enjoyed it and place it with our favorite PA restaurants now.

And I have to mention after reading a Philly Inquirer article, we will henceforth were a mask whenever a server comes by, taking it off only when no one is around unless our server tells us we don’t need to do that. Servers and runners and greeters are all essential workers these days and they all deserve our help, both financially and health-wise.

4431 Easton Avenue Bethlehem, PA 18020 610.691.8400
Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 9:30 pm; Friday – Saturday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm; Sunday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm

Wine Worthy – Black N Bleu

by Jim Lang

My wife and I enjoyed an early dinner (4:30, since they had no other time when I called, much too late, on Saturday.) at this throwback restaurant with fake art, lots of TVs (mine was tuned to wrestling) and a police picture of Frank Sinatra when he was arrested in 1938. Masks to get in, none needed when dining.

I asked for a wine list and told there was none for bottles, but I could look in their refrigerated wall. So I got up and looked, taking some bottles out to examine them. Finally, I chose one, and it turned out to be terrific: an ’16 OZY Zin from Lodi ($40), amazingly only 14.2% alcohol. Our pleasant and patient server tried to open it, but she had trouble thanks to a cheap corkscrew and she finally took it to the bar where someone else opened it.

This wine with its dual chocolate infusions went perfectly with the two kinds of ribs we had: she the baby backs slathered with barbeque sauce with sweet potato fries; I the dry-spiced with mac & cheese. I asked for and got honey on the side for the fries, and we split a huge beet salad. We just laughed when offered dessert, and took home half her ribs and much more.

There was a patio outside with a splendid view of the parking lot and a full experience of the heat, so dine inside if you can.
Take your time exploring the refrigerated wines and you could find something good like we did, although the thrill was gone when I discovered later that the wine was available online for $12…but not the ’16.

Black & Bleu Restaurant, 6108 Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, open from 11:30-7 or later just about daily.

Sharing COVID 19 Wine Experiences – Drinking #1

by Cathy Boyd

The mandated restrictions imposed upon us in March curtailed everyone’s work and/or social calendar. With plenty of free time on my hands, I headed to the basement to organize and inventory our wine cellar. It was a pleasure to review previous purchases and discover lost treasures. I discovered too many bottles had been put away awaiting ‘that day’ when the company would be just right, paired with the right food and the wine would be in its prime drinking window. The quarantine made my husband and I think, “What are we waiting for?”

We began to open bottles that just two months ago we would not have touched. There was a reason we had a wine cellar and finding buried gems was one of them. My guidelines for choosing a wine did have a caveat – there had to be at least one other in reserve. That way the wine wasn’t truly gone. Meals were collaborative. My husband planned the menu and I chose the wine. The wine was delicious, the food complementary and our dinner partner was that special someone we married 34 years ago. But one Friday night there was NO collaboration. Work felt particularly grueling and five o’clock couldn’t arrive soon enough that day. My husband arrived home before I did, and, instead of opening the refrigerator first to determine what we would have for dinner, he went to the wine cellar. I walked in the door to find two partially filled wine glasses on the counter and the 2013 Wine Spectator #1 wine of the year open – CVNE Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004.

I stopped in my tracks when I saw the wine on the counter. I took several deep breaths
before I could even approach the wine. The CVNE certainly would not have been my choice because there was no back up bottle. Wine Spectator #1 bottles are a fortunate purchase once announced and almost impossible to obtain afterward. Actually anything is available in the wine world, but now there would be a premium attached to the new retail price. I would never have this wine again. And there was no particular concern about what we would eat. What could I do? I couldn’t put the wine back in the bottle and recork it (I thought about it). The wine was poured and if I didn’t drink my share, my husband would. Then I approached the wine – it was a deep rich color – I don’t remember much more – I had been thrown for a loop. I would have cellared this wine for another several years. But there it was, on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to drink. After my first sip all my negative thoughts disappeared. The wine was certainly worthy of the Wine Spectator #1 designation, and I was having it with the person whom I would most want to share it with. It made the tacos taste great.

President’s Column – Update on Resuming Events – August 2020

by Dave Williams

I hope this finds you healthy and surviving the Covid-19 pandemic. Opening of the liquor stores, I suspect, provides some relief; but I am sure we all hope for more normalcy to return. As indicated in previous online communications, we have been Zoom meeting and discussing when and how we can safely resume tastings. After the feedback we received from our survey, we have decided to hold off the August Zinfandel tasting. It does appears that many of you are anxious and cautiously ready to attend a PWS event. To that point, we will host our next event at Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland in a spacious outdoor setting. Black Ankle is experienced in hosting events with precautions in place. Additional details are provided throughout this newsletter. Our survey also indicated that many are reluctant to attend PWS events until there is a vaccine, or until the virus is significantly reduced and manageable. We respect your decision not to attend. We do hope you will stay with PWS, and join in-person events at some time when you feel comfortable. In the meantime – please join our virtual activities Sunday afternoons.

We are also quite interested to hear what measures you took, or experiences you had, in surviving the challenges of the pandemic such as Cathy Boyd’s shared anecdote “Drinking #1”. Speaking for myself, I have purchased more wine on line than I typically do, which has put me on a first name basis with the UPS and Fed Ex driver. Some of these purchases were prompted by several of the virtual wine tastings I participated in over the last few months. Socializing at home has been limited to small circle of friends who abide by the appropriate quarantine and physical distancing precautions. Please share your own experiences – be they somber, or humorous. You can respond to with personal experiences, recommendations, etc. We look forward to your sharing!

My Visit to Black Ankle Vineyards

by Jim Lang

I could have been in California when I ventured to Black Ankle a couple of Sundays ago: green ecology with solar panels and sparing use of water. The patio between two buildings is shaded with checkerboard panels, and former tasting pourers are now servers, new to that role but pleasant and informative. The servers wear masks. A great place to enjoy wine.

They offer some food choices, like cheese and cashews, but it’s the wines that stand out. You choose from three $28 tasting flights, white and red, and you sit at tables well spaced. I had a red flight which included their reasonably priced ($38 a bottle) Passeggiata and their high end $56 Feldspar IV.

After tasting these incredible wines in the flight, I bought a bottle of each and found them unusually good with a variety of foods when I had them at home. The Passeggiata was incredibly versatile and the Feldspar was like no Burgundy/Bordeaux (no grapes were identified for either wine on their bottles) I have ever tasted, and both were silky like I remember the Russian River Pinot Noir made by Rochioli.

Black Ankle Vineyards is open by reservation only, seven days a week from 10/11 AM—6 PM and until 8:30 PM on Friday, when they have live music (also on every 2nd Saturday). They ask that people wear masks when walking around outside. It’s a leisurely ride of about an hour to Mt. Airy, MD; and a pleasure when you arrive. I look forward to our PWS October event there.