Wednesday, August 27, 2008

At Fiore, Sangiovese making itself at home

Talking to Mike Fiore the other day time-warped me back in my grandparents’ kitchen in south Philly; the thick accent, the joy for everything food and wine, the zest for life.

He’s a native of Italy, a former vineyard owner there, who arrived in the Baltimore area in 1962 and met his wife within the year, according to the Fiore Winery Web site. They bought a small farm in northern Harford County in 1975 and, while he worked his day as a technician at the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company, they slowly let the idea of planting a vineyard ferment. In 1986 they opened the winery, and it has grown from producing 1,500 gallons to more than 35,000 gallons. It makes 21 wines, including Prosecco, an Italian off-dry light sparkling wine that could find itself on your table for more occasions than holidays.

So it didn’t take much prompting for our discussion to wander to the subject of Italy, which I visited for the first time in January and Fiore heads back to annually. “Italy has come a long way when it comes to food,” he said. “I notice that around me the whole world eats Italian food now, even some of our French neighbors. From what I find [they] consume more Italian food than French food. My response is that it took a long time, but you finally got smart. Wait until you get addicted to Italian wine.”

That would include the Sangiovese, the primary grape for the Chianti and Chianti Classico of Tuscany and one that is bringing Fiore much delight. The
winery is selling its 2006 Sangiovese now; the grapes from last year’s harvest probably won’t see a bottle until later on next year. “I want to give it a little more time inside those barrels to pick up some more wood,” he said. Not as long as the Chambourcin or Cabernet Sauvignon. “But the style of Sangiovese I want to make, I like a nice, crispy, fruity-style Sangiovese [that] has a lot of Italian flavor in it.”

It’s the first bottle of the varietal that they’ve bottled. In the past, after what Fiore called “exceptional years,” that Sangiovese has found itself as the primary grape in a blend called Caronte that also includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. “The last time we made it was 2002,” he said. “We haven’t made it for a while because actually it wasn’t that we didn’t have exceptional years, but I didn’t have enough Sangiovese to do it.”

They grow about 2 acres of the
grape, one of the few locations in Maryland that does. “The more we make it in Maryland the more we’ll realize what the Sangiovese is going to be like,” he said, optimistic that others will follow his lead. While admittedly a grape that's finicky and easy to bruise, Fiore said he's encouraged by the strategy adopted the past two years of lightening the bunches to allow the remaining grapes more room to develop. “The ‘06 we didn’t drop too much of it but I thought we needed a little more body to [the wine], so the ‘07 we dropped a little bit more and the 08 we’re dropping it down to a little less than three tons per acre, and you can really see a difference in the structure of those grapes and an improvement in the quality.”

Several days ago I posted a short about how much I liked the
Sasyr, a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah. It's not a marriage you'll find at Fiore's winery. And he didn't mind saying so. “Syrah takes over, like a big bully with a weaker kid. However, that’s not what I’m after. Maybe it’s the Italian pride of me that makes me do that . . . I wanted the Sangiovese to stand up on its own two feet.”

Allegro returns happy from Seven Springs

The early returns are giving the annual Wine & Food Festival at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, held this past weekend, a thumbs-up.

Carl Helrich of
Allegro Vineyards in The Brogue, Pa., sounded in an e-mail like he was happy he had made the trip."Seven Springs is the second largest festival in PA," he wrote. "It was well attended this year, although I don't know official figures. We had our best year ever. I do think they added on a couple wineries this year."

Helrich was correct about the bump in wineries, from 23 to 25. Spokesperson Melissa Cullin said that they moved a couple things around, allowing for a larger tent and consequently a couple more wineries. Only Pennsylvania wineries are invited, although the crowds for the festival that also includes arts and crafts, live entertainment and gourmet foods generally come in from a four-state area.

Cullen said the Resort does not release attendance figures. She did send a list of the wineries that attended, which follows:

Adams County Winery, Ortanna,
Allegro Vineyards, Brogue,
Arrowhead Wine Cellars, North East,
Benigna’s Creek Vineyard & Wwinery, Klingerstown,
Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars, New Tripoli,
Chaddsford Winery, Chadds Ford,
Christian W. Klay Winery, Chalk Hill,
Clover Hill Winery, Breinigsville,
Flickerwood Wine Cellars, Kane,
Franklin Hill Winery, Bangor,
Glades Pike Winery, Somerset,
Heritage Wine Cellars, North East,
Laurel Mountain Winery, Falls Creek,
Long Trout Winery, Auburn,
Mazza Vineyards, North East,
Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery, Centre Hall,
Oak Springs Winery, Altoona,
Penn Shore Vineyards, North East,
Presque Isle Wine Cellars, North East,
Raspberry Acres, Blairsville
Sand Castle Winery, Erwinna,
Shade Mountain Winery, Middleburg,
Starr Hill Vineyard & Winery, Curwensville,
Vynecrest Winery, Breinigsville,
Winery at Wilcox, Wilcox,

Wycombe seeking pickers for harvest

Wycombe Vineyards in Furlong, Pa., just north of Philly, is looking for grape pickers for three weekends in the fall, beginning with Sept. 6-7. Many of the details are covered at this spot on their site.

As someone who has picked at Basignani Winery in Maryland for the past four years, I'd recommend trying to work any of the regional wineries during this year's harvest and see how you like it. Not all wineries use volunteers, but more do than you probably realize. It can be hard work, especially on a warm autumn day, but there's an element of fellowship nd plenty of exercise that comes out of it, and the morning or early afternoon usually is capped with one of the world's best sights: a picnic spread and uncorked bottles of wine. You go home a little giddy frankly.

Wineries generally have the tools if you don't, but most will tell you to bring along garden shears, kitchen scissors and/or gloves if you have them.

Fairmount Ensemble to end Crossing series

Performing with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble are, clockwise, from upper right: Jean Luise Shook, violinist; Dane Anderson, cellist; Beth Dzwil, violist; and Taia Harlos, violinist.

I'd like to get to the point where this site not only introduces you to the winermakes and acquaints you with the region's wines, but is a go-to spot for all events related to wine. That said, here's new on the final summer concert series event at Crossing Vineyards & Winery:

Crossing Vineyards and Winery in Washington Crossing, Pa. will wrap up its fifth “Summer Under the Stars” concert series on Friday, Sept. 12, with a Latin sound, courtesy of the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

The 7 p.m. concert will be held rain or shine on the grounds of the 200-year-old estate at 1853 Wrightstown Road.

Fairmount, which formed in 1994 in response to requests for a large ensemble to accompany Philadelphia- area choirs, has performed works such as Handel’s “Messiah,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and Mozart’s “Requiem.” The group, featuring cellist Dane Anderson, violist Beth Dzwil, and violinists Taia Harlos and Jean Luise Shook, will switch it up with a program of Latin music, beginning with the classical melodies of Latin composers and ending with the some Latin dance fun.

Along with the music, Crossing offers concert-goers its award winning wines by the bottle or glass and cheese, plus picnic suppers. The carte du jour will be open-faced toasted French bread with marinated sliced steak, roasted garlic spread, crumbled blue cheese and balsamic caramelized red onions. Also, baby arugula salad with toasted pine nuts, grated parmesan cheese and lemon vinaigrette. Dessert is homemade dark chocolate ├ęclairs, served with coffee or tea.

Sponsored by Haldeman Auto Dealerships, tickets are $10; picnic suppers are $30, plus tax and gratuity, and reservations must be made in advance. No outside beverages are permitted. Guests are asked to bring lawn chairs. Seating is provided for those purchasing picnic suppers. Tickets and picnic suppers may be ordered by calling 215.493.6500, ext. 19 or purchased online at the Web site. You can also find directions to the winery there.