Thursday, October 27, 2022

Grappa, Brandy, Vidal, and Sangiovese at Maryland's Fiore Winery & Distillery

Since attending my first Maryland wine festival about 20 years ago and through various festivals and trade tastings over the successive years, I've wanted to visit Fiore Winery & Distillery. Yet its relatively remote location with its back to the Pennsylvania border in northeast Maryland hindered that effort. Fortunately this past weekend we traveled to visit relatives in Harford County who live only minutes away from the Free State's 12th bonded winery.

This year Fiore Winery is celebrating its 36th anniversary which doesn't include the many earlier years when founder Mike Fiore joined the Maryland Wine Association and planted two acres of 150 Vidal Blanc vines. After making the difficult decision to become bonded they expanded the plantings with more French hybrids such as Chancellor and Chambourcin and it was a bottle of an aged Reserve Chambourcin that drew my attention to the winery and the wine I would seek out at future tastings and festivals. The family added several vinifera grapes to their portfolio including a uniquely Maryland Sangiovese to honor Mike's Italian heritage. And eventually seeing the popularity of craft distilling on the horizon, they incorporated distilling and warehouse operations into the farm.

Their current lineup includes a large range of dry to sweet wines and traditional spirits to flavored moonshine. The three of us shared two wine flights of seven wines each and a spirit flight of four samples. For the spirits, I chose the Bourbon Whiskey ($34.99), Straight Rye Whiskey ($29.99), Apple Brandy ($29.99), and Grappa Nicholas Reserve ($39.99). The two whiskies were excellent representatives of their genres with the Bourbon rounder than the Rye, but both having a dry lasting finish.  The Apple Brandy is a solid spirit where the apple fruit dominates the palate and ends with a clean pomme finish. Fiore produces two grappas by distilling the leftover pomace from their estate-grown grapes. The Reserve is produced by aging a portion of that spirit in specially designed 30-gallon oak casks for a minimum of two years. This rounds out the intense profile of the grappa providing roundness, nuts, and honey. Nicely done. 

We stuck to mostly their dry wines and for the whites, their traditional dry Vidal Blanc ($14.99) being the consensus among our party. The wine provides plenty of tropical and stone fruit notes and refreshing acidity -- excellent for a sunny, autumn day. Their Chambourcin 2016 ($19.99) is still one of the best produced in the Free State, aged two years in oak, and shows loads of dark fruit (without the jamminess) with a round slightly tannic finish. We tried the single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot but these grapes are better represented in the Proprietor's Select Meritage 2014 ($39.99) -- a proprietary blend aged two years in new Hungarian oak barrels.  A mouthful of structured fruit and a lasting tail. Fiore is an east-coast pioneer in planting Sangiovese and offers two versions in their tasting room. The Sangiovese 2013 ($19.99) is a fresher wine whereas the Proprietor's Select Sangiovese 2014 ($39.99) is aged longer in new Hungarian oak barrels which helps create a fuller character with some earthiness and chocolate mixing with the dark fruit. The final wine was the Green Apple Riesling ($12.99) which is also canned and a little sweeter than the others. However, the tartness of the apples and acidity from the Riesling helps alleviate that sensation for a refreshing palate cleanser. 

During the visit, we learned more about the area and hope to return soon to visit the neighboring breweries (in both PA and MD) and hike to Kilgore Falls --  Maryland’s second-highest free-falling waterfall. See what other craft beverage operations are in the area using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers. 

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