In recent years I’ve become a fan of wine.
Growing up Italian means I was introduced to wine at an early age. It wasn’t exactly in my sippy cup, but my parents allowed me a taste at most holidays. Even though I wasn’t smitten from the start I eventually became a fan of the fabulous fermented grape. Much to the dismay of the Jewish side of my family (the ones who thought that wine was best when it tasted like liquefied Welch’s jelly) I even developed a taste for the drier, darker wines.
When I was in my late teens my parents would allow me to have the occasional half glass with dinner, especially if we were having pasta, meatballs or anything with gravy (what South Philly Italians call Spaghetti sauce). My favorite wine became the Ecco Domani Merlot, which wasn’t exactly an expensive wine but was certainly of a higher class than Mad Dog 50/50. And then my father introduced me to something even more wonderful. Homemade wine.
One of our neighbors down the block made homemade wine in his basement. I remember seeing that huge green gallon jug with the screw-cap and wondering what sort of strange brew could be contained inside. What it turned out to be, in most instances, was nectar worthy of consumption by the Gods.
I took that taste for wine with me into adulthood and eventually turned my wife Nicole onto it as well. It was slow-going in the beginning, which meant I had to start her off with Arbor Mist (which is similar to a 1.5 L bottle of Wine Cooler) and ease her into the deeper stuff with spritzers and fruit wines. While helping her develop a taste for wine I also was discovering that I enjoyed the sweet fruit wines as much as the deeper, smokier more tannin-heavy and whites and reds. In a way we learned to meet in the middle and became a pair of wine aficionados without becoming wine snobs.
Our favorite wines happened to be local wines from vineyards around Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York. We built a small collection, but a temporary wine as we were always more interested in drinking the wines than keeping them to age in a cellar somewhere.
Which brings me to this past Wednesday’s Wine Pairing dinner at the Melting Pot in Warrington, PA and this upcoming weekend’s Great PA Flavor Fest in Manheim, PA.
If you’re not familiar with The Melting Pot, they’ve taken the 70s Era phenomenon of the fondue and turned it into a classy dining experience. The Melting Pot has always had a great selection of wines and beers so when my wife informed me that they were having a special Wine Pairing dinner I knew we had to go. Yesterday was only the second time The Melting Pot had a Wine Dinner at their new Warrington location and this time they decided to focus on pairing featuring California’s Firestone Vineyards. It was a great way to make getting to mid-week seem like a reward.
The reception wine was Cristalino Extra Dry NV Cava, a sparkling white wine from Spain served in a champagne flute. Crisp with a hint of apples and pears it was a great way to whet our appetites. Next came the appetizer of a Cheddar and Crab Imperial fondue paired with a Firestone’s Discoveries Chardonnay, which has a sweetness that blended well with the flavor of the crab in the fondue and the tartness of the apples (and their lemony overtones). With our main course, a coq au vin style fondue of vegetables, filet mignon, shrimp, pork, Andouille sausage and spinach and cheese ravioli, we were given glasses of Firestone’s Discoveries Cabernet Sauvignon. This deep, red smoky wine was heavily flavored by the oak and was delicious. Finally we finished off our meal with a S’mores Chocolate fondue served alongside ample portions of sweet things to cover in chocolate and glasses of Firestone’s Discoveries Merlot. For $50.00 a person the meal was a bargain. It was also the first time I ever walked away from a table at The Melting Pot and felt full.
And more importantly it was a great warmup for the fun of this weekend’s Great PA Flavor Fest.
The Flavor Fest runs Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 6PM on the grounds of the Mount Hope Winery in Manheim, the same place where the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire takes place. The main feature of the Flavor Fest is the almost two dozen local wineries. There are also samples of regional eateries, artisans, craft areas for kids, culinary exhibitions…and here is the very best part. It is ABSOLUTELY FREE. Free admission. Free parking. Yes, there are items for sale (such as food from the vendors) but the wine is relatively cheap from most of the wineries on the premises.
This will be my third year attending the Flavor Fest. Among my favorites wineries in attendance are Franklin Hill Vineyards, Heritage Wine Cellars, Brookmere Winery and Mount Hope Winery. Did I mention that you can try all of the wines for free? Because you can.
Just make sure you get there before Sunday, because I plan on emptying the place out.