Jill and I made plans last Wednesday to attend a cooking demonstration at Bellview Winery. The chef that evening was Joe Messaglia from Mama Mia’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Seaville. Although I’ve never been to Mama Mia’s, I heard that the food was excellent and that Chef Joe puts on a good show!
We arrived a bit late, as we tend to do at evening events during the week, but I knew there would be a cocktail hour before the actual demo started, so we weren’t too worried about it. We gathered ourselves together, and opened the front door to the winery. There were about twenty-five people inside the lobby area, most chatted amicably with the folks around them, and everyone was sipping a blush colored beverage from Bellview-branded wine glasses.
Jim and Nancy, the owners of the winery, warmly greeted us and Nancy quickly poured us each a ‘cranberry spritzer.’ This was the blush colored wine that everyone was enjoying. Nancy explained that it was a mixture of their own cranberry wine with seltzer and lemon-lime soda. A twist of fresh lime clung to the rim of the glass, and we were encouraged to give it a squeeze into our drink.
As soon as we tasted our surprisingly refreshing spritzers, we turned to see who else was present for the demo. Part of the fun of going to events like these is running into people that you know and sharing the evening with them. Jill and I were pleased to see some familiar faces. Mario Ruiz-Mesa, and his wife Carmen, were there. They each own businesses downtown on Landis Avenue, Mario an insurance agency and Carmen, a real estate business. We’ve socialized with them before on a professional level, but we’d never shared a meal before. Sharing good food a drink brings a relationship to a whole new level in my opinion, so we made it a point to sit with them and their neighbor Sandy Jones who had joined them.
After moving us into the demonstration area and finding our seats, Jim took the whole group into the back to give us a tour of the winemaking facilities. In an abbreviated manor (we were to see a cooking demo after all), he went through the wine making process from when the grapes come in to when the wine goes out.
As we stood listening to Jim, Jill nudged me and pointed out a gurgling sound off towards the rear of the large fermentation room. Jill and I being former homebrewers, she recognized that gurgling as the sound of an airlock letting out carbon dioxide from a fermentation chamber. I asked Jim about it, and he explained that it was a huge batch of their cranberry wine that was making the noise. The cranberries had been added to the wine several days before, and the yeasts in the wine were happily digesting the sugars introduced with the cranberries. He pointed to a large, silver fermentation vessel that had the telltale airlock on the top, in which we could see the water inside bubbling vigorously.
By this point, we were all getting to be quite hungry. The cranberry spritzer had whetted our collective appetite, and we could smell delicious foods being prepared somewhere nearby. We returned to our seats, and chef Joe Messaglia was introduced. He came out into the demonstration area and spoke for a few minutes about himself. I must say his story was quite impressive. It included growing up in the family trattoria, attending an excellent culinary program in Italy, and working on cruise ships and fine restaurants all over the world. This guy was made to cook good food!
Soon, he began preparing the first course; little purses of pasta, stuffed with a ham and prosciutto filling and tossed in Mama’s sauce. The sauce was quite tasty and was a mixture of caramelized onions, peas, tomato, brandy, Marsala, and Parmesan cheese (among other secret ingredients). It was an excellent first course, and the wines paired nicely with it. I preferred Angelo’s Red Table Wine, although the 2006 Chardonnay was very good as well.
The main course was ‘Veal Rollatini Milanese’ which was pounded veal rolled around a filling of sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and ground sausage. It was served with a stuffed tomato and a very interesting, slightly sweet lemon polenta. For this course, I preferred the white wine, the 2007 Viognier. Jim said that the Viognier grape seems to be growing particularly well in the vineyards, and it certainly tasted so. It had a nice peachy aroma to it, and was the perfect acidity for the veal dish. About half the people at the demo, though, preferred the red wine, which was a 2005 Chambourcin, an earthy mellow red wine that was very drinkable and very tasty.
Tiramisu was the final course of the evening, and that was paired with the sparkling wine Lettizzia, and the newly released 2008 Dandelion wine. The real show-stopper though, was the bottle of 1971 Dandelion wine that Jim said the family found recently in the basement. He was generous enough to have popped the cork on this extremely special wine, which was the color of honey and tasted like a fine sherry. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted, how intense and complex the flavors were, and I seriously didn’t want it to end. In all likelihood, we’ll never have a wine like that again, and Jill and I kept thinking back to Aunt Ada all those years ago on her hands and knees picking dandelion flowers from the very yard that surrounded the winery now. Thank you Jim for sharing this special treat with us!
The evening was a blast, and I’m glad we got to sit with Mario and Carmen and share such a special night with them. The food, the wine, the company… and of course the ’71 dandelion wine that I can still taste in my mouth.