Speaking as someone who has been blessed to celebrate over 30 Valentine’s Day occasions with my wife, trust me when I tell you that this past Valentine’s Day was one for the ages, an event that can aptly be described as “magical”. How else can you describe an evening filled with fine Italian wine, great music, haute cuisine, antique cars, and the opportunity to learn more about the growing North Carolina wine scene? Such was the case when my wife and I attended the Valentine’s Day dinner hosted by the owner and staff of Piccione Vineyards https://www.piccionevineyards.com/ located in Ronda, North Carolina. We were fortunate to purchase tickets early for this event that quickly sold out. I can assure you that this will not be the last time their events see this kind of response.
Very cold and wet weather just north of the area prior to the event crippled the affected communities with ice and power outages. Both my mother in Reidsville, NC, and my sister just south in Browns Summit, NC were victims of the severe cold and ice that severely affected thousands. Yet, as all this meteorological chaos was taking place, my wife and I were able to travel safely from our home in Holly Springs the required 2 hours to the picturesque setting that is home to Piccione Vineyards. With little more than an occasional rain and skies devoid of sunlight we were able to make our way along a route that has become a favorite. With anticipation we arrived at Piccione and were promptly ushered to the “barn”.
During my many trips to Piccione I had glanced over to the right as we ascended the slop atop which Piccione is perched and spied the barn off in the distance. As most barns are on vineyards, I expected it to be full of everything from wine making equipment to the required tools and machines necessary to coax grapes out of the ground. Little did I know that this barn is home to what is obviously a passion for the owner Bill Piccione – cars. My wife knows that, had I the means and resources, I also would be a disciple of this calling for antique and exotic automobiles. I was like a kid in a candy store as the photos will attest.
The barn also provided an excellent location to host an affair of this magnitude socially distant and in an era of pandemic. The tables were large enough to distance yourself from dinner guests but not to large that conversation was hampered. The distance between tables was more than ample with each table an island to itself, yet all connected by the electric atmosphere of the evening.
Sabrage, the act of opening a bottle of bubbly with a champagne saber, is one of those wine exhibitions that immediately does two things. First, it is sure to command the attention of all watching, the tension like that at a Nascar race in anticipation of the inevitable wreck. The second thing it does is put all on notice that “it’s about to go down”. If that reference is foreign to you, I suggest you view the Kevin Hart comedy skit that has grown famous under the same name. When Hailey Klepcyk, the tasting room manager at Piccione, appeared with a champagne saber and a bottle of their latest sparkling wine release (which is delicious} I could hear Kevin Hart slowly whisper, “it’s about to go down”.
For those of you who are not aware, I have an above average culinary background and commensurate knowledge. Many years ago, I was the headwaiter of a French tableside restaurant (where I met my wife) and I was also the headwaiter of a self-proclaimed “Irish House of Hospitality” where I helped supervise a tuxedo clad staff in one of the most elegant dining experiences Greensboro had to offer at the time. Also for nearly a decade I was the maître d at Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern (https://www.second-empire.com/) located in downtown Raleigh. Trust me when I tell you I am no stranger to fine dining and greatly appreciate the skill and creativity that goes into the preparation of a gourmet meal. I had seen the menu for the dinner prior and it was a key motivator for wanting to be a part of this event. But when I found out the meal was being orchestrated by my old friend Dusty Snow; I was starting to feel like I had won the lottery.
Dusty Snow and his wife run Gold Leaf Catering out of Yadkinville (firstname.lastname@example.org). I was first introduced to his culinary expertise when I attended my very first North Carolina Wine Bloggers summit hosted by my colleagues Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling aka the NC Wine Guys. After touring vineyards and wineries with other wine bloggers during the summit we had the opportunity to experience Chef Dusty’s cuisine. Then, as well as now, his artistic use of colors, flavors and textures is phenomenal. When I was at Second Empire, the chef’s motto was “taste with your eyes”. As these photos will attest, his presentation and plating skills are beyond reproach.
Even though I am “merlot to muscadine”, all who know me well are aware I prefer drier wines and European vinifera. One of Piccione’ s neighbors has also been instrumental in nurturing my love and appreciation for Italian varietals. Check out my blogpost “Long Live the Assemblaggio” for details about Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. When it comes to Italian wine, I am more than just a casual fan. I am more like a “groupie”.
Are you keeping up with me? I have dodged dicey weather to begin an exquisite meal created by a gifted artisan while surrounded by cars that I usually only see on Chasing Classic Cars, Mecum Auctions, and most often in my dreams. Oh, did I tell you there was music? During the entire evening we were entertained by Matt Sickels (www.six-strings.net ), an accomplished guitarist. While performing a very contemporary repertoire I was amazed by the number of current songs he performed. Long before I heard him play an old Sade song, I established that I could listen to him for hours. I assure you I hope to hear him again.
Now to the star of the show – the meal. The first course was Fried Arancini stuffed with smoked mozzarella garnished with lemon aioli and a fried basil leaf. I had sampled arancini before but never like this, the difference I attribute to his start for the dish with homemade risotto instead of the rice I am accustomed to. Right from the start this visually aesthetic dish got the attention of my palate. More importantly, it set the stage for the offerings to come. Along with this course we enjoyed the 2019 Vino di Lusso from Piccione, their latest sparkling wine release. I swear sparkling wine pairs with just about anything and should not be relegated to celebrations only. Nevertheless, the pairing was exemplary and an exciting prelude of things to come.
The next dish was a delightful salad featuring a tart and tangy blueberry goat cheese and chili pistachios. For me, the star of this dish was the bright acidity delivered by ruby red grapefruit sections. Like a squeeze of lemon can often bring a touch of brightness to a salad the grapefruit provided a delicious bright acidity that briefly made me forget about the cold weather of the season. Paired with the salad was the 2020 Piccione Rosato, a delightful rosé with a nose of raspberries and hints of lime making this wine again pair nicely and made me long for warmer weather when I more frequently drink rosés.
Do you know when you can tell that food is really good? When conversation at the table slows down or grinds to a screeching halt when the food is presented. When the Lobster Ravioli arrived with butter poached lobster, spinach, crispy shallots and mushroom you could have heard a pin drop at our table. Except of course for the barrage of compliments we all traded when this dish was consumed. How good was it? I threatened to lick my plate, but I was mostly kidding. Mostly…
This dish was paired with the 2018 Piccione Montelpuciano, with red currant and cocoa on the palate as well as a bouquet of oak, cherry, and vanilla I was starting to settle in on the depth and quality that is always exhibited in Piccione wines. It is obvious when it comes to wine they adhere to a remarkably high standard,
After the lobster ravioli we enjoyed a Ribeye served with broccolini, Yukon Gold potato mash and Stilton cheese. For me, it was the horseradish cream that took it over the top. Long a fan of this pungent root I intuitively knew I would be treated to extra since the wife is not a fan. The Stilton cheese played well with the beef flavor and the balsamic glaze added just the right touch of sweetness and depth. This dish was paired with their 2017 Piccione Cabernet Sauvignon. Not only did it hold up well to the hearty beef, but it reminded me of just how juicy and pleasing a good cab can be.
Chef Dusty concluded the meal with Chocolate Raspberry Beignets that were a fitting end to an exquisitely composed meal. For me, the combination of raspberry and chocolate was a fitting conclusion to an exquisite tapestry of dishes that had been cleverly woven together with exceptional Italian wines.
Did I mention I was adorned in yet another magnificent creation from the hands of Krystle Stamps? This face mask, bow tie and pocket square combination got me a lot of attention. It reminded me of what the late Payne Stewart said about drawing attention to yourself and to learn to welcome it. The pattern for this ensemble had the names of grape varietals in the background.
Along with the food there was great conversation especially with Scott Barone, the owner of Castello di Barone. His Italian style winery will soon join the community that already calls Raffaldini and Piccione home. His addition to the wine scene in North Carolina will be greatly anticipated and most assuredly will add to the list of reasons to make Ronda a “destination”. I was personally impressed by his desire to not pursue being a venue for events; he insisted his focus will be on the wine only. As we get closer to his opening, I can assure you I will be using every medium I have at my disposal to announce his arrival to the NC wine family.
On my left, Scott Barone, on my right Dr. William "Bill" Piccione
To top it all off I finally met the owner Dr. William "Bill" Piccione. His reputation as a surgeon is only preceded by his robust style and personality. His generosity and graciousness as a host was as big and dynamic as his wines. His car collection and taste in wines reflect class and style. I enjoyed talking with him and his son "Billy" and look forward to the opportunity to share their unique personalities and style with you in the future. Throughout the evening we also heard remarks from the vineyard manager Dustin Gentry. His insights helped us understand better the many variables that influence wine production.
Now you can see why I used the term “magical”. For all these components to come together over the course of a few hours is beyond mere fate. This is the stuff memories are made from, rare occurrences that likely will never be duplicated again. The sheer rarity of this makes the whole experience addictive and one to be remembered and savored. And like a true addict I look forward to the next opportunity to experience Piccione Vineyard’s wine, the music of Matt Sickels and the cuisine of Dusty Snow. Together they are magical.