If you have ever dreamed of traveling to Italy, drinking their fine wines, learning the secrets to their culinary creations, and listening to romantic songs sung in Italian, then you would have found yourself there last Monday evening on August 8th at the Renzoni Estate in Temecula. That evening Chef Guiseppe Di Gristina, owner of Raviolis Italian Bistro in Lake Elsinore and Ravioli Osteria in Murrieta, was pairing with Vintner Robert Renzoni, owner of Robert Renzoni Vineyards, to bring to their guests one night in Italy. The planned engagement was an Italian cooking show on a location reminiscent of the Old World. It promised to be a memorable evening.
My husband and I arrived at the entrance to the Renzoni Vineyard at 6:00 pm on a lovely summer evening. The sun was still bright and warm as we drove up the road onto the Estate, past the building which houses the Tasting Room and barrel room, up the hill to the Picnic grounds located amidst Julia’s Vineyard, named after Robert Renzoni’s mother. The Picnic grounds, we were told, was a tribute to Robert’s father who loved to have family picnics as Robert was growing up. It was clear that it was all about famiglia, family, for Robert Renzoni.
We parked on the upper grounds and stepped onto the greens dotted with picnic tables. On this particular night, there were also dining tables draped with black table cloths, overlaid with gold runners, and centerpieces of vine grape decor for our seating pleasure. We were seated with a couple, Nancy and Tony, and their son, Chris. The men came to watch the grilling but more than that, Tony’s family was from Sicily and they came because they too felt the ties of famiglia.
At the rear facing the valley was the Little Wine House which serves guests their wines on Saturdays from noon to 5:00 pm and which was now open to serve the guests. Our eyes were directed to a large table to be used for the cooking show which was covered by a canopy imprinted with the name of Chef Guiseppe’s restaurant, Raviolis. Right next to it was a large grill all fired up and ready to go for tonight’s instruction on grilling Sicilian style. From our table we were able to look down immediately upon Julia’s vineyard and beyond that to the rest of the vineyards. At our feet lay the valley of Temecula and further off to the distance, the panoramic view of the mountains surrounding us. At our elevation, we soon felt the cool summer zephyr from the ocean coming over the mountains. The scenery made you feel like you were indeed in Italy.
Chef Guiseppe explained that the richness of Sicilian cuisine was due to its history and the various people who had conquered the island. Among them were the Greeks and the Arabs. With each of them came their influence in Sicilian culture, particularly in the foods.
On tonight’s menu we had for the first course La Melangana alla Griglia e Marinato, a grilled eggplant dish using extra virgin olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, thyme, and fresh mint. Surprised with the use of mint, I asked Chef Guiseppe the origin of its use and learned that it was the Greek influence. This was accompanied by grilled crostini, “little toasts” of bread. These were ideal to take in the flavors of the grilled eggplant. The wine pairing for this course was the very first Estate release of the 2010 Pinot Grigio from Julia’s Vineyard. It was the Silver Medalist at the Riverside International Wine Competition and absolutely delightful with delicate fruity overtones and a lovely pinkish hue, but then would I have expected any less from the wine made from a vineyard Robert named after his Mama. We ordered a bottle to share with our table.
Our second dish was Cozze Aqua Pazza which directly translated is Mussels Water Crazy because traditionally sea water would be used for the broth. Our mussels were prepared less boldly with clam juice. Along with the mussels, we also had Grilled Swordfish alla Agghiotta which is a lightly seasoned grilled swordfish topped with a sauce made of cut red onions, peperoncini peppers, capers, sun dried tomatoes, scallions, and green olives. The dish was the favorite of the evening. The selected pairing was a 2010 Barile Chardonnay.
Our next dish was Spidini alla Palermitana, a beef skewer seasoned with bread crumb cheese mixture “Palermo-style”. This was paired with the 2008 Barbera which had won a Silver Medal at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition. The Barbera had been aged 18 months in 100% French oak and it had attained a richly flavored intensity that was absolutely intoxicating. We had to take a bottle home with us.
The dessert was a simple and light plating of grilled peaches with a heavenly sweet cheese concoction made of mascarpone, goat cheese, cream cheese, maple syrup, and lemon zest. This was served with the 2008 Moscato.
We were told that this year marked 125 years that the Renzoni family has been in the wine business. The sampling of these wines clearly ascertained the aspirations of Robert Renzoni. He shared his vision: “within the next five years” Temecula would be renowned for offering some of the finest of Italian wine.
As our first course was ready to be served, our outdoor entertainment arrived as if on cue. Michael Dayvid Pulliam, who was featured on tasteoftemecula.net that very Monday, played guitar and sang with accompanying vocalist Miranda their very first song, “Fuggi Fuggi Fuggi da questo cielo”. It was written by Italian composer Giuseppino circa 1600 and expressed the joy of fleeing winter and the coming of spring. The lyrics in Italian sounded wonderfully romantic and intimate. Throughout the rest of the night, the duo kept the guests entertained with their music. As the evening came to a close, Michael Dayvid sang Dean Martin’s hit song, “That’s Amore” by the light of the moon.
And the experience of the evening seemed to be summed up by those lyrics. “Vita bella”, life is beautiful, and yes, that night it was beautiful. All of us shared in the love of good food, good wine, and good ambiente. But we also caught a glimpse of the love of family and the love of that which is Italy that was exuded by our hosts Chef Guiseppe Di Gristina and Vintner Robert Renzoni. And it was an affirmation to that which we all know, love is good and only good can come from love. That’s amore!
Sunset Photo by Mikie Mayhall
Other Photos by Dan Viescas
(Captions by ToT)
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