Where an Italian and an Irishman (and Irish woman) meet, you know the food and drink are going to be memorable. Such was the case Thursday, November 10 when Creighton and McKenzie Gallagher of Rove Estate Vineyard and Winery brought their outstanding (and award-winning) wines to Nonna’s at The Homestead in Glen Arbor for chef John Piombo to pair with whatever his sophisticated palate desired at a Leelanau County wine dinner.

Creighton and McKenzie Gallagher, owners of Rove Estate

Creighton and McKenzie Gallagher, owners of Rove Estate Vineyard and Winery

But first: Irish? Wine? Yup. Creighton explained that relationship as a he addressed the guests

seated in the intimate and rustic-first floor dining room at Nonna’s on a warm, windy fall evening when gold and bronze leaves swirled in a wind off Lake Michigan that also sent steely, white-ruffled waves breaking on the dune-filled shoreline—all just a stone’s throw from the restaurant. A scene to rival any wine-country landscape on the planet? I think so.

Back to those Irish: For centuries they have been dispersing around Europe (wars, famines) and along the way a number became vintners—in France, Spain and even in the Unites States. And, many generations later, add the Gallaghers of Leelanau County to this illustrious roster.

The couple opened their sleek, modern wine tasting room last spring on a knoll that sits 1,100 feet above the Leelanau and Grand Traverse countryside. Their vineyards cascade down the slope, daily tempting those of us who commute in to Traverse City from Leelanau County on M72. Their wines, crafted by Northern Michigan-notable winemaker Coenraad Stassen, have already begun garnering awards.

Chef Piombo

Chef John Piombo of Nonna’s at The Homestead Resort

And now about that Italian. Piombo, the son of a Genovese baker, honed the art of Italian table fare in kitchens throughout Europe and the United States before settling in 2006 at Nonna’s of The Homestead, a restaurant in Glen Arbor.

In his relaxed, welcoming manner, Piombo came out to explain each course as it was presented, while Creighton, McKenzie and Joe Gardner, Rove’s sales director, filled in the wine notes. My friend, Steve, and I a shared a table with a couple we’d never met—John and Linda from Old Mission Peninsula—who were celebrating their anniversary. As the food and wine flowed, so did the conversation and it became the kind of lovely evening where, yes, you can help total strangers celebrate a long and happy marriage.

Here is how the courses unfolded:

Course 1

Carnaroli Risotto, Grana Padano, Black Truffles Balsamic Glaze
Wine: Rove Estate 2015 Un-Oaked Chardonnay

4-rove_2015_rieslingsmallPairing notes: Carnaroli is a medium-grained rice grown in Northern Italy; Grana Padano is a Parmesan-like cheese made specifically with milk from the Po River valley. Creighton told us to expect the acidity of the chardonnay to balance the creaminess of the risotto and, yes, it did. The clear, fresh chardonnay was simply light as a breeze. Traverse Magazine/MyNorth.com food writer Tim Tebeau interviewed Piombo about his risotto techniques a while back. Click to read the interview.

Course 2

Bobwhite Quail “Cacciatore” with Root Vegetable Stuffing
Wine: 2015 Riesling (Gold Medal Winner, Michigan Wine Competition 2016)

Pairing notes: Cacciatore means hunter style—only in this case, Piombo went über-hunter style by actually deboning the tiny bird before it was cooked then cooking down the bones to add to the juice. His choice of a root stuffing was to accentuate the apricot notes of the wine—not only in the stuffing’s taste but also in its consistency. And may I say, that the apricot notes in this Riesling just sung. Truly it was one of the best Rieslings I have ever tasted.

5-rove_2015_sauvignon_blancsmallCourse 3

Sea Scallops, Split Pea Puree, Crispy Pancetta
Wine: 2015 Sauvignon Blanc (Bronze Medal Winner, Indy International Competition 2016)

Pairing notes: Piomobo marinated the scallops in a citrus blend to play off the tropical and grassy notes of this Bordeaux-style sauvignon blanc. The saltiness of the pancetta was the perfect accent to the creamy peas. Just bliss.

Course 4

Colorado Lamb Scotta Dita, Peruvian Potato, Carrot Coulis, Grilled Leeks, Charred Corn
Wine: 2014 Cabernet Franc/Merlot (Bronze Medal Winner, Indy International Competition 2016)

Pairing notes: With its nut and fruit notes, this wine set off simply the best lamb I have ever eaten. Piomobo mentioned something about what the grilled leek would do for it all … I didn’t catch it completely as I was busy ascending into gastronomical heaven.

Course 5

Pear Fagottino, Mascarpone Cream
Wine: Infused Hard Cider

Pairing Notes: Fagottino means pouch or pure in Italian. This little pastry purse was perfectly filled with a dollop of pear filling and topped with a dollop of sweetened mascarpone. The pear-infused hard cider was served in a champagne glass—a festive touch that was fitting for this spirit that sparkled on the tongue and blended perfectly with the pastry.

The Editor’s Pick is a blog-style series featuring MyNorth.com’s Senior Editor, Nicole White’s, pick of the week. This post was written by Lissa Edwards, Managing Editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.  

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Photo(s) by The Homestead Resort & Rove Estate