They were perfectly paired: one of our favorite chefs, Kerry Alterio of Rockland’s Cafe Miranda with one of the state’s top wineries — Cellardoor, in Lincolnville. We expected great food and wine. What surprised us was the stunning beauty of Cellardoor’s 200-year-old buildings and 68 acres of land.
What do you get when a great local winemaker and an award-winning chef put their heads together and create a wine dinner? An amazing evening that will be long remembered by their guests. The Cellardoor Winery hosts special events, such as the Father’s Day Winemaker Dinner we attended, at their impressive building located near their state-of-the-art winery in Lincolnville.
I had no idea this massive building and winery even existed. Driving into the parking lot, our jaws dropped open. First there was the huge, stunningly beautiful building housing their showroom and an enormous dining room. Then there’s the view. The dining room opens out onto a large deck giving a view of their vineyard and the rolling hills beyond it.
They source their grapes from vineyards across the country, and because of this they are able to make a wide variety of both red and white wines. We were amazed at the number of wines they offer. Prior to the dinner we were invited into their showroom to choose a wine of our choice. My Monti Al Mare was a combination of Sangiovese and Zinfandel along with a hint of amaretto. George agreed that it was truly great.
Kerry Altiero is an outstanding chef, so we knew we were in for an impressive meal. The second course of poached lobster with greens, olive oil and roasted tomato jus made me, a non-lobster eater, a convert. George was surprised, (and a bit disappointed, I’m sure) to see me heartily enjoying it. He usually can count on eating my helping of such things — but not this one. The lobster was paired nicely with a Sauvignon Blanc.
I see why Kerry was crowned Maine Lobster Chef of the Year at the 2012 Harvest on the Harbor last year. But this was a new dish he created for this dinner, and I hope it makes its way to his lengthy menu at Cafe Miranda!
Another favorite thing on the menu that evening was a smoked pork belly braised in housemade BBQ sauce. Hominy polenta provided a nice contrast in texture to the tender meat. And a pepper and onion relish flavored with cumin alongside Caribbean-style mustard, hit this dish out of the winery. This course was paired with the complex flavors of their Prince Valiant wine. We made certain to buy a bottle of this artistic blend of four wines to savor at home.
Very delicious food, an interesting presentation about each of the paired wines, stunning scenery and great dinner guests created a special evening. But then, after dessert, it turned enchanting. A guest inquired about the winery up on the hill. The young couple that is responsible for the wine, Aaron and CC Peet, offered a tour if anyone wanted to go. Most of us gladly walked up the hill in the dark along a path through the trees as a chorus of the loudest frogs imaginable serenaded us. The winery itself is high-tech and fascinating. The smell of the oak barrels on a cool evening in June is going to remain in my memory.
While Lin didn’t share her lobster — and rubbed it in by tapping me on the shoulder and exclaiming, “Look who is eating lobster!” — I did get her oysters. They were the appetizer, offered from a serving station while guests wandered around the building admiring the flowers, paintings and scenery. The oysters were served with olive oil, thyme, sea salt, focaccia bread and paired with a nice Rugosa Grande wine.
The greens on the lobster plate, our second course, came from Kerry’s Owls Head farm. He was celebrating Cafe Miranda’s 20th anniversary that week. For us, that’s the place to eat in Rockland.
Kerry’s third course — fresh handmade pasta, porcini mushrooms, Gorgonzola, roasted garlic, caramelized onion, coarse black pepper, local basil and extra virgin olive oil — was perfect preparation for our trip to Italy three days later, where we feasted on pasta for 12 straight days.
I especially loved the Gorgonzola, while Lin loved the mushrooms. The wide-ranging conversation at our table was interesting, from UMO hockey to Bordeaux blends. A few guests at our table were very knowledgeable about wine and seemed impressed with Cellardoor’s wine served with this dinner. We were, too!
Not at all sophisticated about wine, I can tell you that the Cabernet Sauvignon — made with grapes from Washington State and aged for 13 months in new French barrels — paired with the pasta course was soft, well-balanced and very tasty.
Dessert featured “dueling cupcakes” and a delicious Serendipity wine — a blend of 80 percent Riesling and 20 percent pure Maine maple syrup. No wonder I liked it. As far as the dueling cupcakes went, I favored the chocolate, peanut butter and bacon cupcake — you can guess why.
The actual winery was initially located in a 200-year-old barn. After Bettina Doulton, a wonderful host, purchased it six years ago, vines were replanted, business grew from 1,800 to 10,000 cases and a new state-of-the-art winery was constructed including two labs. Aaron and CC are rightfully excited about their work — including the fact that the first harvest of their own grapes occurred last year. We really enjoyed their after-dinner tour.
We were astonished by the beauty of Cellardoor Winery, delighted by the meal and the wine, and as always at these communal dinners, we met and made new friends. At our table of 12 were folks from Dixmont who moved to Maine 20 years ago, a couple from Portland, snowbirds from Kennebunkport and Florida and tourists from Louisiana (and rest assured we talked about Cajun food). The discussion was lively. The presentation of food and wine was informative. And oh, what a meal.
The winery presents outstanding special events from winemaking classes to dinner dances. Bettina’s August 22 event sounds fantastic — an evening of dining and dancing, great food by Chef Lani Stiles of Megunticook Market (a favorite of Lin’s and mine anytime we are in the area) paired with Cellardoor wines, hot-air balloons and a live performance by Secret Service. Wow!
And I can tell you this: if Bettina ever decides to add a restaurant to the winery, it will be packed every night.
Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.