Are you ready for something a little different? Are you ready to keep an open mind about what you think wine is supposed to be? Yes? Good for you.
Read on to learn about a very different wine being made right here in New Jersey.
I spent some time at Bellview Winery a few days before their Dandelion Release Weekend. That’s exactly what you think it is – wine made from dandelions. Bellview’s owner Jim Quarella and winemaker David Gardner treated me to one of the first tastes of the 2016 vintage, and they also popped open a bottle of the 2010 so I could taste an aged bottle.
This wine is made from the same kind of dandelion flowers that dot my front yard and bring me joy every time I see them. The winery buys the majority of the flowers for the wine from nearby Petronglo Farms that grows dandelions to sell their leaves. Bellview also picks some from their own fields if they need to supplement what they get from the farm. When you take a sip of the finished wine, you’re essentially drinking the nectar of a flower.
We tasted the 2016 vintage first. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I went in with an open mind. It was sweet but nowhere near cloying. Flavors of lemon, eucalyptus, honeysuckle, melon and something “plant-y” that I couldn’t quite place flowed from the glass. I really enjoyed it.
The 2010 vintage had mellowed after seven years. It had flavors of orange, lemon and melon that had become subtler with age. It was enjoyable like the 2016, just a little more refined.
Dandelion Wine is a dessert wine. It’s not something you’d want to drink with a meal, but it would pair with some light desserts like biscotti, shortbread cookies, or white cake. Any cookie or cake-like treat that you might think would go well with the flavor of lemon would be worth a try. You can also add some of the wine to a cup of hot green tea.
Bellview’s first commercial bottling of this wine was in 2005, but Quarella’s Italian family has been making it here in the United States for decades, perhaps close to a century. In fact, the method for making it is very similar to the way his Great Aunt Ada made it, with just a few changes that were necessary to be able to sell it commercially.
Some very old bottles of family-made Dandelion Wine were discovered a few years back on the Bellview Winery farm, and Quarella opened a bottle that was 50 years old on his 50th birthday. The golden color had turned dark and the flavor was caramel-ly and “very enjoyable.”
That speaks to the ageability of this wine. Bellview sells the current vintage throughout the year, but pulls several cases and puts them away for aging to be sold in the future. This makes it different from other non-grape wines that should be drunk young. However, what Dandelion Wine has in common with Bellview’s fruit wines like cranberry, blueberry and apple is the value it brings to the winery’s offerings and the region as a whole.
“We are in the Garden State, using everything we have,” Sofia Zych, Director of Outlets and Events at the winery told me. I love that they’re keeping it local.
Like the dandelions, Bellview buys local fruit from farmers. Turning them into fruit wine makes a lot of sense in this region because there are many people with a sweet palate. They should be able to get quality, local wine that suits their tastes.
“If you’re a winery focusing on quality, every wine you make is going to be good,” said Quarella. “Fruit wines are an opportunity to reach out to a larger base who try the fruit first and it may open the door to them trying new things.”
Bellview Winery puts the same energy into making their grape varietal wines that are at the top of their line straight on down to the fruit wines, and they are all worth trying.
If you find yourself in Bellview’s tasting room this spring or summer, ask to try their flowers-in-a-glass, slightly sweet Dandelion Wine. Bellview is the only winery in the state that makes it, as far as I know, and it’s absolutely worth trying. It’s something new, something fun, and something we can be proud is coming from the fields of the Garden State.