How many grapes does it take to produce a six-ounce glass of wine?
If you drank one bottle of wine a day, how many days would it take to drink all the different wines produced in Italy?
Ah. Those were the weighty questions we pondered as we feasted like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra at a night of Italian wines and food at Centro Restaurant & Bar in downtown Lowell.
Chef/owner Patti Stella and her kitchen and waitstaff put on a lively evening of fun and education for 51 guests, including the Wine Goddess and yours truly.
Jim Barnard, regional sales manager for MS Walker Wine Distributors, was a perfect Master of Ceremonies for the Sunday evening event. He worked with the staff, including the very capable bar manager Dawn Fisher, to select pairings for Stella’s Tour-of-Italy cuisine.
Barnard explained each of five wines with energetic and engaging flair.
As I’ve written previously, this is the way to discover wine, at food-friendly events where all the people became united as one big family. Barnard kept everyone’s interest with his Dean Martin approach to instruction — loose, easy, enjoyable. And Centro deserves credit for putting on a great, affordable meal on a slate, gray late afternoon when it was a pleasure to get out of the house.
The five-course, three-hour event went longer than scheduled, but who cared or even noticed?
• First course: Stromboli of Italian meats and cheeses, paired with Mionetto Prosecco. The Venetian sparkler — clean, crisp and bubbly — cut through the spicy Stromboli in elegant style.
• Second course: Escarole soup with meatballs, paired with Terredora Di Paolo Falanghina from Campania. Stella’s soup was enhanced with nutmeg, giving it an expressive Mediterranean flavor. The unoaked Falanghina showed intense fruit aromas — apple, pineapple — and balanced acidity. A wonderful match.
• Third course: Grilled and garlic rubbed broccolini, roasted sweet peppers with balsamic glaze, with Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano (Abruzzo). Here’s where the flavor feast hit its stride, both in the plate and on the palate. The dry red wine, with blackberry and earth notes, filled the mouth with substance but didn’t overpower the food. A divine marriage.
• Fourth course: Pork loin with rosemary and wine, roasted potato, served with Castello Vicchiomaggio “Super Tuscan.” It’s hard to believe this wine is produced at a resort vineyard estate outside of Florence, and costs less than $14 a bottle. A Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend layered with dark berry and mushroom complexity. A smashing fit for the tasty pork loin.
• Fifth course: Tiramisu with Pellegrino Passito di Pantelleria. A very interesting dessert wine from this tiny island off the coast of Sicily. Caramel and honeyed apricot flavors dominate. A graceful and vibrant way to end the evening.
Oh, the answers to the above questions are: 98 grapes and 2,000 days. Salute!
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