By Deirdre Parker Smith
The Vintage Port may be gone, but don't despair.
Good wine is popping up all over.
One place is at Pinocchio's restaurant in Spencer. Giuseppe Lopriore bought some of Vintage Port's stock and some wooden wine cases made for the store.
After an initial wine tasting in February (postponed due to one of our snows), Pinnochio's is planning to have regular tastings, with the next one on April 20. A typical tasting includes five courses and four wines, from appetizer to dessert.
Adding the wine provides several options to customers. First, it's a chance for diners to try something new with their meal. Second, it's a chance for people to meet, have a glass of wine, maybe an appetizer or dessert, and talk. And third, you can go in, pick out a bottle and take it home for your own dinner or gathering.
The specialty at this Italian restaurant is, naturally, Italian wine, but if you think chianti is all there is, you ain't tasted nothin' yet.
There are dozens of chiantis, a wine made in the Piedmont region of Italy. You may know the one with the straw basket on the bottle, but there's more. Chianti, like the many versions of merlot made in California, has a variety of tastes.
San giovese is chianti, too, but it is made in Tuscany. Different regions call the same wines by different names.
San giovese has a hint of fruit in the aroma, a slightly smoother feel than some chiantis, but both are robust wines that stand up to robust foods.
Ask Giuseppe what wine he likes and the answer is: "Red." OK, in the summer he likes white, because it's chilled.
With food, you drink what you like. If you want to sip a glass and have conversation, you drink what you like.
Giuseppe and Claudio Dare will make suggestions, asking you for hints on what you like. Few of the bottles have those fruity, flowery descriptions you'll find on American wines.
The most popular regions for winemaking in Italy are Tuscany, in central Italy, and Piedmont, the region near France and Switzerland.
Other Piedmont wines are barbera, with tones of blackberry and cherry, although it is a dry wine. Most Italian reds are aged in oak, which gives depth of flavor.
Wine for just keeping company with friends? Giuseppe suggests a lambrusco, which is slightly sparkly.
For dessert or an appetizer, a dolcetto, which is a little fruitier, might be a good choice.
You've seen valpolicella in the grocery store? It's the name of a grape. Lots of wineries make valpolicella wines. It comes from the Veneto region of Italy. Verdicchio is a dry white wine from Umbria.
At the wine tasting, diners enjoyed a chardonnay fruili vini and many bought bottles to take home. It's a bright wine that goes well with food.
People also ask for montepulciano, a red wine from the Abruzzi area with a hint of cherry.
The wine distributor, a Greek man who has lived in Italy, who supplied Vintage Port has been Giuseppe's supplier for years, and has been able to offer a good variety of Italian wines.
Giuseppe keeps his prices competitive -- about what you'd pay in a grocery store -- to make more different wines available to the everyday wine drinker who wants to try things without spending a fortune. Most of the wines are in the $12-$24 range, but some bottles carry a higher price tag.
Giuseppe runs monthly specials, knocking $2 or $3 dollars off a bottle. This month, the features include a lagrein, a rich red with an earthy taste.
Oddly enough, Giuseppe didn't like wine, the national drink of Italy, as a child. Like Southerners drink iced tea, Italians drink wine with meals. He wouldn't drink it even though his father told him to. And his aunt made wine.
He grew up, went to chef school and learned to enjoy wine. But, he says, never more than two glasses. Almost always with food.
If you go to the restaurant, choose a wine and want to try something that's not on the menu, ask. If he has the ingredients on hand, Giuseppe enjoys making different dishes.
He's been in New York this week learning about new dishes.
You can plan parties for the restaurant, too, if you call in advance to make arrangements. And although your employer would likely frown on wine at lunch, it's available with a full menu from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., as is delivery to businesses for multiple orders. (Come to think of it, a bottle of wine might make that marketing meeting flow.)
The restaurant is open for dinner 5-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 704-636-8891.
Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at 704-797-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.