These wine novices in a class of their own

Students in Jim Campanini’s wine class listen as the “Wine Novice” talks about his passion. COURTESY PHOTO

The Nesmith House was glamorous and full of life for the first class of “Vino Rosso: The Incomparable Red Wines of Northern Italy.” Nineteen enthusiastic oenophiles met Thursday in Lowell to learn about the four pillars of prestigious Italian wine – Super Tuscan, Chianti, Barolo and Brunello – from the Piemonte and Toscana regions. We also discussed the top red wine of the Veneto – Amarone della Valpolicella – which is one of my favorites.  My “students” sampled seven wines which were paired with the Wine Goddess’ small plates of Italian treasures, including baked eggplant parmigiana and meatballs stuffed with spinach, mozzarella and Vidalia onions.

The 2-hour evening came to a sweet conclusion when students toasted their success – each had to pass a 10-question final exam – with a glass of Vin Santo di Chianti Classico, a decadent dessert wine made from native Trebbiano Toscana and Malvasia Bianca grapes. As it that wasn’t enough, the Wine Goddess served homemade dried cherry and almond biscotti to resounding applause.

So, as the Italians would say, we had some serious fun.

The group asked some really good questions and amazed me with their keen senses of smell and taste. Most were spot on in deducing the basic aromatic and flavor profiles of the wines, and didn’t hesitate to delve deeper into the complex layers when presented with more structured, powerful bottlings. I was proud that they learned so well.

Jim Campanini teaches a wine class at the Nesmith House in Lowell. COURTESY PHOTO

For those who were shut out of this first class, a second has been added for Thursday, Nov. 8 at the same location. Contact Middlesex Community College to register, or go on the school’s website.

I want to congratulate my students for their attentiveness, energy, and support. We couldn’t develop elegant wine education programs like this without your help. And the same goes for MCC and its staff, which brought this program to life and continues to support it with its own resources, including the fabulous Nesmith House location. This was our third wine class collaboration since last year, and we’re planning two special programs in the spring of 2019 – one on sparkling wines and the other on the ancient volcanic wines of southern Italy. Nero D’Avola, Nerello Mascarelli and Taurasi are just a few that come to mind.

To show you that my students command the utmost respect, here are several exam questions they learned to master. If you don’t know the answer, you should take the class. Salute!

Italian Red Wine Class Final Exam

Instructor: Jim Campanini, IWS

1.      In which wine region is Sangiovese the “king of all grape varieties”?

a.      Piemonte

b.      Toscana

c.       Veneto

d.      All of the above 

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The Wine Professor is in for one night (OK, two)

By Jim Campanini, The Wine Novice

The table is set for an evening of “The Incomparable Wines of Northern Italy,” a two-hour learning and tasting seminar at the elegant Nesmith House in Lowell, presented by yours truly as part of Middlesex Community College’s adult continuing-education program.

Tonight’s class of 20 “students” is sold out; however, because of the number of inquiries received, MCC has graciously added another class scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 8, from 7 to 9 p.m. (To register, go to www.middlesex.mass.edu and type in “vino rosso” in the search button).

I’ve been excited about this “class” for a while...

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Wines to drink now — and some to save for later

Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella

A fan of this column approached me over the weekend and asked, “Jim, what are you drinking now?'”

I replied without hesitation. It’s not what I am drinking now, it’s what I am buying for later.

Like saving for your retirement, there’s something to be said for buying wines that will enrich your drinking and dining pleasure weeks, months and years from now. Sometimes it means getting a good deal on a valuable, ageworthy wine for the cellar. Or it could be for socking away a nice bottle for a special occasion, like a 30th wedding anniversary that I will celebrate with the Wine Goddess next year. Or it could be stocking up on a respectable, inexpensive, everyday wine from an outstanding winemaker.

So, I will answer my friend’s first inquiry first.

Here’s what ...

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Taste your way to an education in Italian wines (like I did)

By Jim Campanini
If you are truly interested in developing your global wine acumen, there’s no better way to start than with the Wine Scholar Guild’s Italian Wine Scholar program that begins Saturday, Oct. 13.
My mentor , Jo-Ann Ross, will be teaching Unit 1 on Northern Italian wines, which covers Piedmont, Trentino, Alto Adige and Val
D’Aosta.
I began my Italian studies with this class two years ago, and it was exceptional. I met wonderful people in the wine trade, restaurant owners and chefs, sommeliers, and young and older professionals who love wine.
We studied the different Italian regions — their customs and history — and learned about the unique native grapes and distinctive wine-making styles that have given Italy top-tier status with other global producers ...
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Doors reopened, Wine ConneXtion offers Spanish samples

Sam Messina, co-owner of The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover, hosts a sampling Saturday.

By Jim Campanini, The Wine Novice

Now here’s a treat. The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is featuring wines from Spain this Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m. If you like moderate- to full-bodied and spicy wines, it’s worth the trip to 117 Main St.

Sam and Tina Messina, the store’s co-owners, have had a rough few days and would love to see some friendly and smiling faces. Last week’s Columbia Gas pipeline explosions, which rocked Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, forced a four-day shutdown of the popular wine store. Emergency personnel and safety workers used the First and Main plaza as a staging area to aid blast victims and evacuate homes. In fact, Tina Messina was forced to evacuate...

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Concha y Toro spices up the season with Camenere

Casillero del Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar) is a low-cost, quality introduction to Camenere.

Did you feel that evening chill in the air this past week? Yes, it’s a sign that autumn is fast approaching and that like the changing seasons, it’s time to make a move to the red wine cellar.

To many Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, there’s really no need to panic. You can drink that big, bold heavenly grape all year round with steaks and barbecue and never miss a beat.

For me, however, I’m out for something that settles in nicely, like a blanket by the firepit with the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, and two glasses of Chilean Camenere. Here’s a native grape from Bordeaux’s Medoc region where it is used as a  as a second fiddle blending partner to Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Merlot...

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Six wines (other than Chardonnay) to perk up the palate

Giesen Sauvignon Blanc features rich and vivid grapefruit and tangerine traits.

If you’re suffering from summer Chardonnay overload, here are few white wines — and new vareitals —  that can pep up the palate for autumn.

Pieropan Soave Classico is a gem from the Veneto region.

• Pieropan Soave Classico 2016, $14.99 — Nino Pieropan’s 50th anniversary vintage is quite a knockout, scoring an outstanding 92 point rating from Wine Enthusiast magazine. For less than $15 a bottle at The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover, it’s an outstanding buy.
Soave is made principally from  the native Garganega grape that excels in the Veneto region. Pieropan’s vineyards are located in an historic zone high atop a walled-in  village outside Verona...

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Grapes can’t talk — so the Wine Novice will

By Jim Campanini, The Wine Novice

If grapes could talk – some winemakers insist they can whisper to them – Italy’s more than 1,000 varieties could tell stories of how they fueled papal conquests, Roman legions on the move, and even the seductions of emperors and kings.

When I open a bottle of Italian wine, I often wonder who trod the ancient soil of the vineyard where the grapes were grown. The great Caesar? Augustine? Or maybe a Bendictine monk who would later become pope.

The history, culture and cuisine of Italy remain fascinating to this day.

That said, if you enjoy Italian wines or want to learn more about them, I’ll be holding another fun night of vino viniferous education on Thursday, Oct. 11, from 7-9 p.m. at the gorgeous Nesmith House in Lowell...

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The glamour of the garden and elegant wine

Jungle Beauty. La Dolce Vita. Diary of Faith. Ice Carnival. Daydream Believer. These are not summer wines, they are daylillies blooming in the summer gardens circling my home.

The Wine Goddess — my wife Mary Lee — has carefully nurtured these dazzling gems for years — some from seedlings that she hybridized herself — and she now has 200 varieties popping out with each new glorious sunrise. The colors, fragrances and textures of these amazing gifts from Mother Nature are incredible.

‘UP’ or Urban Provence Rose with daylilly Helaman.

So, while lounging in the pergola surrounded by this overwhelming beauty, it suddenly occurred to me that I was going to have some fun.
I called down the Wine Goddess from on high (she was reading on the upper patio) and I told her we were going to p...

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Portugal’s authentic wines of Alentejo

By Jim Campanini, The Wine Novice

Did you know the people of Portugal eat more seafood per capita than any other European, barring the Icelanders?

So it’s only natural that the Portuguese know the best wines to drink with their spicy shrimp tapas and bacalhau (salted cod) dishes.

Of course, the famous cuisine, influenced by centuries of the comings and goings of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Spanish and Brazilians, goes well beyond seafood. How can anyone pass up caldo verde soup, an all-season delight made with potato, shredded collard greens and chunks of chourico (a spicy native sausage)?

Tiago Caravana, an agronomist, is a regional representative for Alentejo wines.

Or how about Portuguese steak, bife, which is a slice of fried beef or pork served in a wine-based sauce with fried potat...

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