Wednesday night in southern Maine restaurants is going to be like Comic-Con for fans of Italian wines.

Nine restaurants (most of them in Portland) will hold simultaneous Italian wine dinners featuring a total of 43 wines – many of which are not usually available in Maine – from 23 Italian wine producers. And representatives of the wineries – either owners, brand managers or winemakers – will be present to talk about the wines and answer questions. Let your wine geek flag proudly fly.

This unprecedented event was organized by Winebow, a wine importer that works with 70 wine producers throughout Italy. Half of them will be in town this week. Bringing this many wine producers to Maine on a single night “is unmatched and unlikely to repeat itself anytime soon,” said Scot Hudson, who represents Winebow’s Italian portfolio in New England.

The wine producers will be in Portland for the 2019 Vini d’Italia Tour, an invitation-only trade event for restaurants and retailers that will be held Thursday at the Westin Portland Harborview hotel. The tour usually visits America’s largest cities, but this year they’re targeting smaller markets, including Minneapolis and Durham, North Carolina. Portland was chosen, Hudson says, because of its thriving food scene.

Wines from Pico Maccario, a winery in the Piedmont region of Italy, will be featured at a wine dinner Wednesday night at Paciarino restaurant in Portland. Photos courtesy of Winebow

“The size of the trade tasting is big for little Portland, Maine, but it’s still suitable,” Hudson said.

The Thursday trade tasting is not open to the public, so the Wednesday night dinners provide the best opportunity for ordinary wine lovers to get a taste of some of the wines and rub elbows with the experts.

“There’s no overarching branding, nor festival association,” Hudson said. “Every restaurant has their own dinner they’ve chosen to do, and they’re marketing it independently.”

The restaurants and the chefs preparing menus to pair with the wines are excited about the opportunity.

Stella Hernandez, co-owner of Lolita in Portland, said she and her husband, chef Guy Hernandez, are eager to welcome Johannes Tiefenbrunner, whose estate (founded in 1848) is one of the oldest in South Tyrol, and Aldo Rainoldi, member of the fifth generation of the Rainoldi family and the winemaker at the Rainoldi estate.

“So often, wine is picked off a shelf and we forget that it is made by people, just like a meal that is prepared by someone – people with an intention, skills, pride in their craft and, most importantly, soul,” Hernandez said.  “… Whenever we can get a family member or winemaker in to talk about the how and the why, we feel like we all come away with a more full picture of what wine is and what they intended it to be.”

She said they picked the wines they’ll be pouring “to create an arc of experience for both the wine and the food.” Those wines range from a crisp, floral Sauvignon Blanc to a lean, delicate Pinot Nero, and then on to bold Nebbiolos.

Having the actual vineyard owners and representatives from Italy speak about their wine in such intimate settings will be “amazing,” said Shayne Conlon, manager of Sea Glass restaurant and its wine cellar at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth. “Usually this event would be held in Boston or New York,” he noted, “so to have these growers here in Portland, and be able to tap directly into their knowledge is very special.”

Chef Andrew Chadwick says he’ll pair the traditional, classic wines of Zenato and Zardetto with Maine seafood and produce because he does not want to try to “beat an Italian grandmother’s pasta dish.”

Jesse Bania, manager of Solo Italiano in Portland, says the restaurant’s chosen wines are “quintessential classics.” They include one of the original, organic Franciacorta producers, Barone Pizzini, as well as Suavia (Soave Classico), Pievalta (Verdicchio di Jesi) and Castello dei Neive from Barbaresco.

“While everyone is relentlessly excited about the prestige of Champagne, Franciacorta is quietly producing some of the world’s finest, cleanest sparkling wine,” Bania said. “And Italians consume 85 percent of it. We visit Italy, and we get excited when Italians visit us, because we trust what they do with food and wine.”

Tickets to Solo Italiano’s dinner buy a five-course wine flight, and guests get to pair the wines themselves, with food from chef Paolo Laboa’s regular menu, depending on which suggested pairings sound best to them.

Wines from the Regaleali Estate, owned by the Tasca family in Sicily, will be featured at a wine dinner at Tipo restaurant in Portland on Wednesday night.

All of the meals are fixed-price, multi-course dinners, and some of them will be sold out by the time you read this. But others will still have seats, and there’s always the waiting list. Here’s a look at the restaurants that are participating and details of their dinners:

UNION RESTAURANT, 390 Congress St., Portland – 6:30 p.m., Tuscan wine dinner, $89. Four Tuscan-inspired courses paired with wines from the ColleMassari Estates, Grattamacco and San Giorgio. Call 808-8700.

TIPO RESTAURANT, 182 Ocean Ave., Portland – 6 p.m., Sardinia + Sicily wine dinner, $55. Four courses, five wines from Tasca Regaleali (Sicily) and Argiolas (Sardinia). Reservations required. Call 358-7970.

EVO KITCHEN + BAR, 443 Fore St., Portland – 6 p.m., Southern Italian Wines and Mediterranean Flavors, $65. Four courses, wines from Librandi (Calabria) and Botromagno (Puglia). Call 358-7830.

SOLO ITALIANO, 100 Commercial St., Portland – 5:30 p.m., “Il Quattro” Italian wine dinner, $35 for the wine only. Five courses paired with wines from Barone Pizzini (Lombardia), Pievalta (Marche), Suavia (Veneto) and Castello di Neive (Piedmont). Call 780-0227.

LOLITA, 90 Congress St., Portland – 6 p.m., Italian wine dinner, $95. Four courses paired with wines from Aldo Rainoldi (Lombardia) and Tiefenbrunner (Alto Adige). Call 775-5652.

VARANO’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT, 60 Mile Road, Wells – 6 p.m., Tuscan wine dinner, $95. Five courses and six wines from Castello di Bossi (Tuscany), Tua Rita (Tuscany) and Orma (Tuscany). Call 641-8550.

ENOTECA ATHENA, 97 Maine St., Brunswick – 6 p.m., wine dinner featuring three southern Italian wineries, $75, six courses and six wines from Botromagno (Puglia), Ferzo (Abruzzo) and Di Majo Norante (Molise). Call 721-0100. SOLD OUT.

INN BY THE SEA, 40 Bowery Beach Road, Cape Elizabeth – 5:30 p.m., Italian wine dinner, $80. Five courses paired with five wines from Zardetto (Veneto) and Zenato (Veneto). Call 799-3134.

PACIARINO, 470 Fore St., Portland – 6 p.m.,  $70. Four courses, four wines from Secondo Marco (Veneto) and Pico Maccario (Piedmont). Call 774-3500.

Wine grapes at Zenato winery, located in the Veneto region of Italy. A representative of the winery will be at a wine dinner at Sea Glass, the restaurant at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, on Wednesday night.

 


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