A few weeks ago, we dined at Vecchia Pizzeria & Mercato in Hoover, known for their wood-fired, authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza. Vecchia has made quite a name for themselves as one of the best pizzerias in the Birmingham-metro area over the last few years. However, on this occasion we weren’t visiting for the pizza, we were there for a new experience: a wine dinner. Hosted by Alabama Language Services, the wine dinner featured a magnificent line-up of wines and an incredible dinner served buffet-style alongside.
Alabama Language Services is a business founded by Giuliana Russo-Skinner, born and raised in the region of Puglia, Italy. She grew up on an Italian farm where her dad and grandfather grew olive trees and grapes among other crops. As an Italian language and culture professor at UAB, Giuliana is enthusiastic about sharing her passion and knowledge about her own country, language, culture, and cuisine.
“Italian wine mirrors an essential part of Italian culture. We love to take the time to slow down and enjoy each other’s company at the dinner table. The best things in life take time, and they need to be savored slowly and in good company. Just like wine! What we want to recreate with these dinners is a true Italian experience: bring the community together while enjoying the best things in life!”
Our dinner was much more than a meal; it was simultaneously a cultural and social experience and bit of a history and geography lesson. I am by no means a wine expert, but I certainly enjoy a variety of wines and learning about the different regions and flavors. Perfect for the novice or experienced wine enthusiast, this event gave us the opportunity to sample a variety of wines and learn about the various wine regions of Italy. One thing we learned: wine dinners are something to be sipped and savored, never hurried.
We took a little tour of Italy by savoring the following wines:
Maccan Ribolla Gialla Spumante IGT NV
Nearly all wine dinners follow a similar format starting with lighter, more delicately flavored wines and ending with bolder, more intense wines. To begin, we had the Ribolla Gialla, from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region. We learned all about the 57-acre estate of Tenuta Maccan, founded in 2012 on land with a winemaking history reaching back to 1788. The soil’s high limestone content means it is perfect for making white wines that are lively, light and fresh on the palate. This sparkling Brut was similar to Prosecco: light, dry and bubbly.
Demarie Langhe Arneis DOC ’17
Next up was the Langhe Arneis, from the Piedmont Region. In traditional local culture, the name Arneis is given to someone who is an extrovert, a bit of a rebel, original but with a certain charm. The name actually translates to “Little Rascal”. In the glass Arneis is brilliant, sunny, bright with shades of straw yellow and green reflections. The aroma is full and well-established with hints of peach and apricot, wild broom and camomile. The flavors are well-balanced, fresh and persistent: a rare white wine without the fruity taste.
Le Morette Bardolino Classico DOC ’17
On to the reds. The Bardolino Classico is a blend of 65% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. From the Northern Italian Region of Veneto, the Bardolino’s harmonious and captivating aromas and lingering flavors deliver a wine that is as memorable as it is enjoyable.
Brancatelli Valle delle Stelle IGT ’15
The Valle delle Stelle, “Valley of the Stars,” from the famed region of Tuscany, is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc. In glass, the wine is deeply hued and resounds with aromas of cherry, floral notes and spices. Dark red fruits enrobed in a soft texture makes this an exceptionally pleasing wine to drink. We went home with a bottle of this one in hand.
Corte Volponi Amarone della Valpolicella DOC ’13
This wine stole the show. A blend of 40% Corvinone, 35% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, and 5% Oseleta, this wine shows an intense ruby red color, with a violet edge. It has a warm, ethereal and spicy bouquet with scents of red berries and dried fruits. My husband teases me for having expensive taste and, sure enough, as soon as I sipped this wine I told him it was the best, not having seen any of the prices yet. When presented with a list of bottle pricing at the end of the evening, this wine rang in at around $65. A special occasion wine, to be sure.
The buffet-style dinner was comprised of: spinach & artichoke dip with tricolor chips, Sicilian salad with creamy Italian dressing, Italian knot rolls with marinara dipping sauce, pasta marinara with fresh basil & house-made meatballs. A fantastically-prepared white chocolate bread pudding was served for dessert. While the food was certainly good, and the bread pudding remarkably delicious, the focus of the experience was more on the wine and surrounding culture.
Alabama Language Services regularly hosts events that feature Italian language and culture, such as cooking classes and wine dinners. Learn more on their website.