The New Wine Experience You Need to Try This Spring on Long Island

The Wine Lab at Verace ain’t your mama’s wine class. • Image courtesy of Bohlsen Restaurant Group

Class was in session in the upstairs room at Verace on Thursday, March 7. The West Islip Italian restaurant hosted its first of six Wine Labs, hour-long interactive workshops meant to teach the next generation of oenophiles how to taste, order, sip, buy and talk about vino.

The first topic: Why Italy? It didn’t take an hour for attendees to figure that out.

“Italian wines are food-friendly, easy to drink, there are a lot of varietals and also because of the affordability,” said sommelier Bohlsen Restaurant Group Corporate Beverage Director Paulo Villela, who taught the class.

That, and “we’re in an Italian restaurant,” Villela quipped as he started his presentation. As he began to talk about Italian wines, attendees sipped on bubbly. The Prosecco Zardetto, a brut, was an elegant choice, complete with aromas of white flowers, apricot and herbs that created a delicately soft bouquet. It was refreshing on its own, making it a perfect apertif to sip as Villela spoke of how wine is ingrained in Italian culture. It’s on every table in restaurants there, as the Italians consider it part of the meal.

Paulo Villela, sommelier and host of Verace’s Wine Lab. • Photo by Beth Ann Mayer

The next wine was a white—perhaps a surprising choice for some, as many associate Italy with reds. But the Mastroberardino Falanghina, a fresh and fruity wine with notes of citrus, tropical fruits, peach, banana and white flowers, proved otherwise. It left a fruity final impression and had a natural acidity, Vilella pointed out. He continued to discuss the climate’s effect on wine. Warm-weather grapes have more sugar, increasing the amount of alcohol in them and giving them a fuller body. Cold-weather grapes have less alcohol and a lighter body. As attendees sipped, the staff brought out traditional Italian charcuterie board with cheese, salami and prosciutto.

The Luli Barabba came from Piedmont, a cold-weather climate at the foot of the Alps. This Barabba was bold and full-bodied with silky tannins to support the fruity notes of dark cherries and plum. Villela informed the crowd that the difference between red and white wines is that only reds had tannins and that it was possible to make white wine from red grapes because “red grapes produce white juice,” he said. Champagne, made with Pinot Noir, is an example.

Pizza plates came around for guests to indulge in as the next wine, a Barolo from the Piedmont region. It was produced by Francesco Boasso, a traditionalist whose notably refreshing wines are made without chemicals or additives.

Exclusively for the Wine Lab, Verace has designed fun and accessible worksheets for guests to use as they taste the wines. •  Photo by Beth Ann Mayer

Next came a rare Tuscan Il Carbonaione. Heralded winemaker Vittorio Fiore decided he wanted to break away from the rules and regulations that defined a Chianti Sangiovese. He wasn’t interested in blending the required white grapes and instead created one of the most sought-after wines in Tuscany.

The night concluded with a Pallagrello Nero and a sharable plate of pasta. A Campania wine, it had a medium-full body and flavors of black raspberry, black cherry and licorice.

And just like that, the first Wine Lab concluded with just one hitch—if you can call it that: The class ran about 10 minutes long. But can you really keep a course on Italian wine to 60 minutes?

“No,” laughed Villela. “Once you give people wine and food, they start conversing and having a good time…fun, food and friends. That’s wine.”

Italian winemakers would likely toast to that.

The Wine Lab will continue on the first Thursday of each month, with each session running from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The next, on April 4, will cover the topic “Under the Tuscan Sun.” 

For more information on the Wine Lab at Verace, please visit the restaurant’s website.