Niagara Gazette

Features

January 21, 2014

Tasting Italy

Niagara Gazette — Ryan Seward still remembers the chilly day he toured a small vineyard in the Piedmont region of Italy.

The young man leading the tour, Luca Roagna, was a fourth generation wine maker who knew the exact date every vine in the field had been planted. So enthusiastic about his product, he reached down and grabbed some of the dirt and asked those in the group to smell it. Later, he led his guests through a sampling of wines in a century old cave where giant oak barrels held the family’s revered and carefully created grape elixer. 

Seward, a seller of wines for Polaner’s, never forgot Luca’s passion. Throughout that tour of Italy, Ryan met many more artisan winemakers who held a reverence for their work which made him care more deeply about their wines. Two years later, he stood in at Dick and Jenny’s Restaurant on Grand Island and shared his stories of that visit with a couple dozen food and wine lovers, including me.  Holding tight to my own dreams of revisiting my grandparents’ homeland in Sicily, this night was my own personal version of heaven, featuring all the delights of mediterranean travel without hassle of packing.

The occasion was a wine tasting and Italian dinner prepared by restaurateurs Richard and Jenny Benz, called “Wines of Italy 101.” And with wine expert Ryan Seward as our tour guide, we sampled foods from throughout the country and drank wines created from small family-owned vineyards in five areas of Italy.

In the interest of full disclosure, Dick and Jenny’s on Grand Island is one of my favorite restaurants. I enjoy the imaginative, ever-changing, Louisiana influenced menu, but I am also fond of Jenny’s loyal and capable staff, overseen by Jenny herself who greets guests personally and generously shares her own extensive knowledge of wine and food. So, this commentary is plainly biased. But, as a journalist, I feel obliged to share my favorite experiences, and this was such a one. 

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