If grapes could talk -- some winemakers insist they can whisper secrets to them -- Italy's more than 1,000 varieties could tell stories about 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 vita vinifera education Thursday, Oct. 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the gorgeous Nesmith House in Lowell. It is part of Middlesex Community College's adult continuing-education program.

Here's the course description in MCC's fall catalogue.

NEW! Vino Rosso: The Incomparable Red Wines of Italy

"A wine-tasting study of Italy's viticulture history through its most elegant grapes: Nebbiolo (Barolo) and Barbera from the Piemonte; and Toscana's Rondinella (Valpolicella) and Sangiovese (Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino). Learn what the Italian winemaker's drink after a day working in the vineyards, which wines to cellar for aging and those that should be drunk young, and the best food pairings for a truly enjoyable experience."

You have to be 21 or older to register, and the class will be limited to 20 people. It costs $95.


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Last year, we did two classes -- one each on the world's noble red and white grapes -- and one evening was way over-subscribed (27 people). I think everyone came for the surprise foods prepared by the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee. Well, she'll be back for an encore, which includes baking her hazelnut biscotti and enjoying it with a classic Vin Santo.

So, what can you expect in this class?

First, we'll concentrate on the grapes and wines from Northern Italy. You'll learn what grapes are grown in the Piedmont, Tuscany, Veneto and the eastern coastal region in Bolgheri.

Second, you'll learn what wines are produced from these native grapes and how they are named and classified for quality.

Third, you'll sample up to six precious and elegant wines, all unique to the area (terroir) in which they're grown, and discover all their charms -- aromas of lavender and rose petal to flavors of deep chocolate cherry, bold plum, mushroom and cinnamon spice.

Fourth, we'll pair these fabulous wines with simple cheese and meat dishes, exploring the textures, the tastes and the wine's tannic qualities.

We'll ask the question: Do the food and wine come together in a harmonious package or not? (Of course, you already know the answer!)

I've worked for months with the Wine Goddess and the Wine Butler (Mike Pigeon) tasting wines for this class. Recently, over a bowl of pasta Bolognese, we made our final selections. I can tell you this: These Italian wines we'll sample are among the best of their varietal, and most cost less than $20 a bottle.

I'm excited and don't want to ruin the surprise, but we'll unveil a Nebbiolo (used to craft the famous Italian Barolo) that will lift your wine senses to the top of the Apennine Mountains.

We'll also explore the world of Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans, Valpolicella Ripasso (the baby Amarone), Barbera and other gems worth the adventure.

With this class under your belt, you'll be able to purchase Italian wine or order it out with confidence, fully understanding that the key to enjoying wine is knowing the pleasure it inspires on the palate and at the table.

So, here's your chance to get on board. I hope to see you Oct. 11 at the Nesmith House.