BY DEBBIE HOVANASIAN
On Thursday, April 25, at Lowell Memorial Auditorium, life just might be a cabernet, old chum. Then again, it could be a merlot, zinfandel, syrah, pinot noir, chardonnay or all of the above. When it comes to "grape expectations," any varietal is sure to yield a great deal of pleasure for an even greater cause.
The Merrimack Valley Food Bank hosts its eighth annual Grape Expectations benefit from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person, with proceeds going to hunger relief programs that last year provided 2.5 million pounds of food to more than 100 agencies in the Merrimack Valley and beyond.
"The need is greater than the last few years and it keeps growing," said Deb Callery, MVFB community relations coordinator. "It's a really great night out while at the same time doing a lot of good, allowing us to do what we do."
Among the many benefits of the evening is a chance to slow life's pace and "wine down," said Amy Pessia, MVFB's executive director. "You can relax, sit, catch up with each other, walk around and bid on auction items, and of course, sample the wines."
Pessia points out that Grape Expectations has been a popular destination for a Girls Night Out, multiple generations of families, co-workers connecting outside of the workplace, and meeting up with friends, both vintage and new varietals.
While guests peer into their wine glasses, swirl, check viscosity, sniff, swallow, aspirate and note aftertaste, a local band, the FunRazrs, will perform a blend of music and local food vendors will offer up an aromatic bouquet of hearty hors d'oeuvres.
The fun variety of offerings within the three-hour time period has helped the event grow more popular each year, Callery said.
Among the wine vendors on board are two local well-known distributors, Tutto Bene Wine and Cheese Cellar of downtown Lowell and Stadium Plaza Wine and Spirits of Tewksbury and Wilmington.
Their carefully selected wines keep curious guests satisfied at the tasting tables, but it's not just for experienced wine tasters, stresses Callery. Even those who have never formally tasted wine catch on quickly to the art of wine tasting.
Those coming right from work need not worry about dinner first, she added. Among the foods will be hummus, stuffed grape leaves and falafel from Cedar's Mediterranean Foods, soups and chowders from the Chowder Factory of Lowell, and crab and artichoke cakes topped with micro-slaw on edible, pie-crust-like spoons, lime marinated chicken skewers with avocado dip, coconut shrimp in peanut dipping sauce, and scallops wrapped in bacon from Lenzi's of Dracut.
The dessert tables are always popular, as is the silent auction, Callery said. Among the auction items are a Wine Tasting for 12 at Tutto Bene, hosted by Wine Wizard Richard Rourke and Wine Novice Jim Campanini; a weekend for up to 18 at a seaside home near Nubble Light in York, Maine; a deep sea fishing excursion with Captain Paul Belley's Creature Charter; also, gift cards to restaurants, sporting events and local merchants.
New this year, raffle tickets at $20 each are now on sale through the MVFB web site for a chance at the Trinity Triple Play, donated by Trinity EMS, an approximate $1,000 value. The winner receives two tickets for home games of the Red Sox (box seats); Celtics (premium club seats, center court); and Bruins (premium club seats, center ice).
Gift cards and other items for the silent auction are still welcome, as are sponsorships, Callery said. This year's premiere sponsors are Lowell Sun Charities, Kronos, Inc. and UPS.