TEWKSBURY -- Careful collaboration and planning went into the course pairings at the wine dinner hosted by Luna Rossa Ristorante Italia on Monday. Each wine was matched with the dish that would bring out its subtleties or balance its acidity.
David DiCenso opened Luna Rossa 15 years ago after working as a part-time manager at his family's two eateries (Donatello's in Saugus and Davio's in Boston). His family set its sights on opening a third restaurant in the Andover area before finding a spot in Tewksbury's Keri Plaza.
"If I didn't enjoy the business I would have left it a long time ago," DiCenso said. His 100-seat eatery serves a family-friendly menu lined with authentic southern Italian cuisine. "We want people to come back multiple times a week, a few times a month," he noted. "We have great value and good food."
Quality tomatoes are the secret behind a quality red sauce, DiCenso said. Imported San Marzano tomatoes are used at Luna Rossa. "It definitely makes the difference," DiCenso said. "After that it's just love... if you try to rush it or scrimp on the ingredients, it's not the same."
DiCenso hosts one or two wine dinners at his restaurant annually.
"Everyone has a different palate... this is a way to experience different wines," he said, adding that he often keeps bottles of the featured wines on hand to add to his reserve list.
Veramonte wines took centerstage at the dinner. Chilean winemaker Agustin Huneeus always wanted to start his own wine business and helped resuscitate the Concha Y Toro winery at the end of the 1960s before fleeing his homeland during political unrest. He was able to make his dream a reality in 1990 when he founded Veramonte wines -- which translates to "Green Mountain" in Spanish -- in Chile's Casablanca Valley, which he soon discovered the ideal conditions for growing Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
Some wine drinkers are surprised to learn that a Sauvignon Blanc -- and a good one at that -- could be produced in South America, said Dan O'Connor, Veramonte New England representative. Most associate the citrusy white varietal with Australia, or New Zealand.
Chilean wines have emerged as bargain wine in the industry because of the low costs of labor and land in the country, O'Connor said.
The 2012 Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc was paired with prosciutto-wrapped shrimp at Luna Rossa. The shrimp, served over mixed greens, fennel and oranges, and topped with a citrus vinaigrette, seemed like a natural choice as seafood pairs well with the varietal, said Jeremy Poulin, wine sales consultant at United Liquors. The fat in the prosciutto and the olive oil in the dressing helped balance the acidity of the oranges and the wine, he said.
The 2011 "Ritual" Pinot Noir was featured with the second course of the evening -- Butternut Squash Agnolotti, topped with wild mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and cream.
"In my opinion, there are six places in the world that can produce a Pinot Noir," O'Connor said. "There were five until (Huneeus discovered) Casablanca."
Poulin opted to pair the Pinot Noir -- his favorite wine -- with the agnolotti as the mushrooms drew out the earthiness of the wine, and the butternut squash its cherry fruit notes. "You can pair it with most any meal," he noted of the light-bodied red.
Beef tenderloin stuffed with spinach, roasted red peppers and provolone cheese, served as the heartiest meal of the evening and was paired with Veramonte's flagship red wine, the 2010 Primus Red Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Carmenere). Poulin called the pairing "simple" as the wine boasts a strong, earthy blend. "Chilean have that little bit of earthiness that pairs well with steak," he said. A side dish of mashed sweet potatoes helped soften the tannins of the wine, he added.
The 2009 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Gorgonzola cheese on a Frizzelle crostini, topped with shaved prosciutto and olive oil, served as a surprise addition to the four-course pairing. Faust was also created by Huneeus and is produced at the Quintessa winery in Napa Valley.
"It's well-defined," O'Connor said of the sought-after wine. "It has dark fruit and is defined by its tannins. They have to balance out, that's what people love about Cabernet."
The evening was capped off by a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta topped with warm wild berries and a sauce of Grand Marnier, paired with Chambers' "Rosewood Vineyard" Muscat, a dessert wine not from the Veramonte portfolio.
"It's sweet but it has a good acidity at the finish," Poulin said. "It's not like drinking simple syrup, it kind of cleanses the palate."
Luna Rossa Ristorante Italia
- 1699 Shawsheen St., Tewksbury, 978-851-9282, lunarossa-restaurant.com
- Hours: Sunday, 3-8:30 p.m., Monday, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
- Parking: Shares a lot with other shops in Keri Plaza but most are closed during dinner hours.
- Reservations: Accepted.
- Menu: Authentic and family-friendly Southern Italian cuisine.
- Price range: Entrees $14.99-21.99.
- Atmosphere: Casual, warm and inviting.
- Try this: Gnocchi al Pomodoro (Nonna Anna's homemade potato gnocchi in a light plum tomato sauce topped with fresh mozzarella cheese), Roasted Chicken (seasoned with roasted garlic, rosemary and lemon, served with garlic mashed potatoes), Eggplant Involotini (rolled and stuffed with prosciutto, roasted peppers and ricotta cheese in a plum tomato basil sauce), Grilled Ribeye Fiorentina (a 14 oz. steak topped with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and rosemary, served with garlic mashed potatoes and crispy fried onions), and for pizzas -- the Luna Rossa (ricotta, fontina, parmesan, and mozzarella, tomato, basil, pepperoni), and the Chicken Salad (pesto chicken pizza topped with field greens, tomato and homemade balsamic).
- Upcoming events: Keep an eye out for a yet-to-be-scheduled wine dinner in January.