Recently, I coordinated an annual fundraising wine dinner at St. Mark Orthodox Church in Irvine, with an Italian theme using Toccata Wines from Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards.

We started with their pinot grigio, and then moved to their Freisa with a chicken and roasted vegetable dish. I wanted to pair a lighter red wine with this course for two reasons: I was going to move to their heavier-bodied Toccata Classico with pizza for the third course, and I was going to serve their Muscat Canelli for dessert. I felt like I couldn’t do three whites, and only one red for the dinner without disappointing the clientele.

So, it was a gamble, because I was worried whether the Freisa would go with the chicken and roasted vegetables. To my surprise, it not only worked, but for me was the highlight of the evening in that it paired so beautifully with the roasted vegetables, especially the carrots.

Freisa is a red Italian wine grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, primarily in Monferrato and in the Langhe, but also further north in the provinces of Turin and Biella. Freisa is a vigorous and productive vine whose round, blue-black grapes are harvested in early October. The three-lobed leaves are relatively small and the bunches are elongated in form. Plantings of Freisa in the Piedmont region date back to at least the 18th century and many experts believe the grape likely originated in the hills between Asti and Turin. Recent DNA profiling at UC Davis revealed that Freisa has a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo.

Italian Roasted Vegetables

1 lb. unpeeled red potatoes (3 to 4 medium)

2 large carrots

1 large yellow summer squash

1 large zucchini

8 oz. fresh large mushrooms

1/4 c. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, pressed

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1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, and then cut each half lengthwise into 1-inch-wide wedges. Cut carrots diagonally into 2-inch lengths. Cut summer squash and zucchini into 2-inch pieces. Cut mushrooms in half.

Place vegetables in large bowl; toss with oil. Press garlic over vegetables using a garlic press. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary, salt and black pepper; toss to coat evenly.

Spread vegetables in single layer on large bar pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown and tender crisp, stirring after 20 minutes.

Pair this with Toccata’s 2012 Santa Barbara County Freisa. Lucas & Lewellen’s small planting of 928 vines in their Los Alamos Valley Vineyards is one of the very few instances of Freisa in California. This 100% Freisa wine has an aroma of raspberries and violets with hints of vanilla from oak aging. Well-structured tannins and a long, fruity finish make for a versatile, easy drinking Italian style wine. Enjoy over the next two to three years with Italian foods.

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at jd.finley@comcast.net.

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