Cucina by the Glass 

Avenues eatery ups the wine ante with sizeable selection.

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As I mentioned in this week's "Dine" column (p. 27), Cucina Deli (1026 Second Ave., 801-322-3055, CucinaDeli.com) is morphing into a wine bar. The transition is about 80 percent complete. That's good news, since wine bars are so few and far between in Utah.

The dinner menu at Cucina—with its vast array of small-plate offerings, along with some really great entrées—is especially well-suited to wine. So I'm thrilled that owner Dean Pierose has built an underground, temperature-controlled wine cellar for his inventory. You'll notice when you dine there that the wines are served at ideal temperatures. That's rare even for many high-end restaurants in Utah, which tend to serve white wines too cold and reds too warm.

Kudos to Pierose for beefing up the wine list, which now presents guests with a choice of some 90 wines and about 50 available by the glass. There are plenty of affordable wines on the regular list, which ranges from Cestello di Querceto Chianti ($30 bottle/$8 glass) to Thibault Liger-Belair Bourgogne "Les Grands Chaillots," priced at $99 per bottle. For customers looking to sip something special, there's also a small reserve list with wines priced in the $100-$200-per-bottle range. One wine on the list that caught my eye is the scrumptious Numanthia Toro Tempranillo from Spain. In addition to domestic wines and ones from Europe, the new wine selection features a nice array of bottles and glasses from Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Argentina and Chile. Pierose has a house in Chile and visits there regularly, so his wine choices from that country are particularly enticing.

In addition to all those new wines and improved storage facilities, Pierose hosts regular wine dinners at Cucina. They normally occur monthly, although he'll be taking November and December off from the dinners since there are so many other activities going on around the holidays. Later this month, the restaurant hosts a wine dinner featuring wines that scored 93 points or higher in Wine Spectator. You can contact them for pricing and reservation information.

About a week ago, my wife and I attended our first wine-pairing dinner here, called "Pigs 'n' Pinot." I have to confess: I avoid about 75 percent of the wine dinners I'm invited to, since all too many are lengthy, stuffy affairs that typically cause me to look for an escape route about halfway through. Not this one, however. Wine dinners here reflect Pierose's mischievous sense of humor, and his not-overly precious love of wine. That is, guests aren't inundated with mind-numbing minutiae meant for hardcore wine nerds—although, winery representatives and experts are usually on hand to answer queries from individuals interested in such things.

Chef Joey Ferran knocked it out of the park with his Pigs 'n' Pinot menu, kicking off with a starter of prosciutto and cured pork loin with paper-thin slices of cantaloupe, and a luscious petite pecan Waldorf salad with lemon aioli. It was paired with a beautiful pinot gris called "The Expedition" from Walla Walla's Canoe Ridge Vineyard. Tamarind-glazed pork belly with purple sticky rice followed, accompanied by Albert Bichot Bourgogne Vielles Vignes.

There was also a tender, juicy bone-in wild chop with butternut orzotto and Willamette Valley Estate pinot noir. But the dish I can't forget, and am dying to enjoy again, was sort of a free-form manicotti-type pasta called tortello stuffed with shredded pork shoulder in red chile pozole broth: absolutely spectacular.

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