Italian wines will be featured, and a vintner with a wine estate Montalcino in southern Tuscany will be the guest of honor at the Berkshire Museum's Wine Gala and Auction on Saturday, May 18.

The evening of wine tastings, live and silent auctions, and a dinner is a fundraiser for the museum's education programs.

"The Berkshire Museum Wine Gala and Auction only happens every other year and the wine lots and lifestyle packages at the auction have been attracting collectors and enthusiasts for nearly two decades," says Van Shields, the Berkshire Museum's executive director. "The event is a marvelous opportunity to acquire some great and rare wines as well as enjoy good company and an excellent dinner. It's a classic kickoff to summer in the Berkshires."

The evening's festivities begin at 5 p.m. in the Ellen Crane Room with the silent auction and wine tasting, and hors d'oeuvres by Haven Café and Bakery, Marketplace Kitchen Caterers, Mission Bar and Tapas, Mazzeo's Meat and Seafood, and Mazzeo's Ristorante.

At 6:45 p.m., the live auction, accompanied by a Champagne reception, will take place in the theater. The auction is followed at 8:15 p.m. by the wine dinner in the second floor galleries, catered by chef Michael Roller of Savory Harvest Catering, and featuring award-winning Brunello di Montalcinos from Mastrojanni Winery.

The evening's guest of honor is Riccardo Illy, president of Gruppo Illy, which includes among its many holdings Mastrojanni Winery, a wine estate located in the region of Montalcino in southern Tuscany.


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He was invited by Jim Nejaime, the owner of Spirited Wines in Lenox, and co-chairman of the wine committee.

"For this event, we looked for an Italian wine maker, because there's been a tremendous fascination in our country with Italian wines," says Nejaime. "They pair with food beautifully, especially the wines from the region where Riccardo Illy's winery is located, the Montalcino sub-region of Tuscany, where great Brunellos are grown."

Nejaime met with chef Roller to discuss the pairing of wines with the evening's menu.

"Italian wines have a higher backbone of acidity that is meant to go with the robust flavors of Italian cuisine, flavors that some wines don't pair well with," Nejaime said. "Italian wines really shine when they accompany those flavorful foods. So this dinner should be fun and will showcase how particular vineyard sites can produce very, very special wines."

Auctioneer Marie Keep of Skinner Wine Auctions will lead the live auction of more than 30 lots of rare and fine wines, vacations, and dinners. The auction catalog is available online.

The wine offerings include a four-bottle lot of Chateau Margaux 1983; a 12-bottle case of Grand Cru Burgundy; two lots of classic old Bordeaux; and a mixed case fine Napa Valley wines along with a vineyard tour and stay at a luxury resort, among many others.

Among trips and special events are a French wine-country river cruise though Beaujolais and Burgundy to Nice; courtside tickets to the 2013 U.S. Open Tennis Championships; wine dinners at Wheatleigh, Blantyre, and the Old Inn on the Green, even tickets to the Red Sox-Yankees game on Aug. 17.

In addition to the live auction, more than 40 lots of wine, travel, dining, spa days, sporting events, and merchandise will be offered in a silent auction.

One of the lots in the live auction is a three-vintage vertical full set (nine bottles) of E. Guigal Cote Rotie "La La's" -- La Landonne, La Mouline, and La Turque from 1993, 1994, and 1995.

"It's next to impossible to find this format," says Nejaime. "The wines range in value from about $400 to $1,000 a bottle, and they are made in very small quantities, so finding them from a pristine cellar in the vertical, is extremely rare."

Another lot that is very unusual is a 12-bottle case of Grand Cru Burgundy, nine reds and three whites, donated by Nejaime.

"Grand Crus are wines from the very best vineyards in Burgundy," Nejaime says, "and a Grand Cru producer might make only 50 or 100 cases each year."

It is not necessary to be knowledgeable about wine to enjoy the auction, Nejaime explains.

"In the live auction, virtually every lot is one that will make the owner happy when they explore the wines. It's hard to decide which of the lots are best, there are so many great ones."

And there are many lots in the silent auction that people can bid on which will really enhance their wine collection at home, Nejaime adds.

"There is great Chablis, beautiful dessert wine, there's Champagne, a Grand Cru Burgundy, wines for all different tastes. There are a lot of wonderful bidding opportunities for many different budgets."

Michael Chefetz and Nancy Edman Feldman are the honorary chairs of the event. Wendy and Peter Gordon are the chairs for the gala. Courtney and Michael Addy and Heidi and Jim Nejaime are the Wine Committee chairs.

If you go ...

What: Berkshire Museum's Wine Gala and Auction

When: Saturday, May 18, starting at 5 p.m.

Where: Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield

Tickets: Individual tickets are $100 for the wine tasting, silent auction, champagne reception and live auction; or $350 for the entire evening, including the celebratory dinner

Reservations: (413) 443-7171, ext. 37, or visit www.berkshiremuseum.org/2013winegala.