by Susan Hamilton and Ann M. Colford & r & & r & Meet the Nosers SPIRITS & r & Oh, those crazy Gaels. Across Scotland, through the dark and damp of winter, they took their excess barley -- after working hard all summer to be sure there would be excess barley, one assumes -- and coaxed the grain into fermentation, setting it to smoke over peat fires. The distilled spirits from this effort they called uisge beatha, Gaelic for "water of life," which was later shortened and anglicized to whisky.

From those humble beginnings came the lasting tradition of Scotch whisky production. And what a fine and noble tradition it is, aye.

Tonight, at the Davenport's Palm Court, you can sample four premium spirits from the Macallan Distillery in Scotland's Speyside area: 1841 Replica, Cask Strength, 18 Year and 30 Year. The whiskies will be accompanied by small plates from executive chef Matthew Young.

The Macallan Distillery began in 1824; the whisky made in 1841 (and aged for several years after that) was one of the first to be sold in glass bottles. After sampling one of the few dusty survivors -- unlike wine, whisky does not spoil in a properly sealed and stored bottle -- the Macallan's chief whisky maker set out to recreate the distillery's early flagship product. He and his team of nosers -- yes, that's really what they're called -- sniffed and sipped till they got it just right. Then they packaged their pale gold 1841 Replica in faithfully reproduced bottles with faithfully reproduced hand-lettered labels, just like in the auld days.

The Cask Strength whisky is a new product, introduced in 2002. Aged in old sherry casks, the mahogany red ambrosia uses rich spiciness to conceal its dangerous nature. With 60 percent alcohol by volume, this baby sure has quite a kick to it.

On to the 18 Year, a single malt of character and complexity. Heh. Most 18-year-olds I know don't have this kind of sopis- ... sotis- ... Um, they're not this deep. But this one's a fine companion. Mmmmm.

OK, where was I? Right, the 30 Year. Ya know, this stuff is older than some of our writers. 'Mazing. Lemme take a whiff. Whoa. Wicked. Whadda they say? "Rich, exotic, heady, and aromatic, reminiscent of an orange grove." Yeah, whatever. We oughta get a good buzz off it. -- Ann M. Colford

Scotch Tasting at the Palm Court Grill in the Davenport Hotel on Thursday, Feb. 23, from 7:30-9 pm. Cost is $49 plus tax and gratuity. Call 789-6848.

Partying With Italians BENEFIT & r & With the world attention on Italy during the Winter Olympics, it seems fitting that Center Pointe's fund-raiser dinner this Saturday is a salute to Italy.

"Three native Italians and the tranquil slopes of Green Bluff provide the inspiration for the food and wine of this year's festivities," says event organizer Spike Cunningham. "We've got Chef Davide Trezzi's Italian country cuisine, Ciro Royster's Tuscan artisan breads, Don Townshend's award-winning wines and fine art appreciation with Francisco Bellini."

The five-course dinner includes Trezzi's signature northern Italian-style minestrone soup complemented by Tuscan bread and Townshend Cellar's sangiovese. The main course -- barbecued tri-tip roast with Italian dry rub, pasta pesto and polenta marinara -- is paired with a 2004 syrah and 2000 cabernet sauvignon. Chocolate, champagne and Townshend's 2000 port are sweet endings to this Italian meal. Don't worry if your wine education is a little lacking. During the meal, Townshend will give a description of how each wine enhances the various courses.

"An appreciation of good food goes along with an appreciation of fine art," Cunningham explains. "The entertaining Francisco Bellini will offer a lighthearted overview of the symbolism of sharing food as it appears in some masterpieces of Renaissance art."

To complete the Italian experience, the "Evening With the Winemaker" dinner is held in Center Pointe's Great Room and its romantic Tuscan Garden. A silent and live auction, featuring Mike Ferguson of Ruby Street Antiques, will take place as well.

All this partying goes for a worthy cause by providing funds for Center Pointe's activities.

"We offer people who are disabled a place to socialize, grow, learn and get back into the work force and their community," says Margaret Getoor, executive director of Center Pointe. "We give them a place to learn skills."

So why not party with the Italians this weekend? If you do, remember, "Buon appetito y cin cin!" ("Enjoy your meal and cheers!") -- Susan Hamilton

Evening with the Winemaker Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 6 pm at Center Pointe, 1408 N. Washington St. Tickets: $75. Call 325-5451.

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