When it comes to wine and food, mentioning the word "Italian" is likely to draw a crowd faster than a warm piazza on a Saturday afternoon. There's something about Italy's cuisine that simply does not intimidate the average food and wine aficionado in the way French food and wine traditions do.
Perhaps it's the Italian propensity for showing up late and staying late that sets a tone for informality. More likely it is the simplicity of the food and the clarity of flavours served on one plate. Often, one or two flavours dominate the dish, sometimes three but rarely more, and it's that reliance on two or three flavours plus the simplicity of such dishes that attracts.
In view of the sputtering economy or "in keeping with situation" as Ebenezer Scrooge's housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, would say, we suggest you consider organizing an in-house dinner party and end a hectic day at home with friends, Italian-style.
It's easy enough to pull together a no-fuss menu and share it beforehand with your guests, and then suggest they bring along some of their favourite Italian labels to accompany one of the courses. Guests should remember with no restaurant mark-ups to double the price you can consider spending a bit more at retail wine stores and bring along a better bottle while still saving money.
To get the party underway, think about serving a selection of antipasti and your favourite sparkling prosecco. Prosecco gets its moniker from the white grape of the same name grown in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene regions of Veneto, just north of Treviso.
Prosecco is softer style bubble, with ripe fruit and a slightly bitter aftertaste, well-suited to all types of antipastos and pre-dinner bites to eat. Think marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and a selection of olives from bulk olive bins, and some thinly sliced sopressata, capicola and Genoa salamis.
Wine picks to consider include Villa Teresa Prosecco Veneto ($16) , a delicious party opener with plenty of green apple- and pear-flavoured fruit with a dusting of almonds, all under an innovative ceramic/metal closure. Another star choice would be the Mionetto Il Moscato N/V Prosecco ($19), a well-balanced bubble with sweet ripe peach and spicy baked apple mineral flavours. Love the classy blue package and the very hip crown cap. Perfect for spicy appetizers.
Make pasta your secondi , or second course, and keep it simple. You can pick up a variety of fresh pastas at most specialty markets. Simply decide on the saucing and you are ready to go. Linguine with pesto is both satisfying and easy to prepare and it's relatively wine-friendly. All you have to do is boil some water, cook the pasta al dente and then toss with the pesto.