By Rick Riozza

There’s nothing more romantic for a couple than a wonderful candlelit dinner in the company of some tasty Italian dishes and inviting Italian wine on the table.

We’ve been doing it up with wine reviews for the full family holiday feasts, so let’s now offer some recommendations for the lovers around the holiday table and the winter season’s nights:

The traditional start to an Italian meal would be serving some small, filled pasta dumplings in broth like either cappelletti (meaning little hats, which is what this pasta should resemble), or, its cousin, tortellini—the difference being the stuffing, meat, cream sauce or butter.


One can also do a spinach and ricotta cannelloni: the baked and tomato stuffed pasta tube, delicious, quick, and simple to make.  Plus the red, white, and green colors go well with both the Christmas season, and, the Italian spirit!

With these Northern Italian dishes, it’s best to stay in the same vineyard region and drink just like the Italians.

For a nice crisp white that can match the meals and cleanse the palate at the same time is the 2014 La Soraia Gavi di Gavi; produced from the Cortese grape in the foothills of the Italian Alps.  This wine is a refreshing choice from the usual Pinot Grigio.  As mentioned, it’s crisp and racy with Myer lemons and apricots; and, you’ll notice a touch of green apple interspersed with a mineral driven finish at only $14.95 at Dan’s Wine Shop in Palm Desert.  760.6740305

As for a starter red, there’s no better deal in town than the 2012 Cantine Valpane Rosso Pietro Barbera. You may know already from my articles that a Barbera or a Dolcetto is my go to wine for pizza.  Well—this also works well for opening an Italian meal no matter what’s on the menu.

This Barbera, for only $12.95 at Dan’s Wine Shop, has the bright red fruit and acidity you’d expect, but also has the recognizable fruit of black and red cherries and dried plums, plus some nice earthiness, depth, and balance for the American palate that loves a little more roundness than the Europeans. This is a delicious table wine all the time.

Now for a classic comfort food meal, we all look to a hearty lasagne alla bolognese made with a tomato-based meat sauce (ragu’), besciamella (a simple white sauce), and plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. For this dish we may wish to step up to some really delicious Italian red that will no doubt add to the romantic feel of the meal.

italian delights3One wine that fits the bill is Lucente, a delicious red wine with a striking label from Tuscany of the famed Frescobaldi family. It’s made with the local Sangiovese of course, but just around 25%; the remainder of the blend is Merlot—that’s right, Merlot is a true international grape.  In fact this wine is like an introduction to a range of wines of what Frescobaldi can produce.

This wine is juicy and exuberant with a powerful bouquet of ripe fruit, black cherry and wild strawberry.  These aromas meld into the palate along with red stone fruit, raspberry jam, mocha, sweet spices, and Mediterranean herbs.  It’s a real treat at around $23.  Total Wines & More, Palm Desert 760.346.2029

le_volte_ornellaia_2012For our romantic Italian wine pick for the holidays, we’re recommending the Super-Tuscan beauty that tastes wonderful and will not break the bank.  Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia.

Like the Lucente, this wine is a reflection of Bordeaux blending sensibility but with stellar Italian fruit along with the characteristic choice of Sangiovese as well. This is a Tuscan wine as well, but is produced from the fruit of the Tuscan shore.

Yes—that area is known as Bolgheri, which carries traditionally higher acidity and aromatics as well as more subtlety on the fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon does so well in this coastal region—to the amazement of wine enthusiasts!  It’s a wine that whole heartedly goes with food and causes one to think on its production process: It simply stimulates the heart, mind, and soul.

This is the “baby brother” wine of the famed Ornellaia, the powerhouse Super-Tuscan that sells for around $175! At just around $32, the Le Volte is the deal of the day, and no doubt of the holiday season. Give a call to Costa over at Desert Wine & Spirits in Palm Springs to order this wine. (760) 327-7701

This wine is a blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese, and 20% Cab Sauvignon.  The red blend springs from the glass with aromas of baking spice, dark berry fruit and floral notes of lilac. Well balanced, with flavors of mint-infused black currant and black plum that mingle with tangy red currant and mocha that continues through the long, fruit-filled finish.

It’s an exciting wine that is unusually fresh, vibrant with gorgeous energy and focus. Le Volte is now done half in oak and half in concrete, which keeps the flavors lively and fresh.

And since we’re going Italian with all this, do keep in mind Frankie’s Old World Italian Bakery, 769.770.1300, located on Perez Road in Cathedral City for a classic dessert!  Bunch of sweet and savory romantic pastries, breads and Italian dishes are offered at this quaint shop.   It’s where I pick up my weekly binge of biscotti to dunk in my morning coffee.  Grab anything to go, or, sit and enjoy a meal and a nice bottle of some vino d’Italia in the charming dining area.  E ‘un piacere!

Bon Appétit, Cheers & Happy Holidays!