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Spirited Holidays: Italian Wines and Cocktails

For ardent party givers, it is easy to forget that this time of year is as much about being entertained as it is entertaining. With a lineup of seasonal invites that could land you amid dinners, parties and work-related events as the guest and not host, a little wine, beer and cocktail knowledge will go a long way.

Spirits are a part of Italian culture. They are served at every meal with the possible exception of breakfast, although a "caffe corretto" deserves some looking into. This holiday season, whether ordering for yourself or purchasing a gift for another, here is a cheat sheet for satisfying sips you can enjoy this season.

Wine

If you like it white and bubbly...

Everyone has an opinion: red or white; "big" or thin; international or domestic. "Drink what you like" remains good advice and is applicable to both sipping and gift giving. But little stacks against a glass of bubbly prosecco as a complement to anything you eat, because it never interferes with food.
Prosecco's food-pairing properties make it a logical gift-giving choice: Bring it chilled to a dinner party so your host may serve it right away or save for a private uncorking after the last guest leaves.

If you like it big and red...

Amarone is the king of rich and complex reds. Because it can be pricey, its cousin, Valpolicella, can be a delicious value. Cabernet Sauvignon is another recognizable choice.

If you like it mild and red...

Pinot Noir, Shiraz (also on menus as Syrah) are lighter varietals and no less delicious.

If you like it mild and white...

Italy is better known for its reds, but if you see whites from the Veneto region like Soave, or Gavi from the Piedmont region, you may like what you taste.

If you like it sweet...

Recioto della Valpolicella (or Recioto for short) is made from the same grapes as (you guessed it) Valpolicella; however, they are first dried on racks that yield a wine with an incredibly smooth sweetness. A bottle makes a unique gift; a glass for yourself while at dinner makes one, too.

Cocktails

Wine is not all that Italians drink. And while, unlike many Americans, Italians enjoy flavors that can put a pucker on the prettiest pout, there's plenty of sweetness to sample in these apertivos, which are typically enjoyed before or after dinner.
The Negroni and the Americano: Two distinctive drinks featuring bitters. Italy's traditional bitter of choice for these potions is Campari™—a red, oddly bittersweet concoction of herbs and fruit-though others could be substituted, as well.
The Negroni combines equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and bitters; the Americano replaces the gin with club soda.
The Bellini: Prosecco and white peach pureé. Couldn't be easier. Invented by the owner of Venice's famed Harry's Bar, Giuseppe Cipriani, it was first served in 1948 and has been going strong ever since.
The Godfather: Equal parts amaretto liqueur and scotch. A satisfying drink that any bartender would know.
The Godmother: Slightly less popular but no less simple to make or order: Equal parts amaretto and vodka.
A bottle of the spirits used in any of these drinks, wrapped simply with a bow, makes a thoughtful gift for anyone who likes to entertain. Just remember to get an extra bottle or two for yourself.