Giacomo Casanova, the quintessential Venetian lover, was no stranger to wine’s powers of mass seduction. “Gatta wine does not intoxicate, it enlivens”, he wrote in his memoirs, referring to Prosecco by its 18th century name. The legendary wooer reminisces about many bottles in his writings, and it wasn’t rare the occasion in which other gastronomic delights like Parmesan cheese, truffles and oysters were mentioned, often enjoyed soon before his numerous rendezvous.
You don’t need to be an Enlightenment-era womaniser to know that a table for two can be the start of many more shared pleasures. In this month of love, romancing has an Italian accent, after all, showing appreciation with food and vino is a major part of Italy’s culture.
To get some inspiration, we spoke with the team from Little Italy, an oasis of Italian delights in the heart of Smithfield, and the country’s first Italian gourmet food shop, open since 1988.
Bettina Rabbitte, who runs the shop with her sister Marisa, explained that the shop was initially meant to cater to the local Italian community but “due to Italia 90 there was a huge growth in the demand for Italian food as Irish soccer fans returned home with a love for all things Italian, particularly the food and wine.” Shortly after that boost, they moved into their local premises on North King Street, with more space and parking, and nowadays they also have an online shop and offer deliveries to make shopping even more convenient.
Our loyal clientele keep coming for the family atmosphere as well as the quality. New people are amazed to discover this little piece of Italy tucked away in the old Dublin neighbourhood of Smithfield.”
“We Express our Feelings Through Sharing our Love for Good Food and Wine”
Francesca Lugaresi, who is part of Little Italy’s sales team, perfectly summarises how “for Italians, food is more than just a basic need.” One of her favourite pairings to show love is “matching traditional Gianduiotti with Franciacorta.”
Gianduiotti, plural for gianduiotto, is a cocoa, sugar and hazelnut chocolate originally from the Piedmont region. It often comes wrapped in silver or golden tinfoil and its shape and name pays homage to the gianduja, a preparation used to make them and also a type of mask from the Comedia dell’Arte that represents the Piedmontese town of Turin. You’ll find the traditional Pernigotti Gianduiotti on Little Italy’s shelves as well as other delicious variations.
Franciacorta is a type of sparkling wine from Brescia, Lombardy, that is made with the Traditional Method and is deemed as Italy’s answer to Champagne. While Franciacorta is not very easy to find in Ireland, they’ve recently started stocking Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige, an elegant and classic example of the style.
Francesca adds that while the guianduiotti “usually go very well with sweeter wines, it could also work well with this spumante.” Another treat that she recommends, and one that will bring a smile to most Italian faces, are the famous Baci Perugina. Baci, which means kiss, is the name of a famous chocolate that comes individually wrapped and each treat contains a love message. Think of them as Italy’s version of a fortune cookie, just much more tasty and romantic.
It’s our culture, identity and love and we express our feelings through sharing our love for good food and wine. Especially in a foreign country, we use food as a comforting thing that feels like home.”
Going back to the savoury, Francesca shares some insider’s tips to a winning cheese and meat board: “Gorgonzola with fig jam, the Pecorino Sardo with the Achillea peach jam and also I think a good match could be the Amarena Fabbri cherries and the burrata.
Besides having a comprehensive selection of Italian bubbles including Franciacorta, Trento DOC, Lambrusco, Asti and of course, several types of Prosecco, the wine shelves in Little Italy are equally diverse when it comes to still wines. Expect bottles from the most famous regions including Chianti, Valpolicella, Soave and Gavi as well as options from lesser known but exciting regions.
Carola Bosi, another member of the Little Italy team, also thinks that “the idea of a cooked meal made by your significant other is always romantic”, she adds that “it works even better if it is a man who cooks for a woman.”
Regarding delicious suggestions, she recommends to “start off with Parma ham on bread sticks and a sparkling wine, continue trying out new recipes and experimenting with tastes, for example, cocoa risotto accompanied with red wine”. To end on a sweet note, it’s hard to disagree with her idea of a tiramisu, or a “Sicilian cannoli with either ricotta and chocolate chips or ricotta and orange.”
Below, we have chosen five of our favourite wines from Little Italy, which we have paired with Italian flavours to fall in love with. Get yourself some vino and cook with love, as food is, after all, a proven shortcut to a person’s heart.
Ferrari Trento DOC
€29.50 – Available at Little Italy
This Metodo Classico sparkling wine from Chardonnay comes from the northern Italian region of Trento. Lively bubbles deliver a clean and crisp palate with aromas of ripe lemons combined with the pleasant toastiness and tangy edge of apple tart and a delicate floral note.
With 24 months on the lees, this bubbly has had plenty of time to develop complex aromas, think the sweet and sour combination of a lemon meringue pie, which by the way, would go really nicely with a glass!
Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta
€39.95 – Available at Little Italy
This elegant sparkling wine is a blend of 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Nero and 10% Pinot Bianco, made with the Traditional Method. It is left on its lees for 28 months, time which allows it to achieve a beautiful integration of flavours.
Aromas of melon, nectarines, lemon curd and gooseberries combine with lilies and apple blossom. A “toasted custard cream” note in the background surprises your palate. Balanced and with a very energetic fizz, it offers a finesse often reserved for higher price brackets.
Al Limite Chianti Classico 2014 DOCG
€22 – Available at Little Italy
This 100% Sangiovese red comes from a slightly cooler area within the prestigious Chianti Classico appellation. This contributes to achieve a tense freshness, enhanced by gentle maturation in very large oak barrels and cement tanks it receives.
It’s lean and with high acidity, think juicy sour cherries and ripe cranberries, complemented on the palate by a mineral chalkiness and a subtle herbal background. Its tannins are silky and lengthy. It’s a good companion to rich dishes with tomato sauce, as well as lamb or game. Go full Italian and pair it with Bistecca alla Fiorentina!
Antichello Ripasso Superiore 2014 DOC
€21.50 – Available at Little Italy
A classic Ripasso with the combination of fruity vibrancy and spiciness that makes the style a happy medium between its younger sister Valpolicella and its older brother Amarone. Intense and with an appealing balance between juicy blackberries and ripe cherries along with cocoa, toast and a touch of nutmeg.
With moderate tannins and medium body, it’s a versatile red that will favour several dishes, from meaty pasta dishes or lasagna to a tempting board stocked with Italian cheeses and cured meats.
Antichello Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG
€41.50 – Available at Little Italy
This mighty Amarone della Valpolicella offers a fine example of the region’s heavyweight. It’s big and strong, wrapping you like a heart-warming hug. Its potent 15% ABV feels balanced thanks to its full body and equally robust tannins.
Notes of blackberry preserves and cherry jam combined with an earthy note and dark chocolate, dried plums, clove, toasted hazelnuts and a Christmas cake-like melange of dried fruits, nuts and liqueur. A big gun to be aimed at equally big dishes, one to accompany stews, wild boar or very strong mature cheeses.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.