I enjoy just about anything Italian - art, cars, music, food and, of course, wine. I think it all started when I was a little girl watching 'Lady and the Tramp.' Remember the scene in which Tony sings "Bella Notte" as the two pooches nibble from each end of a strand of spaghetti, ending innocently in a kiss?
It seemed so romantic. The notion of romance and Italian culture must have lingered in the back of my mind because many of my "firsts" were Italian-inspired.
The first restaurant I worked at in San Francisco was Kuleto's; my first international trip was to Italy, and when I moved to New York, my first job was at Coco Pazzo on the Upper East Side.
Along the way, I learned a lot about the food and wine that inspires chefs to translate the flavors from half way around the world to a restaurant that's just around the corner from you.
I thought it would be fun to explore the non-casino Italian restaurants in our area such as Cafe 2825, which continually receives rave reviews. The small, yet thoughtful wine list includes some real gems such as Feudo Maccari 'Saia' Nero d'Avola from Sicily for $65. Nero d'Avola is indigenous to Sicily, and it makes powerful wines with aromas and flavors of dark fruit, fertile earth and violet potpourri.
It would be the perfect pairing for their Sunday Gravy Entr�e with a homemade meatball, Bracciole and Italian sausage in old world red gravy with rigatoni.
Chef Vola's has been an inspiration to Atlantic City for more than 30 years, and since you can bring in your own wine, I recommend stopping by White Horse Wine and Spirits for a bottle of Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis for just under $30.
This wine is filled with lovely aromas and flavors of ripe stone fruit, preserved citrus and fresh cut lilies. Giacosa is one of Piedmonts best producers and a giant in the world of wine.
This beauty would go well with any of the seafood, poultry or lighter pastas offered at this legendary local eatery.
If you've had a long day at the beach and want to do take out, try Carluccio's Coal Fired Pizza in Northfield. The Carluccio's Way, with broccoli rabe, sausage, mozzarella, caramelized onion and roasted peppers, would be delicious with a bottle of Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia 'le Volte' from Bootleggers Liquors, which is right up the street.
At just under $30, I might even pick up a second bottle. This Super-Tuscan blend of merlot, cabernet and sangiovese has aromas and flavors of Bing cherry, dried plum, cedar box and sage.
The term Super-Tuscan was introduced in the 1970s as a way for winemakers in Tuscany to experiment with grapes that weren't permitted in the classic red wines of the region such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Super-Tuscan wines inspired a whole new category which encourages winemakers to think outside the box.
Applausi per un buon pasto con il vino e amici!
Anjoleena Griffin-Holst has been Wine Director at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa since March 2006 and is the only female wine director at a casino-resort in the United States. She helped establish Borgata's reputation for its impressive wine selection, which includes more than 40,000 bottles and recently received four separate Best of Award of Excellence and two Award of Excellence by Wine Spectators 2011 Restaurant Awards. Her column runs every other week.