There are literally dozens of exceptional Italian restaurants in Las Vegas.
You can start with virtually every major resort on The Strip, but they’re also located across the sprawling Vegas valley — from Henderson to North Las Vegas to Summerlin.
Our favorite is Bootlegger, which is owned by a former Lieutenant Governor of Nevada who is married to a singer and radio personality who is helping to keep “The Great American Songbook” alive.
The restaurant has a wide-ranging menu and an extensive wine list, which can make it challenging to select just the right wine for an entire party of people.
As the “wine guy” at the table, I struggled with the bottle selection on several visits. Then, when we were there one day for lunch with a group of six friends, one of the restaurant’s veteran waiters taught me a valuable lesson.
Rather than concerning myself with the “perfect bottle,” he said, just choose a good bottle that everyone would enjoy.
But what about the fact that some would be having a tomato-based sauce, while others would be having a white sauce, and still others would order a dish with no sauce at all?
“Think about the one thing everyone is going to have,” he said. “Our panetti and panetti Italian dipping sauce.”
It’s a red sauce that simulates marinara, to my taste, and is highly addictive. So that meant leaning toward a red, and perhaps a red that we might enjoy with a tomato-based sauce.
When learning how to cook, one of the first “recipes” we typically are taught is for spaghetti. That’s because preparing spaghetti is, basically, akin to learning how to boil water.
We cook the pasta in very hot water, and when making a basic tomato sauce, we place chopped pieces of tomato in a skillet, add some olive oil, pour in a little water and let the conglomeration simmer. We may add some more water and/or salt to influence the thickness and/or flavor. Simple stuff.
As we advance in our cooking skills and confidence, we’ll add other flavors to the spaghetti sauce in the form of herbs, spices and vegetables — basil, oregano, parsley, black pepper, onion, garlic. We have multiple ways to make a tomato sauce recipe our own, but it’s still the base ingredient — tomato — that defines it.
And it’s the tomato that provides the challenge when trying to pair marinara sauce-topped panetti with wine. Specifically, it’s the high acid level of tomatoes.
But in the interest of keeping it simple… and genuinely Italian… the wine choice becomes obvious: Chianti.
Chianti is the Italian wine made from Sangiovese, a wine grape that’s high in natural acidity. And as generations of Italians will tell you, the acid of the sauce and the acid of the wine complement each other quite nicely with their engaging “tang.”
And here’s the other thing about Chianti: Unlike many red wines, it also pairs well with a wide array of dishes, from chicken Parmigiana to orange roughy with a garlic-butter sauce.
So when dining out at your favorite Italian restaurant, or figuring out which bottle to open with your next home-cooked Italian meal, you really can’t go wrong with Chianti.