Off busy Route 19, and back behind the main dining room of Mount Lebanon pizza sensation Il Pizzaiolo, you'll find an often-overlooked oasis in the South Hills: Enoteca del Pizzaiolo.
In Italy, an "enoteca" is a repository for regional wine culture. (Imagine a store where Napa Valley winemakers offer samples, and you start to get an idea.) In America, however, the word is loosely translated to mean "Italian-ish wine bar."
Enoteca del Pizzaiolo might not offer a pure enoteca experience, but its heart is in the right place: All the wines on the extensive list are Italian. And its intimate space is decorated with a wood-fired hearth, leather chairs, and a collection of Italian cookbooks and wine guides.
"We wanted to make it a bit more home-like. So you feel like you're in a living room and not a crowded bar," says head bartender Danielle DiNardo.
"Italy can produce wine over every acre of its country. So we have a lot of variety in flavor here," says waiter and former wine rep Brett Mahon. He recommends starting off with a sunny, slightly effervescent Gragnano Frizante from southern Campania and then moving on to a rich, full-bodied wine like a Babolo from the Piemonte region.
Don't skip the much-maligned Chianti, either. While jugs of Chianti are a bargain-shelf mainstay at the state store, Dinardo stresses that at Enoteca, "You can get something really nice that's been aged in barrel for years."
But a well-rounded Italian experience is more than just wine. Start your meal with an apteritivo — a light cocktail designed to stimulate the appetite. Negroni and Aperol spritz are solid, classic choices. The Bufala Negra is an American cocktail with Italian inspiration: bourbon combined with balsamic vinegar, basil, honey and ginger ale. The bold flavors manage to blend smoothly into a refreshing pre-meal cocktail.
To finish, Mahon and DiNardo recommend a straightforward digestivo, perhaps something from their large amari collection. Then grab a book, relax by the fire, and dream of Italy.