I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with New Year’s Eve. Because I’ve worked in the hospitality industry pretty much my whole adult life, my own celebrations have largely been limited to pouring cheers for guests and then sneaking a hurried toast with coworkers at 12:06am--- then hustling back to keep the party fueled for the those paying triple-digits to enjoy cheap bubbly and mediocre hors d'ouvres. My memories of working on NYE are filled with helping tipsy strangers into cabs, cleaning up a venue til sunrise + finding random girls’ discarded stilettos underneath banquettes (and one time, someone’s weave), and trying to break up fights over the long line at coat check. I’ll let you in on a secret: your big night out to ring in the New Year is dreaded by hospitality pros everywhere--- to us, it is the ultimate ‘amateur night’.
I think a much better plan is to throw an intimate soiree at home (or a swank Air BnB somewhere fun!) with your nearest and dearest. For this year, I have dreamed up a festive and stylish evening inspired by my most beloved Italy! Although 2016 was a rough year for many reasons--- I’ll never forget my first ever trip to Tuscany in March (and I was lucky enough to travel there 2 more times over the following 6 months). Paying tribute to that transformative travel experience is a fitting way to close out the year for me.... and Italians are effortlessly sexy, glamorous, and decadent which should be your NYE M.O. ;)
Read on for my tips on how to throw your own La Dolce Vita-style party!
To Drink: Franciacorta
On New Year's Eve, a bit of bubbly is mandatory- and for my Italian-themed bash I'm choosing to serve an Italian sparkling wine called Franciacorta (FRANT-sha-CORT-a). Many of you might consider Prosecco to be the Italian equivalent to Champagne- but that’s not really accurate: they don’t share the same production method or grape varieties (I went into much more detail in this piece I wrote for Martha Stewart if you want to learn more). The major Italian sparkler that can rival Champagne in terms of quality and craft is Franciacorta: made in the Lombardia region of Italy (also home to 2 of my favorite cheeses, Gorgonzola and Talleggio) from mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with a little Pinot Bianco allowed in the blend (similar to Champagne which utilizes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a bit of Pinot Meunier.) And it’s also made in the ‘classic method’, meaning there is a double fermentation in the bottle just like Champagne.
What to Know Before You Hit The Wine Shop:
Besides the standard Franciacorta which is available in different levels of dryness (again, just like Champagne, ‘Brut’ is probably the most popular--- and look for ‘demi-sec’ if you like it a little bit sweet); Franciacorta also comes in rosé, Millesimato (all grapes from a single vintage), and a style called Satèn which has softer and finer bubbles and a silky texture because there’s lower bottle pressure. Franciacorta prices are on the level with Champagne- expect to pay $35-$80 a bottle.
If you think Champagne is luxe and exclusive--- Franciacorta is about 20 times smaller as a growing region, with only about 100 producers (vs. over 19,000 Champagne vignerons)... and it’s known as the status drink of Milan’s fashionistas. My favorites have a fresh green apple quality with some notes of almond and hazelnut, and they are delicate and elegant. Perfect for closing out one year and ringing in another.
To Eat: Italian Antipasti
The best thing about Italian party food (beside deliciousness factor) is that it's simple, fresh, and easy to assemble. Channel your inner Giada and assemble a spread of chilled seafood, artichoke toasts, salumi and cheese, grilled veggies and some crusty Italian bread. Put out some hot flatbreads, stuffed mushrooms and arancini if you want to do something warm. One great trick of the NYE cocktail party is to kick things off at 9 or 10pm... a subtle way to let your guests know not to expect a full dinner spread. Make things easy on yourself by going simple!
To Wear: Italian Screen Goddess Femme Fatale
I found this Spotify Playlist to set the mood with retro Italian jazz lounge music (you can break out the RiRi later once everyone's had a couple glasses of Franciacorta).
Extra Credit: Party Favors
Instead of the tired New Years cardboard hats/horns/tiaras... Gift your guests with festive Venetian masks! Fun to wear and a great momento of a fabulous night.