Italian flavors of Zia Lina

By Lou Philips · 



Enjoy the spirit of Mangia at Zia Lina · 

The first thing you notice as you enter Ristorante Zia Lina is the light-up-the-room smile of chef, Owner, general manager and head bottle washer Suzanne Nguyen. After taking over the business last year, she has been busy placing her stamp on the housemade cuisine and the wine list, and through her staff, delivering true Italian hospitality.

In Italian, the word Zia refers to your favorite aunt and the fare here would pass any Zia’s test from Italian wines from Piedmont to Sicily to fresh pasta and wood-fired pizzas to the spirit of Mangia.


Owner Suzanne Nguyen always has a smile on her face · 

Although there are nice domestic selections, for this tasting, I focused on Vino d’Italia starting with the NV Villa Sandi Prosecco, $10 by the glass or $38 for the bottle. This bubbly is dry and crisp, and carries the attractive apricot and orange flavors that the Glera grape is known for. It makes sweet music with the crunchy and spicy arancini di risotto, Arborio rice balls with mozzarella, spinach and sauce arrabiata.

One of the most ancient wine grapes is called Greco di Tufo, which is cultivated almost exclusively on a few acres in the southern Italian region of Campania. The 2011 from San Gregorio Winery, $41 a bottle, bursts with melon, herb and almond notes, and the flavors linger on the wave of a fresh mineral streak. In concert with the beet salad with arugula, goat cheese, peppercorns, almonds and a fennel dressing, this is a perfect second act.


The Arancini di Risotto pairs well with the NV Villa Sandi Prosecco · 


Temporarily leaving Italy, but staying with a classic Italian varietal, next up is the 2010 Noceto Winery Sangiovese at $44 a bottle. Noceto sees its Sierra Foothills terroir as similar to the mountains of Tuscany, and this bottle proves that point as it has classic dried cherry, ripe cranberry, leather, earth and a touch of sweet sage. It further echoes Tuscany when paired with the spaghetti primavera laced with heirloom tomatoes, Romano beans and spinach pesto and crowned with a fried egg.

For the final aria it’s off to Piedmont for Barolo. Although it has few years in the bottle, the 2008 Fontanafredda, $78 for the bottle, is just hitting its stride. Ask for a decanting of this 100 percent Nebbiolo and you will be rewarded with glasses full of Rose Petals and Licorice rounded out by strong, dusty tannins. For a match you can’t do better than the veal Milanese with arugula, roasted beets and lemon butter.

Zia Lina delivers with authentic, creative Italian wine and food, so the next time your craving your favorite trattoria experience call (530) 581-0100 or stop by at 521 N. Lake Blvd. in Tahoe City. For more information, visit


Lou Phillips is a Level 3 (advanced) Sommelier and wine educator specializing in advising private collectors and businesses. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or [email protected] Visit for more wine columns.