TN: 2 inexpensive Italians, one (relatively) inexpensive Champagne

Last night my friend Joe hosted a birthday party for his wife Rachel.
Joe, who had never cooked for a dinner party in his life, actually
did a superb job for dinner for 12, with heaping bowls of salad and
two pastas (spaghetti Bolognese and penne alla vodka), as well as a
pumpkin cheesecake. A couple of us had volunteered to bring
appetizers- Patricia brought bruscetta, and I did sherried-finished
sausages and a smoked trout mousse.
The trout mousse was intended to go with Champagne, so I carried along
a bottle of 1998 Charles Ellner "Cuvee Prestige" Brut Champagne. Mid
to heavy weight, good acidity, slightly coarse mousse, lemon and
brioche flavors. Good for under $40 vintage Champagne. B
I had brought several half-filled bottles of red from night before
earlier (popular with the non-geeky crowd, knew they wouldn't do well
another night opened on my cabinet), they were finished by time I
switched from Champagne. But Joe had several bottles of the 2008 Ala
Nera (Sicily). Warm ripe red fruit, a little vanilla, modest acids and
tannins. I'd guess this is mostly Nero d'Avola, not really exciting
but ok - I'd assume this is under $10 and it's a decent deal at that
price. B-
Plus one white:
2008 Le Coste Pinot Grigio (Venezie)
Fairly crisp, lighter bodied, apples, citrus, a little herb. Clean
and easy. B
After dinner we retired to living room, where Joe presented Rachel
with her present, a toy grand piano. Apparently months ago, after
hearing an NPR report on serious musicians using toy pianos, she had
said she would love one. But I think she had forgotten that statement,
and was confused. But then she played for us, and everyone had brought
a simple song to play. I had someone else play, but led a singalong of
a new version of Jack and Jill, telling of the time they were busted
for drinking bubbly in a park after her finishing seminary (featured
in NYT). Fun evening.
Grade disclaimer: I'm a very easy grader, basically A is an excellent 
wine, B a good wine, C mediocre. Anything below C means I wouldn't 
drink at a party where it was only choice. Furthermore, I offer no 
promises of objectivity, accuracy, and certainly not of consistency.  
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