By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jan 12, 2006 at 5:02 AM

As chairperson for the Avanti Committee -- a group within Milwaukee's Italian Community Center (ICC) -- Linda Huennekens says that her goal is to bring people back to the ICC and "keep our heritage alive."

One way the committee lures the community to the center each year is their annual Taste of the Vine wine tasting event, scheduled for Friday, Jan. 13.

"Avanti loves to get together to eat, drink, laugh and just enjoy each other's company. What better way to share and involve our community than through a wine tasting?"

For their fourth annual tasting, Avanti is featuring New Berlin's LoDuca Bros. wines. Divided up among six stations -- each offering five or six varieties -- guests are invited to sample Italian premium wines, classic Italian white and red wines, an Italian Chianti progression, California premium wines and even German wines. Sampled wines will be available for purchase throughout the evening.

"There will be a LoDuca representative at each wine station to explain the wine and answer any questions."

Huennekens says that guests are welcome to nosh on a spread of appetizers and hors d'oeuvres, including Italian bread, antipasto platters, stuffed mushrooms with bleu cheese, chicken strip pasta and fresh fruit.

Avanti has booked pianist Mark DeSanctis and singer Sarah Mroz as the evening's musical entertainment. Mroz, who has had experience with the Madison Opera, will be performing "Con Te Partirò," among other pieces.

"Taste of the Vine is a casual event and we're hoping for over 100 people to attend," says Huennekens.

The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. and costs $40 for ICC members and $45 for non-members.

In addition to the wine tasting, Huennekens is excited about two upcoming Avanti events at the ICC.

"La Cucina Italiana in Milwaukee is a cooking series that we have organized for more than five years," she says. " It's two semesters a year (4 classes each) of cooking classes taught by one of our local and surrounding area chefs."

The next cooking series will run Feb. 2, March 2 and April 6, and generally, she says, this class has a waiting list to attend.

"Due to our new event called Battle of the Chefs Italiana, which is similar to 'Iron Chef' on the Food Network, the spring session of La Cucina will be three classes with the 'Battle' ending the session on May 4."

Avanti will also be hosting a meet and greet March 6 at the Italian Community Center for any members interested in the Avanti Committee. Call (414) 916-7461.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”