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In honor of this weekend’s natural wine fair in Rome, I submit to you my favorite places in the Italian capital to buy and drink natural wines. Rome isn’t known for its wine culture. Indeed, most of its residents and visitors were content to imbibe undrinkable Frascati for ages. But in the past few years things have changed, (some) people are drinking critically and Rome has become an important center for natural wine consumption.
But before getting to the meat of the post, I will attempt to define this genre for the uninitiated. This is a task that makes my brain hurt since there are varying schools of thought, each with its own proponents and (naturally) critics. Natural wines (usually) adhere to the following broad characteristics:
-They are produced with little or no added SO2. Sulphur dioxide is permitted in various stages of the grape cultivation and wine production process. During a tasting in Rome in October, Josko Gravner himself proclaimed to the crowd that it is impossible to produce a stable wine without it. Others would disagree.
-They are made with grapes cultivated according to biodynamic or organic methods. Official certification and self-certification are both recognized. For political, philosophical and economic reasons, many producer eschew official certification.
-They are fermented with indigenous yeasts naturally present on the grapes or in the environment. Selected yeasts are shunned for still wines but neutral yeasts are added for the secondary fermentation of sparkling wines.
-They are not subjected to chemical fining and many are not filtered.
-They are subjected to minimal intervention in the cellar, and certainly not subjected to reverse osmosis or other methods of manipulating acidity and alcohol concentration.
This is by no means a complete definition. For a more thorough description, read this piece by Isabelle Legeron MW and consult Hande’s recent blog post, complete with recommended reading list. Still, you will find that there is no universally accepted definition of natural wines. Indeed, it is illegal to refer to wines as “natural” in Italy because there is no legally established definition.
So why seek out so-called natural wines? First, because there are some outstanding producers in the genre. Some of the best wine in the world is made in this low-impact way. Equally compelling is the fact that conventional wines can be made with a sickening array of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides (not great for water supplies and ecosystems). They may also legally contain acids, cleaning agents, stabilizers and so much more. Most of what is out there today is not just fermented grape juice with some SO2 like it was back in the Iron Age.
Having concluded that long winded intro, here are some places in Rome where you can quench your natural wine thirst:
Enoteca Trucchi: This shop near the Cavour Metro stop is packed with natural and organic wines and there is a strong emphasis on female producers like Dora Forsoni, Nicoletta Bocca, Elisabetta Foradori and Arianna Occhipinti.
La Barrique: I am shamelessly obsessed with this wine bar. The wines by the glass and bottles list is constantly changing and at times you can find some amazing treats like when they pour Radikon Jakot magnums by the glass. There is a lot of Champagne on the menu, too, as the owner Fabrizio Pagliardi also co-owns Remigio, the fabulous Champagne bar off the Tuscolana.
Pentagrappolo: I am rather late to the party on this one, having only visited for the first time in the fall, but this wine and jazz bar near the Colosseum has a very nice list of bottles with a focus on “Triple A” producers (this consortium of wine makers is dubbed “Agricoltori Artigiani Artisti” — farmers, artisans and artists). The wines by the glass list isn’t quite as interesting, so dive into the bottles for the real gems.
UPDATE: Les Vignerons moved to Via Mameli 61 in Trastevere in March 2016. Les Vignerons: This is one of my favorite places
in Rome on earth. I love Tor Pignattara already, but walk down a few steps on Via dell’Acqua Bullicante and prepare to be transported into a divine world for natural wines and craft beer lovers. This is one of the few places in Rome where you can find the intriguing and controversial yet amazing wines of Frank Cornelissen. There is also a wide range of accessibly priced natural wines like the local “Litrozzo” from Le Coste made near Viterbo. Les Vignerons also hosts lots of tastings with visiting producers. Check out their Facebook page for info on new arrivals and events. Les Vignerons is mainly a shop, but they will serve wine if asked.
Bulzoni: This shop and wine bar made news in June when the proprietor was given a fine for using the term “natural wines” on his shelves. According to the Agriculture Ministry, the term natural is illegal because it has no legal definition. I only hope this unwarranted persecution raised Bulzoni’s profile, as their selection of natural wines is one of Rome’s richest. It is also the most expensive–this is Parioli after all–so expect many bottles to be priced at least a couple of euros higher than those at the other venues here. I visit Bulzoni to drink wines by the glass with a few taralli (all wines on this list are natural) and to buy bottles, especially from Frank Cornilesson, Cascina delle Rose, Foradori and Cantina Giardino.
Uve e Forme: This wine bar near Piazza Bologna serves only Italian wines and the focus is firmly on the natural. At aperitivo time, the wines by the glass are rather run of the mill, so ask to see the bottles list and dig in.
If you want a proper meal with your natural wines, check out Cesare al Casaletto for excellent cucina romana. Tonda and La Fucina have some good wines to go with their pizza. And No.au serves natural wines by the glass with their small plates.
If you want to learn more about natural wines with Rome’s leading expert, join Hande Leimer of Vino Roma for an annotated tour of the Vignaioli Naturali wine fair. Details here.