Working in the Italian wine trade is a gas. The people you meet, the places you see, the things that you drink and eat… It’s not a bad way to make a living.
But when you travel to Italy regularly for wine, you generally head directly from the airport where you land to wine country, away from the country’s wondrous metropoles.
So on a trip to Salento wine country last week with a group of wine writers, to remedy this, the host (my friend and client Paolo Cantele; see below) and I decided to spend the first and last nights in Rome with our fellow wine sojourners.
After we rolled back into the Eternal City on Saturday afternoon on the last day of our trip, Alfonso (above, left) and I headed over to a super fun, youthful restaurant and American-style bar called Porto Fluviale (on the city’s main harbor along the Tiber).
There we met my bromance, Giovanni (above, right), whom I hadn’t seen for an achingly long six months.
Some of Rome’s food cognoscenti may not approve of Porto Fluviale but I loved its spirit and playfulness. We drank ironic-mustache-worthy cocktails and Praesidium Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo as I munched on wholesome tramezzini and housemade potato chips and chatted with the manager about his mostly natural wine list (Occhipinti, Dettori, etc.).
However contemporary, it was a classic Roman experience inasmuch as an expression of Rome’s constantly evolving urban landscape.
From there, we met up with our group for a truly Roman evening in the truly fabu apartment of a colleague who had graciously opened her home, kitchen, and wine cellar to us.
The taxi ride alone to her home was worth the price of my plane ride. I’ve seen all the main celebrious sites a million times but I’ll never forget seeing them again on that beautiful Saturday evening as our driver took us on an unsolicited but thoroughly enjoyed circuitous route to our destination.
A handful of wine writers, an Italian celebrity sommelier, a wine educator, a winemaker or two… But the star of the evening was the homemade meal itself.
It reminded me of another time in my Italian life, when poetry and critical theory, not wine, were my foods-for-thoughts…
In those years, we rarely went out to eat. Instead, we always gathered at someone’s house for a home-cooked meal.
The roast, stuffed veal was one of the best things I ate on the trip, as were the lasagne.
Really, a stellar meal and a great coda to the trip.
Mere thank-yous would not suffice to express my gratitude to our host for the many-splendored evening of conversation and repast. So humble grazie di cuore will just have to do.
Of course, we were still high from the meal that we had inhaled the night before at the newly opened Bros in Lecce, the city’s first entry into the Michelin-style realm.
That’s the “lacquered leek” above.
The young and energetic Pellegrino brothers — those are Giovanni and Floriano Pellegrino to the left and right below of Paolo Cantele, respectively — have staged in some of the top kitchens of the world, Noma among them. And now they are breaking out and reaching for the stars in their hometown.
All in all, it was a trip to remember and will set a high bar for 2016’s subsequent sojourns. I have a lot more to recount from my visit — some of it good, some bad, including an unforeseen overnight stay in Germany.
But right now I’m just glad to be home in Houston with my girls (who have been a joy from the moment I walked in the door) and a belly full of delicious memories… Stay tuned.