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Florence, Italy: Casa del Vino- My Favorite Wine Bar
Gianni & his Lovely Wife, Nicoletta- the Proprietors
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Gianni and I
It Was Love at First Sight.
That is exactly how I felt several years ago when a colleague first introduced me to Casa del Vino wine bar in Florence. This tiny place flaunted beautifully carved woodwork, marble counter tops, and a classic marble checkerboard floor. We went inside to grab a quick lunch and I have been hooked ever since. The bread is freshly baked daily from the Forno across the street and the schiacciatina is the best. What's really great is that you can either choose from a panini selection that is hand-written on a menu board or create your own. The ingredients are always fresh, always delicious, and the wine is always high quality (even the house wines).
This is the place to go if you want to soak up local culture. Florentine regulars come and go throughout the day and there is always lively conversation. I love to just sit there with a glass of good wine and be a part of it all. Sometimes I am pulled into a debate or asked to give an opinion on whatever topic is being discussed, other times I am entertained by a regular customer who does magic tricks. There are so many interesting characters that that there is never a dull moment.
As the years passed, I got to know the owners (Gianni and Nicoletta) and have built rapport with them. When interviewing Gianni for this article, I learned that he can trace his Tuscan ancestry back ten generations. In a town where family crests and descendants of 16th century nobility is the norm, I cannot say that I'm surprised. Here is how the interview went (I thought it best to present it in the form of Q & A).
ME: How old is Casa del Vino?
GIANNI: It dates back to 1860s.
ME: How long has it been in your family?
GIANNI: From the beginning of the 1900s.
ME: If someone visiting Italy for the first time enters your shop for a wine tasting, what vintages would you suggest?
GIANNI: I would have them try traditional Tuscan wines that are made with 100% Tuscan grapes, mainly Sangiovese- no French or foreign varietals. The reason for this is because many people have already tried foreign grapes and know what they taste like and I want to introduce them to something new. I want them to taste the contrast and compare our Tuscan wines to the ones that they have had in the past.
ME: Can you suggest a few off the top of your head?
GIANNI: Chianti Classico, of course, but also Vermentino and Rosso di Montalcino. Oh, and of course, Brunello!
ME: Mmmm...Brunello. The elixir of the gods.
GIANNI: Ah, yes, Brunello...It is important to pair the right crostini with the wine. For example, I would pair a Vermentino or even a Prosecco- although I think Prosecco should only be consumed as an aperitivo, not with a meal- with bread, butter and anchovies. A Rosso di Montalcino can go nicely with liver pate, and Chianti Classico with Tuscan prosciutto. You know, years ago, people would eat these things for breakfast. People back then would get up at 4 or 5 am, have a coffee and some biscotti, and then a couple of hours later, eat a small sandwich with some wine. Very few people get up that early nowadays, which is why breakfast foods have now become lunch foods.
ME: How about the amazing panini you make. If you could have foreigners try anything, what would you suggest?
GIANNI: I would suggest that they keep an open mind and try things they normally wouldn't eat in their country. Sometimes tourists wrinkle their nose at the thought of anchovies, sardines, tripe or frattaglie.
ME: Wait a sec...I don't even know what frattaglie is and I am a food guide!
GIANNI: (he fetches a bowl of this chopped up stuff that I have indeed seen many times, but never tried). Frattaglie is the occipital and spinal nerves, the teats, the snout, and the tongue of a cow that have been cooked and seasoned with fresh spices. It's delicious. Americans and Canadians won't even give this a chance, but the Asians and some English find it quite tasty.
(He pauses, then continues as if a new thought has entered into his head).
Do you know what else is a problem nowadays? Supermarkets. People used to eat what was fresh and in season- it is so important to eat what's in season because it's tastier and healthier. Since supermarkets carry everything year round, we have lost track of what is actually in season and what is not. Tuscany used to be full of contadini (farmers) and now most people work secular jobs. There are a few contadini in the campagna (countryside), but that's about it. Very few people have their own gardens.
ME: I totally agree with you and I think everyone should have a little green space. Can we take some photos of wines that you highly recommend?
Gianni then proceeded to run around the shop setting up wine bottles and crostini so that I could snap a few photos.
You may be interested to know that the art of making Tuscan wine dates back to ancient times. Even though Florence was founded by the Romans in 59 BC, the Etruscans were here much earlier and they, too, were known for making wine. The word Sangiovese is derived from "Sangue di Giove" (Blood of Jupiter), which is the name the ancient Romans bestowed upon these grapes. Chianti Classico, Morellino di Scansano, Rosso di Montepulciano, Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino, and Brunello are all made with Sangiovese grapes. Since there are over forty varieties of Sangiovese, each of these traditional Tuscan wines possess their own distinctive flavor. Another ancient varietal in Tuscany is Vernaccia, which is native to San Gimignano. This crisp, white wine with citrus notes was so pleasing to Dante that he mentions it in his literary masterpiece: the Divine Comedy.
One thing to keep in mind if you plan to visit Casa del Vino is that it gets quite crowded during lunch time, with people spilling out onto the sidewalk. It may be better to arrive earlier (before noon) or later (after 2pm) to avoid the crush. I guarantee that you will fall in love with the history and charm of this little bar. I sincerely hope that this article will inspire some of you to open your mind and TASTE new things. I promise you that you will be charmed by this place and fall in love with it's history and character, just like I did. Thank you for reading!
Casa del Vino website: www.casadelvino.it (they ship all over the world)
C. De Melo
Author & Artist