hot, hazy veil of heat descended on Florence just as I arrived to spend a couple of weeks. It felt like a viscous liquid flowing into every corner of the city. Every morning around 10, I closed the heavy wooden shutters of the villa where I was teaching yoga, hunkering down in the shadowy, high-ceilinged room to wait out the worst of the afternoon heat. It reminded me of visiting relatives in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s, before air conditioning was ubiquitous in America.
One evening, friends invited me to a garden dinner party that started at 9 p.m., asking me to bring white wines to accompany a light dinner of fruit, salads, and cold meat and seafood dishes. This gave me a great excuse to visit my two favorite well-stocked Florentine enotecas, or wine shops.
I thought I’d share them with you, as well as the wines I purchased.
— La Buca Del Vino: Via Romana, 129 (between the Pitti Palace and the Porta Romana).
Only about two people at a time can fit into this tiny enoteca. Customers seeking special wines will find an appealing selection of wines made using “sustainable production” methods (and many certified as organic). Most range in price between €10-60.
The economic downturn has led the owners back to the old tradition of offering good vino sfuso (wine pumped from demijohns into bottles) instead of crowding the shelves with bottles of cheap, industrial wine. The shop, which opened in 2005, has lots of spirit and savvy. I chose:
- EWA 2011 Elena Walsh IGT Tramin, Alto Adige (13,5%) €10-12.
An architect, Walsh married into a winemaking family and has 45 hectares of vineyards near Lake Caldaro. This cuvee is at the more basic end of the company’s range and contains 60% Gewurztraminer, 20% Müller Thurgau, and 20% Chardonnay. I like the slight fruitiness and spiciness along with clean acidity.
- Pignoletto Superiore 2010 Vigneto San Vito DOC Colli Bolognesi, Oliveto, Emilia Romagna (13%) €10-12.
Frederico Orsi and Carola Palivicino make organic/biodynamic wine on the 15 hectares on wooded hillsides they own outside Bologna. This one comes from Pignoletto, a native grape of the area, with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. The wine combines elegance and simplicity: crisp and clean with light hints of summer fruit.
- Grüner Veltliner 2009 Galider DOC Sudtirol Velturno, Alto Adige (14%) €12-14.
Christian Kerschbaumer, his parents, wife Veronika, and their four children, all have a role in the family operation, four hectares of vineyards in the Isarco Valley of the Alto Adige. This wine is made only from Veltliner, a native Austrian grape. It tastes something like a chardonnay with some mature exotic fruit aromas, but it’s still refreshingly acidic.
— Vinoteca del Chianti: Just outside Florence, near the Impruneta/Certosa autostrada exit.
If you didn’t know to look for it, you might drive right by the Vinoteca, located along the old Roman Via Cassia on the way to Florence’s Porta Romana. Non-descript from the outside, the inside is expansive and beautiful. The shelves contain a Who’s Who of elite Italian wines. Prices range from under €10 to hundreds of times that.
Andrea Formigli opened the enoteca in 1998. I met with an associate, Luciano, who remembered me from a previous visit. A burly Tuscan, he raced from shelf-to-shelf, bringing down a host of bottles while transmitting contagious enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge. Questo vino, Signora, è una bomba, Le dico… una bomba! (“This wine will knock your socks off…”) he sang out more than once. We traded shoptalk, laughed, compared prices, and eventually came up with the following selections:
- Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2010 Marco de Grazia DOC Etna Bianco, Sicilia (12.5%) €14-15.
Marco de Grazia’s “Land of Black Earth” turf is 700 meters up the northern slope of Etna, an active volcano. This wine is made from native grapes with natural acidity (Carricante 50%, Cataratto 25%, Inzolia 10%, Grecanico 15%). It has a crisp and elegant flavor that comes largely from the volcanic soil and high altitude.
- Broglia 2010 Tenuta La Meirana Bruno Broglia DOCG Gavi di Gavi, Piemonte (12.5%) €9-10.
“La Meirana” is a single-vineyard “cru” made with the Piedmont native grape, Cortese. It’s clean and drinkable, uncomplicated and straightforward.
- Tuvaoes 2010 DOCG Vermentino di Sardegna Giovanni Cherchi(13.5%) €15-16.
The Vermentino grapes for this wine come from a single vineyard on the sea. The name combines tufo, the cave at the bottom of it, tuv, and the oxen, oes, that once carried rock in large blocks into the nearby town. This grape variety, probably originally from Spain, is also grown on the coast in Tuscany and Liguria, though this Vermentino is slightly more structured. It’s a classic summer white.
- Malvasia 2010 Borgo Del Tiglio DOC Collio, Friuli Venezia Giulia (14%) €22-23.
Nicola Manferrari has been making extraordinary wine since 1981, when his father died and left him the estate in the hills of the Collio. Italy has many kinds of Malvasia, some not especially interesting. This variety, native to the Collio, probably came from Greece, and possesses complexity as well as freshness. I like the combination of light floral notes with a slightly spicy freshness.
As for the garden party, the cool evening air brought everyone back to life. We chatted and lounged on the grass, eating and drinking until sometime after midnight, rounding out a summer night in Italy.