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A guide to the must-visit wine bars of Italy, region by region

A bottle of Brunello tastes better in the Tuscan countryside, just as a glass of prosecco is best enjoyed by a Venetian canal. Insiders from the wine industry divulge their favourite places to drink in Italy.

By Matthew Hirsch
Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina, Rome
Well over 500 grape varieties are grown in Italy, and there are almost as many reasons why consuming wine in the bel paese is an unpretentious, everyday pleasure. Apart from the regional diversity, there's the palpable sense of tradition and often astonishing value for money. Go to the source, though many vineyards and wineries require advance reservations for tastings or tours, or head to the bars, bottle shops and restaurants that elevate the daily glass – these ones are recommended by wine industry folk who know their vino Italiano.

Where to drink wine in Piedmont

Ristorante Consorzio, Turin
"Consorzio is a beacon of light in a pretty conservative town," says Dan Clark, owner of Italian-wine importer Addley Clark Fine Wines and 1889 Enoteca in Brisbane. This unfussy restaurant in Turin's Quadrilatero Romano is celebrated for its forward-thinking wine selection ("they were listing Selosse, Valentini and other hands-off producers before anyone else was interested," Clark says) and riffs on Piedmontese mainstays – think ravioli stuffed with finanziera. Animated service keeps the dinner-party vibe buoyant.
Via Monte di Pietà 23, 10122 Turin, +39 01 1276 7661, ristoranteconsorzio.it
Le Case Della Saracca, Monforte d'Alba
Making the steep ascent to this wine bar and restaurant, housed in a row of strikingly restored medieval homes in Monforte d'Alba's oldest neighbourhood, is well worth the effort, suggests Mark Protheroe, former head sommelier at Guy Grossi's Melbourne restaurants and owner of The Recreation in Fitzroy. "Giulio, the owner, is always keen to take you for a walk through his amazing cellar," he says. "Once inside, you'll find noteworthy Barolo vintages that date back several decades, from Giacomo Conterno and every other name that counts."
Via Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour 3, 12065 Monforte d'Alba, +39 01 7378 9222, saracca.com

Where to drink wine in Friuli-Venezia Giulia

La Subida, Cormons
For almost 60 years the Sirk family has been welcoming guests to their bucolic estate near the Slovenian border, featuring a casual osteria and the Michelin-starred Trattoria Al Cacciatore. "It's all about appreciating that real warm and generous sense of rural hospitality," says Italian-wine importer Piero Tantini, owner of Sydney's Godot Wines. Drink to the rich tradition of skin-contact winemaking over a long lunch, or stay for the weekend and hire a Vespa for daytrips – Gravner, Ronchi Di Cialla and other stellar producers are a half-hour drive away. V
ia Subida 52, 34071 Cormons, +39 048 160 531, lasubida.it
Il Santino, Florence, Tuscany. Photo: Sofie Delauw

Where to drink wine in Tuscany

Il Santino, Florence
In lively Santo Spirito, Il Santino is "like Florence's version of a Spanish tapas bar", says Flavio Carnevale, owner-operator of Marta in Sydney. The intimate wine bar matches by-the-glass pours with equally considered stuzzichini for 10 euros or less, with a spotlight on Tuscan produce. "Their brilliant pairings give you a reason to keep trying new wines," says Carnevale. Try tomato bruschetta with Il Palagione's Vernaccia di San Gimignano, say, or Ciro Picariello's aglianico with pecorino di Pienza and onion compote.
Via di Santo Spirito 60, 50125 Florence, +39 05 5230 2820, ilsantobevitore.com
Vini e Vecchi Sapori, Florence
Arrive with a booking – once the 18 seats are occupied, they'll lock the doors. A handwritten menu of Tuscan hits – ribollita, pappardelle with duck ragù, chicken livers and white beans – changes daily, but always features an unapologetic warning: "No pizza. No bistecca. No ice. No takeaway. No cappuccino." Wine is similarly straightforward, with just a handful by the glass and barely a white in sight. Two-fisted for some, but that's why Mallory Wall, the longstanding maître d' at Melbourne's Café di Stasio, keeps returning. "Sometimes," she says, "rules are good."
Via dei Magazzini, 3r, 50122 Florence, +39 055 293 045
Osticcio Ristorante Enoteca, Montalcino
There are big-ticket bottles from Salon, Egon Müller, Alvaro Palacios and Robert Mondavi here, among the 900 or so labels. The focus, however, rests on hyper-regional reds. Should the staggering range of Brunello fail to impress, the likes of polenta gnocchi livened by leeks, miso and milk curds certainly will, likewise the panoramic views of the undulating Val d'Orcia. "Request a table at the rear, looking out at what could be Tuscany's best picture window," says Michael Trembath, general manager of Trembath & Taylor, an importer and distributor of Italian wines in Melbourne, "and you could be forgiven for almost not paying attention to anything else."
Via Giacomo Matteotti 23, 53024 Montalcino, +39 05 7784 8056, osticcio.it

Where to drink wine in Trentino-Alto Adige

Ansitz Pillhof, Appiano
The best way to approach decision-making at this enchanting bottle shop, wine bar and restaurant is to "stay local and go for the full northern Italian experience", says Lara Caraturo, director of the Italian Wine and Food Festival in Sydney and Melbourne. Take in the alpine views from a seat in the 15th-century manor's leafy courtyard and start with mountain cheeses and salumi, perhaps, followed by chestnut risotto or roasted venison.
As for the wine, aim for the distinctive, fragrant whites and structured reds of Alto Adige. "Most are available by the glass, so you can really have some fun drinking," says Caraturo.
Via Bolzano 48, 39057 Appiano Sulla Strada del Vino, +39 04 7163 3100, pillhof.com
Grotta Palazzese, Polignano a Mare, Puglia. Photo: Getty Images

Where to drink wine in Puglia

Il Turacciolo, Andria
"Everything at this wine bar, set in the 18th-century Palazzo Ceci Ginistrelli, has a story," says former wine importer and Puglia native Sabino Matera, "so allow host Luciano to take you on a gastronomic tour of the neighbouring countryside." Puglia is synonymous with rich, fruit-forward reds, and Santa Lucia's velvety Il Melograno nero di Troia and Cantele's bold Teresa Manara negroamaro are fine examples of the format. They're enhanced by grilled caciocavallo cheese made from Podolica cow's milk, and copious shavings of Alta Murgia truffles.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele 4, 76123 Andria, +39 388 199 8889
Grotta Palazzese, Polignano a Mare
It's pricey, true. But it's difficult to conjure a more dramatic stage for drinking and dining than this naturally formed cave on the edge of the sea, tucked below the whitewashed town of Polignano a Mare, between Bari and Brindisi. "Sunset is the perfect excuse to hang out in the cliffside bar just before the restaurant," says Matera. Settle in for a shared platter of antipasti di mare set to a soundtrack of crashing waves, best enjoyed with a bottle or three of Cantina d'Araprì's brut spumante.
Via Narciso 59, 70044 Polignano a Mare, +39 080 424 0677, grottapalazzese.it

Where to drink wine in Marche

Clandestino Susci Bar, Portonovo
Two pages of tightly edited, mostly white, wines. Moreno Cedroni's masterful Italo-Japanese seafood mash-ups. And, of course, the outlook from the open windows onto the moody blues of the Adriatic. There's lots to like about Clandestino – just 12 kilometres south-east of Ancona – which counts Oskar Rossi and Federica Andrisani, co-owners of Fico in Hobart, among its many fans. "It feels like everyone is on holiday, which creates a naturally relaxed atmosphere," says Andrisani. Stay until twilight, when vertical vintages of verdicchio and house-packed tins of seafood make for magical aperitivi.
Località Portonovo, 60020 Ancona, +39 071 801 422, morenocedroni.it

Where to drink in Abruzzo

Don Gennaro, Pescara
When a crowd begins to hover over the lone marble-topped table inside this landmark, century-old bottle shop the party spills out onto the streets in the historic heart of Pescara, Abruzzo's biggest city. "This is one of my favourite places for aperitivo in the world," says Giorgio De Maria, a Sydney-based wine importer and former GT Sommelier of the Year. "You always meet new people, you can buy house wines from the demijohn, bottles from Abruzzese legends or the fanciest Champagnes from the carefully stocked shelves, and the prices are all very, very fair." If only all bottle shops were this much fun.
Via C. Battisti 116, 65100 Pescara, +39 085 442 9259

Where to drink wine in Emilia-Romagna

Osteria del Sole, Bologna
"Every day, you'll find it packed with artists, writers, politicians, students and anybody who works in the neighbourhood," says Flavio Carnevale. Bologna's (and possibly Italy's) oldest bar hasn't changed much since 1465; the wine list is short, the prices rock-bottom, and there's still no kitchen. "BYO food is the only way to eat," says Carnevale, "so bring some of the country's best mortadella from Salumeria Simoni a few doors down, and order a glass of house pignoletto frizzante, made especially for them."
Vicolo Ranocchi 1, 40124 Bologna, +39 34 7968 0171, osteriadelsole.it

Where to drink wine in Sicily

Cave Ox, Solicchiata
"Cave Ox is nothing pretty to look at," says Giovanni Paradiso, the co-owner of Sydney stalwarts 10 William Street and Fratelli Paradiso, of this modest pizzeria in the modest village of Solicchiata at the foot of Mount Etna, "but it represents the best of provincial Sicily." On the plate, that translates as lardo, salami and prosciutto made from local black pigs, tomatoes grown in volcanic soil, seasonal wild weeds and local ricotta. In the cellar, owner Sandro Dibella catalogues "the history of the world's great natural wines, including nearly every name in Etna and any other Sicilian wine worth drinking," says Paradiso. It's a favourite hangout for local winemakers, too – always a good sign.
Via Nazionale Solicchiata 159, 95012 Solicchiata, +39 094 298 6171, caveox.it
Antica Bottega del Vino, Verona, Veneto.

Where to drink wine in Veneto

Antica Bottega del Vino, Verona
"Simply a classic – and now that it's owned by a number of Amarone producers, you can enjoy one of Veneto's finest wines in depth," says Michael Trembath. Operating since 1890, the storied venue trades 365 days a year from 11am until midnight, giving patrons plenty of time to absorb the cinematic, old-world surrounds while muscling through the hundred-plus page wine list and a chalkboard of trophied on-the-pour options (Château Cheval Blanc among them).
Via Scudo di Francia 3, 37121 Verona, +39 04 5800 4535, bottegavini.it
Al Timon, Venice
It doesn't get more Venetian than a spot on a permanently moored boat on the canal outside this popular bàcari, with a plate of cicchetti and a glass of prosecco in hand. Trembath recommends arriving well before the golden hour. "They're generally understaffed and overwhelmed by numbers here," he says. "So have a few, and then head off on a bar crawl through the Cannaregio." His tips further afield? 10 Metri Quadrati or Dodo Caffè for drinks, and dinner at Vini da Gigio.
Fondamenta dei Ormesini 2754, 30121 Venice, +39 04 1524 6066, altimon.it

Where to drink wine in Lombardy

Rovello 18, Milan
The unbeatable combination of "simple, direct cooking" and "one of Italy's best natural-wine lists" keeps this no-nonsense osteria in Milan's well-heeled Brera district at the top of Giovanni Paradiso's hit list. He recommends the spaghetti alla chitarra with chilli and Tropea onion or "probably the best cotoletta in town" with a bottle from what he describes as "a great cave of quintessential minimal-intervention winemaking throughout Italy and France".
Via Tivoli 2, 20121 Milan, +39 02 7209 3709, rovello18.it
N'Ombra de Vin, Milan
Discerning oenophiles and young, creative types frequent this 16th-century former refectory, now one of Milan's most popular enoteche, for sundowners in style. "Grab a mid-afternoon Spritz on the footpath and get absorbed into the aperitivo buzz," says Mark Protheroe. "Once the sun starts to fade, head to the subterranean level and peruse the walls lined with a collection of over 600 listings that ventures deeply into all the regions of Italy." While you'reat it, ask about the extensive program of wine tastings and live music.
Via San Marco 2, 20121 Milan, +39 02 659 9650, nombradevin.it
Champagne Socialist, Milan
The only political stance taken at this industrial bolthole of a wine bar is a steadfast commitment to lo-fi wines from small, eclectic outfits across Europe – and the list stretches to 500 of them. Wine lovers with a penchant for dimmed lights and cramped quarters will find themselves right at home here. "It's a place where I like to go later at night," says Giorgio De Maria. Prices by the glass hover around five euros, which makes for an affordable jaunt through the unfined, unfiltered and unsulphured.
Via Lecco 1, 20124 Milan, +39 02 204 7295, socialist.wine
Il Goccetto, Rome, Lazio.

Where to drink wine in Lazio

Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto, Rome
The thoughtful wine offering at this fully realised vision of the ideal suburban trattoria unites classics with heroes (Radikon) and newcomers to the natural-wine scene (Lammidia) at affordable prices. In other words, it's an invitation to go all-out, made all the more enticing by the pergola-shaded terrace, faultless fritti and impeccable primi. "When food is as simple as carbonara, you really have to nail it," says Harry Levy, chef and co-owner of Sydney's Don Peppino's, "and Da Cesare always nails it."
Via del Casaletto 45, 00151 Rome, +39 06 536 015, trattoriadacesare.it
Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina, Rome
Roscioli is a name on just about everybody's lips when it comes to essential places to eat and drink in the caput mundi. "It probably tops my list when considering both food and wine," says Michela Boncagni, co-owner and head sommelier at LuMi in Sydney. "Ask for both the Italian and international wine lists," she says, "and you might spend most of the meal picking your poison." The deli-wine-bar-restaurant fills fast but takes bookings until 11.45pm. Make it a late one, and raise a Zalto glass to midnight snacking, Roman style.
Via dei Giubbonari 21/22, 00186 Rome, +39 06 687 5287, salumeriaroscioli.com
Il Goccetto, Rome
Don't mistake this handsome enoteca for the Italian marijuana advocacy group of the same name – just know that the enthusiasm each has for its respective cause is particularly high. Here, dark wood panelling and frescoed ceilings frame wall-to-wall stacks of wine from a serious selection that runs about 800-strong. "There are plenty of smaller producers to look out for, as well as natural, organic and biodynamic options," says Lara Caraturo. Switched-on staff help narrow it down, and a formidable cheese line-up pretty much ensures a second bottle is always on the cards.
Via dei Banchi Vecchi 14, 00186 Rome, +39 066 864 268