The wines of Rome

The title occurred to me of course as an obvious variant on the name of a pretty famous (in my world at least) piece of music by Ottarino Respighi, The Pines of Rome. And just today, in fact I’d been right there where the pines had inspired him: in Rome’s Borghese Gardens – which are of a stupendous vastness as to surprise anyone who doesn’t know of the vast wealth acquired and spent by the popes and their families of those good old days. (Papal corruption then was such as to make your average modern corrupt politician seem a model of controlled innocence.)

Of course, the wines I refer to are only “of Rome” in the sense that I bought them here in recent days. Mostly they are from south of Rome, and the south of Italy – none of the grand expensive stuff from Piedmont or Tuscany. And the bottles are lining up rather alarmingly. The latest additions, not shown in the photo, were a bit more geographically extreme, with a good valpolicella (Masi Campofiorin, and old friend of mine) and a dry white from the island of Pantelleria, most famous for its sweet wines: from the zibibbo grape – aka muscat d’Alexandrie, aka Hanepoot, aka hundreds of other names. Not my favourite, that, though pretty good of its type.
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Much more to my taste were wines from two other white grapes – Greco di Tufo and falanghina, especially the former, which combined charming fruit and florality with a good acidic grip in the two examples I’ve had. Both of them – in fact nearly all the wines I’ve bought – were under or little more than 13% alcohol, according to the labels at least. The exception was a rather smart and imposing 2009 Taurasi from Feudi di San Gregorio. That was a slightly more expensive one than the others – generally I’ve been spending 10-15 euros and getting, I think, good value.

I wonder if Rosa Kruger or others are bringing in any of these Mediterranean white varieties. I do hope so, as they’d be a marvellous complement to chenin blanc et al.

One joy of buying wine in Italy is that it’s so ubiquitously available, with no noticeable licensing requirements. Every little mini-market (some of them little more than caves scooped out of some mighty building) has a good selection of liquor, including some decent wine – whether responding primarily to the needs of locals or tourists, I don’t know.

On the other hand, it’s not easy finding proper liquor stores with a good and large selection. I’ve browsed a few more ambitious shops, without being hugely impressed. There was one, for example, with a number of very fine wines, in many cases with older vintages available (it even had a 1997 Meerlust Rubicon in its small selection of non-European wines!), but all were standing upright, and had been doing so for I can’t imagine how long, and unprotected from the vagaries of Roman temperatures. Risky buying, I suspect.

The little mini-markets, open at all hours of the day and evening are something I hadn’t noticed in Rome before, and they are a boon. They’re invariably staffed, of course, by Asians, as such enterprises seem to be just about everywhere. Asian men, in fact, all aged about 30. Their brothers (there must be women, old people and children somewhere too, but they’re not in evidence) stand behind many of the tables of trinkets, cheap jewellery and souvenirs, or in the piazzas selling silly little games or extendable little poles into which you can plug your smartphone, thus enabling you to take photos of yourself and lover or whatever, standing in front of whatever bit of old Rome you choose. Clever, useful tools, which clearly sell by the million, judging by how many one sees.

As the weather has hotted up the last few days, I’ve seen increasing numbers of hats being offered and sold by these hardworking, omnipresent entrepreneurs. But I have not a shred of doubt that when a shower of rain comes, somehow the hats will all be gone,and the men will all instantly appear brandishing those cheap little umbrellas that break after just a few openings. I’ll be indoors, however, drinking lovely Italian wine. Or, more likely, judging by the sunny skies, already back home.

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