As Texas has BBQ nights and Denver has micro brew nights, Rome has wine nights. I attended a wonderful wine tasting last night called Vini Vulcano. Put on by a group of wine and food journalists called Vino e Cibo (Wine and Food), they were all Italian wines made from volcanic soil. Considering Italy has 29 active and extinct volcanoes, ranging from Pantelleria near Tunisia to Larderello in Tuscany, that’s a lot of land. And if you ever wonder why you don’t get headaches after drinking wine in Italy and you do in the U.S., this is one of the reasons. The volcanic soil has more minerals, is more natural. It makes wine better.
But I won’t bore you with geological facts and figures. I’ve done that before. I went for three reasons: One, discover good wine. I’ve got stars written on about eight wines, highlighted by the Soave Classico made by the Sassotondo vineyard near Grosseto in Tuscany. It retails for only 8 or 9 euro.
Two, to see the Cavalieri Hilton. It’s on a hill in Monte Mario, a ritzy area that overlooks the city. The hotel is most famous for La Pergola, probably the best Italian restaurant in Rome and arguably the most expensive in Italy. They say if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. In fact, don’t even look at the bill. Just hide your eyes, hand over your credit card and save the pain for your credit card statement a month later. A former colleague tried to impress a date by ordering, “The best wine you have.” It was $3,000. That’s in line with some of the food items. An appetizer — an APPETIZER! — of bass carpaccio with cannellini beans and white truffles is 92 euros. A deep-fried zucchini flower with caviar on shellfish and saffron consomme is 69 euros. A crepinette of pigeon and duck fois gras on mustard sauce is 56 euros. A cheese plate is 25 euros. A nine-course set menu is 220 euros. You get the picture. Journalists don’t eat there.
Three, to ask the gathering of learned sommeliers one question: If you were going to be executed Monday morning, what’s the one bottle of wine you drink Sunday night? The cost and location are not obstacles. Here’s a collection of opinions:
Michele Bisceglia, Bisceglia vineyard, Basilicata: Malbec Renaissance, Argentina.
Alessandra Quattrocchi, Barone di Villagrande, Sicily: Sassicaia 2000, Tuscany. “It’s infinity. It’s always different.” Retail: 250-300 euros.
Duilio Papetti, DeaEtna, Sicily: Barolo 2007.
Daniele Garcia, Villa Dora, Campagna. Barolo. “It’s rich, full of personality. It’s made for special moments. It’s the king of wines and the wine of kings.”
Lorenzo Agnoli, Castello di Corbara, Umbria: Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. “Fresh. Diverse. Accented.”
Sergio Ferin, Il Mottolo, Veneto: Pinot Noir, France. “Ah! Very elegant in the mouth.”