Piazza del Popolo was sinking into a contented Saturday night haze. The sun was setting over the Vatican, casting dark shadows across the cobbles of the square and sending jetstreams of silver-orange cloud into the ever-deepening blue sky.
As locals and tourists alike mingled and chatted contentedly in the ancient square, complete with a 2000-year-old obelisk, beautifully carved statues and glimmering fountains, everyone was turning their thoughts towards the evening ahead. In Rome, that means one thing, seeking out a place to sit back, relax, and while away the hours with an exceptional glass of wine in hand.
The locals all knew where they’d be heading, but for tourists, finding a place to really absorb the best of the magical Roman atmosphere and find the very best wine on offer is pretty tough. Rome is a maze of winding alleys and narrow lanes crammed with enticing looking trattorias, bars and restaurants. It can be daunting trying to pick the ones that aren’t tourist traps or, simply, the ones that will give you the very best Roman experience.
Fortunately, we did have the help of those in the know – the local insight. It was in Piazza del Popolo that we met Sal and Dani. They have both lived in Rome for many years and are absolutely passionate about showing newcomers the very best of the city they call home. Dani, a sommelier, is the perfect companion to have when it comes to picking a truly local, authentic spot to drop in on and discover incredible wine.
The pair lead us off the bustling piazza, explaining to us that the square acts as the hub for Rome, with three main roads leading south, splitting off and taking you to very distinct parts of the city, each with their own unique characteristics.
We wander a little further along one of these spokes in the cool evening air, and almost walk straight past an unassuming little doorway, set back in the peeling walls, to an enoteca, or wine shop.
Buccone, the wine shop in question, is a little more than your average one-stop on the corner. The first feature that draws the eyes are the floor to ceiling shelves, completely stacked with a staggering array of wines and liquors. These run all the way around the shop and form an impressive pillar in the centre of the room.
Stepping into the shop is like stepping back a few decades, the staff clearly seem to know Dani and Sal and greet us warmly, inviting us to take a seat amongst the walls of wine. We sit and enjoy the authentic, local feel of the enoteca, which has been around in its current form for 60 years, as Dani orders four glasses of the best prosecco we’ve ever tasted. Fresh and clean, we sip these as we chew on Pizza Bianca and chat about Italian food, drink and how slapping an Italian flag on any product will have gullible foreigners snatching it off the shelf…
Then come a couple of glasses of silky smooth, perfectly light reds, and Dani is explaining to us that he’s taking us on a journey through Italy in wine, until suddenly the glasses are empty and it’s time to move on.
We stroll through the softly lit streets, past ancient ruins and mausoleums, both Sal and Dani happy to talk about anything and everything we find interesting, before we reach our next stop on our exploration of Rome’s best wine bars.
Tucked away in a small side street, we ‘stumble across’ a cosy, atmospheric bar with a few locals enjoying the cool evening air. We follow Sal and Dani into the small, candlelit bar, the atmosphere helped by low ceilings, written reviews covering the walls, and the warmth of the greeting we receive.
Here, we spend what feels like ten minutes, but is more like an hour and a half, enjoying wines from Sicily and Northern Italy, a smooth, worryingly drinkable Barolo and a rich, earthy wine from the slopes of Mount Etna.
The time seems to slip away as easily as the wine in this bubbling, atmospheric corner of Rome, as the conversation flows steadily and we learn everything we could possibly wish to know about the city and Italy in general, and enjoy the traditional snacks being brought steadily to the table.
By the time the final glasses have been drained and we begin to head our separate ways, Dani walks us to another wine bar set near the immense majesty of the Pantheon. We bid fond farewells as we head to our next, highly recommended location, safe in the knowledge that we’ve found bars coveted by the locals, and we’ve really managed to sample some of the best wine Italy has to offer in total ease and in fantastic company.