In recent years, wine bars have been popping up in Rome like mushrooms in a damp autumn. This is largely due to the rise in popularity of a wine culture, a heritage that was neglected for many years. Now wine bars are alla moda. According to Alberto Constantini, owner of the Il Cantiniere wine bar in Trastevere, this fashion was dictated in the late 1980s by the appearance of wine in American cinema, after the cocktails of the 1970s.
The idea of a wine bar is to offer interesting selections of wine by the glass. This enables customers to taste more than one wine without having to buy an entire bottle. It also permits a change of wine with each course. On top of the wines on offer, all of the places below boast fine selections of meats and cheeses as well as their own specialities. These wine bars are all enoteche, meaning that they also sell wine to take away. The staff, who are generally professional sommelier, can recommend wines for all occasions. Having a dinner party? Tell them your budget and what you are making and they will suggest a wine to accompany the dish. It is best to book at all of these places on Friday and Saturday nights.
Spirito Fondo, Via Frangipane15, tel. 066789933. 18.30 to late, Mon closed. One of the youngest of the wine bar bunch, Spirito Fondo has been open since November 2002 and doubles as a cultural association. A stones throw from the Colosseum, the atmosphere is relaxed and modern. There are books for sale but you can also browse them from one of the comfortable sofas. The food specialities are soups and antipasti. The menu also includes a variety of salads, sliced meats, carpaccio and desserts, for which there is a special menu complete with a fun selection of pre-paired dessert wines. The three young proprietors, Simona Mazzarone, Leo Spadaro and Matteo Amatruda, organise talks and conferences by contemporary artists and authors about once a week. For details of events check out their website: www.spiritofondo.it.
La Barrique, Via del Boschetto 41/b, tel. 0647825953. 13.00-15.30 and 18.00-01.30, Sun closed. Just off Via Nazionale, the atmosphere in La Barrique is dark; it feels as though you are going into a cellar, with stones jutting from the walls. Fabrizio Pagliardi started this wine bar in October 2000, and aside from the extensive wine list this is also one of the only places in Rome where you can buy the magic HY beer by the glass as well as by the bottle. The speciality is the carpaccio, made from organically raised beef. There is also an ample choice of crostoni, and selections of cheeses and salumi. You can sit at the bar and get a dose of the wine news, or at tables.
Il Cantiniere di S. Dorotea, Via di S. Dorotea 9, tel. 065819025. 19.00-02.00, Sun closed. Il Cantiniere is one of the oldest wine bars in Rome, with signs outside to prove its lineage, which exceeds 50 years. Since October 1991 it has been run by Constantini, a somewhat radical figure in the wine world who gives his own wine appreciation courses here about twice a year. Weather permitting (all but four months of the year), there are tables outside on the charming Trastevere cobbles. Lined with dark wood and wine bottles, the bar is warm and welcoming inside. Constantini offers interesting assortments of salumi and cheeses as well as salads and specialities that vary from day to day.
Bicchiere di Mastai, Via dei Banchi Nuovi 52, tel. 0668192228. 12.00-24.00, Sun and Mon closed. At the heart of this wine bar off Corso Vittorio Emanuele is Fabio Badasare, a young chef trained by the famous Heinz Beck, who will soon be opening a nearby restaurant called lAltro Mastai. Mastai was Pope Pius IX, and the name of the bar refers to a poem by the liberal 19th-century poet Giosu Carducci. The selection of wine is vast, as is that of grappa and whisky. There is also a selection of olive oils from around Italy and the world. Here the focus is on both food and wine. If you are unsure what to drink, and you are planning to eat here too, ask the waiting staff (also sommelier) to advise you on your choice. They may pick something you had not imagined but the result will be a happy marriage of wine and food.