A good drink is hard to find in this city—until you discover a former wine bar with junk-shop décor ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Summer 2011
“Where are the Botticellis? We’re double-parked!” I still smile at the memory of a tourist I overheard in the Uffizi gallery, berating a hapless attendant as he tried to cover Florence’s Renaissance gems. There’s so much good art and architecture to see that you’d struggle to visit everything in a month, even if you sprinted between the churches, piazzas and museums.
Very few people go to Florence to eat and drink, at least not in the way that they go to Milan or Rome. This great Tuscan city is not as dull as Venice in terms of gastronomy, but—with the exception of the swish, but extremely pricey Enoteca Pinchiorri—the food is underwhelming. The same, alas, goes for much of the wine. Despite its proximity to the vineyards of Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano, Florence doesn’t have an abundance of good lists. In such lacklustre company, one restaurant really stands out. Ristorante Enoteca Pane e Vino, run by the winningly eccentric Pierazzuoli brothers, was Florence’s first wine bar, and has been serving reasonably priced vino for 30 years from premises on a small square close to the Arno. Crucially for tourists, it’s only five minutes’ stroll from the Ponte Vecchio.
You would not, it must be said, come here for the decor, which combines ill-sited pot plants with assorted junk-shop furniture. But elegance is one thing you won’t have gone short on before you get here. Pane e Vino is all about atmosphere. On the night I visited (it’s only open for dinner), it was full of raucous Italians and a handful of foreigners, all of them drinking wine.
The restaurant remains true to its origins as a wine bar, originally a necessity because it only had a licence to serve nibbles. The food is better now, but is nothing like as exciting as the wine list, which runs to more than 1,000 bins. If that sounds like a lot for a small restaurant, the choice is made easier for you by Gilberto and Ubaldo Pierazzuoli, who feature 250 wines from their cellar each week.
In one sense, the list is irrelevant. Gilberto likes to recommend wines that aren’t part of that week’s selection, if he thinks you’ll enjoy them. This approach is a bit chaotic—and would drive some people bonkers—but it’s appropriately Italian. “The people we buy wines from are friends,” Ubaldo told me, “and we like to share them.”
Even in shortened form, the printed list is impressive. It’s divided by colour and (mostly) Italian region, rather than by style, with the occasional interloper from other countries. All of the major Italian denominazioni are represented, and many of the minor ones too. It’s good to see a restaurant in Tuscany featuring wines from Sicily, Sardinia, Lazio, Campania and the Basilicata as well as top-end names from Champagne, Alsace, the Rhône and Bordeaux. Spain, Chile, Hungary, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and America also make an appearance, completing one of the most cosmopolitan line-ups in Italy.
There are only 15 wines by the glass, all of them Italian, but the brothers seem happy to open and pour just about anything. At times you get the impression that they’re making the prices up on the spot, but they are nonetheless incredibly reasonable. There’s a good turnover, too, so samples are fresh.
My friend and I decided to stick with the by-the-glass selection. We kicked off with a flute of the fruity, youthful, Pinot Noir-based house Champagne (Le Clochard from A. Daméry) and one of a creamy, zesty Italian fizz called 2007 Cesarini Sforza Le Millesime. With our starters (pasta, and a broad bean and chicory soup), Gilberto recommended a light, citrus and green olive-scented 2009 Vermentino di Sardegna, Cala delle Farfelle, Isoni—and (more interestingly) a savoury, lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend: 2009 Podere Sassaie Petreto.
The pleasure didn’t end there. With our mains (suckling pig and beef), we drank a Supertuscan blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (the 2007 Falsari Altrove at €30). This is an elegant biodynamic red from a small producer, with subtle strawberry and blackcurrant fruit flavours and none of the oak-swamped extraction that Supertuscans are prone to.
Best of all, instead of a dessert we finished the meal with two glasses of the grapey, zesty, super-fresh 2010 Moscato d’Asti, Paulo Saracco from Piedmont. It’s the kind of wine that makes you want to sit and chat rather than dash off to another museum. For a few, memorable moments, the Botticellis can wait.
Ristorante Enoteca Pane e Vino Piazza di Cestello 3R, Florence; +39 055 247 6956
IN THE BIN:
Number of wines 1,000 (although only 250 at any one time)
By the glass 15
Under €30 110
Over €100 35
Best value 2007 Pieropan Soave Classico Superiore, Calvarino (€24)
Worst value 2004 Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore, Monte Lodoletta (€120)
Expense account adjuster* •••••
Chianti Classico index** 1.64
*Probability that the next-door table are paying with the company’s money
**2007 Fontodi Chianti Classico is €22 here, €13.39 at Casa del Vino.