It's a travel truism that the more friends one travels with, the less one sees. Monuments, museums, and moments of local colour rush past one's eyes, as though one were seeing them through a bus window... Meanwhile one seems to spend hours waiting for one another to finish up in the sodden restrooms of unremarkable cafés full of vending machines.
And when one does at last arrive a destination, the destination itself becomes the subject of debate. Should we not try some other bar ? one's friends ask. One where one of us can get a cocktail, and another can have beer, and another can have wine? None of us are ever satisfied, one's friends admit, before laughing maniacally and cartwheeling off into the Florentine night to harass strangers.
My personal destination, since arriving in Florence for a friend's wedding last spring, had been Fuori Porta, a wine bar tucked in the hills above the via di San Niccolo that a native acquaintance had recommended. I've discussed previously the extent to which the term 'wine bar' is open to interpretation, but as a rule of thumb I've found the concept is more native to Italy, where people take espresso standing, than in Paris, where beverages in general are mostly used as exuses to occupy terrace seating. And indeed, when after much cajoling I did succeed in luring my friends away to Fuori Porta to continue drinking after the wedding dinner, we weren't disappointed. It's one of those rare places where a serious wine list coexists with a free-wheeling atmosphere, where seven or eight tanked young men in rumpled suits can enjoy an impromptu mini-vertical of Castell' In Villa Chianti.
I read that it was founded by owners Andrea Conti and Leonardo Cambi in 1987, with the aim of serving wines from outside of Tuscany. (Similarly, one can often identify places that cater to native wine guys in Paris by how they offer things from outside France. Hence the Greek, Serbian, and biodynamic Italian outliers one often sees on the lists at places like Septime Cave, La Buvette, Cave Fervéré, etc.) Several years later Conti and Cambi expanded and added restaurant service.
Alas, it was late by the time we rolled in, and the kitchen was closed. We took a table on the open terrace, and after a glance at the wine list I zeroed in on a weirdo obscurity I hadn't encountered before: Vermentino Nero.
I was later pleasantly surprised to learn that the Cantine Lunae rosato I ordered had won Gambero Rosso's 'Rosato of the Year' award in its first vintage, 2010; it means the judges were probably as jazzed as I was to taste Vermentino Nero. For a devoted fan of the Vermentino grape, particularly its Ligurian expressions, it's like being a child and belatedly discovering the existance of white chocolate.
Like white chocolate in general, the 2011 Cantine Lunae Golfo dei Poeti Rosato was enjoyable, but nothing life-changing. Just a pale, pin-prick precise coastal rosato, with the same strawberry-acid and red licorice-nub sweetness I associate with a neighboring Ligurian near-rosato, Rossese di Dolceacqua (a red so light it evaporates upon contact with glassware).
It should be said that I haven't tasted expansively in either of these wine categories. If anyone would like to finance a few months on the Ligurian coast, I should quite like to someday.
Ordering too much geek rosato is another surefire way to alienate one's friends, so we switched to grander things : a few bottles of Castell' In Villa Chianti Classico Riserva.
Winemaker and estate founder Princess Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa needs little introduction; her 54ha estate; based in Castelnuovo Berardenda, is essentially the contemporary benchmark of the whole ultrafamous appellation. The wines are for the most part naturally fermented, and, more impressively, are held from the market until they are deemed ready to drink. Among other things, this sort of attention to stock ensures that the estate (and the international market) is well-furnished with back vintages. Some of my favorite memories of working in Italian wine in LA derive from older bottles of Castell' In Villa, pretty much all of which, in my experience, have displayed the stark, ferrous majesty of the grape in fine form.
I regrettably didn't taste the food at Fuori Porta. I couldn't convince my traveling companions to return in the short time we had left in the city, so it'll have to wait for our mutual friend's next Tuscan wedding.
My traveling companions can't really be blamed. Pretty much any wine geek endures a similar dynamic when traveling without wine allies. One's companions tend to mark anything Wine Guy likes as being chiefly of Wine Interest, incorrectly but understandably opposing Wine Interest with Culinary Interest, Cultural Interest, Social Interest, etc. Fuori Porta is one of precious few places I know of in Florence where all these elements seem to intersect as they should.
Via del Monte alle Croci, 10
Tel: +39 055 234 2483
Tel: +39 055 234 2483