When an email arrived in my inbox asking me if I'd like to take a complimentary City Wonders tour of Rome, I had mixed feelings. I was just about to leave for the eternal city, so the timing was perfect, but having lived there and visited dozens of times, I was skeptical. Would I just be revisiting some of the places I was already familiar with, or would I be learning something new, I wondered? As it turns, it was a little of both, and a great way to spend a couple of hours. City Wonders offers tours in many cities besides Rome - Paris, London and even New York, for instance. And within each city, it offers several different kinds of tours. I chose the food and wine tour (no surprise) and expected to be traipsing around the city sampling foods from different restaurants and shops where I might have already eaten.
Instead, what followed were two hours inside a private wine-tasting room at Roscioli, a legendary food purveyor whose shop and restaurant on via dei giubbonari I'd passed innumerable times. The evening went by in a flash, as Alessandro Pepe, one of Italy's best-known and respected sommeliers, educated us on the many varieties of Italian wine and what paired best with each.
The "rimessa" as the room is called, is the perfect place for small gatherings of wine and food tastings, just around the corner from the restaurant and deli.
In all, we tasted six different wines, from Sicily to Friuli.
We started the evening tasting buffalo mozzarella from Paestum, and burrata from Puglia, two places I had just visited on my month-long trip to Italy and where I ate plenty of both of these cheeses. They're usually not paired with wines, Alessandro said, but if they are, choose a light white wine, like a fiano di Avellino or a greco di tufo.
We tried a Greco di Tufo with the label of Alexandros. The wine takes its name from the village of Tufo, south of Naples. But tufo is also the name of the grape variety and the volcanic soil that gives the wine a strong mineral finish. However, 90 percent of the wines called Greco di Tufo don't actually come from the village of tufo, Alessandro said.
This pesto from Liguria was also a delicious accompaniment to the wine.
I was too busy eating and drinking to get shots of all the wines and foods, but one of my favorite (and surprising) pairings was this tuna from Sicilian producer Tre Torri, that was matched with a luscious red wine - a nero d'avola - also from Sicily and the cantina Marabino. The tuna had been aged for two years in extra virgin olive oil and stood up well to the nero d'avola, whose grapes are grown in a volcanic soil, giving it a "salty" taste.
We ate pistachio-flecked mortadella paired with a bubbly lambrusco from the producer La Battagliola. Forget about what you might remember about those treackly lambruscos first imported to the U.S. in the 1970s. This is different, offering a much fresher taste, and the perfect palate cleanser to accompany the richness from the fatty mortadella it was paired with. The Italians have been making sparkling wines long before Champagne came on the scene, Alessandro said. A sparkling lambrusco was mentioned in 1567 by Andrea Bacci, the personal doctor of Pop Sisto V, he said.
Speaking of old, we also drank a montepulciano from Contucci winery, the oldest winery in the world, dating back 1,000 years, Alessandro said. Of course, most of the vines are from 20 to 45 years old, he said, and are planted in the red "pietra rossa" soil that gives the wine its plummy, earthy flavor. This wine was paired with salumi made at the Antica Corte Pallavicina, near Parma, an artisanal producer of cured meats that I wrote about in a blog post here.
My favorite wine of the night was this barolo from the Le Langhe area in the Piedmont region, a wine I had previously tasted in Piedmont. It's an explosion of flavor in the mouth, with a roundness and perfect balance of fruit and tannins.
"For me, (France's) Burgundy and (Italy's) Langhe are the only two wine regions in the world, in the sense that vineyards and geography were designed upon the soil composition, and not based on the properties. So when you look at the map, this actually tells you something about the type of wine you might find in each," Alessandro said. This bold wine was paired with an equally bold food - a parmigiano reggiano vacche rosse cheese aged 36 months. Talk about a marriage made in heaven….
We left the Rimessa Roscioli thoroughly pleased with our food and wine tasting through Italy and would recommend anyone to contact City Wonders, if this is indicative of their tours.
Of course, this tasting only whetted our palate to eat at Roscioli's restaurant, so we rounded the corner and sat at a table next to the deli counter, where a heaping bowl of burrata cheese tempted us.
But it was pasta we succumbed to, namely this plate of rigatoni alla carbonara.
And this decadently rich pasta alla carbonara.
We were too sated to order dessert, but Roscioli provided us with these treats gratis - buttery shortbread cookies and meringues with a rich chocolate dipping sauce.
Grazie mille City Wonders and Roscioli and Alessandro.