A fixture of the dining table, the perfect end to a long day, a way to come together and celebrate, rant, or pontificate about the big and small things in life: for Italians, wine is a lot more than just a drink. It’s part of our identity, the holder of our woes and glories.
Which explains the many, many enoteche that dot our cities, and the fact a glass of vino is our second most popular choice after the Spritz come aperitivo time.
Even more popular these days? Natural wines.
Made from organic grapes or the equivalent — grapes grown without pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals –and fermented and aged without additions, the low-intervention libations have become increasingly sought-after over the past few years, and for good reason: they’re surprising, often unique, energetic and highly vibrant. Think of them as the unpretentious cousins of all the trophy Barolos or bold Brunellos out there. No wonder we’ve fallen so hard for them.
In Rome, where I live, the love is especially strong — so much so that there’s now a growing number of places solely dedicated to natural wines.
Below are five of the most notables. Visit them, try their tipples and be prepared to go home with a bottle or two. But most importantly, embrace their ethos: fiercely independent and always welcoming, these are meeting spots for like-minded people, where gregariousness shines, authenticity reigns supreme, and sharing is encouraged — whether it’s a bottle of unfiltered Beaujolais or tips about your favourite new restaurant in town.
Ask owner Flaviano Pizzoli what L’Antidoto is all about, and he’ll tell you that the tiny enoteca on Vicolo del Bologna is first and foremost a “convivial space.” Indeed, the unpretentious bar feels like a friendly, unfussy hangout, where the selection of natural wines is strong — and mostly from lesser-known vineyards around Europe — the rustic-modern design on point, and the conversation flows just as much as the drinks do.
“Wine can be an ‘antidote’ to a lot of things in life, hence the name,” Flaviano says. “It brings people together, and when it’s natural, it bucks conventions. Just like all good antidotes do.”
Opened in November 2020 — “we saw that particular moment as a good opportunity to try offer something different, with a natural imprint, and we were proved right,” says Flaviano — in the span of one year L’Antidoto has become a favourite of wine enthusiasts in Trastevere and beyond, with a full ‘library’ of rotating wines that allows you to always try something new. There’s also food — simple but beautifully delicious fare prepared by Flaviano in the small open kitchen — which, just like the wines, is made with thoughtfully sourced ingredients, and designed to complement the drinks (not the other way round).
Why the focus on natural tipples, you ask? Flaviano is happy to explain that, too. “People think it’s a fairly recent thing, but natural wine is actually the traditional way to make wine,” he says. “It’s what my grandpa used to make, and the wine I have grown up with. It’s the other wine, conventional wine, that’s actually new. With L’Antidoto, we want to offer a modern take on something that’s been around for ages.”
Enoteca S02, Pigneto
Enoteca S02 has been around since 2018, after its parent company, Distribuzione S02 — a pioneer for natural wine distribution in Europe — decided to turn the premises next to its warehouse offices into a tasting room and wine bar. What a great idea that was: today, the place is a neighbourhood favourite that stands apart not just for its wide selection of natural bottles, but also for the no-nonsense decor, very good prices, and delightfully low-key atmosphere (paired with delightfully good cold cut platters).
You come here if you’re serious about your natural libations, but also if you want to learn more about them: the staff is always eager to explain where each bottle is from, and what makes it special.
“Even before we opened S02, we had an entourage of people around us that were truly passionate about natural wines,” says Alfonso Scarpato, one of the two SO2’ founders (the other is Katia Frontino). “The enoteca has filled a gap, in the sense that it has given them a place to come have a glass, instead of just buying bottles online or to go. I guess that’s why it’s been a success. There was a demand for it all along.”
Besides wines, there’s an artisanal bent across the entire menu, which includes beers, grappe and amari.
As for the name: S02 is the most common chemical compound used in winemaking, to inhibit the growth of bacteria and wild yeasts. Naming the enoteca after it “is essentially a provocation, to highlight the fact that our wines don’t feature S02 at all,” says Alfonso. “The cool thing is that they’re chemical-free, and great-tasting.”
Post up at a table of NaturaVino, a natural enoteca that opened in 2015 in the Marconi neighbourhood, and you’ll immediately feel as if you’ve entered a friend’s living room. The tiny space (they’re planning to move to a bigger place in the Portuense area) is welcoming and relaxed, thanks to super friendly and highly knowledgeable owner Massimo Ambra, and clearly frequented by customers who like to come here regularly.
It’s not surprising. With an impressive wall display of reds and whites, this is a natural wine enthusiast’s heaven, and somewhere where the music is just the right amount of loud, to encourage chats, banter, and exchanges on tipples and life.
Massimo himself is likely to ask you a few questions about your palate when you order up, to help you navigate the options and make suggestions based on what you like (and what you don’t) — just like a friend would.
“Natural wine has long been a passion of mine,” says the long-term Marconi resident, who left a corporate job to pursue his interest and never turned back. “The whole natural wine world is fascinating: not just the bottles, but the winemakers and their stories too. Here, I try to share them with anyone who comes through the door.”
And with an extensive selection that tends to rotate regularly, he always has something good to tell.
Da Corrado al Banco 18, Testaccio
For anyone who loves good wine and knows Testaccio Market, Da Corrado al Banco 18 is a bit of an institution. The stall has been around since 2019, making what it calls “la cucina ritrovata” — forgotten recipes from the Italian tradition — and serving “vini del dissenso”: wines that tell the story of our territory, of small vineyards and of the people who tend to them without the use of pesticides, chemicals or additives. It’s not your regular enoteca, but its mission makes it just as, if not more, special than your typical wine bar.
“Being in a mercato rionale makes sense for what we want to do: show people from all walks of life — some of whom maybe wouldn’t normally step into an enoteca — how kaleidoscopic and immensely diverse Italy’s culinary traditions and authentic wine offerings are,” says Corrado Giampietro, the man himself. “Most times, the best things in life can be found looking back, and rediscovering what we had all along: the vino farmers made centuries ago, the dishes our ancestors used to live on. We’re not reinventing the wheel: we’re just paying tribute to the heritage that’s made us.”
The place itself is as simple as it gets: a handful of seats around a banco, a small display of cheeses — rigorously raw and unpasteurized, because “that’s how they’re meant to be enjoyed,” Corrado says — a board listing the day’s menu, a slew of wine bottles on the shelves. To the side, a tiny busy kitchen, where they like to shake things up with new items every other day or week, depending on seasonality, fresh produce, and their own whims. Centre stage, Corrado, with his smile, professionalism, and sheer passion for the job.
To sit here during Saturday lunch service, a bottle of wine and a plethora of small dishes to share among friends, is to have one of the most unique gastronomic experiences you might have ever wished for. “As the saying goes, ‘we are what we eat’” says Corrado, “Da Corrado al Banco, we want to make sure everything we offer reflects that, in the most genuine, simplest way possible.”
1940s-inspired deco, an excellent selection of natural and skin-contact wines, good vibes and cool design details you’ll want to bring home with you: Litro, on a quaint street in the Monteverde neighbourhood, is a welcome break from the over-crowded bars of nearby Trastevere (if you don’t count L’Antidoto!), and a favourite among real wine fans, many of whom have been frequenting it since it opened in 2013.
A transportive, intimate space, complete with warm lighting and a great outdoor patio, it’s somewhere you come for an after-work tipple and a chat, but end up staying past your bedtime.
“We fell in love with this type of wine — real wine — over a decade ago,” says Alessio Ceccotti, who co-owns the place with friend Andrea Baroni. “For us, opening a wine bar where other people could enjoy the same bottles we do was the next obvious step to take.”
“Litro is all about good wine,” he continues. “We want you to come here and just enjoy that. Good wine.”
While pre-pandemic the wine bar was usually packed with international travellers with a penchant for natural wine, Alessio says these past two years have seen locals fully embrace Litro, too. “We’ve had a lot of love from Romans,” he tells me. “Seeing so many people choosing wines like ours has been a blast.”
Take your time with the extensive display, which features wines from all over the world, or just Andrea and Alessio for a recommendation. Not in the mood for wine? They make cocktails, too, and they shine just as much.
Other Roman wine shops with a great selection of natural wines: