“Wine is an emotion!” declared Teodoro Capone, the proprietor of Enoteca Al Grammelot, located in the leafy Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood of Rome. His passion for the fermented grape was self-evident the moment he warmly greeted my wife and I as we sat at our table on a beautiful October evening at his cozy 20-seat enoteca. The walls were meticulously stocked from floor to ceiling with his favorite wines from small to medium sized vintners throughout Italy. Elaborating on his passion to us, Teodoro said emphatically, “Wine is earth, grapes and man,” working in harmony to make good wine great. We were transfixed by his passion and love of Italian wines from the moment we met him.
The story of this Rome enoteca began nearly a decade ago. Teodoro’s father, Alfonso Capone – yes, Al Capone, but no relation to the more infamous one from my hometown of Chicago – owned a fruit, vegetable and spice store in the same building for 45 years. As a wine aficionado from an early age, in 2005, Teodoro’s dream came to life when he reopened his father’s shop as Enoteca Al Grammelot, the wine bar and shop that stands in the same space today. Teodoro, through working with his father for many years, learned the meaning of quality and pride in one’s products. And these lessons still live on in today’s enoteca, with Teodoro avoiding the big wine producers and seeking out small to medium sized winemakers that produce no more than 200,000 bottles a year. He opined that smaller wineries put more emphasis and care into the production of the wine and less on marketing and advertising.
Our table was the perfect perch to sit and observe the warm twinkling glow of light reflecting off the wine bottles on the well-stocked wall. Teodoro’s welcome extended to our table, as he sat with us to be our guide through his lovely menu, thoughtfully selected wine pairings with our food tastes, like an orchestra maestro blending harmonies and tones. We were enthralled. Teodoro left us for a few moments and scurried to the kitchen, leaving us to ponder this soon to be unfolding feast. He returned and presented us with the porcini mushroom with its beautiful golden brown and white hues: it was to be our antipasto, appetizer, and Teodoro was asking for our “blessing” before it was prepared. The mushroom was glorious. The mushroom was enormous, the size of a small shrub. It immediately gained the attention of everyone seated near us. At the next table, our neighbors’ eyes widened and the four women gasped as Teodoro cradled the epic porcini mushroom like a trophy. This mushroom owned the room.
Il primo piatto
We began the meal with a wine pairing of Lugana white wine from northern Italy’s Ca’ Lojera near Lake Garda. The color was a vivid straw yellow with tasting hints of pear and apple and the lovingly prepared porcini mushroom was marinated in olive oil, red pepper flakes with strong nutty flavors. It definitely lived up to its rock star hype. The next plate, our primo piatto, or pasta course, of paccheri wrapped in speck and sprinkled with pecorino cheese and olive oil made the perfect match of flavors and textures. We wiped the plate of perfect paccheri clean and leaned back as the thought of seeking gastronomic asylum crossed our minds. The Lugana white wine was splendidly refreshing and just as Teodoro promised, it had the added bonus of cleansing our palettes for our main course.
Teodoro was not finished with us. As our stomachs sang with delight as our secondi main courses of boar stew and goulash arrived at our table. The boar was amazingly tender in a rich, hearty stew mixed with potatoes. The goulash, a Hungarian staple with an Italian twist, was equally superb with a tomato-based stew, potatoes and a medley of seasonings. Our interest in flavorful meats shaped his selection of Schioppettino red wine from the Friuli-Venezia region in the far northeast of Italy, near the Slovenian border. It’s a very old grape that was nearly lost to history whose deeply colored appearance and medium bodied flavors was an ideal pairing for meat and game. Schioppettino roughly translated means “to burst” or “to crackle,” Teodoro explained as he related it to a shotgun blast of flavor. We also enjoyed the added bonus of the fact that tge Schioppettino grape is rarely found outside of Italy, making for an even more special evening.
Our Rome enoteca wine and dinner experience concluded with dolce, the sweet course. By all measurements, we had no business having dessert, but our minds defeated our stomachs as we valiantly charged on. We had no regrets. An artfully prepared tante foglie – a play on words and shape of the more popular millefoglie with wafer pastry rectangles stacked like Jenga bricks on top of a cream custard, dusted in powdered sugar with drizzled chocolate sauce – was presented to us in the final act of Roman hospitality. Every taste was an indulgent, flavorful moment.
Teodoro Capone made us feel at home with his kindness and gratifying food and wine. We left his small but memorable establishment discussing how we agree with him. Wine is emotion and my wife and I already miss this beautiful and unassuming Rome enoteca. It made for a wonderful respite from the busy activities of Rome.