“This wine is t-shirt and jeans,” says Stefano Moiso, owner of La Vite Turchese, a wine shop and wine bar in the village of Barolo. “And this wine is a fine skirt.” He places two glasses in front of me on the coffee table. Before telling me more, he excuses himself for a couple minutes to help another customer. Raising each glass to my nose I think: what a wonderfully strange way to learn about wine.
I was in Piemonte to work on an assignment for the New York Times: In a Northern Italian Wine Region, Raising a Glass with Less Fuss. During a previous trip I noticed that among the many elegant, white tablecloth restaurants in the region, there were also new, unpretentious, informal places where winemakers and locals gathered to raise a glass and have a snack. These wine bar/wine shop hybrids offered a place to go for people wearing sneakers but in search of a special glass of wine.
When Stefano returned, he told me about a local 77 year old man who makes just 400 hams a year. As he finished the story, a plate of that very ham alongside wedges of goat cheese arrived at the table. What I thought would be a quick lunch turned into an afternoon of stories and sipping, hearing about the people behind the wines and then getting a taste. I mentioned an interest in female winemakers, and off we went on a tasting tour of local wines made by women. A shared affection for the underdog opened the hatch to a whole other rabbit hole that I happily went down.
La Vite Turchese is everything a wine bar should be, but often is not. It’s small and service is personal. There are wines for every budget. The staff is genuinely interested in your impression of the wine. It’s an interactive experience; each tasting and response leads down a new road. It isn’t stiff or pretentious. It’s also a wine shop, with shelves stocked to the ceiling with wines at retail prices (not the mark-up that is expected in a restaurant or bar). Buy a bottle and the choice is yours: grab a table and sit down to open it, or take the bottle with you. Find a wine you like, and grab a bottle off the shelf to bring home (or get a case shipped).
Stefano also offers masterclasses by appointment, curating a tasting according to your interests and throwing in a few surprises. If a tasting raises a question, he might call the winemaker on his mobile phone for the answer. You will drink wines that often don’t leave the borders of Italy. You will drink wines from winemakers that don’t have a website or social media presence. You will drink wines that you will never see on a restaurant menu.
That exclusivity is certainly attractive, but it’s Stefano’s hospitality that makes a visit to this wine bar so memorable. He’s built a “come as you are” environment; jeans, t-shirts, and all levels of wine knowledge welcome.