Trieste for wine lovers

Tower in Trieste with Italian flag

For this penultimate published entry in our wine writing competition, Lorenza Pravato provides the inside track on where to go in this quintessential border city in the far north east of Italy. For all other published entries, see this guide.

Trieste – that small Vienna on the Adriatic Sea, included by a thread within Italian boundaries some 130 kilometres to the east of Venice – may not be the first Italian town you think about for a wine trip.

However, thanks to its proximity to some renowned wine regions, as well as to the pleasure-loving attitude of its inhabitants, it does have something to offer to the wine lover travelling to this weird corner of Northern Italy.

For your aperitivo

Pride and joy of the town is Piazza Unità d’Italia, a large square adorned with beautiful buildings, facing the sea.

Harry’s Bar belongs to the luxury Grand Hotel Duchi d’Aosta, and its tables spill out on the square. Its cellar includes bottles from some of the best local winemakers as well as valuable wine from abroad, including old vintage Mosel Rieslings served by the glass. Sommelier Elena Brussa Toi gives wise suggestions if you are not very familiar with local production. The Hotel also owns the sole Michelin-starred restaurant in town, Harry’s Piccolo.

Not far from the square, in the much smaller Piazza Tommaseo, Caffè Tommaseo is by far the best café to have wine in. Like Vienna, Trieste is above all the town of cafés, fancy bars dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, impregnated with Belle Epoque atmosphere, vaguely resembling a Downton Abbey set. Most are victims of the Prosecco fever that is spoiling the world’s wine offer, and may not be the first place to look for fine wines, but something good can still be found here and there.

Although the choice of wines by the glass may not be so large, bottles at Caffè Tommaseo – usually local and of fine quality – are accurately selected and stored, and are always freshly opened, so the tasting experience is never disappointing. The staff are more educated on wine than on average and can help you make up your mind on the basis of your preferences. This café also houses a fine fish restaurant, with a larger choice of wines by the bottle. It also is a wine shop.

Gran Malabar is a much more casual place, a stereotypical Italian bar with a kind-yet-relaxed service. It is located in Piazza San Giovanni, a small square just a few steps to the east of the church of Sant’Antonio Nuovo. Despite its appearance, it is the place to go to taste local wines and – for instance – compare them with the ones made elsewhere from the same varieties. It offers dozens of wines by the glass, from many different regions.

If you are still struggling to make your new boyfriend remember the difference between good quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli and Pinot Gris from Alsace, this is the place to go. And you can enjoy further shades of grey with some Sivi Pinot from Slovenia.

Enoteca di Vino in Vino, on the other hand, is a very small wine bar in a side street off any tourist track, although it’s still in the city centre and close to the prose theatre. It is located in via Fabio e Aurelio Nordio, off the more crowded viale XX Settembre, which is a quite unattractive, tree-lined mini-boulevard with cheap fashion shops; ethnic and fast-food restaurants; local eateries and food stands. Located just around the corner, this enoteca is extremely quiet, yet richly supplied with fine local wines and something from abroad, mainly from Northern Italy and France. This is the place you can go to compare Pinot Noir from Venezia Giulia, Alsace and Burgundy, or to taste zero dosage sparkling wines from different varieties and regions (including Grand Cru Champagne). It is actually a hybrid, being not only a cosy bistrot, with a small choice of Italian fine foods, but also a wine shop where you can purchase bottles to take away, at lower prices.

Bar X is, to all intents and purposes, a modern bar where you can have an espresso or a quick business lunch, located on the crossroads between via Coroneo and via Palestrina, close to the town’s courthouse and off the tourist track but – again – still in the city centre. Yet, wine is its forte. It offers a nice selection of locally produced bottles, as well as different sparkling wines available by the glass. Its staff are kind and pretty skilled, probably more than in similar bars.

Now it’s time to have dinner

Apart from already mentioned Caffè Tommaseo and Harry’s Piccolo, a good choice for wine lovers who also love fish is Antica Trattoria Menarosti in via del Toro, another unexpected side street off Viale XX Settembre. Don’t let the pictures and the musical instruments hanging on the walls mislead you. This is not a tourist trap with an artificial Italian atmosphere; it is actually an old restaurant serving fine fish dishes, boasting a long and interesting wine list, which includes Chablis, Rheingau Riesling and fine Austrian wines (together with local ones). Although there are about 100 covers, it is always better to reserve a table in advance here.

Smaller and much more recent, but already a reference for fish cuisine accompanied by quality local wines, Trattoria Nero di Seppia in via Cadorna is another place you’ll struggle to find a seat. The food menu is short as it’s based on what’s caught daily; fish is always fresh and tasty. Their fritto misto is rolled in rice flour and tastes surprisingly fragrant. The wine list is much longer than the menu and includes several local producers and varieties, some of which are quite rare.

If you are not in the mood for fish, Ristorante Nuovo Savron is the place to taste traditional dishes in a modern – easier to digest – fashion, paired with good wines.

Different kinds of raw and cured meat are among most popular antipasti, while pasta dishes include potato dumplings with cured elk meat and, according to the season, gnocchi di susini or gnocchi di albicocche, potato dumplings stuffed with plums or apricots, boiled in salted water and then briefly panfried in butter, sugar, cinnamon and breadcrumbs.

The cellar is impressive, with wines coming from the best Italian wine regions and from overseas. Reds outnumber whites, with 20 different Tuscan labels and more than 40 labels from Friuli Venezia Giulia, not to mention bottles from Sardinia and Chile. Not all the wines are of the same quality level so when in doubt let Michele suggest what best goes with your menu.

Bracerie Venete is a relatively new restaurant in via della Madonnina and specialising in meat dishes cooked on embers. Quality beef steaks of different species are usually available, as well as less common meats, such as kangaroo and zebra. Pasta is home-made and desserts are also very fine. The wine menu includes well known quality wines that can be easily found in many other restaurants, plus rare bottles you don’t see elsewhere in town, among which vintage is Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon.

You’ll then want to grab a souvenir

Some of the above-mentioned places are also a good places to purchase wine to take away. As already made clear, Caffè Tommaseo has a nice stock of bottles from local producers, together with something from other relevant Italian (and French) wine regions. Similarly, Enoteca di Vino in Vino is also a pretty well-stocked wine shop where you can purchase local wines at fair prices.

Enoteca Bischoff, in via Mazzini, is a kind of institution in town: local wine lovers come here to find not-so-common, high quality wines, while novices, and even teetotallers, also choose this shop, the former to take their first steps in the world of wine staying on the safe side, the latter to receive good advice when they have to give a bottle of wine (or spirit) and be sure of choosing something that will be appreciated by the recipient. It is owned by the same family that runs Caffè Tommaseo and has been supplying the town with fine wines for decades.

Another option is to purchase some local wines from the Slovene wine regions of Vipavska Dolina (Vipava Valley) and Kras (Karst), as well as some fine Austrian and Italian wines from the online wine shop Enoteca Adriatica. Although available from anywhere, being a web store, this one-man-band company is based in Trieste and can deliver directly to any hotel or B&B without charging shipping costs – on Sundays too – provided the owner is in town (call to agree delivery in advance).

Disclaimer: it’s owned by the husband of the writer – and yes, I do believe he’s doing a great job in selecting and importing fine wines from Slovenia and other, more or less renowned, European wine regions, otherwise I wouldn’t let him.

If your stay in Trieste is longer than a weekend, the surroundings are full of wineries to visit, and the finest Slovene wine regions are a short car trip away. But this would need a brand new article.