Il Bacchino – top-quality wine and food at the heart of Massa MarittimaMost of these pages on Massa Marittima are devoted, rightly, to those who grow vines and make wine. But those who sell wine and who promote the idea that wine is more than just a moderately alcoholic drink also play a crucial role in the wine trade. Indeed without them, we might be reduced to the standard offerings of supermarkets.
Il Bacchino has been a vital part of Massa’s wine scene since 1999. It combines a large selection of fine Italian wines with outstanding local cheese and salumi. In this, it reflects the passions of its two key people, Magdy Lamei for the wine and Monica Bragelli in what we would call a delicatessen. Monica comes from Massa, while Magdy is Egyptian. The two met when Monica was on holiday in Egypt and Magdy was working in hospitality … from this meeting came a new life, a new business and a highlight of Massa’s wine and food scene.
The shop is two steps from Massa’s magnificent medieval piazza – the font in the cathedral and the painting by Duccio were there in Dante’s lifetime, ie before 1321 AD. Today the piazza is – as ever – the centre of the town’s life with bars, some shops and the old palazzi. In summer there is constant activity in the piazza – the opera festival in the first week of August, the night-time wine festival on the feast of San Lorenzo (10 August) and the Balestra – an archery competition in traditional dress between the three ancient districts of the town. But, in addition to these highlights of the year, people also need to eat, drink well and, above all, meet and talk … The picture shows Magdy and Monica doing what I have rarely seen them do, sitting at the tables outside – normally they are hard at work serving others. The tables outside are a fairly new development – most of the business is actually as a shop but it is good that you can now sit outside as well as inside and enjoy a glass of wine or two with the something special to eat to accompany it.
In terms of wine, there is, of course, an excellent selection of local wines. These include the really local. Massa Vecchia is 15 minutes’ walk away directly down the hill on which Massa sits. Bolgheri, which is an hour away in a car, is very strongly represented in including multiple vintages of the classic Sassicaia. But what really marks the shop out is the careful selection of classics from many parts of Italy – mostly Tuscany of course, but also classic method sparkling wine from Franciacorta, Amarone from the Veneto and whites wines from Alto Adige and Friuli. While every other outlet in the town is basically devoted to Tuscany and to the Maremma in particular (and why not!), here these wines are accompanied by a good selection from across Italy and a few European classics. In addition, Il Bacchino is the only place in the town where you can buy top quality wine by the glass from an enomatic machine.
The success of Il Bacchino has not been an overnight affair. The shop started in a much smaller and less central position before moving to its current location. The summer months see an influx of tourists to add to the trade to discerning local customers in this small town and the shop is always in demand. In the much quieter winter months, the owners have been very busy. Initially, Magdy had to learn Italian to add to his other languages. But most of all their time has been building up their specialist knowledge and their relationships with local suppliers. In the winter the two of them have been studying wine and spirits, and visiting the small scale, artisan, food producers whose produce now fills the shop. The cheese and salumi are mostly very local indeed; the quality marks them out from what is available in the supermarket. On the wine front, Magdy distinguishes three broad bands. First, there are inexpensive wines for high-quality everyday drinking. There is little risk for the customer here but the wines still need to stand out from what is commonly available. There is a middle band where the wines really need to be worthy of having been selected, they must stand out from the ordinary. Then there are the top wines where it is vital to know what key journalists are saying and what customers might want. If you are going spend upward of €50 in a country where on the whole the knowledge about wine is poor and many will literally grow their own, then your star wines need to be just that. Magdy’s selection admirably fills these aims.
Contact details: Il Bacchino, via Moncini 8, Massa Marittima (Gr), Tel. 0566 940 229; ilbacchino(at)yahoo.it
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Page created 11 August 2012