Passione Vino describes itself, on its website, as “an Italian wine shop and bar”. A better description, however, might be “an escapist fantasy”, because stepping through the lapis-blue doorway of this converted Shoreditch townhouse feels like landing on a film set. There are doors hidden behind mirrors, and mantelpieces crammed with candelabras and cut-glass decanters, while winding staircases lead to secret rooms hung with salamis. On the ground floor, shelves stacked with Italian wine compete with eye-popping floral wallpaper; and in the tiny basement tasting room, a vine-like chandelier wrought from copper piping snakes its way across the ceiling. If Lewis Carroll had designed wine shops, they probably would have looked like this.
“I want people to think, what’s going on?” laughs Veronese owner Luca Dusi, whose personality is similarly larger than life. “But underneath it all we are, in many ways, still a classic osteria.” With a focus on small, artisan producers, Passione Vino began life in 2003 as an Italian wine importer and supplier, quickly building up a roster of top clients, including The River Café, St John, Cipriani and The Clove Club. The shop – launched a decade later – is also a chef’s favourite; on my last visit, I bumped into The French House’s Neil Borthwick (also known as the husband of Angela Hartnett) installed at the communal table out front.
Here, every bottle comes with a story, told by Dusi, who knows all the winemakers personally (portraits of many of them adorn the walls). “We have no wine list; we don’t follow trends,” he says. “When I’m choosing what to buy and serve to our guests, I just go on instinct.” One of his favourite calling cards is Sottoriva Col Fondo Malibran NV (£20), a cloudy, bottle-fermented prosecco made using the ancestral method. “We want to rewrite the perception of prosecco,” he says. “This one is dry, quite grassy, and goes wonderfully with the delicate flavours of beef tartare.”
Dusi is also a great champion of underrated grape varieties and regions. “Sicilians in general do not like this grape,” he says, pouring me a glass of frappato from the renegade Sicilian producer Baroni di Pianogrillo, “but I think it’s fantastic – like a smoky Pinot Noir.” Orange wines are another favourite: L’Erta Trebbiano (£37) from Tuscany has beautiful notes of orange blossom and eucalyptus. For those after something more traditional, Dusi can oblige there too, with a powerful, velvety 2011 Barolo Perno Riserva Elio Sandri (£60).
Passione Vino is the kind of place you could pop into on the way to a dinner party and be sure to pick up something fabulous. But it’s also a place to linger – they host all sorts of supper clubs and tastings. Furnished with a nice Nebbiolo and a board of nutty Parma ham, I could lose whole evenings there, lounging in the little upstairs room and gazing at the map of Italy that’s been painted on the ceiling. Slightly disorientated, perhaps, but in the best possible way.
Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.