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On Travessa do Monte, one of the friendliest streets in Lisbon’s Graça neighborhood, natural wine flows as freely as conversation. We’ve come here, right by the arch and with a narrow view of the city and the river, to have a glass with Giulia Capaccioli and Massimiliano Bartoli, two Italians from Tuscany who met in Venice and now live in Lisbon. The pair’s bar, Vino Vero, which they opened in April 2019, is the spring that feeds this natural wine oasis.

To fully understand the origins of this wine bar, we need to go back to Italy. There, in Tuscany, Massimiliano’s brother, Matteo, has a winery producing natural wine – that is, wine to which nothing is added or taken away. The brothers, together with Mara, Matteo’s wife, opened the first bar dedicated exclusively to natural wines in Venice, the original Vino Vero, in 2014. “Since then Venice has become the capital of natural wines in Italy, and our shop, with only eight tables, was a pioneer, with incredible Italian wines and from other countries,” he tells us.

Giulia and Massimiliano met at the original Vino Vero, but both took very different paths to get there. Before becoming immersed in the wine world, Massimiliano was a professional diver for several years. “I had a scuba diving school in Costa Rica and in Tuscany,” he says. “But after some contact with restaurants and the hospitality industry in Barcelona, I started working in restaurants there.” The chance to open a wine bar with his brother is what brought him to Venice.

Giulia’s career path was similarly far removed from vineyards and wineries, at least to start. After graduating university with degrees in Chinese and political science, she moved to Beijing, eventually returning to Venice to complete a master’s degree in business management and economics. She then worked for the Guggenheim Collection and later a publishing company specializing in contemporary art guides. While studying for her master’s, Giulia got a part-time job at the Venetian Vino Vero. “I fell in love with the bar, with the wine and then with the owner!” she exclaims.

Inspired by their wonderful experience in Venice, the couple contemplated opening a bar in another European city. Madrid, Paris and Barcelona were all on the table. They also considered northern Europe but ultimately decided that they wanted to be in a wine-producing country. “In March 2018, we came to Lisbon for the first time and we began to contemplate moving here instead as there was still a place for a natural wine bar, unlike the other cities that we visited. Besides, the Portuguese wines are still not so known in Europe,” the duo explains.

Another reason was the quiet life. “Here I think we have more time to talk to people, our work is to talk about the wines that we love, natural wines, artisanal with minimal intervention,” says Giulia. Massimiliano agrees, noting that they have found living in Lisbon to be peaceful. “And, of course, the wines and all the produce, the vegetables, fruits, cheese and ingredients you have here. For instance, some of our vegetables and fruits come from an urban farm right here, close to us. And we source from organic and small producers,” he adds.

“Here I think we have more time to talk to people, our work is to talk about the wines that we love, natural wines, artisanal with minimal intervention.”

The wine bar has a small menu prepared by chef João Baião, who hails from the Alentejo region. It features a delicious fusion of fresh Portuguese and Italian specialties, including cheese and charcuterie boards. The burrata with local tomatoes and the mackerel with brioche make for perfect summer evening snacks. Depending on the season, you may also find octopus, oysters, prosciutto and figs, Iberian pork (porco preto) specialties, salt cod, shrimp or oysters. For dessert, we currently can’t get enough of the local strawberries with gelato or the requeijão (a Portuguese cheese similar to ricotta) with figs. The bar also hosts special meals with guest chefs – for instance, on Monday, June 22, chef Marcelo Rodrigues, originally from Lisbon but now working in London, will be joining João Baião in the kitchen.

“We were attracted to this spot in Graça, it’s in the city but at the same time outside the center,” the couple says. The neighborhood has a charming community feel, perhaps inherited from the 19th century villas – buildings for workers – and its position on top of Lisbon’s highest hill, with some of the best viewpoints in the city. “Many clients have become friends and we love this place,” they add.

Their tiny street has an attractive mix of established businesses, like an Indian restaurant whose owner came from Mozambique many years ago, a butcher, a small tasca, a Portuguese mercearia (a grocery shop), a bakery, a hairdresser and a restaurant, and new ventures, like an ice cream shop (owned by a Lebanese national), a French grocery shop and Vino Vero. And in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, this diverse group has grown closer and banded together to make the street fully pedestrianized by the end of the month, allowing for larger terraces and a quieter setting. They are even thinking of organizing events once the pandemic is over, although those plans are on the back burner for the time being.

“With Covid-19 we became much closer on this street. Besides our businesses we all live in this area too – Graça is our neighborhood so we feel at home here,” they say. “We have been supported by our neighbors and friends through this period.” Though many apartments in the area are short-term rentals, and thus empty due to the lack of tourists, they have seen a steady stream of locals coming in for a glass or two of wine and some petiscos (small plates).

Vino Vero imports wines from Italy but also has quite a good collection from Portuguese producers too, some of whom they have visited to get a better sense of what they’re pouring. The newest arrival is Tubarão, a pét-nat (pétillant natural, a natural sparkling wine) from the coastal areas of Póvoa do Varzim and Esposende, outside Porto. Made by Ricardo Garrido and Márcio Lopes, this wine, of which only 600 bottles were produced, is the result of a unique style of farming called masseira (a rectangular pit dug into the sandy soil that functions almost like a greenhouse by trapping the sun’s heat). But unlike wines made from grapes grown in other vineyards facing the Atlantic, Tubarão is not saline and is actually rather fruity.

“For us and the natural wine producers and lovers, it’s not a trend – it’s a way of life, connected with organic food and sustainability. When we opened in Lisbon, Goliardos, Tati, Comida Independente, Prado and Senhor Uva were already doing a great job with natural wines and we think this kind of ‘bridge’ we’re building to Venice and some Italian producers, or others in between, can be interesting to taste. Our bar reflects what we like to drink from Northern Italy to Portugal,” says Giulia, whose passion for these wines pops up faster a cork.

While sitting at an outside table chatting with Giulia and Massimiliano, neighbors and friends are constantly stopping by to greet the couple. But as popular as they seem to be, their small dog, Chimo, already a well-known character on Travessa do Monte, is getting even more attention. It’s an idyllic scene, one that we’re even more thankful for after months spent at home. So we raise our glass to the Italian couple that traded Venice for Lisbon. Cin cin!

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