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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

Carrollwood wine bar serves authentic Italian tradition

Tribune correspondent
Published:
CARROLLWOOD -

Stepping into the Sweet Secrets Enoteca is a bit like visiting the home of an old friend. And that’s exactly the feeling proprietor Remo Di Giacomo sought to create.

“I see it as part educational, part social, and part unique experience,” he says. “We are not a place where you dash in and out, we invite you stay awhile, and share talk over a good glass of Italian wine.”   

Di Giacomo is dedicated to the enoteca concept, defined as a wine shop where visitors can taste wines at reasonable prices, ending, perhaps, with the purchase of a bottle. He refers to it as a “social wine bar” in some of his marketing materials.

That makes his Carrollwood enoteca something of a hidden gem. Tucked inside the Carrollwood Village Shoppes on the southwest corner of Dale Mabry and South Village Dr., it seems miles from the ubiquitous chain restaurants dotting the busy north-south roadway. That’s exactly what makes it a hit.

Nibbling some tasty homemade bruschetta, longtime customer Carlos Marinelli describes it as “an escape to Europe in the middle of Carrollwood”.

With a tasty menu of accompaniments and a changing list of wine offerings, Di Giacomo has developed a loyal following in the nine months since he opened. Some customers stop in twice a week. Some stop in to replenish their wine cellars or to rent a private room for small gatherings.

What’s clear is Di Giacomo has created a place for mingling and tasting in the Italian tradition. In the back room, guests are sitting at four tables and sampling Pecorino cheese and fresh bread as an accompaniment to a Brunello wine. Di Giacomo is holding court and discussing his concept for pairing wines with light foods. That’s his quintessential personality -- he’s invigorated by a challenge and pondering deep subjects. A physicist by training, he’s known to discuss entropy and opera with his wife, Marinella, a former mathematics teacher -- and their customers. That’s the charm of the Di Giacomos and their enoteca.

“With his background as a physicist, Remo’s explanations and descriptions of each wine delve into the ‘science’ behind the specific wine pairings and the aging processes involved for each grape and region of the country,” says Jean Lagor, who with her husband, makes the drive from Westchase.

Remo Di Giacomo also served 35 years in the Italian Navy – including a stint as a diplomat at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., before retiring as a chief warrant officer. And he’s definitely an engaging storyteller.

Many of the wines he offers come from small, relatively unknown Italian vineyards owned by people he knows. Making you feel at home in an instant, he weaves together descriptions of Italian wine regions with the characteristics of local vintages, the names of some white wines rolling off his tongue.  Falanghia, Frascati, Vermentino di Sardegna. Di Giacomo moves on to some of his red wine offerings, such as Amarone, Taurasi, Aglianico and Cannonau. His passion for both wine and people is clearly evident.

A problem-solver by nature, Di Giacomo also relishes planning tasting plates to pair with the wines, often poring over cookbooks or websites with his wife, his business partner and the enoteca’s chef.

“For example, a few green olives might be best served with a Trebbiano,” Remo Di Giacomo says.

“What I want is to give you an experience of emotion – not just a taste of wine.”

That seems to resonate with his customers who also enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the enoteca and the warmth of its hosts.

“So I did this place to offer a new experience to people who deserve good wine,” says Di Giacomo, while, wrapping up a bottle of Refusco for a customer. “People share ideas here, they sometimes share wines -- and even email addresses,” he says with a wide smile. “That makes me so happy.”

His customers come as much for the camaraderie, relaxed atmosphere and conversation as the wine.

“Remo and Marinella make you feel like they have all the time in the world for you,” says Marinelli.

Lagor and her husband enjoy the authenticity of the enoteca and the attentiveness of DiGiacomo and his wife.

“Frank and I personally love to head over … especially on a Friday night, after a long and busy week at work,” she says. “Sometimes we sit in the back room, with its intimate feel. We always end up meeting the people at the table adjacent and having wonderful conversations.”

Sometimes, the duo sits on the couch in the front room quietly sharing a bottle of wine and a cheese plate, as if they were home.

That’s exactly the feeling Di Giacomo says he sought to create.

“It is my pleasure to offer good wine, to enjoy the friendship of the customers and share some good conversation and ideas,” he says.

One might say he’s created an authentic Italian enoteca and a hidden gem.

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