The best host in town is the ice cream man: Damiano Giannini’s La Piazzetta in Novafeltria

Jul 3 2024, 13:37
By day he crafts ice cream flavours, but on his days off and during holidays, he searches for artisanal wines to offer by the glass, guiding friends and customers on a tour of Italy through his selections

by Luca Martinelli

The best host in Novafeltria (RN) is the ice cream man. His name is Damiano Giannini, he’s 48 years old, and in 2012 he opened "La Piazzetta" in Piazza Umberto I, right behind the central Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, which also houses the town hall of the most important centre in Alta Valmarecchia, on the border between Romagna and Marche. His shop is a small outlet of less than thirty square metres, which expands in summer to a small outdoor area with seven tables.

The sign says "gelateria" and "bar caffetteria," but besides the ice cream freezer, there’s a counter for coffee, a fridge for beers and soft drinks, and an unexpected touch—a wine bar blackboard listing the wines by the glass, quite unusual for an ice cream shop.

The Ice Cream Man Sommelier

"This idea," says Giannini, "stems mainly from my passion for wine, a world I approached even before starting to make ice cream, a passion I nurtured by completing the sommelier course up to the third level."
Damiano Giannini's background, which includes a past as a professional cyclist, has made him a reference point for many in Valmarecchia. "I used to run a larger place where I could do different work with the wine offerings. When I opened 'La Piazzetta,' I focused on ice cream, but many friends and old customers who were used to coming to me for an aperitif encouraged me to add wine again, so I tried to find the right way to do it in a setting like this."

A tour of Italy in a Glass

There are nine wines by the glass, usually three whites, three reds, and three sparkling wines. The selection reflects Giannini's tastes, who spends his free time and holidays visiting winemakers and attending trade fairs like Vini Veri and the FIVI Winegrowers' Market. "If I find something I like, I try to offer it. If I like something, I can present it best. It’s the same for ice cream flavours or life in general," he emphasizes.

Today, the wines Damiano prefers are artisanal, spontaneously fermented wines. His search focuses on those produced by small wineries. "My palate has evolved, and I like to work with particular wines, such as skin-contact whites, which not everyone understands. I enjoy stimulating people, without insisting, educating their palate to different tastes."
In an area where bars mainly serve Sangiovese or, among whites, Rebola and Trebbiano Romagnolo, at La Piazzetta you might also find an Alsatian Riesling by the glass ("last week there was a 2017, this week I have a 2022 from Engel Frères; the first had an evolved hydrocarbon note, this one is more agile and simpler on the palate"): "There is always at least one foreign wine, mostly French," he says.

At the beginning of July, among others, you could choose a Pinot Nero grown in the Pasaro area by the SorRico winery, dedicated to the grandfather Enrico by his grandchildren; from Lazio comes a Cesanese from Tomei of Sezze (LT), 5 hectares producing 15,000 bottles; from Umbria, the Ciliegiolo of Collecapretta, the farm of Terzo la Pieve near Spoleto; then the Trento DOC from Maso Bergamini and the classic method from Marche by Mencaroni, a 2018 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. "I range widely, I like to do research. In any case, I love rotating the labels because space is limited: few wines stay 'on the list' for more than a week," adds Giannini. Each glass (priced between 4 and 7 euros) is accompanied by a small platter with pizzas and focaccias, piadina and cascioni, sourced from other local artisans. In winter, there’s also space for cheeses and cured meats. "It's quite unusual, but I like it this way, it's like having a drink at my house," he concludes. After all, La Piazzetta doesn’t even have an Instagram account: people come here thanks to word of mouth.

The host in Ivan Graziani's hometown

A perfect occasion to try the wines at La Piazzetta could be the Maledette Malelingue Festival, which on July 13 and 14 in Novafeltria celebrates the singer-songwriter Ivan Graziani, who lived here until his death on January 1, 1997. In 2024, a new album of unreleased tracks "For Friends" will be presented, recovered by his children from old recordings Graziani made in his home studio. The festival will be held at the public park along the Marecchia River, where there’s also an installation featuring his iconic red glasses. If you visit La Piazzetta before the concerts, you won’t end up with "eyes watered by the wine drunk" (quote from "Ballad for Four Seasons"), but the unique story of the ice cream man-host Damiano Giannini would certainly have fascinated a great storyteller of provincial tales like Graziani.

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