Illustration by Henryk Zimak
After many years living in and traveling around Italy as an American, just trying to understand the wine, a few key—yet unanticipated— habits rubbed off on me. The biggest one: How to drink wine like an Italian. There is a certain ceremony and order to it—if you ask an Italian. I did not. But I might as well have asked each winemaker I met from Piedmont to Puglia, “What’s one thing you think Americans are doing wrong when we drink wine?” Here’s how they answered the question I did not ask.
Grab a chair. There is nowhere else to be, they might implore. Sit down, relax and let what’s in the glass pull you in.
Unlike their French neighbors, the Italians have fully embraced the glassmaking talents of the Austrians and Germans. If there is wine around, I guarantee it won’t be without proper stemware on the table. (Unless you’re imbibing Barbera—then Grandpa’s water glass is just fine.)
What’s better than a good bottle of wine? Sharing it with friends. Camaraderie is key. Maybe the only real rule at all is to enjoy wine however and with whomever you like.
Wine is basically the fifth food group in Italy. Even the simplest Italian bar will irrefutably provide a slice of bruschetta or a few olives with your glass of vino. You cannot have one without the other, so grab yourself something da mangiare.
One of the biggest blunders you can make in front of the Italian who made the wine in your glass is to hurry through it. During my first visit to Barolo, while I was attempting to be polite and efficiently taste through a handful of wines, I heard, “Taking your time with Barolo is essential to understanding how it evolves and changes over time in your glass.”