Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Drinking wine in Italy

Wine, along with olive oil, is closely associated with Italy and the Italian lifestyle. Here are a few things you should be aware of.

The legal drinking age in Italy is 16, and even this is rarely enforced. I would not, however, advise you to take advantage of the situation.

Wine consumption in Italy is usually what is called periprandial, that is, it takes place around mealtimes. Or at least around food. The aperitivo is also part of this pattern, so that even if it is consumed at home or at a bar, it is before a meal.

It is considered the norm to have wine with a meal, either at home or at a restaurant. This includes lunch. With more casual meals (including pizza), Italians will often have beer. In other words, they object to the alcohol-free meal, which is seen as an anomaly. Italian workplace cafeterias generally offer wine.

Unlike the United States and other countries, wine is not normally offered by the glass in Italy. The exception would be establishments such as the enoteca, whose purpose is ostensibly to sample different wines.

At restaurants, you either order a bottle (perhaps a half bottle) or the house wine, il vino della casa. Even for the house wine the glass is not the minimal unit, the quarter liter is. Un quarto di litro, familiarly (and even lovingly) referred to as a quartino. House wine is offered in caraffes of one quarter, one half, and one liter. Quaffing the house wine represents a great savings.