Vino never comes alone

Boris Ludwig comes from Germany and lives in Italy

You love the taste of good food and wine, have a soft spot for partying outside and drinking under a sky full of bright stars? Then you might like the Italian drinking culture, too.

"Andiamo in città" – "Let’s go into the city", is a common phrase that fulfills three main purposes: making an appointment, having a drink and sharing your time together. From spring to autumn, Italian nightlife takes place outdoors.

It's always a great experience sitting down somewhere in the tiny streets of a town centre. It's impossible to count those nights when an ordinary bar became the origin of new friendships, simply because someone asked for a light for his cigarette, simultaneously starting a conversation.

And last but not least, the open sky, bars and drinks are also a traditional dating agency, a successful business since time immemorial.

Photo: slack12 (flickr)
Wine is an essential element of Italian culture

In general, Italian drinking habits correspond to the image of "dolce vita", which attracts tourists from all over the world. Well, the country offers far more than sunbathing, Ferraris and all the rest that films and travel adverts want to make us believe, but one stereotype is really based on reality: wine flows like water. No matter where you go and what you want to celebrate, you can count on a vast amount of grape-based beverages.

And that's no surprise, as Italy is the biggest wine producing country in the world.* Roundabout 5 billion litres leave Italian vineyards from Sicily to the Dolomites in a year. They are made from more than 300 sorts of grapes, many with great traditions, and bottled as Secco, Prosecco, Spumante, Frizzante, Riserva, Dolce, Amabile, Battezzato, Vino da Tavola, Vino Primitivo, Vino Biancho, Vino Rosso, Vino Tinto. Many are used for cocktail-like drinks such as Spritz (herb liqueur with white and sparkling wine).

To try to find my way in this strange culture I decided to ask a patient Italian friend for a short explanation of basic rules in this liquid minefield before drinking the first cup. Still, one mistake was inevitable - I ordered pizza with wine. That's a no-go, as pizza is a simple food which requires beer as a drink.

In any case: Wine is not just booze but also a demonstration of skill and personality. Commenting on a wine's taste is quite common here, maybe because it makes drinking more profound and gives a reasonable justification to try another bottle.

But by drinking wine you show much more than knowledge - you also demonstrate patriotism. For many, choice of wine is like the choice of your favourite football club. You choose the one you grew up with, maybe one that your whole family likes. Of course you support a regional product. And once the decision is made, it counts for a lifetime – or almost.

In Italy, the choice of wine is like the choice of your favourite football club

But whatever you drink and for whatever reason you prefer it: make sure you don't forget the food. Eating and drinking go together here in Italy. It's funny how much I improved my cooking skills although I was rarely invited to real "dinners". People never drink on an empty stomach and so they almost expect a party or a get-together to be accompanied by a plate of food that is often home made.

For a German, all these habits seem rather strange at first glance. As beer has a great tradition in Germany, it's brewed in large amounts, it's cheap but still tasty and you wouldn't try a wine instead. When there is a party going on, all the edible things you expect are crisps and peanuts, and when you drink you do it inside. In Italy, this is all completely turned upside down.


Stravecchio - very old wine. If someone offers you a glass of this, accept immediately because it's quite expensive.

Battezzato - watery wine (could only be a circumscription for something cheap and cheesy)

But I think I'll miss the Italian way of celebrating when I return to Germany. And I'll definitely export as much as I can when I return. Except for the drinking-outside-thing. Because from October until May, Germany is just too cold.

By the way: in comparison with Greece (only 30 litres of wine a year per person) or Spain (33 litres a year) Italians drink around 45 litres of wine a year. Multiplied by 60 million inhabitants, they drink 2.7 billion litres all together, that's 50 million litres in one single weekend!

I'm sure they have a glass left over for you, too...


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