etiquette

Italy is a major wine culture. One would expect for certain customs, traditions and superstitions to exist  in such a place that will appear very foreign and rather strange in other parts of the world. I have found references to a few such wine-related customs. It is likely that they are becoming less relevant even in Italy, but maybe some are worth preserving?

1. The host first pours wine into his own glass. It is very easy to find at least one practical explanation for this custom. One would naturally try to avoid serving shreds of cork, still floating in the wine, to a guest. Also, sweet oil has been traditionally used to preserve bottled wine, and even after the oil is removed upon opening the bottle, the first sip could have some lingering oleaginous  flavor. Incidentally, the same practice of using oil in order to better preserve wine, may also serve as a way to rationally justify pouring a few drops of wine on the floor as a propitiation to the gods – a well-known custom among the Greek and Romans, still observed in many areas (Source: W. Walsh, Handy book of literary curiosities).

2. Women should not pour wine. In Italy, it is generally considered unfeminine for a woman to pour wine. The reasons for this must be purely aesthetic, however there is also one particular stage of wine production from which women have been often excluded – the crushing of grapes (Source: Leo A. Loubère, The red and the white: a history of wine in France and Italy).


3. Italian wine shops. The terms for wine shops in Italy are: enoteca, negozio di vini, vinaio (i.e. wine maker). There is one feature of their exterior decor which, although it is not universally followed, has some significance. Sometimes you will see ivy branches or bushes above and around the entrance. The explanation is that ivy makes the wine “innocuous.” This appears to be a matter of pure superstition, however ivy leaves have been used as a remedy for hangovers since Roman times, due to “the antipathy between wine and ivy,” as some old writers liked to put it.

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