“I get my wine from a local winery,” said Vincenzo, our tour guide in the Amalfi Coast. He is a well educated guy, an expert in linguistics, reasonably affluent by local standards. “I fill up three liter jugs. Costs me 3 Euros per liter.”
We tried to imagine that. All week we had been chasing after fancy bottles in expensive restaurant wine lists.
“It’s really good wine,” he added, mumbling to himself.
Next week, on our own, we toured the Marche region in north-east Italy and observed what Vincenzo told us, in real life. The wineries we visited all had self service filling pumps, as if in a gas station. Locals came in with empty jugs, nodded hello to the attendant and proceeded to fill up. For those too lazy to serve themselves, some wineries had full jugs ready to go.
A server at Fattoria Le Terrazze, a winery in the scenic Conero peninsula, gave us the local history of wine consumption. He was explaining why their local appellation, Conero Rosso DOCG, was formed in 1967.
Previously the region was mostly rural, he said. People made their own wine at home. As the area became urbanized, city dwellers could no longer grow their own grapes and make wine. They needed wineries. The transition occurred in the 1950s and 60s. Local wineries rose up and banded together to meet the demand.
Wine in Italy is not a hobby for connoisseurs. It is a daily need, like bread, pasta or meat, to be consumed in moderation at lunch and dinner. Nowadays, those who no longer make their own wine buy it in bulk from local producers. No fuss, no muss.
We can extrapolate the same experience to other parts of the Old World, France and Spain in particular. Many who immigrated to America from those regions continued their local wine traditions, even through the Prohibition. I have Italian American friends in Stockton, my home town, who were raised that way.
Those of us who did not grow up with a wine tradition and came to it as an adult pursuit somewhat akin to fine art, make a big deal of it. We buy expensive bottles of fine wine, build fancy collections that cannot be consumed in a lifetime, and engage in various ritualistic ceremonies around wine tasting.
Vincenzo, our tour guide, would not for a moment consider paying good money for everyday wine.
A wine collection? Laughable, waste!
All the fuss? Rich Americans who don’t know what to do with their money.
That, in a nutshell, sums up the fundamental difference in wine attitude between the Old World and the New World.