Why is wine important to Italian Culture?

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“Man differs from animals because he manufactures and consumes alcoholic products.”

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The affirmation of the philosopher Tullio Gregory, who deals with studies on the Early Middle Ages, is a little risky. Still, it better exemplifies wine’s role in Italian culture, an integral part for centuries.

Many of the wines currently produced in our peninsula have a very long history and tradition; their traces can be traced back to Roman times or even further back in time.

Wine and oil represent two products or symbols that have always been present in liturgical and pagan rites.

The Italians have put particular care and dedication into wine, which has meant that Italian wine is still considered one of the excellences of the Bel Paese with full rights. Some ancient families have always been producers of wine, and they proudly carry on the tradition.

In general, the Mediterranean civilization is marked by the cultivation of the vine, a history that has been going on since long before the Roman Empire. Wine has been loaded with symbolism since Noah, the first man who survived the universal flood. In Greek mythology, Dionysus was the deity associated with wine. In Rome, Dionysus takes the name of the best-known Bacchus.

But why has wine always been part of our culture? How did he become part of it?

Roman Times

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The Ancient Romans were great consumers of wine and, of course, also skilled producers.

Even then, the Romans considered wine a daily necessity, and its consumption was part of the everyday meal. Everyone could drink wine, from the emperor to the humble enslaved people. Naturally, the quality of the wine consumed and offered varied according to the social class to which they belonged. Closely related to consumption, there was, of course, a large trade.

And Bacchus, as mentioned earlier, was the revered deity associated with wine, and the grape harvest often depicted holding a cup of wine.

When Rome began its expansion and increased commercial exchanges, wealth became quite widespread, and taverns began to appear on the streets, serving hot wine and ready-made dishes.

During the banquets and before starting the meal, a “magister bibendi” was drawn, the one who had to abstain from drinking to mix the wine with the right amount of water, which could be five or three-quarters of the water and two of wine, or three, i.e., formed by two parts of water and one of wine.

The best quality wines were served first and then finished with the lesser ones.

Diners used to mix wine with honey and other things: pitch, sodium chloride, and perfumes.


To the Roman military, we owe the vine’s export to the rest of Europe, to the famous wine areas of the Loire and Champagne.

The middle ages

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Talking about a decline in wine production in Italy is a gamble. Wine has always continued to be a fixed and essential point of our culture, but in any case, there was a period of lower production.

The dark period of history begins for culture, science, and wine.

The Roman Empire collapsed, and with it, the prosperity of the peninsula and the production of wine decreased, so much so that it returned to being a drink for the few.

In this period, the production of wine has slowed down so much, almost to a standstill, with very few producers. In reality, the wine was mainly produced for use in the Church, and in many cases, the tradition was carried on by the monks. In the Middle Ages, good wine had almost become an elite drink. However, over time and especially with the birth of castles, the cultivation of fine vineyards began to spread around the walls around the tenth century.



The physician Arnaldo di Villanova (about 1235-1311 AD) firmly established the use of wine as a recognized therapeutic method during the late Middle Ages. Among the extensive list of medicinal uses of wine, Arnaldo da Villanova underlined its antiseptic and refreshing qualities, recommending its use in preparing poultices. 

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Moreover, throughout the medieval period, wine was one of the few liquids capable, due to its alcohol content, of dissolving and hiding the flavor of the substances considered curative by the doctors of the time. The “theriacas,” as these herbal and wine-based pharmaceutical preparations were called, thus came into use to treat any ailment or disease.

From the Renaissence to the present days

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After the eclipse that occurred during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance marked a new beginning. Culture returned to be present and did so with great names: Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Galileo, to name a few, and consequently, wine also returned to the tables.

In this period, the big productions of wines still famous not only in our country but also abroad began. In the nineteenth century, numerous scholars started to fine-tune the winemaking techniques known up to that time, experimenting with new ones and introducing innovations.

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It is the period in which Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, together with the Falletti marquises, began the production of Barolo, the same more or less that we still drink and know today. While in Tuscany, Baron Ricasoli produces the famous Chianti, and in Piedmont, Mr. Carlo Gancia begins the production of Spumante, still considered a classic today.

The 1900s were marked by the advent of numerous vine diseases, such as phylloxera, which destroyed hectares upon hectares of vineyards, seriously jeopardizing various harvests.

This disease has given a solid boost to exports. In America, above all, in California, Argentina, and Chile, wine is being produced and also of quality. Countries such as South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are no less.

Following the globalization of wine, if it can be defined as such, there has been a clash with more excellent protection of products, introducing a variety of acronyms to indicate brands and rigid regulations, which preserve the authenticity of the work and the various DOCs follow one another – DOCG – DOP.

Also, in these years, schools of sommeliers and wine tasters were born in the area, helping to fuel an even more sophisticated wine culture. And it is perhaps for all these reasons that drinking wine is something more for an Italian.

wine education

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Not only to distinguish what is worth drinking and what is not but also to avoid excesses that can cause drunkenness and transform a drink from a panacea into a harmful one. Wine is a powerful antioxidant; in small quantities, it protects us from bad cholesterol and improves blood circulation.

This is how wine became a valuable ally of the now famous all over the world Mediterranean diet, which in 2011 was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In addition, some elements, mainly present in red wine, such as polyphenols, tannins, and resveratrol, bring significant benefits to our bodies.

The wine-food combinations are endless because there are many types of wine, just as many are the dishes of Italian cuisine. And that’s not all; wine is also an ingredient in the kitchen, which gives that extra touch to many courses, be it white or red.

In short, drinking wine is not a status; it is not demonstrating something; it is cultural and, therefore, difficult to explain using words. Nevertheless, it is part of Italian culture and intrinsic to the man himself, so we cannot help but raise our glasses and toast!

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