Take a moment and picture a bottle of wine on an Italian table.
In this vision do you see a red and white checkered table cloth? What could be more Italian than that? The bottle, is the bottom partially covered with woven straw? That bottle of chianti is sold in the states, and you have seen that red and white checkered table cloth a hundred times in movies and restaurants in America. These are the symbols in our minds of Italy. We can almost smell the food!
Funny thing is that in 6 years of living in Italy I have only seen one red and white table cloth for sale. For 6 years I kept my eye open hoping to find it, and finally in my "Thursdays only" village market it appeared.
Let's talk about that romantic bottle of wine, wrapped in straw. It is the symbol of past days where life was slower,y et identified as one of the worst Italian wines sold in America. In the Veneto where I live, that bottle can be found, but no one buys it. There are too many better wines for the same price. (another subject later)
While on the subject of wine I have to confess something. I had expectations. I imagined that large family dinner tables would have multiple bottles of wine. I expected that Italians would drink more than one glass, maybe three at least, but this is not the custom here. In fact, I have never seen a drunk Italian. I am sure there must be some, but I have never seen one. (Yes, I do get out of my village often) They just are not big drinkers. They don't lift their wine glass and give it a swirl, and you never hear the gurgling and sucking of wine tasters. That is wine snobbery.
Keep in mind that driving laws here are strict. Tested with alcohol of more than one glass of wine in your system and your car is taken away. For the first three years of driving, cars are taken away if a person is tested with ANY alcohol in their blood. This is serious for persons moving to Italy and getting a new license as their old license is only good for one year here, especially serious when for three years you cannot have a trace of alcohol in your system when tested.
And now to my first Italian home cooked meal story. I have brought a bottle of Silver Oak to Italy to bring to dinner. We are having lasagna freshly made and rolled out by hand. I present my bottle and it is opened to breathe, while we enjoy some cold cuts and cheese as the lasagna with fresh mushrooms picked that morning is baking.
Later we pour the wine. The host, an old fellow, pours half a glass and I watch in horror as he then picks up a bottle of water with gas and adds it to his wine. Silver Oak and fizzywater! Yes, I had already explained a little to them about the Napa Valley and its wines, so I did not expect it to be watered down. He just wasn't your typical wine visionary! He is a good shot!
The old fellow grew up "without". He was used to adding water to make the wine last longer, but he also explained that he is not used to full bodied wines. I have also seen other Italians add water to their red wine. He took me a week later to visit a farmer friend who makes his own wine and sausages. I was proudly shown the attic which had at least a hundred sausages hanging. Taking another ladder down to the wine room, I saw three cement tanks for wine making. Cement tanks was an old method for ageing the wine before stainless steel and fiberglass became the way. Old ways die hard. I was just glad to get to see how they used to make wine here.
Next time you see a movie and there is that table cloth and that bottle of wine, know that Hollywood is trying to fool you, and they do a pretty good job of it.