When you’re opening your second bottle of Italian wine of the evening, you’re probably not giving a whole lot of thought to the symbolism that lies behind the drink.
Your priority is to get another glass poured so that you can continue enjoying those wonderful flavours.
But allow us to drag you away from how you typically enjoy your wine so that we can explore it a little further.
The fact is that the Italian, and in fact the global, wine industry is steeped in symbolism. There are many rites, both modern and ancient, that use wine as a symbol for something else.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at a few examples of when wine means more than what it initially appears
Example #1 – Holy Communion
We may as well start with what may be the most famous example of the symbolism that can be attached to Italian wine.
During the Holy Communion, you will drink a sip of wine as part of the ritual of consuming the body and blood of Christ. Of course, this is all a metaphor. The wine symbolises Christ’s blood, whereas the small slice of bread that you eat symbolises his body.
The idea here is to demonstrate how the spirit of Christ/God lives in all of us. For Christian’s the concept actually originates during the last supper, when Jesus asks his disciples to eat and drink with him. In doing so, he says that they are partaking in his body and his blood.
The interesting thing about this particular ritual is that it has endured for centuries at this point. Today, you will still drink the “blood” of Christ during any Catholic ceremony. In fact, the ritual is so popular that it has crossed over into other denominations of Christianity. For example, the Church of England will often perform its own form of communion, which follows the same general principle.
Interestingly, there are some who claim that the Holy Communion, and specifically the idea behind using wine as a symbol for blood, predates Christianity. Some believe it harkens back to the days when primitive humans performed sacrifices, during which they might drink the blood of the sacrifice.
Example #2 – Wine in Literature
Interestingly, wine is often used in symbolic terms in literature.
Now, the exact ways aren’t specifically definable and will often rely on the nature of the source material and the story being told.
But if we’re to generalise and paint with broad strokes here, wine is often used as a symbol of happiness and togetherness. Typically, it’s consumed when people are in groups and sharing stories.
This may be the closest to what wine symbolises in your own life. While you may well drink the occasional glass on your own, the wine really starts to flow when you’re with friends. You’re enjoying a shared experience together that often extends beyond the drinking of the wine itself.
Of course, you could certainly argue that this isn’t a ritual, at least not in the traditional sense. But if you think about the time you spend with your friends, you will see that there are many little rituals that you have built into your relationships.
For example, you may toast before drinking your wine. Or, you may all drink specific wines for specific occasions. While such rituals lack the deep metaphor and meaning of something like Holy Communion, they are no less important in your life.
Example #3 – For the Gods
This is a little ritual that we can trace back to the time of the Ancient Greeks.
Back then, wine was seen as a literal gift from the gods. In fact, both the Greeks and the Romans had specific gods dedicated to wine.
In those ancient times, people would hold wine festivals dedicated to those gods.
Today, we still have wine festivals of course. And you could even argue that something like a harvest festival harkens back to the time when we worshipped multiple gods, including those of the harvest. However, it’s rare to find any festival that’s specifically for a wine god, such as Bacchus.
Even so, there are small remnants of this tradition that remain. For example, have you ever seen somebody pour a little bit of wine out of the bottle before they start serving it? While this may have a practical purpose, it also harkens back to an old tradition in which the ancients would pour a little bit of wine “for the gods” before they’d pour any for themselves.
Example #4 – The Champagne Pyramid
From the most ancient ritual on this list, we go to a ritual that is very much steeped in the modern age.
The Champagne pyramid is a symbol of decadence, extravagance, and celebration. At its height, the ritual involves uncorking the bottle using a sabre before pouring the Champagne into the glass that sits at the top of the pyramid. As that glass overflows, the wine seeps down to the next row of glasses.
And so the pyramid continues, with more bottles being used until each glass is full.
That is also why we call this an extravagant ritual. The sheer cost of creating a Champagne Pyramid must not be underestimated, especially when you have a particular large pyramid. Furthermore, it’s hardly the most practical way to pour a glass of bubbly.
It’s simply a symbol of wealth combined with celebration. And if we want to be particularly cynical…it’s also a waste or some perfectly good Champagne.
The Final Word
There are many rituals that involve wine in some fashion.
Some of these have endured for centuries and have deep symbolic meaning. This is especially the case for the more religious rituals that exist in the world.
Other rituals celebrate togetherness or are simply displays of extravagance intended to mark a celebration.
Perhaps you’ve engaged in a few of these rituals yourself. We’re almost certain that the symbolic ideas of friendship and togetherness that we mentioned strike a chord.
And of course, there are plenty of other rituals, both big and small, that exist in the world of Italian wine. Perhaps you’d like to tell us about a few that we haven’t covered in the comments section below.