Wine has been an intrinsic part of the culture of Italy for centuries. In fact such lineage can be traced back to the Roman era and many of the most popular Italian wines have a history that can be traced back for centuries.
It is this dedication to the development of wine and the importance of the drink to Italian culture that has made it so that it is so easy to buy Italian wine today. The historical roots of the families that invented some of the great Italian wines ensure that the members of those families keep the tradition alive and well and continue to create great wines for all of us to enjoy.
So why is wine so intrinsically linked to Italian culture? Let’s look at a few of the important factors that have ensured wine maintains its importance for centuries.
Bacchus and the Roman Era
The importance of wine to Italian culture, like many other important aspects of culture in the country, can be traced back to the Roman Empire. The Roman played an enormous role in the continued production and increasing popularity of the drink and advances during this era also ensured that more and more people became aware of wine and adapted it into their daily schedules.
In fact the Romans believed that wine was a daily necessity and it was this belief that ensured its popularity. Everybody during the era was able to drink wine. From the highest emperors through to the lowliest slaves wine was a universal drink that could be enjoyed by all. Of course this also ensured that a healthy trade flourished around winemaking and led to many producers competing with each other for the honour of having their wines recognised as some of the best in the land.
Wine was also important for international trade and interest in the drink led merchants to trade with neighbouring countries, thus creating relationships and allowing for the continued spread of Roman culture during the era. Wine was so important to the period that it is mentioned in writings authored by the likes of Pliny and Virgil. The drink even had its own God in Bacchus, also known as Dionysus, and many of the techniques that are employed by winemakers today were first developed during this era.
Though it is hard to believe that there was ever a period where Italian wine didn’t maintain some level of popularity once it had been established, there was a period in Italian history when the drink was not produced on a large scale.
Often known as the Dark Ages, this period was heralded by the fall of the Roman Empire, taking with it many of the traditions and customs that had become so widespread for the centuries that they had ruled over the country.
During this period wine production slowed almost to a halt, with very few winemakers in operation. In fact wine was most widely drunk in Church, with Roman Catholic monks often being the main winemakers in any given area. The period could have signalled the end of the winemaking history of Italy before it had really begun to take hold, if not for one of the most important cultural movements in the history of humanity.
The Renaissance is heralded as being the era of the genius. It gave birth to the term ‘Renaissance Man’, which refers to an intellectual who dabbled in a little bit of everything. It was also the era when such amazing men as Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Machiavelli and Galileo produced their greatest works. It is perhaps no overstatement to say that the Renaissance was the most important period in Italian history in terms of defining the culture and traditions of the country that are most observed to this day.
With the Renaissance came something of a rebirth for Italy and the various regions that make up the country once again became forces in everything from the arts through to banking and trade. With an increase in trade came an increase in the production of wine and many regions soon found that having their own variant allowed for increased trade with other regions in the country. This, in part, is why there are such a huge amount of wines available to the general public today and some of the most famous winemaking families truly established their reputations during this period.
With wine acting both as a source of trade and something of a badge of honour in regards to a region’s identity, it is perhaps no wonder that the drink became so completely linked to the culture of Italy.
The Modern Era
Many of the traditions from the Renaissance era, such as the areas in which particular wines can be produced and the important families that make some of the greatest vintages, have carried over into the modern era. It is this respect for the history of the craft that has allowed Italian wines to not only continue to hold an influence over the direction of Italian culture but also to expand in popularity and become recognised internationally as well.
Of course there have been issues in regards to innovators attempting to create wines using new methods clashing with traditionalists who wish to preserve the older ways. The Barolo Wars and the advent of the Super Tuscans are just two such periods when the new has clashed with the old in some regards.
However, with the likes of the DOC going to great pains to ensure many of the traditions involved in the creation of wine are kept in place it is perhaps no surprise that the drink is considered something of a link to the past. Today wine is enjoyed by most Italians and it is still an important part of meal times in addition to being taken when admiring some of the many wonders that populate the great country. In the modern era wine has also allowed Italy to share an aspect of its great history with people outside the country, which will only go to further entrench the drink into the depths of Italian culture.