Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why Do Italians Drink Wine In Stumpy Cups??

Few things are more woptastic than Chianti nestled in its wovenbasket shell, served aside squat juice glasses. This “rural” approach to wine consumption circumvents common drinking hazards—glass breakage—while at the same time leaves your hands free to gesture. A superb evolution for certain, but stemless glassware must exist for reasons other than saving the accident-prone from embarrassment. Why do “authentically” branded Italian restaurants forgo traditional stemware in favor of the thickset alternative, the tumbler? And, never having seen proper stemware in my house, why do Italians drink wine in stumpy cups?

The selection appears counterintuitive if you believe what the wine experts tell us: stems exist for the greater wine good. Handling a wine glass by the stem regulates its temperature, heat transferred from your hand will corrupt the taste. Stems prevent unsightly smudges on the glass, allowing a clear view of the wine’s color and opacity. Those with more disposable income contend that the shape of the glass alters the experience—Amy Cortese drinks the boozy Kool-Aid at the Reidel Institute.

Do Italians wittingly betray the wine? Stemless glassware sure does require less storage space, easily fits into the dishwasher, and, of course, breaks less.

Perhaps the result “stems” from the Roman urge to conquer and pillage: Glass artisans traveled with legionnaires to the ends of the Roman empire between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, bringing the trade of the Roman glass tradition with them. These smiths would remain in the Roman states or share their knowledge with the locals who clamored for training, creating a network of provincial glass artisans.

So the rustic glass artisan, out of utility or working with recycled materials, may have stuck with a more basic glass, as the delicate connection between the bowl and the foot of the glass is vulnerable and requires more material. So tumblers won out in the economy game there, as provinces were a far cry from the spiffy Venetian action closer to the center of the Empire.

Source Info: Stern, Marianne E. Roman Glassblowing in a Cultural Context American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 103, No. 3. (Jul., 1999), pp. 441-484.

Photo Credit: “Yarrg” by Ingorrr.


Paula said...

Hello Vanessa. This is Paula Forbes. You might remember me from such things as "Grinnell College" or "Grinnell College." My roommate drinks wine out of those glasses and she is not Italian. I find it a little annoying. Anyway, just saying hi.

JCB said...

My ever-practical family uses tumblers.

ravi said...

this blog is like a series of documentaries. factoids. brain farts.

Anonymous said...

I think the real reason is simplicity. Most of the Italians that came here weren't wealthy and most were laborers of some kind. I think they were generally people who saw the wine less as a taste experience and more like their equivalent of 1950's America's milk. Not saying they weren't picky about taste, but I think they only took it so far, and the household budget and chore workload probably factored heavily into it.

My mom said her dad used to make the kids drink his homemade wine "because it's good for you."

Just my theory....

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