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The Weekly Wino: May 12th

I Vini Paesani

That translates as "country wine," but the meaning is closer to home-made wine. I want to talk about this part of Italian wine life because is exists and is very important to the common Italian.

There is a large market for these unlabeled bottles and they are consumed in many homes as the daily table wine. This bottle is of the more "professional" variety, as it is sold in a 750 ml bottle with a cork. Many times, il vino paesano is packaged in old glass water bottles, or even 1.5 liter plastic water bottles. You can see in the photo to the right, the "label" is handwritten and says gragnano. Gragnano is a slightly sweet and very fizzy red made mostly on the Sorrento Peninsula. It's one of my personal favorites. If you've ever had a lambrusco amabile, you know what this tastes like.

The first time that I ever tried vino paesano, I was 22 years old and in Venice. I had lost myself in the winding streets and happened upon a wine store. Inside was a very rotund man with a beard and an apron, and he explained to me that the 9 HUGE straw-covered casks on display were fresh wines brought in from all over the Veneto. Fresh wines! I'd never heard of this. Enthusiastically I asked for a bottle, and he asked me if I had one for him to fill. Of course not! He went to the back, brought out an empty plastic water bottle (1.5 L) and filled it with red. At that time, I paid about 3 dollars (still being a student, this was a pleasant surprise), carried my bottle with me, and shared it with my friend and a rowdy group of Italians on the train back to Florence. It was wonderful because I had found a new wine experience.

By now, I have tried just about every local varietal in its paesano version. In Ischia, that would mean the having tried the less-common-on-the-mainland biancolella (white), per'e'palummo and piedirosso (reds). AND, there have even been times when the "uvaggio," or varietal(s) was unknown, even to its contadino (farmer) winemaker.

Wherever in Italy wine is made, (everywhere!), you are sure to find a local paesano production of the regional wines. They are neither fabulous nor complex, and sure never to win any distinction. They can be too sour, too tannic, or even oxidized--but if you find the right supplier, they can also be delicious and fun and just the right compliment to that rabbit braised in a clay pot.

They are certainly not perfect, and one cannot expect the same wine that comes out of a bottle, but they are an experience worth having because to the farmer who makes them, they are a manifestation of his passion for the land, they are his own personal work of art, they are his pride in a bottle that his wife lovingly puts on the table every day for the family. These wines are a pure expression of the important part of Italian culture that takes what nature has given locally and turns it into a sacred familial ritual of eating well every day.

These wines are the bare, simple truth of the vine, brought to fermented life by the hand that has worked his land for generations. It is local, rustic, and Italian; it is a way to get closer to the real culture, and for that, it is special.



Blogger Miss Kim said...

Another fabulous lesson about vino! This time next week I'm going to be well into the prosecco in NYC!

5/12/2006 9:10 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

wow! have fun...:)

5/12/2006 9:21 AM

Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Your really described this beautifully. They do this in Greece too (I've never tasted the Italian homemade wine, just Greek). The quality really is a crapshoot! I remember the first time I tried it, it was a half-fermented grape juicey kind of thing. Not serious but fun.

5/12/2006 9:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take it that when we were at "the meat restaurant" and were invited back to a cave with a big stone table and poured tumblers topped off from huge casks and told to drink up and given about 2 minutes to do so that was vino paisano? Loved it:)

5/12/2006 10:09 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

susan--thanks:) it IS definitely inconsistent

lena--yep, that was their home-made wine. i'm sure you remember that it wasn't really the taste of that one wine, but the experience that you remember so well, am i right? we quickly moved up the ladder, though, with a beautiful barbaresco to compliment that piemontese beef...mmmm

5/12/2006 10:20 AM

Blogger Secret Mommy said...

Once again you've just made me so jealous and longing for a trip to Italy. (Oh, my crappy Italian will really be tested then!)

My friend in the UK makes elder flower wine every spring. It is a similar country kind of wine, made from flowers and grapes and a real tradition in his family and a symbol of the land on which they live. He has never shipped me a bottle, but he said it's so strong it is often served dilluted. Is this ever done with Italian country wines?

5/12/2006 11:40 AM

Blogger euro-trac said...

Sounds like the dangerous rosé that I was drinking at my friend Tat's house in France - supplied in plastic bottles, very cheap, surprisingly drinkable and made my lasered eye operation a bit of a waste of money after two glasses!

But.... great fun! :o)

5/12/2006 12:02 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

I had some here once however it was made by a Old Greek Gentleman named Gus. He went to his basement and filled a one gallon jug and sent me home. I don't remember much of the next few days; sort of reminded me of moon shine from back home in Kentucky.

5/12/2006 12:47 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

ahhhhh!!! reminds me when a fiend and i went to napoli for easter weekend, and of course trains were SO FULL that we were lucky enough to find seats ontop of toilet in the train's bathroom! of course immediately joined by rowdy boys on their way home for the weekend... and a BIIIIG bottle of wine to pass around... yep in the toilet... fun times

5/12/2006 3:12 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

I guess we learn something new every day.. Something I learned this time. :) Ah Kim NYC - closer to me and closer to my time zone.. :)

5/12/2006 3:14 PM

Blogger dawnelaine said...

I found the link to your page from my friend Raquel's page. I just wanted to say, I've read all of your posts and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I'm so jealous of your lifestyle. I plan on coming back and keeping up with your posts. Thanks for making my day.

5/12/2006 4:50 PM

Blogger Red said...


5/12/2006 10:06 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

ale, you went to napoli with a FIEND??! ;)

kigo--never heard of it, but i'm sure there's some crazy hermit farmer somewhere who makes it...

dawn--hey, thanks for stopping by :)

5/13/2006 1:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even bootleg liquor is so cultured in Italy! Well done with the description, this is the most interesting blog post I've read in a while. Plus, it was my "I've learned something new today" moment. Thanks!

5/13/2006 2:39 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Tracie b. - For many years I bottled a Barbera from from a friend farmer in Asti. I considered it my wine, because I bottled it and I knew that only a few people had it. Definitely the way to go for every day use.

5/14/2006 8:13 AM

Blogger Kathy G said...

That's really interesting! Thanks for sharing that here...I would have never known otherwise.


5/14/2006 6:38 PM

Blogger Do Bianchi said...

this is such a great post, tracie b. my fav "vino paesano" was fragolino that I used to drink during my student days in padua. really, truly awesome post...

2/20/2009 9:16 AM


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