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Drinking wine in Italy is a lot more fun than drinking it in the States. For one thing, in the U.S. if you order a bottle of wine in a restaurant you might be paying four or five times more than what the wine would sell for in a store. The markup on wines in Italian restaurants, on the other hand, is noticeably smaller. Still, wine drinking can be quite expensive, even it Italy.
Unless you go for “vino sfuso.”
What is “vino sfuso” (pronounced VEE-noh SFOO-zoh)? Basically, bulk wine served right out of the barrel, cask, or large bottle. Sometimes it’s actually on tap, sometimes it’s poured through funnels.
See all our cooking vacations in Italy.
Here’s how it works. You bring in a bottle (an old wine bottle, or an empty water bottle, even an old coke bottle!) and they fill it with the vino sfuso, charging you by the liter. Sounds pretty rustic, and it is, I’ve plenty of times enjoyed wine poured from old green plastic Ferrarelle water bottles.
But here’s the thing: you’re only paying for the wine, so it’s super cheap. I mean SUPER cheap. No money is going to the bottling process, to the storing or shipping of the bottles, to the fancy labels. It’s just going to purchase the wine itself, so you get more bang for your buck, as it were.
Learn more about Italian wine.
(Incidentally, there is also such a thing as “olio sfuso” in Italy. You guessed it, fine, locally produced extra virgin olive oil sitting in huge casks waiting for you to come claim it!)
Is it good wine? This is the tricky part, because sometimes, quite frankly, no. Just like with the other economic wine option in Italy, vino da tavola (table wine), it depends on the specific wine. But many of them ARE good, and the added benefit is they are always locally produced. Talk about farm to table!
If you’re worried about whether the wine is good, ask to taste it. They don’t even have to open the bottle for you.
The best way to enjoy vino sfuso? With friends of course. In Italy I used to enjoy around the table at the Italian version of a potluck, where someone brought the wine, someone the bread, another person a hunk of cheese or salumi. We might make up a batch of spaghetti all’olio, aglio e peperoncino if we were really hungry. A perfectly delicious meal, hours spent talking with friends, and lots of wine bought for pennies on the dollar!
You can explore Italian wines on all of our culinary tours to Italy, but in particular these cooking vacations feature a strong wine component:
By Peg Kern
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