The Wine Toasting Traditions of Italy
Toasting is practically a universal custom. You raise your glasses to honor someone, clink your cups (sometimes), and say some variety of "cheers!" But although all toasts have their roots in the ancient Greeks -- when they toasted and drank at the same time to make sure one of the guests didn't put poison in the wine -- all countries have their own long-standing toasting customs.
Italy's wine toasting traditions go back quite a long way. In fact, the Romans are the reason why it's even called a 'toast' in the first place. The Romans -- and later the English -- would put burnt bread into their wine to reduce the drink's acidity. While toast, thankfully, no longer needs to be dunked into wine, other traditions have stuck around.
How to Toast in Italy
At wedding celebrations, a variety of different phrases can be used by the best man at the start of the reception dinner; after the best man, others can start their own toasts a well. While Per cent'anni -- pronounced 'pear chehnt-ahn-nee' and meaning 'for one hundred years' -- is the most popular, other customary phrases spoken by male guests include auguri (best wishes), evviva gli sposi (hooray for the newlyweds), and viva l'amore (long live love).
At other celebrations and dinners, saying salute (pronounced sah-loo-teh) or cin cin (pronounced chin-chin) is much more common. Salute simply means "to your health," while the background of why cin cin is used is a bit disputed. Depending on who you ask, some might say it comes from peasants who used the phrase to mimic the sound of glasses clinking. Or, if you ask the producers of cinzano, a vermouth, it became a part of toasting after they used the phrase on their poster ads. Whatever you do, don't say cin cin when you have Japanese guests, because of what it means in Japanese.
Italian Wine Toasting Etiquette
For a toast anywhere other than a wedding, the host will traditionally give the first toast and say buon appetito before the meal. That also means, wait to take your first sip of wine until the first clinking of glasses. Later on in the meal, honored guests are welcome to raise their glasses too, similar to the etiquette at weddings. One last piece of etiquette advice is a strange one. If you're using plastic cups, don't clink glasses; rather touch hand to hand!
Need some practice with Italy's wine toasting traditions? Go on one of our cooking vacations in Italy, where many of our trips include wine tastings.
By Liz Hall