Italian Alcohol Culture

Italy is often known as one of the most prominent wine countries in the world. Alcoholic beverages (primarily wine) play an important role in the Italy’s economy. “The production and trade of alcoholic beverages was estimated at 12,000 million Euros, contributing 1.5 percent to the gross national product. Italy produces about 22 percent of the world’s wine; at the end of the 1990s, its production level was 53 million hectoliters (1,400 million U.S. gallons), and the overall vineyard-cultivated land was 0.8 million hectares (324,000 acres). At the same time, about half of Italy’s wines were produced by 650 local wine cooperatives, while 18 percent of the vineyards were allocated for quality wines produced by major wine companies” (Allamani, p. 3). Both the production and consumption of wine tie deeply into the culture of Italy. When it comes to consuming alcohol, Room & Mäkelä identify four general types of drinking cultures with one being a banalized drinking culture, “Such cultures might be said to have performed the miracle of turning wine into water: the dominant alcoholic beverage is defined as a foodstuff or a thirst-quencher, but not as an intoxicant” (p. 481). This is the category in which Italy would fall into as approximately 70 percent of all alcohol consumed in Italy is wine (Allamani). 

Overtime, there have been some shifts in the amount of alcohol that is consumed, but overall the patterns and purposes of drinking in Italy have largely remained consistent. The primary function of alcohol here is a compliment to a meal, “In Italy drinking is connected with eating even more closely than in France. Seventy percent of the men and 94 percent of the women claimed to drink exclusively with food and at regular meal times” (Ahlstrom-Laakso, p. 126). This is a staggering number that shows what the purpose of drinking is within the Italian culture. Allamani states that in contrast to drinking to get drunk, Italians view on the purpose of drinking is, “Wine is drunk for its positive taste and smell, and is part of meals and family and social life” (p. 1). Just like any other part of a meal, the wine adds depth of flavor to the food. For Italians, wine goes with a meal like fries go with a burger. 

Consuming wine with a meal is Italy’s primary cultural approach to alcohol. It is a widespread practice and Simpura and Karlsson identify the nature of this, “Drinking a glass of wine with working-day lunch and 1 or 2 glasses at working-day dinner, has been a common practice in Italy” (p. 127). This has remained to be true over the course of Italian history with only some shifts in the amounts being consumed. Now drinking at lunch is less frequent, “Drinking wine at lunchtime is a decreasing practice since workers and employees in the cities no longer return home for lunch” (Allamani, p. 3). Even with this being the case, if one were to walk through a restaurant at the lunch hour, many would still be having a glass of wine with their meal. Though some practices have shifted overtime, the primary pattern of drinking in Italy has remained steady. 

Since the primary function of drinking in Italy is during mealtimes, drunkenness is very rare, “people do not drink because they want to be intoxicated or more sociable through the chemical effects of alcohol; on the contrary, wine just adds or integrates sociability to the already sociable aspects of dining” (Allamani, pp. 3-4). Similarly, binge drinking reportedly does not occur with any level of frequency (Simpura & Karlsson, 2001). Because of the cultural views on alcohol in Italy, drunkenness is very much looked down upon, “Drunkenness and binge drinking are infrequent, even if an increasing worry concerns the outrageous behavior of some immigrants and youngsters in the cities, considered as those who “do not know how to drink” “ (Allamani, p. 1). The legal drinking age in Italy is 18 and it is very common for children to have wine at family meals before this age, thus Italians are socialized from a very young age how to drink in a controlled way. 


Ahlstrom-Laakso, S., (1976). European drinking habits: A review of research and some suggestions for conceptual integration of findings. In M.W Everett, J. O. Waddell, and D. B. Heath (Eds.) Cross-Cultural Approaches to the Study of Alcohol: An Interdisciplinary Perspective 119-132.

Allamani, A. (2003). Italy. In J. S. Blocker, D. M. Fahey, & I. R. Tyrrell (Eds.), Alcohol and temperance in modern history: an international encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC- CLIO.

Room, R., & Mäkelä, K., (2000). Typologies of the cultural position of drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61(3), 475-483.

Simpura, J., & Karlsson, T., (2001). Trends in drinking patterns in fifteen European countries, 1950-2000. A collection of country reports.


Interview 1:

During our stay at the castle in Millstatt, I was able to talk with Stefano about what it was like living in Italy and what the alcohol culture there was like for him. Something that he talked quite a bit about was how people often start drinking when they are thirteen or fourteen years old. Typically, the drinking that happens at this age is in the home during family meals or on special occasions. The primary beverage that is consumed is wine. Beer is drank less frequently and hard liquor is even less so. While on some occasions they may be consumed, wine was almost all that Stefano’s family had. Another thing that he mentioned was how when you are at a restaurant, an ID is rarely if ever checked by the wait staff and it is pretty common to drink at lunch time and even in the afternoon. Something I found very interesting that he mentioned was the church’s perspective on drinking. Because of how engrained drinking is into the social culture of Italy, the church is accepting of it. Stefano said that it is very common for wine to be served with meals at gatherings for church. This shows how much wine is intertwined in the culture of Italy (S. Fasolato, personal communication, November 2, 2017).

Interview 2:

While on free travel, I chatted with Cecily’s grandpa about what it was like for him to grow up in Italy in terms of alcohol. He was able to recall a time when his family would go out to dinner and the wait staff would not even ask if the table wanted wine. They instead, Grandpa Joe compared, brought it out in a similar way to restaurants bringing out water to a table in America. A jug of the house wine would be placed in the middle of the table and the group would then be charged for the amount of wine that they drank over the course of the meal. He recalled that there was always some of it consumed during the meal. The only other alcohol that he would drink was a pre-meal (aperitif) glass of Campari and a post-meal (digestif) glass of Grappa. Both of these drinks as Grandpa Joe explained have origins in Italy and are used as a way to prepare the stomach for the food you were about to eat and then to help with digestion after eating. These alcohols were only used to enhance the experience of eating and not for other benefits (J. Anichini, personal communication, October 15, 2017).