My family drank wine with dinner every night on a recent trip to Italy, very much in the style of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We tasted as many types as possible in search of the one that was just right, and we filled our glasses in age appropriate portions, from the papa bear all the way down through our 16, 15, and 12 year old kids. They tasted all of the food, so it only seemed natural that they would also taste the wine. Although the “soft” drinking age in Italy is 16, the waitstaff would come over and tousle my son’s blonde hair and tease him about getting tipsy and how much he was drinking.
My boyfriend and I talked with them about what types of wine went with what types of food, and why you would choose bubbles, or have a dessert wine. Once or twice we tried Italian beer. We explained our joy over the cheap prices, the quality of the house wines, and the fresh and preservative free red wines that left me without any headaches the next day.
Back on American soil, a few parents have looked at me funny when I’ve told them that I let the kids drink every night. But I felt it was an opportunity for them to see how it’s supposed to be enjoyed and incorporated into the experience not only of a meal but of life. In Italy wine making is a craft. Growing grapes and working at a family vineyard are traditions that have gone on for centuries. It’s part of who the people are. It has nothing to do with getting hammered, or binge drinking, or paying some toothless wench outside the packie for the cheapest, hang over-inducing vodka on the shelf. In Italy, drinking wine is beautiful, it’s not tabu. It’s a shared experience, not an isolating escape.
We saw one drunk in 13 days. We were dining al fresco in the Campo di Fiori in Rome and a man, drunker than I have ever seen, got physically thrown out of an establishment into the square. He was so drunk, that he rolled around on the ground, unable to get up on his own. The police had to come and escort him away. It was so bizarre, so out of character, that it seemed staged.
Think about that. If you were touring all the major cities of the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Miami, over the course of twelve nights, and you only saw one person who had too much to drink.
I grew up with two alcoholics. I think about it every time I drink from my own glass. And if I choose to pour a second, which isn’t often. We live in a world of fast-paced excess, with a burning desire for instant gratification. Moderation is the key to a balanced and healthy life and I am grateful to have had the chance to demonstrate the importance of that to our kids while we on our trip.
This is written for my lovely friend, Jane Hunter