Medieval ‘Wine Windows’ Are Reopening, Reviving Italian Plague Tradition to Maintain Social Distancing

italy wine windows

From margarita trucks and mobile restaurants to drive-in concerts and virtual aquariums, the coronavirus pandemic has business owners around the world to come up with safe alternatives to remain in operation. Especially in the food sector, social distancing is non-negotiable and restaurants and bars must find ways to serve customers without exposing them to contagion.

A chilled glass of heavenly wine can go a long way in easing the stress, despair, and tension ignited by the pandemic, and Italian restaurants have revived an age-long tradition to keep their patrons happy. They have re-opened up the wine windows again to serve their patrons while still maintain social distancing. Through these tiny hatches with a dark history, bar owners now serve wine along with beverages and other pleasures such as tea, coffee, cocktails, and ice cream [1].

Wine windows, buchette del vino, were popular in the early 1600s in Italy, during the time of the devastating Bubonic Plague. Also known as Black Death, the plague occurred when a flea-transmitted bacterial infection originating from China broke out in Italy. The highly contiguous infection wiped out more than a third of Europe before ending a couple of years later.

During this time, wine sellers and restaurateurs across the country were determined to serve their working-class customers. They began to carve out the tiny windows through which they could serve wine and still maintain a safe distance from the customers.

The tradition has been revived in Tuscany as the world battles yet another highly contagious outbreak.

As history repeats itself, let’s drink some window wine

The Wine Window Association writes: “Today, during our period of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the owners of the wine window in Via dell’Isola delle Stinche at the Vivoli ice cream parlor in Florence have reactivated their window for dispensing coffee and ice cream, although not wine. Two other nearby wine windows, that of the Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi and that of Babae in Piazza Santo Spirito, have taken us back in time by being used for their original purpose—socially-distant wine selling.”

According to the Italian newspaper, La Republica, One of the earliest descriptions of Italy’s wine windows was in a book published in 1634.

“The description describes one of the most recent periods of The Plague in the city, which had afflicted European populations for centuries,” the paper writes. “Florence’s wine windows turned out to be useful anti-contagion devices for selling wine.”

Re-tapping abandoned potentials

Centuries after the plague, the over 150 wine windows dotting several buildings across Tuscany remained dormant as there was no longer any use for them. People began to use them are regular ventilation windows. This year, almost 400 years later, the windows are opening back up to serve the people. Unfortunately, it’s happening in another sad reality, but people must survive.

Speaking to Insider, Matteo Faglia, president of the Wine Window Association said, “People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled direct from the Antinori, Frescobaldi, and Ricasoli families, who still produce some of Italy’s best-known wine today.”

He added: “The wine windows gradually became defunct, and many wooden ones were permanently lost in the floods of 1966. We want to put a plaque by all the wine windows, as people tend to respect them more when they understand what they are and their history.”

Earlier this year in March, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Italy was the second-most affected country in the world. Right after China, the country recorded thousands of cases and an average of 900 daily. 5 months later, Italy now ranks 17th on the world list with a total of 254,636 cases, 204,142 recoveries, and 35,405 deaths [2]. After nearly two months of being stuck at home on a strict national lockdown, Italians slowly returned to their normal lives as of May when some of the protocols were lifted.

  1. Hannah Sparks. Medieval ‘wine windows’ are reopening, reviving Italian plague tradition. NY Post.  Retrieved 19-08-2020
  2. Coronavirus – Italy. Worldometer.  Retrieved 19-08-2020
  3. Penelope Wilson. Adult Ice Cream Truck’ Delivers Frozen Cocktails Right to Your Door in Houston. Family Life Goals.  Retrieved 19-08-2020
  4. Penelope Wilson. Denmark Introduces ‘Drive-in Concerts’ During Coronavirus Pandemic. The Hearty Soul.  Retrieved 19-08-2020
  5. Dave Roos. How One 17th-Century Italian City Fended Off the Plague.  Retrieved 19-08-2020
  6. Phoebe Hunt. Tuscany’s medieval ‘wine windows’ have reopened to serve wine, Aperol Spritz, gelato, and coffee in a tradition that dates back to the Plague. Insider.  Retrieved 19-08-2020

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