Explore the cultural and historical significance of the Buchette del Vino, the wine windows of Italy.
In “Searching for Italy,” his new docuseries for CNN, actor Stanley Tucci explores his Italian roots by delving into the country’s rich regional gastronomy. But in the Tuscan episode, he sets off on a bar crawl with professor Elisabetta Digiugno, who introduces him to what might be Florence’s most unique architectural feature—the buchette del vino. Tuscany is famous for its wines, so it makes sense that Florence has these tiny “wine windows,” which Tucci refers to as “another example of Renaissance genius.” But what exactly are they?
Florence’s buchette del vino first came into being in the Renaissance period, as early as the 1400s. Many noble Florentine families produced wine in the Tuscan countryside and Cosimo de Medici, then the city’s ruler who wanted to keep the aristocracy out of politics, decided to appease them by allowing them to sell their surplus wines to working-class buyers—all without tax, naturally. Not wanting to mingle with the lower classes in their homes, the Florentine nobles invented the “wine window.”
These unique, foot-tall portals are located on the sides of buildings and homes and are just big enough to stick an arm (or flask of wine) through. Each one sports its own unique design, though most are arched at the top and feature small wooden doors. Florentines could simply knock on a window and have their flasks filled with wine. Much of this wine was from famous vineyards like Antinori, Frescobaldi, and Riacasoli, who still produce some of Italy’s best wines.
Once, there were hundreds of “wine windows” scattered through Florence and nearby towns like Pistoria. Now though, the Wine Window Association of Florence estimates there are just 150 left, but few of these are still functional. In the 20th century, with the introduction of new laws and the razing or converting of aristocratic mansions, many buchette were bricked up. Even more were lost in 1966, when Florence was swept by a devastating flood.
See also: The Wine Fountains That Keep On Giving
In his 1634 book, titled “Relazione del Contagio Stato in Firenze l’anno 1630 e 1633,” Florentine scholar Francesco Rondinelli, notes that the buchette were widely used by sellers to minimize contact with customers. There was good reason for this. In the 1600s, Florence – indeed, much of Europe—was besieged by plagues. So, towards the tail-end of the Renaissance, the buchette allowed residents to continue trading and consuming wine while reducing the risk of contagion.
It’s appropriate, then, that these “wine windows” experienced a renaissance of their own in 2020 as Italy was swept by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a bid to continue trading while stemming the spread of this new plague, merchants who had access to buchette del vino revived their use—and even expanded their offerings to serve everything from gelato and espresso to Aperol spritzes and takeaway snacks.
Stanley Tucci filmed his buchette encounter at Babae, a restaurant in the heart of Florence. It got ahead of the game by opening its buchette in 2019, trading on its centuries-old architectural oddity to become a novelty experience that summer. Now, as locals rediscover their pride in these “wine windows” and visitors return to Florence, the city’s buchette might just be gearing up to become a new must-try experience—and Babae is the place to do it.