If you've been to Florence or seen Stanley Tucci's "Searching for Italy" you've probably heard of Florence’s historical wine windows, or bucchette del vino as they are called in Italian.
The wine windows have been part of Florence’s inner-city fabric since the Renaissance. Historians tell how Florentine families with farms or fattorie in the countryside would sell their estate wines through the wine windows in their city palazzi "farm to table". The sale of wine through wine windows at one point was liberalized so it was beneficial to both the seller and the buyer. That's how the wine window shops became an established commercial practice around Florence.
Eventually, the laws changed and wine windows went into disuse and a lot were covered up and some are gone forever. Others had been transformed into for example mailboxes but most were just left there on the walls of the city palazzi, abandoned and overseen by passersby. Finally, over the past 10 years, they have been rediscovered and spurred many people’s curiosity.
Since 2015, an association for wine window preservation called Associazione Buchette del Vino has mapped them. They are photographed, books written about them, and some have been decorated by artists and others have reopened with a modern twist.
Their relevance did create an extra “ah-ha” moment during the COVID-19 pandemic when we were practicing social distancing. Imagine how these small holes minimized contact between vendor and customer. It made a lot of sense in the olden days when the bubonic plague was a frequent visitor and decimated populations.
Mainly in, but also around, Florence 183 wine windows have been mapped so far. Most are casually built into the side of a Renaissance palazzo more or less at shoulder height or perhaps carved into a door. Most look quite casual and are easy to miss as you walk the Florentine streets with plenty of other impressive historical architectural details to distract you.
Wine windows are typically arch-shaped and just big enough to hand through a wicker-basket Chianti bottle named fiasco in Italian. But functionality and size are just about all they have in common. The choice of framework design, often in Pietra Serena, would often match the palazzo it was in, so they are all different from the other. The most impressive perhaps are the ones that reveal their purpose entirely with a carved plaque.
The wine windows had a wooden shutter, and we imagine a potential customer in the 1500s would have knocked to get the attention of the seller on the ground floor of a large city palazzo. Wine was considered an essential part of the diet and consumed by all layers of society, often preferred over water.
Now, if all this talk about the wine windows has made you curious, you should go on a wine window walk next time you are in Florence. Look around you at the walls and doors as you walk through the cobbled streets and you are bound to discover some. Congratulate yourself on being an excellent wine window detective or take a picture and make your wine window collage!
And then you have the newly opened wine windows that are more than just a historical reminder. Even if you may not be getting a whole fiasco, it's fun getting a little something through the hole in the wall! Even if a little controversial since modern laws prohibit sales of alcohol outside their premises, this is a grey zone that commercial activities such as restaurants and cafes are taking full advantage of. If lucky enough to have a wine window, it gets renovated and repurposed to hand customers something like a glass of wine, a spritz, or a gelato. Just beware that social media has made sure they are by no means hidden nor ignored, so there could be long lines during busy times of the year.
To help you plan your wine window walk:
These are the 12 working wine windows:
Written by Rebecca Christophersen Gouttenoire