Florence Reopens Ancient Wine Holes
Goodbye plexiglass, and welcome back to the good old days. During this era of social distancing and anti-coronavirus containment measures, Florence merchants have brought back their so-called ‘wine holes’, reinstating them with their original function born during the plague: serving customers without contact.
Scattered around the Tuscan capital, in some the city’s oldest buildings’ walls, are small windows at street level. These are wine holes, an architectural curiosity adopted during the seventeenth century in the Granducato of Tuscany to implement remote trade. These were the years of the terrible plague epidemic, which swept through Italy and the whole of Europe between 1629 and 1633. To avoid coming into contact with their customers and getting infected, winemakers devised the sale of their products through ‘doors’ created on the sidewalls of the shops.
Firstly, a metal shovel was passed through the opening on which the buyer could place their money, which was then immediately disinfected in the vinegar. No exchange of flasks or empties was allowed: customers could withdraw a full flask of wine from the window, or they could fill their own flask from outside the building thanks to a metal tube passed through the hole and fed by gravity from another flask inside the cellar. In short, it was enough to knock on the window and any Signor Messer Antinori, Frescobaldi or Ricasoli was ready to refresh you with a selection of Tuscan wines still considered among the best.
From the plague to Covid-19, the passing of time is not insignificant. Today there are 14 remaining wine holes around the city of Florence, transforming themselves into windows on the world. It’s a rediscovered habit that has even attracted the attention of CNN, which dedicated an extensive article to the history and new life of wine holes.
However, 21st-century consumers do not live by wine alone. And so there is space for ice cream, spritz, takeaways, and more. Today, there’s the Vivoli ice cream parlor, a stone’s throw from the Duomo and the Uffizi, which sells cups, cones, and trays of ice cream and even coffee from the window. A few steps further in Piazza Peruzzi there’s the Osteria delle Brache, which passes plates and glasses from its little hole. And again the Babae bistro, in via Santo Spirito, which has reinvented the happy hour, and every evening from 19 to 20 serves glasses of wine and aperitifs through the historic counter.
Beyond the new trend, the wine holes are a real institution. A cultural association of the same name, born in 2016 in unsuspecting times, works to safeguard and record these extraordinary memories of the past. A past that has gone through changes in fashions and manners, passing through the dramatic flood of 1966 which damaged many of the Florentine windows.
However, there’s no official list of wine holes. What little information we do have is hinted at in the contagion reports dating back to the 17th century. The rest of their history is all there to scrutinise, between the plaster, the bricks and the cracks, like wrinkles that tell the story of an aged face. A story to be written but first of all to be preserved. For this reason, according to the website, the cultural association Buchette del Vino “wants to be the guardian and up-to-date witness of the existence and state of conservation” of this singular but incredible heritage.
To date, the association has surveyed 149 wine holes inside the walls of Florence, 24 outside the walls of the city, with 10 removed and 93 outside Florence. The site has also developed a very detailed map of the wine holes, which is constantly updated.
Florence is always worth a visit and a toast, but now maybe you have an extra element with which to enrich your itinerary in the Tuscan capital – Covid-proof and Instagram-proof.
Here is the list of places in Florence where you can eat and drink in the novelty of a little wine hole:
- Cantina del Gelato via de’ Bardi 44, Florence
- Osteria delle Belle Donne via de’ Benci 3, Florence
- La Buchetta Food&Wine via de’ Benci 20, Florence
- Le Botteghe di Donatello via dei Federighi 2, Florence
- Trattoria Osteria da Que’ Ganzi via Ghibellina 121, Florence
- Oibò via Guelfa 82, Florence
- Vivoli Gelateria Borgo La Croce 59, Florence
- Johnny Bruschetta via Maffia 18/A, Florence
- Il Latini via de Palchetti 4, Florence
- Finisterrae via de’ Pepi 8, Florence
- Osteria delle Brache via Pietrapiana 30, Florence
- Babae via della Scala 8, Florence
- Odeon Bistrovia Taddea 5, Florence
- Ristorante Buca Lapi via de Velluti 4, Florence