By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Walking through the center of Florence, if you pay attention, you'll notice pretty little niches on the façades of many of the ancient buildings along the way. Some of them are still embellished with wooden doors and sober frames with teardrop tips. The wooden latched doors are in most cases lost and replaced by bricks, but the openings represent a glimpse into the most intimate history of the city.
These are the so-called “buchette del vino”— wine holes, and the origin of these windows can be attributed to an ancient social habit of the city.
At the end of the 15th century, the wool fabric trade (which represented the driving force of the Florentine economy) had to adapt to the pressure of competition from northern countries such as England. The market then shifted to land investments and, above all, to the production of what is still one of the excellencies of the area, wine.
The noble families thus veered toward a new identity that has consolidated over time and still survives today—wine producers.
The wine holes were openings that allowed nobles to privately sell wine at retail directly from the cellars of the building. The little holes also offered a secondary service—they were a vehicle for giving charity in an extremely reserved way. The one who poured and sold the flask of wine from inside the palace to the public was not a simple servant but a housekeeper, a sort of seneschal, an important figure similar to a modern butler.
The sale of wine from the little holes became commonplace, and the more organized buildings—as can still be seen, for example, along Via del Sole—also indicated the sales hours above the little hole.
The trade in family wines has evolved over time, and now excellent wines appreciated all over the world are still produced by Florentine noble families such as the Chianti from Antinori, Ricasoli, and Frescobaldi.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), The Grimore, The Magic of the Moon, and Magic Herbs (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).