10 Italian Proverbs about Wine
There are many ways to get to know a population and proverbs are one of these. They summarize in a few words aspects of its history, culture and national character. In the case of Italy this also concerns wine, which has always been an essential element of the Italian identity. For this reason we have selected 10 proverbs used in the Italian language which speak about wine: a different way to get to know a country and to understand how deeply wine is part of our daily lives, not only at the dinner table.
Nel vino c'è la verità
Literal translation: “In wine there is truth”
This proverb reminds us that exaggerating with wine can loosen our inhibitions and make us reveal details and thoughts which we would otherwise keep to ourselves if we were sober.
This saying is in Latin and not in Italian, but it rightfully enters our collection for at least two reasons: the first is that in Italy, even today, it’s very common in everyday language; it’s probably also one of the oldest sayings about wine, dating back to at least 2,000 years ago (among Latins it’s cited, for example, by Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century AD). This shows once again how wine has always been an important element of the Italian culture, deeply rooted in the history of people and their land.
Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono
Literal translation: “In the small barrel, there's the good wine”
Corresponding proverb: “Good things come in small packages”
This Italian proverb refers to the fact that the finest wines are usually produced in limited quantities, but it actually uses the subject as a metaphor to talk about people and things in general. Basically, it's in contrast to the thought that “big” necessarily means “better,” suggesting that the concept of quality often doesn’t coincide with that of quantity. In everyday use, it may be used by people of short stature who, ironically, make a point of pride of what it’s often considered a disadvantage.
Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca
Literal translation: “You can’t have both a full barrel and a drunken wife”
Corresponding proverb: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”
The message of the proverb is that you can’t expect to have it all. We have to make choices and each choice involves a sacrifice. The proverb describes what would be the ideal situation for a man: having all the wine he wants and, at the same time, having a more obliging wife, “softened” by the effects of wine. That said, of course, this saying has been affected by time going by and by social changes, as it refers to a society where the woman was essentially relegated to the roles of wife and mother. However, it’s still interesting because it points out another cultural aspect if you compare it to its equivalent in English: while Italians are in love with wine, it seems that Anglo-Saxons have more of a sweet tooth and prefer cakes!
Buon vino fa buon sangue
Literal translation: “Good wine makes good blood”
Corresponding proverb: “Good wine makes good cheer”
Born from popular wisdom, this proverb deals with the relationship between wine and health and it claims that a good glass of wine does not hurt but it can rather have positive effects on your health. Paraphrasing another popular proverb, we could say that “a glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away.” In recent years medicine has scientifically proven this claim. Several international researches, in fact, have shown that a moderate consumption of wine can have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and can improve longevity: this is the reason why when we make a toast in Italy we say “Alla salute!” (Literally: “To health!”).
Amici e vini sono meglio vecchi
Literal translation: “Friends and wines improve with age”
Corresponding proverb: “Old is Gold”
This proverb sums up two values shared by many Italians: friendship and love of wine. What associates them is that the more time passes, the more both improve. We certainly know how some wines gain in quality and taste every passing year. In the same way, the best friendships are very often those that last a long time, even a lifetime. And what’s better, when you get to a certain age, than sitting at a table with an old friend drinking a good wine and recalling the old days? If there was a moral it could be this: let’s take care of friends as we do for wine, because their company will always makes us happy.
Bacco, tabacco e Venere riducono l'uomo in cenere
Literal translation: “Bacchus, tobacco and Venus reduce man to ashes”
We must admit that in this proverb wine doesn’t seem to make a good impression. Represented by the mythological figure of Bacchus, the god of wine and harvest for the ancient Romans, wine is indicated together with tobacco and women (symbolized by the goddess of beauty) as one of the vices which ruin the life of a man. Although it has now been verified that smoking is indeed harmful to health, when it comes to wine and women we may perhaps get help from a Latin saying, “In medio stat virtus,” which means “virtue lies in the middle.” As common sense dictates, we simply must not exaggerate with certain things in order to enjoy them the best way possible, so let’s welcome a glass of wine every now and then, perhaps even enjoyed in good company.
Il buon vino non ha bisogno di frasca
Literal translation: “Good wine needs no leafy branch”
Corresponding proverb: “Actions speak louder than words”
This is perhaps the least known of all the Italian proverbs that we have included in our selection and also the least understandable at first glance, but its origin is linked to an old tradition. Back in the old days, when harvest time was approaching, some farmers needed to dispose of the wine surplus from the previous year and used to request local authorities the permission to sell it directly to the consumers at reduced prices. Winemakers would then display a ‘frasca, ’a leafy bundle of branches, on the road to inform the passersby that it was possible to buy wine in that farm.
Back to our proverb, its meaning is that a good wine, in order to attract people's attention, doesn’t need to be promoted: its quality is just enough. Wine is used as an example but, just like in the case of many other proverbs, its meaning extends to a more general message: “good” and quality things or people do not need to be highlighted because their value speaks for itself.
Chi non beve in compagnia o è un ladro o è una spia
Literal translation: “People who do not drink with others are either thieves or spies”
According to this proverb, people who avoid drinking with others are afraid of accidentally revealing their secrets. Clearly, if you're in Italy and you have just declined an invitation, don’t feel bad if they tell you this proverb as comeback, it's actually just a funny way to try to convince you to spend time together enjoying good wine: in short, it’s an invitation to experience one of the most important moments of Italian hospitality.
A San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino
Literal translation: “When Saint Martin's day arrives, the must turns into wine”
In Italy St. Martin’s day is celebrated every year on November 11. This period coincides with the arrival of the “new wine,” which is the first wine reaching the tables and which comes from the grapes just harvested a few weeks earlier. The proverb is therefore linked to the thousand-year old wine culture and farming tradition, regularly following the rhythm of seasons and nature. In a broad sense, the meaning is that the time of change always comes, whether we like it or not.
Dove regna il vino non regna il silenzio
Literal translation: “Where wine reigns, silence does not reign”
If you have already been invited to an Italian dinner party, you will have already understood the meaning of this proverb without any problem. On the occasion of celebrations and meals among friends, good wine is an ever-present guest, a perfect ally to make the atmosphere pleasant and cheerful. Therefore please don’t be surprised if the noise will seem excessive, because when you are having fun in good company you don’t pay attention to the volume of your laughter!