In last week’s column we talked about the Super Tuscans. Complicated, expensive wines that, at times, require years to reach their full potential and with prices fluctuating like stocks in a financial market. The beauty of living in a wine-producing country, however, is that you have many, many other options. So this week we will take a trip to the other side of the price spectrum and talk about what is quite possibly the most “bang for the buck” you will ever get for wine. Vino Sfuso!
Vino sfuso literally translates to 'loose wine', which is a rather lovely concept all on its own. What it really means is wine that is not bottled that you buy by the liter. To get it, you make the trip to a winery or store/bar that has wine in barrels or kegs.
Typically, you bring your containers, whether a plain emptied out water bottle or something a bit more significant to carry a few litres in. I remember the first time I bought vino sfuso. We were visiting a great little winery in south-east Sicily producing the Sicilian full-bodied and fruity Nero d’Avola. The owner was showing us around when a local dropped by with two large five-litre containers. After a cursory “Buongiorno”, he handed them to the owner. The owner walked to a huge cask, opened the tap and filled them. He then returned them to the local in exchange for a 10-euro bill. 1 euro per litre! I looked down at my hand holding a 500ml Evian water bottle thinking, that cost 1 euro… As the local was leaving, I asked him “Ma è buono?” - “Is it any good?”, to which he replied, “Questo vino sfuso è il migliore!” - “This 'sfuso' wine is the best!”. How can you argue with that!
I talked to the friends I was with and we scrounged together a couple of empty 1-litre water bottles, which we rather sheepishly proceeded to hand over to the owner saying we would love to taste the vino sfuso. He smiled, filled them up for us and refused payment. “Un regalo!” - “A present!”. That wine was the highlight of the day.
Light and fruity, it was a pleasure to enjoy with some local cheese and salami, making it the ideal drink for a picnic in the Sicilian countryside. So next time you are in Italy, ask around and go visit a winery that has good vino sfuso. There is just one downside. Next time you are in a supermarket looking at those wine bottles, you will know that 90% of them will never taste anything as good as the vino sfuso you had in Italy!