Florence's Forgotten Renaissance 'Wine Windows' Are Open Again for Business

The tiny doors for on-demand wine, unique to Tuscany and dating to the 16th century, had long been merely an architectural curiosity

Florence's Forgotten Renaissance 'Wine Windows' Are Open Again for Business
The wine is carefully defenestrated before serving: three buchette, one active. (Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino)
Sep 5, 2019

Florence is famed for its charming hole-in-the-wall wine bistros dotting the city. But once upon a time in Florence, when you ordered a carafe at a hole-in-the-wall, you got it through a literal hole in a wall. Now, an organization is working to preserve—and help reopen—the city's "wine windows," a collection of Renaissance-era vestiges of a once-popular and admirably no-fuss form of wine sales.

The buchette del vino ("small holes [for] wine") were foot-tall openings that enterprising Florentine nobles built into the street-facing walls of their palatial residences; hundreds remain, but as curiosities of a bygone time, long ago bricked or boarded over. "These small architectural features are a very special commercial and social phenomenon unique to Florence and Tuscany," Matteo Faglia, a founding member of the Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino, told Unfiltered via email. "Although they are a minor cultural patrimony, nevertheless, they are an integral part of the richest area of the world in terms of works of art and monuments—Tuscany."


Photos courtesy of the Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino

Buchette del VinoBuchette del VinoBuchette del VinoBuchette del Vino


The buchette first came into vogue in the 16th century, when wealthy Florentines began to expand into landowning—notably, owning vineyards—in the Tuscan countryside. The aristocrats' new zeal for selling wine was matched only by that for avoiding paying taxes on selling wine, so they devised the simplest model for wine retail they could: on-demand, to-go, literally hand-sold through a hole in the wall of their residences.

It was convenient for drinkers, too: Knock on the window with your empty bottle, and the server, a cantiniere, would answer; upon receiving the bottle and payment, he would return with a full bottle of wine. Buchette eventually became popular enough that nearly every Florentine family with vineyards and a palace in Florence had a wine window, and soon the trend spread to nearby Tuscan towns like Siena and Pisa. The windows stayed open for the next three centuries, but by the beginning of the 20th century, more social wine tavernas had spread throughout the city, with better-quality wine, better company and equally easy access to a flask.

By 2015, most Florentines had lost track of their wine windows, if not vandalized them. That year, the Associazione was founded, with a mission to identify, map and preserve the buchette—nearly 300 catalogued so far. And this summer provided a new boost to their work: One restaurant has cracked open its buchetta anew for business. Babae is the first restaurant to re-embrace the old tradition, filling glasses for passersby through their buchetta for a few hours each evening. It's a welcome development to the lovers of wine windows. "Although the ways of selling wine have obviously changed since the wine windows were fully active ... this small gesture, which highlights a niche of Florentine history, is very welcome," said Faglia, "to help to keep alive this antique and unique way of selling one of Tuscany's most important agricultural and commercial products: its wine."


Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

Unfiltered Art Oddities Tuscany

You Might Also Like

Beloved 'Drops of God' Wine Manga Gets Full English Translation

Beloved 'Drops of God' Wine Manga Gets Full English Translation

The 44-volume hit comic series about high-stakes wine adventures will finally be available …

Oct 14, 2019
Hangtime at Dom Pérignon for Katie Holmes, Alain Ducasse

Hangtime at Dom Pérignon for Katie Holmes, Alain Ducasse

Plus, the first major-league team to get an official Champagne? Vegas, baby

Oct 10, 2019
Anthony Bourdain's Art, Tools, Manuscripts Up for Auction

Anthony Bourdain's Art, Tools, Manuscripts Up for Auction

The auction of eclectic items from the late chef's personal collection benefits the Anthony …

Oct 10, 2019
Vineyard-Crashing Bear Finds Bearings, Pinot Pairings

Vineyard-Crashing Bear Finds Bearings, Pinot Pairings

Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley has found itself host to a persistent, opportunist…

Oct 4, 2019
Chef Curtis Stone Scours the Globe for Wine, Cheese and Tasty … Pigeons on New Show

Chef Curtis Stone Scours the Globe for Wine, Cheese and Tasty … Pigeons on New Show

Plus, kitchen from hell escape room locks you up with deranged chef and turns up the …

Oct 3, 2019
NHL's Cam Ward and Tim Gleason Make Wine, Promptly Drink It from Stanley Cup

NHL's Cam Ward and Tim Gleason Make Wine, Promptly Drink It from Stanley Cup

Trading sticks for stems, the former goalie and defender have teamed up in Napa

Sep 26, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search