It takes us at quite a long time for things to fall into place but now we think we understand the phenomenon of Vino Sfuso, Vin En Vrac, Wine on Draught etc, so here's our theory.
Venezia seemed to be the centre for Vino Sfuso because there were far more outlets with their demijohns of wine filling empty mineral water bottles than in other cities. Finally the penny dropped: it is not possible to have bulk wine stored in the vast vats we had seen in Torino, Napoli and other places due to the fact that everything has to be transported on water and then lifted into position. Apparently evey Italian town has its Vino Sfuso outlets, Venezia just has more of them for this very simple reason.
So Vino Sfuso is a widespread phenomenon in Italy at least, not a Venetian speciality.
Our next Eureka moment came when we found the above sign outside a food shop: "Vini, Salume, Pane, Latte," the staples of life. In this context, wine becomes a commodity, almost a necessity as opposed to a luxury item. The cost of vino sfuso is appropriately modest, between €2 and €3 per litre. Meditteranean people typically dink only a glass per meal and often add water. Draught wine is also much lower in alcohol than most bottled wine. So vino sfuso is used for a completely different purpose than how we use wine in Northern European countries for example. Here in the North, wine is used as an aperitif, to lubricate guests at dinner parties, to make merry, to celebrate at special occasions and so forth. We also need it to warm us up and for many other reasons. What we hardly do is to use it as a commodity, forgetting names and brands, including it in our diet as a staple - what is sometimes called a food wine.
For this reason, not only do we not have places selling vino sfuso but it is almost impossible to find even this type of wine in our shops. This is as much a deficiency as if in music an entire genre such as Jazz or Baroque music were missing. If we take a look at the range of wine sold in Northern Europe it is almost all of one kind: rich, warming, deep, flavoursome, fruity, increasingly high in alcohol. Wines tending towards the vino sfuso style are few and far between. We would list the following
Hunter Valley Semillon
Alsace Pinot Noir
there must be more but already we're scraping the bottom of the barell.
A glimmer of hope. You can buy a good Pinot Noir from Bourgogne en vrac from Wines of the World in Clapham or Earlsfield London
549 Garratt Lane,
Phone: 020 8947 7725
10a The Polygon,
Clapham Old Town,
Phone: 020 7720 6607
at a cost of £5.50 if you bring your own 75cl bottle. They also sell it already bottled at £7.99. The wine is described as "declassified domaine burgundy, hand–picked, hand–selected, vinified in the traditional manner and aged for 3–6 months in oak. The grapes for this vintage are all from Domaine Maurice Gavignet’s 10 hectare estate near Nuits St Georges (but in less abundant years he may buy some grapes in). The En Vrac wines are put into the box using the latest technology, under pressure without any contact with air."
Wines of the World have a really thoughtful and interesting selection with for example the majority of the Argentinian wines from regions other than Mendoza, a 100% Graciano under £10 and so on.