Host or Oste? Hospitality has common roots
Who was the innkeeper?
Host or oste? The Italian host, unlike the host in the English language, does not exist without wine. This “trade” has disappeared in its original version, but its role is “updated” through the changes of beverage retail. The host of the past is the innkeeper, a place dedicated to the pouring of loose wine together with a fast and few catering restaurant: one or two hot courses to allow travellers refreshment, a glass of wine for the locals and the travellers(often more than one!) A place almost reserved for the male gender and dedicated to the rest, the chatter and the card game. It is therefore clear that we are talking about a hospitality professional.
A shrewd man
The man was also the protagonist of popular proverbs: “Do not ask the innkeeper how his wine is!” means avoid to ask a seller about the quality of his goods, because you will hardly get an objective answer. Or again “We have reckoned without the host!” When an agreement is finally found and we realize that we have overlooked a very important aspect and we need to start again. It is easy to understand how the innkeeper was considered as a central figure, attentive to business and able to carefully evaluate all aspects of a negotiation.
“Oste” has a feminine declination in the word “ostessa”, in fact, a profession that does not exist in Italian. But it is interesting, both in Italian and in English, how the sound has remained almost identical. The hostess exist as an hospitality and event professional, but she is not involved with wine.
The character and the venue
This gentleman, therefore, was also an aggregator of people, a confidant, a reference person to get information about the place and the people. Maybe to find a house or to know the reputation of someone unknown.. With the time and the change of lifestyles, the bar replaced the old tavern, later came the wine shops and now it is the wine-bars where you find a nice selection served by the glass. Nowadays the venues displaying the sign “Osteria” are nice restaurants proud of the traditional local cuisine. Certainly, the word “Osteria” evokes a taste and a smell of the past, now lost at present.
What did the innkeeper’s customers drink?
But back to wine, what is the common thread of our research, as was the wine of the tavern? “Good!” The host would say. The wine at the tavern was white or red, it came from the last harvest and the aging in cask or bottle was practically unknown to this type of consumer. Of course, no knowledge of Italian or Traditional Method in the creation of bubbles …
The variety was the quantity to order, based on the number of diners, we must consider that manual labor was widespread and a meal included several courses. As per the image, the various measures, not only display us the quantities but it shows us that each measure even had a name that distinguished it, a real “brand” for the measurement itself. Consequently, “sospiro” (sigh) for a quantity that quickly runs out; while “quartino” is strictly identifying the liter fraction and was used throughout the country (250 ml = a quarter of a liter).
The innkeeper and the wine today
Not everything that was normal for the time has been lost in our day. The habit of pouring wine in bulk has remained in many restaurants, generally in the middle range. On the wine list you find white or red wine, rarely rosé, in quarter or half liter, called “house wine”, since it was once produced by the same restaurateur.
Different is “the wine by the glass” which is not loose at the origin. It is a DOC wine served by the glass avoiding the purchase of a whole bottle. This formula is very successful in the wine-bar, at aperitif time, where wine-lovers can try new selected wines and increase pleasure and knowledge. This is also a way to meet and share a moment, just like in the old tavern.
The innkeeper has reinvented himself
So that the innkeeper has not disappeared, his role has evolved and unfortunately renounced his original name. The new host is a person who knows the wine and the tastes and the new hostess is more and more present in the management of the place. They are curious, passionate and loves to offer their customers an evolving wine list.
But he remains an “oste” in the soul and therefore he is expected to be a welcoming, nice and smiling person, where you will always want to come back. Because wine changes style according to tastes and fashions, but the need for humans to be welcomed and share emotions have remained the same.