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Host or Oste? Hospitality has common roots

Who was the innkeeper?

The Italian host, unlike the host in the English language, cannot be separated from the wine. It is a “trade” that disappeared in its original version, but its role is continually “updated” by the changes imposed by beverage retail. The host of the past is the person who manages the tavern, a place dedicated to the pouring of loose wine together with a fast and few catering restaurant: one or 2 hot courses to allow travellers refreshment, a glass of wine for the locals (often more than one!) A place almost reserved for the male gender and dedicated to the pause, 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 what his wine is!” Or “do not ask a seller how the quality of his product is 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. From this, 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 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 of that environment. For example to find a house or to know the reputation of a little-known person. With the passage of time and the change of professions and lifestyles, the old tavern was replaced by the bar,  then by the wine shops, and now by the wine-bars where the bulk wine was replaced by a wine list articulated for every taste and combination. The places that still display the sign “Osteria” are almost always linked to the gastronomic tradition of the territory. Certainly, the word “Osteria” evokes in the minds of many of us a taste and a smell present in memory, now lost in everyday reality.

What did the innkeeper’s customers drink?

But back to wine, which 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  Charmat 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 also offered by the glass avoiding the purchase of a whole bottle. This formula finds success in particular in the wine-bar, at aperitif time, where curious and passionate 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.

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Patrizia Marazzi Wine Tourism Wine Expert

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