| |

The Drinking Age In Italy Is Only Part Of The Culture

The drinking age in Italy is only a small part of alcohol consumption and the culture that surrounds it in Italy which needs to be understood and emulated.

drinking age in Italy - Cocktails

It’s Happy Hour Somewhere!

What Is The Drinking Age In Italy?

Even though the legal drinking age in Italy is 18 years old, it is not strictly enforced. This was a welcomed gesture, but typically my son isn’t offered shots in the U.S. The server noticed my surprise and paused long enough to give me a chance to consider my options. I nodded yes to her and we were served. My son had a great time enjoying his first shot (I hope) and brought back a great story for his friends.

Do Italians Of Drinking Age Consume A Lot Of Alcohol?

The answer to this question is: yes, however there is a ton of information in the details. Instead of the Binge Drinking that is more common in countries like the U.S. and U.K., in Italy the consumption of alcohol commonly revolves around food. The two most common drinking situations I’ve experienced since visiting and living here are:

drinking age in Italy - Aperitivo

Cocktails in Rome

  • Aperitivo: This amazing social experience is typically before dinner with the intention of opening up your palate and getting you ready for dinner. We have enjoyed aperitivi as early as 5:00 p.m. to as late as 7:00 p.m. The timing depends on your hunger and dinner reservations. Typically, you would order one drink like wine or a cocktail and the price will include some level of snacks, from something as elaborate as breads, cheeses, fried foods and potato chips to something as basic as peanuts. At one place we will never go back to, there was no food offered, but this was certainly the exception. The single drink is the expected way to go and the one time we ordered a second round (because we didn’t have dinner plans) it felt wrong.

  • Dinner: As mentioned above, this is the most popular way to drink alcohol. Wine by the glass, carafe or bottle is offered in most restaurants and in some cases the menus will provide guidance on suggested food/wine pairings. For a long time my favorite has been the house wine (vino della casa). Typically this is a vino sfuso (described below) and while inexpensive, it isn’t considered of low quality. The restaurant owners take pride in the food and wine they offer and I have yet to drink a house red or white that didn’t add to my dining experience.

What Are The Trends Of The Drinking Age In Italy?

According to the Institute of National Statistics (ISTAT):

“In 2016 the percentage of population aged 11 and over who had consumed at least one alcoholic drink during the year was 64.7%. This rate was stable when compared to the previous year (64.5%).

From 2006 to 2016 the number of daily consumers has been decreasing from 29.5% to 21.4%. The number of people consuming alcohol at least once outside mealtimes has been increasing (from 26.1% in 2006 to 29.2 in 2016).”

There has been a significant change in alcohol consumption patterns currently ongoing in Italy. The decreased wine consumption during the last 40 years has been a clear shift, which aligns with the simultaneous decrease in deaths from cirrhosis, a traditional indicator of alcohol-related problems.

Is there a drinking problem in Italy?

The drinking patterns of younger people have changed during the last 20 years as well, which appears to converge with a western alcohol consumption pattern. The young adult group, aged 18-24, was the population group most at risk of binge drinking. This behavior often occurs during social occasions, with increased consumption of beer and spirits in the evening and the weekends.

Is Public Drunkenness Culturally Or Legally Allowed In Italy?

drinking age in Italy - Flowers and Sun

Flowers, Wine and Sun

Drinking wine or beer in public is common here in Rome as Italy has no national laws against public drinking, although local municipalities can and do issue regulations that prohibit public drinking at certain locations of the municipality, or during specific times. Despite public drinking being generally legal, national law punishes public drunkenness. 

Article 688 of the Italian Criminal Code States:

“anyone (and thus also minors) who is caught, in a public place or place open to the public, in a state of obvious drunkenness is punishable with a fine that goes from € 51 to € 309 (this rule is rarely applied by the authorities)”

My Experience With The Italian Drinking Age Enforcement

During one of our first trips to Rome with our son, who was 13 years old at the time, we finished a delicious meal at a local trattoria (recommended by the great Rick Steves) and as we sat in our seats digesting, our server came over with a tray of three shots of Limoncello.

drinking age in Italy - Cocktails

My Campari Product Photo Attempt

What Is The Age For A Wine Tasting In Italy?

As mentioned above, the legal drinking age in Italy is 18 years old. It is unlikely that a vineyard or wine tour operator would put their livelihood at risk and allow someone underage to go on a wine tasting tour. You should respect the laws of the country in which you are a guest, so leave the wine tasting to the adults.

How many DOCG wines are there in Italy?

Italian wines have a long history and have a wide range of quality levels. The DOCG designation is the highest quality level and there are around 74 DOCG wines in Italy. The other classifications in declining quality are:

  • Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
  • Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
  • Vino da Tavola (VdT)

What Is Vino Sfuso?

Literally translated, vino sfuso means loose wine. More accurately it is bulk house wine that is sold to consumers or restaurants drawn directly from their barrels and put into reusable containers, typically plastic. You pay for it by the liter, so it doesn’t matter what size bottle you are bringing in to fill. Vino sfuso doesn’t offer the complexity of a fine aged wine, but it’s not supposed to. Vino sfuso offers a winning combination of being affordable, somewhat environmentally friendly and a more enjoyable experience than browsing the supermarket shelves. Sadly, for me, we have not found as large of a selection of vino sfuso here in Rome as we did in other cities, but I am ever vigilant and will continue to keep my eyes peeled for something new and delicious.

Experience The Drinking Culture In Italy And Enjoy Yourself

This post might seem like conflicting views to you, but when you consider that Italian drinking culture views public drunkenness in Italy is considered bad form (brutta figura) and not something to be celebrated like at a football tailgate party in the U.S., the message to take away is: Enjoy the delicious wines, beers and cocktails that Italy is famous for, but in moderation.

More About Wine, Beer And Cocktails That Might Interest You

If you enjoyed this discussion about the drinking age in Italy and the culture that surrounds it, these other posts might also be of interest to you, so please check them out:

Similar Posts