Nothing Like a Romantic Story to Justify Serving a Ridiculously Small Glass of Wine
Wine in Venice
Just off a dark, rain-washed piazza, we squeezed into Arcicchetti Bar, a tiny place even by Venetian standards. The whole space couldn’t have been larger than 20 square feet, and half that was occupied by the counter and bar.
The size of this bacaro (traditional Venetian bar) didn’t bother the locals, however, who preferred to remain outside, despite the rain, and who passed drinks down through the crowd like a well-oiled human chain.
My Venetian friend brought over two glasses of wine. They were tiny, much like the bar.
“Un’ ombra for you,” he said, with a flourish. Ombra is Italian for shadow, or shade.
The small measure of red wine had been poured from a 1.5 liter, unmarked bottle. We settled in for the evening, squeezed around the corner of the table, with the barman ready to top us up when the shadows got low.
I wanted to know why Venetians call a small glass of wine a shadow. My friend explained that the name originated from a time when, right after church, people would retire to the bar in the piazza that lay in the shadow of the bell tower, and take a second communion of sorts. The barman paused, Aperol bottle in hand. Commanding the attention of the bar, he brushed aside my friend’s theory and shared his own—that the ombra originated in St Mark’s Square, where the tables and chairs outside the bars moved around the square throughout the day, following the shadow of the Campanile to keep customers and the wine cool.
The couple of other ombra-drinkers who had managed to wedge themselves into the bar’s remaining standing space chimed in, and soon discussions got heated. A sudden arm gesture nearly sent my precious wine flying, so I thought I would consult Google to settle things once and for all. Internet sources seemed to conclude that, in fact, there was no romantic origin story; the ombra probably just referred to the small quantity of wine.
When I broke the news, there was silence. My Venetian friend turned to me and said quietly, “In Italy, it doesn’t matter if the story is true or not, it’s all about the pleasure of discussing it.”
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