When you order wine at a trattoria, you’ll likely be presented with a choice between wine by the bottle or house wine. But what is house wine? To put it simply, it depends on whose house you’re in. House wine is typically an inexpensive wine, sold by the glass, half liter, or bottle. “Vino della casa” has a bad reputation. Often, it is low quality wine, served to keep the customers happy. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are some signs that a house wine is either good or bad. If the wine is served by the bottle or half bottle, that’s typically a good sign. That means that the wine is at least fresh, and it may in fact be an interesting bottle. Wine sold by the carafe, like a “mezzo litro,” is best avoided. This wine is almost always disappointing, though if you trust the restaurant you’re in, go for it!
House wines are a great way for restaurants to showcase local, lesser known grapes. Trattoria da Enzo, one of our favorite trattorie in Rome, serves a great house red from Villa Tirrena, a winery located between Lazio (the region where Rome is located) and Umbria. The merlot/syrah blend isn’t earth shattering, but the wine is spicy, fruity, and delicious paired with the restaurant’s meaty Roman classics.
House wine is unlikely to blow you away. They are typically “drinkable” wines, meaning that the flavor is simple and non-challenging. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes a meal needs a fun bottle of wine or two. House wines are perfect for casual celebrations and nights when you know you’re going to go through a bottle too many.
Most travelers will find that ordering wine in Italy is considerably less expensive than ordering wine back home. Our advice? Unless the house wine seems really intriguing, spend a little more money on a nicer bottle. Your odds of getting a delicious wine are better, and you’ll still be spending a lot less than you would back home.