Un amico ritrovato

It was great to see Giovanni Arcari (left) and Franco Ziliani (right) last night in Valpolicella. They drove down from Brescia and Bergamo to visit with their friends from the U.S.

Italy recently adopted “zero tolerance” drunk driving legislation and enforcement. The legal limit is .015 g/dL, mass per volume of blood in the body. That means that just one glass of wine can put you over the legal limit! Compare with California where it’s .08! So Franco was their designated driver. Wine writers like Franco have be very careful: even when you spit and do not ingest any wine, the alcohol on your breath from tasting can deliver a false positive.

We all took it easy — especially since our host insisted on serving us barriqued Valpolicella… feh! — but it was great to see both of them and to spend some time with an amico ritrovato


well, not really… but he’d like to be arrested… read on…

Above: Unidentified man is subjected to a random breathalyzer test somewhere in the Province of Como. Photo courtesy of La Provincia di Como.

According to a blog post published Sunday by Italy’s preeminent wine blogger and re-posted by numerous wine websites and blogs, including the LaVINIum blog and InternetGourmet, said blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani wants to be arrested for drunk driving. More precisely, he wants his alcohol blood content to be tested as he leaves the gates of the annual Italian wine fair — along with that of thousands of other attendees — before he ever gets behind the wheel of his car.

At issue is Italy’s newly instated (quasi-)zero tolerance drunk driving law, enacted in August 2009, whereby a .05-gram-per-liter-of-blood alcohol level is considered intoxication by police. (I found the most up-to-date text of the new Italian legislation at this breathalyzer sales site and for background and for general info on the legal limits allowed across the world, see the Wiki. Most states in the U.S. consider .08 grams the legal limit.)

The legislation was intended to curb excessive alcohol consumption and a rash of drunk driving incidents, mainly involving young people leaving discotheques on Friday and Saturday nights. The new laws require local police to set up random check points and subject drivers to breathalyzer tests, even when said drivers exhibit no outward signs of intoxication.

As a result (and I’ve heard of myriad cases of this during my recent trips to Italy), a number of individuals have lost their driver’s licenses even after only moderate alcohol consumption.

The bottom line: even one glass of wine at dinner can put you over the legal limit, depending on the wine and your body weight at mass etc.

The new laws have been widely criticized — even by Italy’s now former agriculture minister, Luca Zaia — as excessive. Many, including respected wine journalists, have called them a form of neo-prohibition and even neo-fascism applied through the use of unreliable devices by unprepared law officers. The legislation was intended to curb drunk driving among young discotheque-goers, not wine professionals attending tastings or average folks enjoying a bottle of wine at a country trattoria.

Italian wine writer

Here’s where it gets really interesting: Italy’s annual wine trade fair, Vinitaly, begins Thursday in Verona. If you’ve ever been to the fair, you can see what’s coming: of the thousands of people who attend each day, most are wine and restaurant professionals who taste in moderation, spitting, but tasting (as I do) up to 80 wines a day. This is the first Vinitaly since the new legislation has been enacted.

Mr. Ziliani is asking like-minded attendees to gather — in the thousands, he hopes — and march (or be bussed) down to the local police station, where he and his followers will “turn themselves in” and ask to have their alcohol blood levels tested without ever getting behind the wheel. He hopes that the overwhelming number of tests to be administered will demonstrate the absurdity and infeasibility of the law.

Mr. Ziliani’s protest may have “arrived a little too late,” notes the author of the LaVINIum post. But you can email Ziliani here to get protest details.

Me? I decided to sit this Vinitaly (and Vini Veri) out: I’ve got better things to do. ;-)

The (de)criminalization of alcohol in Italy

Above: Italy’s agricultural minister Luca Zaia is widely recognized as having an ego the size of the world’s largest panettone. Note the signature green pocket square (a nod to his separatist, xenophobic Northern League party) and his black tie (I’ll leave the semiotic analysis to the reader but fascism is always in the eye of the beholder).

“Incredible but true: I am in agreement with Zaia!” This was the title of a Facebook note that Franco posted yesterday after the ever-patriotic (patriotic, that is, if you consider the Veneto a sovereign state) Italian agricultural minister was quoted in a magazine interview as saying that Italy’s new “zero-tolerance” drunk driving law is excessive. Currently, “0.2 grams per liter of blood” is the legal limit, making the consumption of even one glass of wine illegal if you get behind the wheel. In the interview, published in Italy’s leading consumer automotive magazine, Quattro Ruote, Zaia proposed that it should be raised to 0.5 grams so that drivers will be allowed to have 2 glasses of wine as long as the alcohol content of the wine does not exceed 11%, in other words, as minister Zaia put it, as long as drivers are not consuming “structured” wines. (In a subsequently posted FB note, Franco suggested that minister Zaia take a full-immersion sommelier course: “where,” asked Franco, throwing his hands in the virtual FB air, “does he find wines with 11% alcohol content?”)

Zaia should know something about drinking and driving: although you won’t find it in his ill-translated and prolix Wikipedia entry, the forty-something minister used to work as a nightclub bouncer, or so I have been told by someone who knows him well.

I’ve been known to indulge in some of my own Zaia bashing, but today I’ll leave it to the experts.

And not that it’s any of my business, but Zaia is right: the new legal limit, which went into effect earlier this year and has been rigorously enforced with myriad check points, has led to senseless arrests and steep fines for food and wine writers, like Andrea dal Cero who lost his license in May after attending a spumante presentation in Emilia-Romagna.

Above: Just days before the event was to be held, organizers of the Taurasi Wine Fair canceled the convention, citing recent legislation that makes it illegal to serve alcohol at public events in town squares.

Italy (like Europe in general) has been wrestling with its relationship with alcohol and in some cases, the results have been disastrous, like the recent cancellation of one of the most important wine festivals in southern Italy, the Taurasi Wine Fair. See this editorial posted at VinoWire by the author of Divino Scrivere, Luigi Metropoli.

I sure hope that Italian pols will look closely and carefully at current legislation and I’m glad that Zaia is taking this issue seriously. After all, can you imagine how many folks will lose their licenses as they roll out of Vinitaly next April? If you’ve ever been caught in the post-fair traffic of the trade show (where there are never any traffic police to guide traffic and avoid grid lock), you get the picture.