Did you know Italians don’t drink wine with pizza? Several knowledgeable websites inform me they prefer beer, or even (gasp) Coke.
Here’s what else I gleaned from an hour of Web surfing:
• The trendy American custom of dipping bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar is almost unheard of in Italy; it may have started in San Francisco.
• Bread is served only after the pasta course, often to mop up sauces.
• One twirls long pasta only with a fork, unassisted by a spoon, and no one over the age of 6 ever cuts it.
• Cappuccino and other milky coffees are morning drinks in Italy; asking for them in mid-afternoon is frowned upon.
• Beware of Italian hot chocolate. It’s delicious, but thick as melted Hershey bars.
• A salad is a side dish to a meal, not a starting course. (And don’t try to order a Caesar salad; its inventor, Caesar Cardini, was Italian, but his restaurant was in Tijuana, Mexico.)
• With a main meal, Italians drink only wine or water.
• But with pizza, it’s beer or colas.
Problem is, many of these supposedly authoritative sources contradict each other. Depending on which website you believe, Italians eat pizza only by hand or only with fork and knife. Or maybe they cut it with fork and knife, then eat it by hand.
Still, I wouldn’t worry about feeling inappropriate if you visit Italy. It’s a friendly, relaxed country. They'll forgive you an Americanism or two — especially if you make an attempt to speak a bit of Italian.
And keep in mind that Italian cuisine is strongly regional. What goes in Puglia can be rare in Milano.
And there’s always that common denominator — wine. If you get to Tuscany — and that’s a very good idea — here are some nice chiantis to try. (Incidentally, they all go great with pizza.)
2010 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent colorino): floral aroma, rich red plum and anise flavors, full-bodied, intensely fruity; $15.
2009 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany (cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo nero, sangiovese): hint of oak, crisp aromas, flavors of black cherries and bittersweet chocolate, long finish; $18.
2010 Cecchi Chianti DOCG, Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 5 percent colorino, 5 percent canaiolo nero): floral aromas, tart cherry and chocolate flavors; $11.
2009 Cecchi “Riserva di Famiglia” Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent colorino): hint of oak, spicy black cherry and espresso flavors, full-bodied; $30.
2011 Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany (cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo nero, sangiovese): floral aromas, black plum flavors, big, ripe tannins, full-bodied; $13.
2011 Banfi Chianti Superiore DOCG, Tuscany (75 percent sangiovese, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and canaiolo nero): floral aromas, sweet black cherry flavors, medium body; $11
2010 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, by Cecchi, Tuscany: (90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent colorino): pure, intense tart cherry and black coffee flavors, spicy, with soft tannins; $24.
2011 Placido Chianti DOCG, Tuscany (100 percent sangiovese); ruby color, light body, black cherry flavors; $10.
2011 Bolla Chianti DOCG, Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent canaiolo nero): floral aromas, light body, crisp and fruity, with tart cherry flavors; $8.
With holiday credit card bills coming in, I’m writing a column of reader suggestions for the very cheapest wines that are acceptable to drink. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.