A few weeks ago, while planning my holiday posts for the Loco Diner, I decided to write a story about The Unwinder, a drink made of a dry, Italian red wine, poured over ice and mixed with 7up. This drink has been part of my family for as long as I can remember and, from what I understand, as long as my dad can remember as well.
My grandfather, an Italian man who resembled Uncle Junior from The Sopranos, would make the drink using wine that was usually homemade by someone in the family and stored in jugs in the basement. For this reason, my dad still insists that the wine used for this drink pours from a “jug.”
It is worth noting that I planned this story before my invitation to become a member of the WTTV family and hadn’t given much thought to it until I sat down to write. All at once, I realized that WineTimeTV.net is a popular stop for the wine enthusiast and for this reason, this story almost didn’t happen. Could I really pitch an $8 jug of Italian red mixed with 7up to wine aficionados and keep my dignity?
It was a real “why am I here?” moment and I decided to take a break and think about it for a while.
While talking to a friend, a fellow Italian, about my dilemma, the Italian Spritzer came up in conversation. I was speechless when I found out that my friend’s “Italian Spritzer” was jug wine mixed with 7up. I had never heard of another family who drank this concoction.
I immediately emailed a few of my friends who grew up with similar Italian backgrounds asking them if they heard of this drink. Many of them had. So far, I have traced our Unwinder from Philadelphia neighborhoods to Camden and Runnemede in New Jersey, to Brooklyn and Long Island in New York all the way to the Abruzzo region of Italy.
The stories are all strikingly similar. Here is a sampling of the responses:
“My dad grew up in Camden in the 30’s and 40s…It was red wine, the type they sell in the liquor store with the screw cap.”
“It was common in South Philly. Usually an extremely dry red, often homemade.”
“I remember my grandmother in New Jersey making this drink.”
“My cousins and I all drank 7up and wine. We didn’t have any name for it other than wine and 7up. It was something like ‘vino e 7up.’ We always used homemade wine…All of my family is from the Abruzzo region of Italy. I think my cousins in Italy may have drunk it there too. In other words, I don’t think it originated with the Italian-Americans here.”
For those of you who are now dying to mix one up, here’s how:
Fill a tall glass with ice.
Fill the glass half way with a dry Italian jug wine
Top off with 7up
Stir with a spoon.
With this connection to friends and family, I have a new found appreciation of my family’s most noted drink and for the culture in which I grew up. I also realize why I am listed with the sommelier and the adventure writer. I am the voice from the neighborhood, maybe quieter or more traditional, but still here with something to say.
In a few weeks, I’ll walk into my parent’s house for our traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner and my dad will say, “Hey, Buddy, do you want an Unwinder?” The answer, of course, will be yes and I can’t wait.
From my neighborhood to yours, happy holidays.