Making a toast is the global recognition of friendship, truce and merriment – wherever you go in the world there is a ritual devoted to the process of coming together with your friends, old and new, and raising a glass to health.
In Italy, this ritual involves either saying ‘Salute’ or ‘Cin Cin’ and by ceremony you look your fellow drinkers in the eye as you chink your glasses, making sure you acknowledge each person in the circle even if your glass can’t reach across the table. In England, raucously you raise your glasses together irrespective of eye contact. In Italy, you toast to something specific. In England, the act of raising your glass itself is enough.
The origins of the practice vary, depending on your historical and geographical starting point. In England, the action ‘to toast’ comes from the addition of a piece of stale or charred bread to a sack of wine to take away the acidity that was a regular feature of ancient fermenting processes. The word ‘cheers’ comes from the Anglo-French medieval word ‘cheres’related to faces and the joyful expressions upon them.
In Italy, the action is called ‘Brindisi’. To use it in a sentence one must link it to the ever-important Italian verb which equates in English to ‘do/make’ – Fare. Whether as a question or statement, fare becomes ‘facciamo’ – we make and you will hear ‘facciamo un Brindisi’. Translated to its English counterpart it becomes ‘let’s make a toast’.
Brindisi is at once a call to ‘salute’ and a city in the Southern Italian region of Puglia. There are two possible reasons why this action has become known as Brindisi. The first reason could be that in the highfalutin world of Opera there was a mishearing of the German phrase ‘Ich bring dir’s’ loosely translated as I’ll offer or I’ll bring you. The other possible explanation comes from Roman times when Brindisi was a main port city. The story goes that Roman soldiers, going off to conquer new territories to the east of Italy would offer a toast and libation to the success of their mission. I’m going to go ahead assume that the successes were so plentiful that to emulate, the word Brindisi became synonymous with health, wealth and victory.
So when you find yourself, one summers evening, in a beautiful seemingly secret restaurant somewhere on the Italian coast, drinking a glass of the local wine, don’t forget to raise your glasses in ‘Brindisi’ – to health, wealth and happiness, to the future, to plans confirmed – looking each other in the eye as the edges of your glasses chink together in ceremony.