What The Heck Are Wine Biscuits?

Wine glass. Wine tasting. Wine bottle opener. Wine biscuits. Wait, what now?

Yeah, so it turns out there’s a thing called “wine biscuits.” It’s not a term for the super dry, generally flavorless palate-cleansing crackers served at wine tastings. Wine biscuits are an Italian specialty, a Rhode Island regional treat, and now, apparently, the subject of some litigation.

Before we get to the law, first, per Seinfeld, let’s look to the cookie. Or biscuit. Really it’s kind of a hybrid. Even though they’re called “biscuits,” wine biscuits are actually a little bit sweet—though they shouldn’t goose your sweet tooth the way a sugar cookie does. Made with red wine, oil, sugar, and a bunch of flour, they can end up with a super subtle purple-ish hue, and they’re often twisted into a little ring. Olive oil, naturally, is preferred for wine biscuits but recipes can also use regular old (and totally fine) vegetable oil. You might see some fennel seeds chucked in there, too, giving the cookie just the slightest anise flavor. Less enticing looking than a chocolate chip cookie, but a whole bunch more exotic.

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OK, so back to Rhode Island and legal issues. Beyond a pretty large Portuguese population, Rhode Island is home to some seriously proud Italian American heritage (not as many people as, say, New York or New Jersey, but actually a higher percentage of the population at almost 20%).  Among many other culinary blessings, that means bakeries well stocked with wine biscuits.

Except, yeah, there’s a bit of trouble getting the wine. Baker (and North Providence city councilwoman) Kristen Catanzaro has to make multiple trips to the liquor store—and not for the reasons you and I do. Currently Catanzaro has to buy her wine by the bottle, but she’d like to be able to purchase it the way she buys all the rest of her baking supplies: in bulk. And no, that doesn’t mean a jug or a box wine. Since a basic recipe for just 30 cookies requires a cup of red wine, Catanzaro and other wine biscuit bakers find themselves stocking up on bottles and bottles of wine at regular liquor store retail prices, with none of the discount you’d get when buying in serious bulk.

Legislation is still pending, but if the proposed legislation passes, we can expect wine biscuit production efficiency to skyrocket (no, we didn’t expect to be using that phrase today, either). It’s an interesting intersection of liquor laws (which get a little complicated, on a controversial “three tier” system in Rhode Island) and baking economics. But if and when the situation is resolved, that might mean more readily available wine biscuits outside of Rhode Island.

Of course, if you have ready access to an Italian Nonna, you’re already good to go.

Header image via MotherWouldKnow.com