Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wine Book Club #1: Vino Italiano

Welcome to the first edition of the Wine Book Club. Today, wine bloggers and their readers throughout the blogosphere will be discussing Vino Italiano! by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch.

David McDuff, of McDuff's Food and Wine Trail, is the leader of this discussion, and he posed some wonderful questions to help us write our reviews. They are so good that I'm just going to go ahead and answer them and contribute to the discussion here and elsewhere on the web.

First and foremost, I think that Vino Italiano is a terrific book if you want to expand your knowledge of Italian wine. The book is divided into regional chapters, and each one opens with a "scene setting" vignette about life in the region, and the role of wine in regional culture. Then there is a discussion of leading makers, grape varieties planted, and specific wines. The authors cover reds, whites, sparklers, and dessert wines. At the end of each chapter their is a regional recipe to accompany the wine courtesy of either Lidia Bastianich or Mario Batali. By the end I felt like I had a much better grasp of the geography of Italian wine and the specialties of various regions. The wine regions that I want to know more about turn out to be Liguria (where Genoa is) and Calabria (at the heel of the boot) for no other reason than the wine sounds so unique and interesting. I find now that I am much more confident in the Italian section of the local wine store, and it was terrific to feel that I could pick up an Italian wine from somewhere other than Tuscany or the Veneto and know what I was getting myself into (at least a little bit).

There are, however, also scads of native Italian varieties--and that's where I still don't feel confident. Perhaps it's because this is the kind of knowledge that really only sticks when you've had a wine made with a specific grape. I read all about Frappato prior to WBW #42 --but without tasting the grape it didn't have a whole love of sticking power. Going back and reading the information about Sicilian grapes after I tasted it, however, made the material stick.

That said, Vino Italiano is more a reference book than a ripping good read. It's the kind of book that you'll probably refer to again and again to figure out where the Valle d'Aosta is, or what the flavor characteristics of Nero d'Avola are, but you aren't going to come away thinking that there was a great story to be told and remembered. But the overall message is clear: wine is part of daily life in Italy, and it's woven into every meal, every social occasion, and every moment.

Where the book really succeeded for me--apart from imparting lots of useful information and becoming my go-to book on Italian wines--was that it did inspire me to go out and look for specific wines. I haven't found all of them yet, but I'm looking forward to finding a Pigato from Liguria. And right now, as I type, I'm sipping a dessert wine from Sicily, which I bought because I read about Sicily's reputation for sweet wines in Vino Italiano. I'll have more to say about that wine at the end of the week.

I'll be interested to hear what others have to say about the book this month. Don't forget to join in the discussion by leaving comments on any wine blog, over at McDuff''s Food and Wine Trail, on Facebook, or Shelfari. The book for April will be announced on the first Tuesday of March by host Tim Elliott of Winecast, so stay tuned for the next installment (and yes, the book is shorter).


David McDuff said...

Thanks for thinking up this whole thing and for so gladly participating.

I'll look forward to your tasting notes if you're able to track down a Pigato.

Jill said...

Dr., thanks for the heads-up that the book is shorter next month. I will make a concerted effort to finish the book...

Sean Sellers said...

Hi Dr. D,

I finally managed to get a copy of the book and read before the due date and, while I can wholeheartedly say that I learned quite a lot of things and even used it to find a couple of great wines, the New York Times hit the nail on the head in its 2002 review “nobody reads wine books”. They only serve as reference material and bookcase stuffing.

Joe said...

Don't forget the recipes! I received this book as a gift a few years ago and I have had great fun pairing the wines with the meals.

winedeb said...

Nice review Deb. I do not have this book and will probably not purchase until I get really into Italian wines. But, I have added it to my list and made notes of your notes!

Andrew said...

I like the book quite a bit, but I still have a mental block when it comes to the wines. For some reason French wine was easy, I was able to understand their AOC system and learn what grapes go in what. Maybe it's because the varietals they use are familiar. But in Italy, even after having read the book, I'm stumped if it isn't Alto Adige. Piedmont, or Tuscany.

Dr. Debs said...

Sean, I think the NYT is a LITTLE bit harsh on this point. I've looked stuff up in this book a lot since I finished reading it. It's worth more than bookcase stuffing, for sure. And Andrew, I have the same mental block. And I go to the store and I cannot remember where the damn appellations are located geographically. I guess we just have to drink more Italian wine.