Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wine Book Club: Vino Italiano by Joe Bastianich and David Lynch

At the beginning of January, fellow wine bloggers Dr. Debs and David McDuff proposed and are hosting a Wine Book Club with the inaugural tome being Vino Italiano by Joe Bastianich and David Lynch.

The book is a detailed to say the least and clocks in at over 500 pages. It starts off with a discourse on the culture of wine in Italy, gets into Italian wine laws, grapes and importing. Then we get to the meat of the book which details each of Italy’s 21 wine producing regions in 19 chapters and nearly 350 pages of text. The last section is a “data section” which defines the grapes, regions, and producers.

For each region there are basically three pieces. The first is a short anecdote about the wine region being covered and includes such scenes as boar hunting in Tuscany, horse butchers in the Veneto, soccer in Lazio or seeking out gelato in Sicily. The authors then break down the wines made in the region into sparkling, whites, reds and finally desserts wines, hitting on all even if the region produces only scant amounts of one. Finally, there is a “Fast Facts” section which basically reviews the pertinent data – reviewing the grapes most prominently used, acres under vine, styles, examples of wines and estimated costs.

Joe Bastianich and David Lynch are experts in the field of wine and it shows as the attention to detail is strong, leaving no region untouched and describing all wine styles, even the obscure ones, in such great detail that you can’t help but want to go out and try them.

It’s in the anecdotes though that really made me fall for this book though. For example, they describe the hillside fires of Festa di Sacro Cuore (Day of the Sacred Heart) which cast a “glow over the vineyards that cling to the steep mountain slopes” as “people sit in the caf├ęs with places of bresaola (air-cured beef) and pitchers of wine, starring up at the blazes as if there were a movie playing.”

How can you not fall for imagery like that! Well, it did its trick and got me reading further to the details of the Trentino-Alto Adige region where they spent just as much time discussing the reds of the region as they did the whites they are more known for. They paint such a complete picture of the region that you almost feel like you have to sample the wines themselves to complete the scene.

From the entry, I felt like I had to familiarize myself with the schiava grape, the main red grape of the Alto Adige region and wine I wrote about for the last Wine Blogging Wednesday.

Bastianich and Lynch add another element to the book by including recipes from the region created by famous restaurateurs Lydia Bastianich (Joe’s Mom) and Mario Batali (Joe’s restaurant partner). Again, it’s easy to fall under the spell of these recipes which lead to me, or I should say my wife, trying our hands at the Braised Wild Boar and pairing it with a Brunello di Montalcino. Both were excellent.

All in all, I feel like this is THE book on Italian wine, at least that I’ve seen in my somewhat limited experience. The biggest takeaway for me is that I felt like I learned about Italy and its food, not just the wine. It does a great job of mashing it all together. My one complaint… 500+ pages is a lot to digest but then again, this isn’t just a wine book, it’s also a “have to have” reference.


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