Wine Book Club wine books

Book Review: Vino Italiano

Vino ItalianoHow do you best learn about wine? Do you prefer to memorize facts? Watch a movie? Meet a winemaker? Visit a region? Take a class? Talk to a sommelier? Drink and read? Read and drink? Just drink?

Me, I’m bad at reading non-fiction books. Don’t get me wrong; I have the capability, but DAMN I need some powerful motivation. And retaining the knowledge I gain when reading a non-fiction book is touch-and-go, too. I really need a story, even when I’m reading about wine.

Luckily for me, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy is a book that works very hard at being all things to all people. It includes profiles of struggling and successful winemakers, typical regional recipes, lists of regional grape varieties and their typical flavors, cold hard facts about regional yields and geography, and recommended wines from producers that can be found in the US. It even provides an ample appendix of Italian wine importers, which I imagine to be useful only to distributors, but hey, why not help them find some good wine too, while we’re at it?

I confess that I read some of this book about two months ago and then crammed for much of Sunday to write this review. But that’s another nice thing about Vino Italiano: it lends itself exceptionally well to periodic reading. You don’t need to read the chapter on Tuscany to understand the chapter on Puglia. Hell, you don’t even need to read the whole chapter on Trentino-Alto Adige to figure out what that Alois Lageder Lagrein that you bought on impulse, not even recognizing the varietal, will taste like. One wonderfully unique thing about the book is that it’s equally an excellent reference and a great read.

Another thing I really liked about this book was that it doesn’t skimp on the obscure region chapters. Even if Basilicata only has one wine region, dominated by one cooperative and producing only one DOC wines, by gawd they’re going to tell you about the cool local tradition of local winemaking. And if most of the region is dedicated to large quantities of blending wine, they’ll tell you about the man trying to convince the growers that they’ll make more money by harvesting fewer, better grapes. That’s the kind of thing that will really make me go out and hunt down a bottle.

The book is divided into three parts: Part One gives you an overview of Italian wine, its history and its (rather arcane) laws. This is a great place to start if you’re not at all familiar with Italian wines, or as a refresher.

Part Two is about individual regions: chapters are divided up into an introduction, in which you are introduced to a person in the winemaking biz in the region and told some history. Then you get a map. Then you are told of wines made in the area, usually in sub-chapters titled Vini Bianchi, Vini Rossi, Vini Dolce, etcetera. Then you are given some very dry facts of the area, and you get a list of all the grapes grown in the region and where. Then you’re given a description of how the wines taste, along with a few reliable producers. Finally, a typically regional recipe, complete with wine recommendation.

Part Three is a collection of indices, including all the grapes, wine terms, and wine zones mentioned in the book. This is where the book becomes a great quick reference.

For people studying wine, France and Italy are like Shakespeare and Joyce (not necessarily respectively). There are seemingly millions of books on the subject and long, laborious histories, all of which are intimidating and seemingly insurmountable. But there’s no choice; if you want to have any kind of intellectual spending currency on the subject, you must tackle them. Books like Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy makes the process inductive, which is to say, they draw you in, show you things you might have otherwise missed, and encourage you to explore. I certainly wish there were an equivalent book about every other country that makes wine.

Thanks to the inimitable Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 for founding the Wine Book Club! And to David at McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail for hosting this month! Salud!

blogosphere Wine Book Club

I love to read

The Reader… and we’re back. Happy New Year to all!

The best news I’ve heard so far this year is that Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 is founding a Wine Book Club. Similar to Wine Blogging Wednesday, this club will have rotating hosts and all of you, regardless of whether you have blog or not, can participate. Even you guys all the way in the back, there. It’s true!

What’s that? You’re a slow reader? Pish-posh. The Wine Book Club meets every other month, so that you can read with all the slowness you wish to cram in to 60 days. Not interested in joining any club that would have you as a member? You can check out the other joiners by looking at the Facebook group, or on a nifty site I didn’t know about before called Shelfari.

The first title, which will be discussed on Tuesday, February 26, is Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. Read a description of the book and get more details about how to participate over at the first site to host the club, and one of my favorite wine blogs, McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail.

One of the things I love about the book club that I’ve been a member of for two years now is that it frequently takes me out of my reading comfort zone. I get very comfortable in my reading ruts, too, so it’s good for me. The books we read in the PC Book Club (PC= pretentious c**t; Dana will have to tell you that story someday) don’t blow my mind every single time, but I love getting pushed out of my personal cannon, and I really enjoy discussing books with other people. Plus the ladiez in my group are dope, yo.

Here’s my confession, though: I suck ass at reading non-fiction. Big Ass. So a Wine Book Club, though exciting to me from a wine perspective, also provides a healthy challenge to my reading inclinations. Talk about out of the rut – I’m off-roading it here!

That being said, I’ve browsed through Vino Italiano in years past, and found it exceptionally readable for a non-fictional book on regional wine. It’s full of information about food (cookbooks being one of the few non-fictional genres I can peruse for hours – another is dictionaries, what can you do?) and folklore, as I recall, and I’m looking forward to reading it in full. You’ll stick with me to the bitter end, right? Good.

Are you one of those people who prefers non-fiction to fiction? Or do you pine for a good story, like me? Share with the group via your comment, even those in the back of the room!