Want to learn about Italian wine? I do. One of the wonderful things about Italy is that every region, every town, in fact, practically every bend in the road, seems to have its own local specialty, its own take on an Italian classic. Wine is no exception. This can make understanding Italian wine, other than in 'Chianti is good, Lambrusco less so'-style terms, pretty difficult. The fact that many regions borrow grapes from other regions and other countries makes the whole thing pretty impenetrable. Thankfully, that's where Vino Italiano comes in.
This hefty tome, coming in at just over 530 pages in my edition, goes through every region of Italy, detailing the grape varieties, the geographical conditions and the type of soil. It's pretty comprehensive. More than that, it also provides that all-important context for the wine, with each chapter opening with a vignette taken from the author's experiences and capturing their sense of the region (for example, the Lazio chapter starts with a story about the derby della capitale between AS Roma and SS Lazio). At the end of each chapter there is a small section about the food of the region, about which food goes best with the wines from that region, along with a few recipes to try at home. I feel this works well as these two sections, along with a handy 'key facts' section, sandwich the 'meat' of the chapter, about the wines themselves.
It's a big book, not one to read cover to cover, but more as a reference book, picking a region every night and then reading about the wines from that region. It works well like that. I don't think I'd be able to read it straight through, but I have enjoyed reading about those regions of interest (and other regions I've never thought of in wine-terms - a glass of Chambave muscat from Valle d'Aosta anyone?) and learning more about why each wine has the characteristics it does. Obviously, the wine buff may know many of these details, but I still feel the book is comprehensive enough so that even the most learned sommelier will pick something up.
Initially, the US-centric nature of the book grated on me. Obviously the authors, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch (with recipes by Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali) are American, and the target audience for the book is American, but it would have been good to have more information on where to get the wines in Italy rather than simply relating everything back to the states. However, this is a minor complaint as overall the book is well-researched and it's obvious that the authors have a great passion for both Italy and Italian wine.
It's easy therefore for me to recommend this book. Comprehensive enough for the wino, yet accessible enough for the casual quaffer. I've learned a lot from Vino Italiano. Every time I think I should put it down and move on to another book, I hesitate, not wanting it to end, and I decide, maybe just for tonight, just one more chapter, just one more re-read...
Vino Italiano - The regional wines of Italy, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, is published by Random House and my version was from 2005. I'm not sure how widely available it is outside of the US, although I managed to get my copy from Amazon UK pretty easily. Of course, there is a copy in the Lazio Explorer Amazon Store.