Vino Italiano is a difficult book to describe. It's part wine guide, part travelogue, part cookbook, and part cultural history. It's a love song to Italy and Italian wine that has the flavor of a coffee table book, but without the color plates and oversize format. It's a reference work and a highly personal account of a subject the authors know well and enjoy sharing. In short, it's a classic.
The book lovingly covers all of the regions of Italy. Each chapter is a self-contained essay on an individual Italian region, with wine as the focal point. But don't think that the wine commentary is the only reason you will enjoy owning this book. It's full of absorbing discourses on Italian life, told through anecdotes that illustrate the character of a region's wines, food, people and history. For example, you'll go on a Tuscan boar hunt, watch a soccer match between Lazio and Roma, learn about the art of making Balsamic vinegar in Emilia-Romagna and discover where the Italians hid Mussolini under house arrest in the mountains of Abruzzo.
Each chapter is organized in the same fashion: an introductory essay that illuminates something telling about the character and history of the region; a simple map locating the DOC areas; descriptions of white, red, sparkling and sweet wines grown, highlighting significant producers; wine production statistics, including recent successful vintages; a few select restaurant recommendations; a guided tasting that compares and contrasts flights of wines within the same DOC's; and a recipe or food indigenous to the province with wine selections to match. Throughout are portraits of key people and properties that set the tone for the Italian wine scene today. A data bank at the end lists all major grape varieties grown in Italy and an index of 700 producers who represent a solid if subjective list of Italy's best.
One of the most interesting aspects of Italian wine today is the emergence of (and backlash against) the so called "international style." In most regions, this means a shift in emphasis from native grapes and vinification techniques towards extracted wines made from classic French varietals (e.g., cabernet, merlot, syrah) and the use of new oak. Vino Italiano tackles the subject head-on in an even-handed and relatively dispassionate manner, including several passages on the style of the prolific modernist consultant Riccardo Cotarella. Is he a force for good or evil? Vino Italiano gives you the background, you get to make the decision. There is also a wonderful little digression on the improvements wrought by adoption of modernist techniques on the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. As, usual, Vino Italiano makes the subject clear and entertaining.
Negatives? Well, the words are so vivid I would have paid twice as much for the same book with some beautiful color plates that capture the places, people, and food described. Some of the recipes were a little too complex for me, but maybe not for you.
If you love Italian wine, food, and/or Italy itself, this is the kind of book you can grab off a nightstand, open at random, and happily lose yourself in for hours. Put another way, if the authors ever sponsored a wine and food tour of Italy, I'd be first in line. Highly recommended.