Posts Filed Under Italian Wine
This post, the Dude is offering his review of Joseph Bastianich’s & David Lynch’s weighty tome on all things Italo-wine-related: Vino Italiano.
My review is part of a larger blog-carnival-type effort with near-simultaneous reviews of the same book happening at other wine blogs, called the Wine Book Club. You can check out some of the haps and conversation at the Shelfari book group. For more on the background of WBC, and a bit about the authors of Vino Italiano, check out my previous post on the subject.
You’d think that a 500+ page book would warrant a lengthy review, but that’s simply not the case here (thankfully!). This is mostly due to the well-considered layout of the book.
Vino Italiano is divided into three sections:
- A primer on Italian wine history & wine laws (essential information if you hope to understand an Italian wine label!)
- A tour of each of Italy’s major wine regions in turn, starting with cultural interactions / story-telling, moving to well-written descriptions of the wine styles of the region, and ending with a recommended regional food & wine pairing
- Reference material, including a glossary of Italian wine terminology, and a wine producer directory.
How To Use This Book
Novices will find the first section particularly useful. When you’re dealing with Italian wine, expect to be confused – there’s simply no easy way to deal with it, so you might as well jump right in; this section will help make that jump as painless as possible.
Wine geeks like the Dude here will find the 3rd section the most interesting, if only for a handy reference to remind us what some of the Italian wine label terms mean, or digging up the detail on what is and isn’t permitted in some of the regional quality classifications, etc.
Most people, however, will find the book’s large midsection the most useful. That’s because the authors of Vino Italiano know what the Italians know: the only way to truly appreciate Italy’s regional wine treasures in full is to experience them as part of a larger picture – that picture including a unique blend of regional culture, history, and (most importantly) food.
The majority of Italian wines are meant to be consumed with their regional gustatory counterparts – the recipe and wine pairings (provided by Lidia Bastanich and household-name Mario Batali) at the end of each chapter are not after-thoughts – they are essential components if you want to “get” Italian wine. Personally, I’ve been hoping to try the Spagheti alla Luganica and Anglianico del Vulture pairing (see pgs. 330-331). If you don’t get hungry at some point when reading Vino Italiano, then you’re missing the point.
You needn’t read the book cover-to-cover – the book is structured so that skipping around to read about a particular region will give you a perfectly good understanding of that region and its wines.
Buy It or Skip It?
Buy it. Vino Italiano is well-written (Dude majored in English Lit. in undergrad, so he does not offer that sort of praise lightly!), and its harmonious blend of regional Italian culture, food, and wine make it a winner. It’s also a book that will provide benefit for a wine lover at nearly every stage of his/her wine knowledge development. This is one of the few instances where a book’s many accolades (on the jacket, and in its on-line user reviews) are well-deserved.
Cheers, and happy reading!
This month’s edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday comes to us courtesy of Spitton.biz, who have tasked the collective talents of the budding wine blogging community by asking us to review an Italian Red, using just seven words.
Tricky, to say the least (get it?); especially for those of us whose prose, how shall I put this… does not value highly the elegance of the concise.
But let’s not sell ourselves short (get it??), or wax too philosophically about the relative merits of our brief (get it?!?) and minute (get it?!??) contribution to the great big blogosphere.
Ok, ok… I’ll stop!
Anyway, for this excellent exercise in enological economy, Dude chose an old stand-by wine: Castello Banfi’s Rosso di Montalcino D.O.C. (2003, Tuscany). Before Dude delves deep into the diminutive depiction of this dapper delicacy, let us first examine some way-cool background information so you can get up close and personal with what Rosso di Montalcino is all about….
Most wine lovers have at least heard about the famed wines of Brunello di Montalcino, from Tuscany in Italy’s Central-west region. These suckers are famed because a) they’re expensive, b) they taste great and can make amazing matches with roast meat dishes and c) need upwards of 20 years of aging to tame their harsh tannins and bracing acidity, developing over long periods of time into a plum-fruit-filled, smoky, and leathery behemoth of a wine (Dude has personally tasted 25+ year old Brunellos that still could’ve used a few more years in the bottle to soften up!).
But what if a) you’re not rich and b) you don’t want to wait around for 20+ years until you’re old and gray in order to enjoy a big, bad Montalcino wine?
You can still get some of that good, down-home Montalcino love by going with a Rosso di Montalcino. Both Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wines are made from the Brunello grape, which is a clone of Sangiovese, and both undergo similar wine-making techniques. But Rossos have a much lower minimum barrel aging requirement, and usually are made with grapes from younger vines than those that make it into the Brunellos. This makes them a) cheaper (usually under $20), and b) ready to drink without the multi-decade waiting period typically needed for good Brunellos. They’re not as heavy, heady, rich, or complex as Brunellos, but Rossos give you a tasty teaser of what their bigger brothers are like, and are well worth the effort of checking out in their own right.
Got it? Groovy!
Now, let’s get to this typically wordy Dude’s atypically “unwordy” review. My 7 words are meant to tell a story, so I enlisted the help of some pictures (hopefully that doesn’t mean I actually used 7,007 words… oh, drat!):
“Arsenic is edible. Only once.”
So reads the quote at the top of this week’s Food Review Weekly over at HeatEatReview.com. The Dude is featured in the Drinks section thereof. You can check it out here.
The Eats section of the same has a link to a story about Caffeinated potato chips… which seems, well, just too damn odd!
Anyway, hope everyone in blogosphere-land is recovering well from their night of Superbowl watching. Personally, the Dude’s team is the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers, so he took not a small modicum of pleasure in seeing the Pats fall short of winning the big game (but I’ve just got a case of sour grapes, because the venerable Pats have denied my Steelers so many AFC Championship victories in the last several years).
Wine Blogging Wednesday #41 (hosted this month over at Fork & Bottle) has us pondering the mountainous Northeast corner of Italy, as the wine blogging community explores the white wines of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Too bad we’re not exploring their reds too, since this region grows some totally kick-ass Cabernet blends, having almost completely re-worked its approach to quality winemaking and viticulture since its vineyards were wiped out in the 19th Century by that nasty pet phylloxera (more history available in the excellent Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia).
The wine I chose for WBW (see inset pic from my kitchen counter) was Conte Brandolini D’ADDA Tocai Friulano 2005, from the Grave DOC in Fruili. Surprisingly, I found a decent selection of Friuli whites at the local wine shop here in the Communist-wealth of Pennsylvania. And I got it for $14 (sah-weeeeet! – Wire Chicken NOT included, of course).
But before I review this wine, I need to give you a quick bit of insight into why I can’t stand reviewing wines sometimes…
Outside of contributions to WBW, I don’t normally review wines at this blog. That’s because when I do decide to review a wine, someone with wine street cred that kicks the crap outta mine goes and reviews the exact same wine! In this case, it was the awesome Mary Ewing-Mulligan. I know what you might be asking yourself: “Self, I wonder if that’s the same Mary Ewing Mulligan who co-wrote the hugely successful Wine For Dummies, is president of the International Wine Center, and was the first woman in the U.S. to become a Master of Wine?“
Yeah, that Mary Ewing Mulligan. She also happened to discuss this wine in person with the Italian Count who produces it. So I’m not sure how I’m gonna top that.
Mary, if you ever read this post, I formally challenge you to an arm-wrestling contest for a bottle of `82 Mouton Rothschild. But since I know your brother and he’s a great guy, I might let it slide and settle for a lesser vintage…
Anyway, back to Friuli – this is a region of great diversity in its winemaking, and subsequently great diversity – and confusion – in the flavor profiles for its wines. Tocai Friulano is no exception. Depending on who you talk to and what wine books you read, it’s a light-bodied wine and full-bodied wine. It’s a nutty wine. It’s a spicy wine. Or it’s a fruity wine.
The flavor profile isn’t the only thing nutty or fruity about TF. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, TF’s name is also the stuff of total confusion: It’s known as Sauvigonasse, but many speculate that it has no relation whatsoever to Sauvignon Blanc. “Tocai” suggests some relationship to the famous Tokay of Hungary (made from Furmint grapes), but that connection is so specious that the Italians have agreed with Hungary to eventually drop Tocai from the TF name altogether. And TF bears no relationship at all to Tokay d’Alsace (which is better known as Pinot Grigio, also made in the Friuli region). Confused yet?
One thing that isn’t in dispute is TF’s popularity – it is practically the BudLite of northeast Italy; in other words, it’s ubiquitously planted and consumed in that region.
What’s my take on this wine?
It has a gorgeous pale lemon color. Fairly aromatic, though I was less beguiled by the aroma than Mary was in her review. Citrus and hint of pineapple on the nose. Lots of minerality on the palate (must be the gravelly soil), and some almond there as well. Good body (a bit more than I would have expected at 12.5% alcohol), and very decent, crisp acidity. I enjoyed it a bit more on the second day when it opened up just a tad.
The BudLite of Northeast Italy…? Undeserved, totally, if you’re talking taste. Those who appreciate a nice guilty pleasures will find something to like in this one. Enjoy it with fish – the lighter and whiter, the better – with some mild mango salsa.
Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
If you’re interested in learning more about Italian wines, check out the book Vino Italiano.