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Book Review: Vino Italiano (The Regional Wines of Italy)

Vinted on February 25, 2008 under book reviews, Italian Wine, wine books
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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

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.

The Low-Down
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:

  1. A primer on Italian wine history & wine laws (essential information if you hope to understand an Italian wine label!)
  2. 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
  3. 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!

Weekly Wine Web Wrap-Up: After the Storm Edition

Vinted on February 24, 2008 under wine news

Greetings from PA, where we are digging out after a bout of winter weather; not the worst we’ve seen by a long shot, but the first significant winter storm we’ve seen all season – very, very late for these parts. I’m not going to jump the gun and blame global warming just yet… but… you gotta wonder…

Speaking of Global Warming
Wine Spectator reported this week on “The Gore-ical” giving the wine industry props for its efforts to Go Green, thus helping to preserve the environment and stave off some of our contribution to turning the Earth into a hothouse. I recently gave props to Domaine547 for going green, so we’ve got some good examples where this is impacting the thinking all the way through the wine retail chain. But so far, no one has called me the Dude-ical.

I got my first real in-yo-face close up with global warming in Samburu, Kenya a few years ago. One afternoon while staying at the Elephant Watch Camp, we hiked up the river. Literally, up the river – as in, walking up the middle of the river. This was very easy because there was no water from the higher elevations to actually fill the river bed, because the ‘short rains’ never came. The locals explained to me how this was possibly linked to global warming, and as I watched the animals dig like mad to get themselves a drink, I decided that I wanted to punch anyone that told me that global warming was bullsh*t in the face. Not that Dude is an angry person…

Don’t Get Mad, Get Quoted
While we’re doling out props, let’s give some down-home Dude praise to Tom Wark, who was quoted (yet again!) by Business Wire this week in his fight against the monopolist practices in wine distribution. Anyone who thinks that the wine distributors’ claim that they are maintaining their monopoly to keep alcohol out of the mouths of minors is anything more than a greedy witch hunt needs to check out Tom’s blog.


The American alcohol distributors calls for shutting down all direct to consumer wine shipments is a self-serving ruse demonstrated by the fact that if they really cared about minor access to wine, they would call for the shutting down of the channel of sales through which minors are most likely to obtain alcohol: brick and mortar alcohol sales. Rather, we only hear calls to shut down direct shipment of wine, the channel through which distributors dont make money.

Go Tom!

(Even More) Power to the People!
Decanter reported that two self-published works picked up U.K. Andre Simon book prizes. That gives some very serious street cred to the self publishing phenomenon (and maybe even to the Wine 2.0 movement). Oh, yeah – the books were also from U.S. authors (whew-hew!).

She’s So… Heeeeeavy….
Speaking of Decanter, and the U.K., the likes of Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke railed out against a trend from luxury winemakers to bottle wines in what they (Jancis & Oz, not the winemakers) claim are needlessly heavy bottles. Score another hit for the movement against climate change, since heavier bottles = more energy to ship + higher shipping costs (passed on to you and me who are buying the stuff).

Speaking of Weights…
Those of us who brave the epicurean world to bring you our take on food & wine will undoubtedly want to check out this article from the Times online, which details how critics, chefs, and others in the food industry fight the after-effects of their foodie passions. Considering that wine doesn’t have fat, but does have calories (mostly from its alcohol content), us wine bloggers & wine drinkers should take note. The good news is, we’re not alone! Now, go get on that treadmill.

Ancient Land, New Wines
The Wall Street Journal posted a fascinating piece this week on the quality revolution underway in Israel’s wine industry. Dude had an opportunity to taste some Israeli wine not too long ago during a visit in London, and he was mighty impressed. Watch this space, we could be seeing some exciting stuff as this very old world land makes some new-world styled wines.

A Moment of Silence
This past week we mourned the loss of Jamie Davis, co-founder of Schramsberg Vineyards. Jamie Davis was a pioneer, a bit like the Robert Mondavi of American sparkling wine.

That’s all for now. Until next week’s edition – cheers!

1WineDude.com Readers – Save Some Coin When You Buy Your Wine! That, and other tidbits…

Vinted on February 23, 2008 under wine 2.0

The Main Domaine
For some time now, I’ve been digging the blog stylings of 1WineDude.com friend Jill over at domaine547.com. The domain457 on-line wine store has recently gone green, which is a move always viewed favorably by the Dude. Not that my opinion on green livin’ matters in the grand scheme of things. But it’s worth some props!

One of the especially cool things about an on-line wine retailer that also participates actively in wine blogging, is that they can leverage the knowledge of the “wine blogosphere collective hive mind” to construct a killer wine selection. Not sure if anyone is also considering leveraging the knowledge of the “wine blogosphere collective hive mind” to attempt an evil plan at world domination, but if I hear about that, I will definitely blog it (but it will probably still only get, like, at most 3 diggs…).

Anyway, constructing a killer wine selection is exactly what domaine547 has done. Case in point: they’ve got a special category in their product line up called Wine Blogger Sampler Packs. These packs are made up of wines recommended by the wine blogging community, including selections from the likes of BrooklynGuy Loves Wine. Some very intriguing stuff is in them there packs; wish I could order some and have them delivered to PA… but… alas

domaine547 is kindly offering a 5% discount to 1WineDude.com readers – so check out their store and take advantage of the savings! (Use coupon code “dude” during checkout).

Wine 2.0 in Yo Face
Oh, got another tidbit for ya: this week has seen the launch of a wine-peeps facebook-style online community called the OpenWine Consortium. I signed up as user #20-something. Their now up to 200+ members in only a few days – explosive growth.

It’s a great mish-mash of wine consultants, wine industry folks, wineries, wine bloggers, and wine lovers. New groups / discussions are popping up like mad, such as this one for WSET students (wish I’d had access to that kind of brain power when I took my WSET exams!). Check it out – join up and get yerself a little bit of Wine 2.0!

Cheers!

20 Things About Life I’ve Learned From Drinking Wine

Vinted on February 22, 2008 under best of, commentary, wine appreciation, wine tips, zen wine

(images: davidzinger.wordpress.com, elsnoozo.blogspot.com, history.com, aceface.com)

It’s been said in some Eastern traditions that to be born a human is a rare event. To be a human and to question the source of life (to become a Seeker) is rarer still. And rarest of all is to seek and find your guru, the way to enlightenment.

Well, I’ve had many gurus in my life. My dog, for example, has taught me a lot (including how to better smell my wine). Wine itself can be one of your life gurus, if you only take the time to pay attention to what it has to tell you.

“Reality is an illusion that occurs due to a lack of wine.”
- Anonymous

Inspired in part by a recent post in Zen Habits, below are 20 things about life that I’ve learned – from drinking wine. I fully expect that the list will grow, as my life journey of wine appreciation continues – but who knows, sometimes I’m stubborn, and I’m also prone to forget stuff, so I’d better share these now!

Roll up with me, if you will, and let’s enjoy together a glass of ‘Zen Wine‘…

20 Things About Life I’ve Learned From Drinking Wine

1) Old is Beautiful
Anyone caught up in our youth-worshiping culture need only to crack open a well-kept aged classified Bordeaux, taking in all of its complex aromas & flavors, to realize that not only do good things come to those who wait, but time offers the gift of real beauty to those who age with grace and humility.

2) Young is Beautiful
Fruit bombs can be fun – there’s something refreshing about the forward brashness of youth. If you want to stay young at heart, you need to keep a bit of youthful bravado, through thick & thin.

3) Nature matters
Start with a crappy vine, and you could end up with crappy wine. Start with a great old vine, and you’ve got a better chance of making some killer vino. We need to remember our roots – if you don’t really know where you’re starting from, you might not be able to get where you want to go!

4) Nurture matters, too
Just as good wine needs a caring hand in its development, we need to seek out strong role models and a positive environment to reach our best in life.

5) Real change comes from within
A great wine starts with a decent pedigree, loving hands during its formative time (fermentation, etc.), and a good environment in which to mature. After that, all the magic happens within the bottle with virtually no exposure to the ‘outside’ world. Like a great wine, once we’re given what we need to succeed in life, the rest is up to us!

6) The greatest pleasure is being in the moment
Pour, swirl, sniff, sip. If you want to get the most out of tasting a wine, you need to let yourself BE, clearing your mind and just accepting everything that the wine has to offer. In other words, you need to be in the moment. Tasting wine is a sacred act – just like walking the dog, getting married, making love, or reading the newspaper. All of our actions become minor miracles in the universe when we give ourselves up to them completely.

7) People & relationships matter more than stuff
We get just as much pleasure from sharing a good wine with good friends as we do tasting that good wine. Wine is a lubricant for life – not a substitute for it. The objects in your life should be used for your life (and not the other way around).

8) Sharing is caring
A friend of mine called me recently, telling me how excited he was that he would be pouring magnums of `60s Ch. Petrus at a dinner, and that he would probably get a chance to taste some of this amazing stuff. Why did he call? “I needed to tell someone who would appreciate it!” he said. The better things in life, like wine, are best when they’re shared.

9) One size does not fit all
I don’t like Retsina. In fact, I hate Retsina. But there are people out there who love it. And both are totally OK. There are over 7,000 brands of wine available to consumers in the U.S. – and that’s AWESOME. Because variety (especially of varietals!) really is the spice of life.

10) We have a duty to ‘Go Green
Wine is arguably the best and most artistic interpretation of the bounty that the earth has to offer us (the French terrior concept shows that they figured this out a long time ago!). We owe a debt to mother nature to be sustainable and nurture her as she has done for us (and hopefully will do for our children).

11) Looks can be deceiving
My wife used to buy bottles of wine because they had pretty labels. And a lot of them sucked. Don’t judge based on appearances – eventually, it will burn you.

12) Not everyone ages gracefully
I’ve tasted decades-old Barolos that were still tannic. I’ve tasted aged Rieslings that smelled more like vinegar than flowers & petrol. Some people just get crotchety and negative, and they’re best avoided.

13) All things in moderation
I’ve tasted a lot of wine. Sometimes a lot of wine in one night. And sometimes, I’ve hugged some toilets. Trust me, things are best when they’re not overdone!

14) A place for everything, & everything in its place
You can’t age wine just anywhere, and having the right storage system makes keeping wine a hell of a lot easier. Life is smoother and more tranquil when you remove clutter from your surroundings (and your mind).

15) The best views come from the toughest climbs
The most beautiful views usually come from the highest peaks, and you’re going to need to do some difficult climbing to see them. Most of the best wine on earth is picked, sorted, and managed by hand – made even more difficult when done from steep hillsides at high altitudes. A labour of love & passion may not be easy, but it usually gets you the best of what life has to offer.

16) Sometimes we need to be challenged to show our best
Better wines come from better fruit, and better fruit comes from vines that are stressed (for water, nutrients, etc.). When we are challenged, we grow. And when we step up to the challenges of life, we really know what we’re made of.

17) You are what you eat (& drink)
If a wine is fed bad water, on bad soil, and doused with pesticides, it’s probably going to turn out bad. Which is why you should never drink plonk if you can avoid it. Also – never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink! Our bodies are not that different and they don’t take well to being fed lousy eats. Eat food, mostly vegetables, not too much. Give your body the best chance it can have, by giving it the best food you can get.

18) “The secret to being a bore is to tell everything”
Wines that don’t have much complexity can get really boring, really quickly. Wines that evolve over time in the glass, revealing layer upon layer of aromas and flavors, are among the world’s most exciting. Leave a bit of mystery to life, and to yourself - not everything can be explained, and not everything is worth explaining.

19) Never stop learning
If you want to appreciate wine, you will need to learn a bit of science, geography, history, biology, chemistry… I’m sure you get the point. As Ghandi said, “live as if you will die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.”

20) Your greatest asset is Patience
If you want to taste a wine aged to perfection, then you need to wait and let it age to perfection, undisturbed, without your meddling. Lao Tzu asked if you have the patience to wait until the ‘muddy water’ of your mind is clear.

And as Pete Townshend asked “Well… do ya?!?

Cheers!

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