Joseph Bastianich is the co-owner with Mario Batali of a number of New York city restaurants, as well as an Italian wine shop, and the proprietor of wine estates in Friuli and Tuscany. His co-author David Lynch is his Wine Director at his ‘Babbo’ restaurant which has one of the most notable wine lists in the city, and has won awards for his work and writing. It is therefore no surprise that this book is an excellent introduction to Italy as a wine producing country. Sub-titled ‘The Regional Wines of Italy’, the book provides a broad and thorough overview of all of the wine producing areas of Italy, and provides a rich insight of the land, the people, their approach to making their wines, and how the wines fit in with food and culture. Though written primarily for the American market, the book serves as an extremely useful reference for anyone interest in furthering their interest in Italian wine.
The book is divided into three parts. A concise introduction recounts the history of Italian wine through the ages, pointing out that only recently, since 1990 assert the authors, the world began to take Italian wine seriously. I couldn’t draw a line like Bastianich and Lynch have, but essentially agree. We are fortunate to be living in the times when Italian wine is a global force in quality and interest. I’d say the process has been building since the 1960s, steadily, rather than the sudden jump that was marked by the excellent 1990 vintage across most of Italy. The first part briefly explains wine laws and classifications and key varieties.
The second part provides the core of the book and is an “exploration” of the 21 wine growing regions of Italy. Each region is given a separate chapter, though Trentino and Alto Adige with Abruzzo and Molise are treated together. It is these chapters that make great reading, providing the authors’ excellent feel for each of the regions. Bastianich and Lynch start each regional tour with a little anecdote which provides the reader with a feel for the attitudes of the people. Then follows a précis of the wine styles produced, from sparkling, white, red then sweet styles, in the context of geography and climate, as well as cuisine. The major and most of the minor styles and varieties are discussed, covering the DOC and DOCG wines as well as any of the other significant wines of the regions, with the authors giving their candid opinions on how interesting or good the wines are to them, and how they might fare in the American market. I suppose this could be where the authors’ biases show, with the predilection of ‘big and bold’ being the basis for judging style, but to be fair, Bastianich and Lynch show their vast experience of the wines of the world and extoll the virtues of all styles, including those that are elegant or even rustic. The authors’ objectivity can be seen when they pull no punches seeing when the DOC regulations are farcical.
The minor criticism about these chapters is that coverage of the vast number of producers and labels is lacking. Here, I’d like to see greater discussion and detail about the different producers, who they are, what makes each different from others and so on. This is quite apparent to me when reading the coverage on the Piedmont wines of Barbaresco and Barolo, and the Tuscan expressions of Chianti, Brunello and Vino Nobile. Ii felt the authors only scratched the surface. But that is the scope of the second part of the book. The authors without any question have the knowledge and the expertise to delve in much deeper, but this seemed the place to express it.
Each of the chapters in the second part of the book includes a map, and a summary of factual data about the province, towns and cities, production and specialty foods. Each of the key varieties is summarized in terms of style and importance, with an indication of the best vintages. Bastianich and Lynch suggest the best way to tour the region and list wines that could be purchased (in the U.S.) to show the range produced. Each chapter concludes with a recipe by Lidia Bastianich or Mario Batali featuring the cuisine of the region, matched to wine.
The third part of the book is essentially reference material. A glossary, summary and list of varieties, a directory of DOC(G) regions and IGT zones, and key producers makes this book a complete one. Around 700 producers are presented alphabetically, and the pen-portraits are concise and precise, and I would have preferred more of this information in Part Two. For those living in the U.S.A., the list of key Italian wine importers and retailers will be valuable.