I am not really a map person. I’m not really even a directions person, truth to tell. I seem to suffer from a form of right/left, east/west dyslexia. Even after decades of life in New York, I still get disoriented coming up to street level from my neighborhood subway. Given all that, you can understand that I usually don’t get very excited about maps, and that the idea of a “good map” is sort of a foreign language to me. So when I tell you that an Italian wine journalist named Alessandro Masnaghetti is publishing some truly great maps of the major Italian wine zones, you can believe that they are really exceptional.
Here is a detail, about half actual size, from his map of the Monforte d’Alba commune of Barolo.
I’ll return to this image to explain just what makes Masnaghetti’s maps so superior in a little bit. Right now, I want to frame the picture for you. Alessandro Masnaghetti is a highly respected Italian wine journalist, the publisher, editor, writer, mapmaker – pretty much the whole writing and production staff in effect – for Enogea, a bimonthly Italian-language journal concerned almost to the point of obsession with the wines and terroir of Italy’s great red wine areas – most notably, Piedmont and Tuscany.
He has been producing a series of vineyard maps, in Italian and in English, of individual communes in those zones. These maps are more accurate, more detailed, and provide more information about sites, expositions, and ownership than any vineyard maps I have seen for any other wine region anywhere. So complete are they that you can even use them to locate the newly created (the names will start appearing on labels in 2010) subzones of Barolo (177 – that’s right, 177 – named subzones approved) and Barbaresco (66 names approved).
Back to the map detail. What you’re looking at here is the northwestern corner of the commune of Monforte d’Alba, a township that is one of the most prized sources of Nebbiolo for Barolo. In particular, you’re looking at Bussia – Bussia Soprana to the left, Bussia Sottana to the right (with Munie shown in pale blue just below it). Bussia is one of the great crus of Barolo, a name that appears proudly on the labels of some of the zone’s most prestigious makers.
What the color-coded map shows are the major subdivisions within that – for example, Colonello, Cicala, Romirasco – as well the sites of wineries in the zone – #5 is Francesco Clerico, #6 is Bussia Soprana, #4 there in the center is Giacomo Fenocchio. So what Masnaghetti has created is a cru map of Monforte d’Alba, showing the locations of all the key vineyard sites within the township.
That by itself would be valuable, but the back of the map provides yet more, and even more crucial, information. Here, slightly enlarged, is Masnaghetti’s breakdown of the ownership of Bussia Soprana:
In addition to identifying who owns what and where, there are arrows indicating the direction of the slope and therefore exposure. The prose accompanying each such vineyard map – and there is one for each cru of the commune – gives data about elevation, soil quality, wine characteristics, and varieties cultivated, if any beyond Nebbiolo. From my own experience, I can tell you that this kind of information is not casually come by. Each one of Masnaghetti’s maps represents a massive effort, and for the real Barolo nut – of which, for better or for worse, I am one – all this data is candy for the baby. Besides all that, the maps are handsome: I’ve rarely enjoyed just looking at a map before, but these give me real satisfaction, both visually and intellectually. I think they are an amazing accomplishment.
Thus far, Masnaghetti has produced vineyard maps for the townships of Barolo, Castiglione, Monforte, and Serralunga in the Barolo zone; for Barbaresco, Neive, and Treiso, the entirety of the Barbaresco zone; Giaole, Panzano, and Radda in Chianti Classico; Bolgheri and Bolgheri Sassicaia elsewhere in Tuscany; and Mazzon in the Alto Adige. Non-subscribers to Enogea can obtain the maps by contacting, in Italy, firstname.lastname@example.org or, in the US, www.rarewineco.com.