Two recently published books deserve every wine lover’s attention. Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, by Tom Hyland, and The World of Sicilian Wine, by Bill Nesto, MW, and Frances Di Savino, take very different approaches to their subjects, but both offer abundant and valuable information for anyone curious beyond the most obvious level of Italian wine lore.
Tom Hyland is a Chicago-based freelance wine writer and photographer who fell in love with Italy, its people, and its wines more than a dozen years ago and has been immersing himself in them ever since. His Beyond Barolo and Brunello organizes itself in what seems a familiar pattern, but then quickly moves off in unexpected directions. It treats all of Italy’s regions, north to south and the islands, an arrangement that will be familiar to anyone who has done a little reading in Italian wine – or in Italian travel, for that matter. But within each section, Hyland’s treatment is very different from the conventional.
He begins each regional section with a simple listing of the most important grape varieties grown there, and then presents cameos of his favorite producers of each variety. This means that each chapter offers a survey of some of the best producers of each region in particular relation to what Hyland considers their best wines. For most readers, this will create some comforting recognitions, and a few surprises. For example: Massolino’s Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva is an expected and appropriate entry – it’s a famous wine, after all – but how delightful it is to find entries as well for less familiar appellations and makers, such as the Boca from Le Piane, or Sella’s Lessona “Omaggio a Quintino Sella” from Piemonte’s northern wine zone.
Similarly, in his treatment of Campania, all the famous varieties – Aglianico, Greco, Fiano – and all their famous makers – Mastroberardino, Terredora, Feudi di San Gregorio and so on – are handled thoroughly, but there is also respectful treatment of lesser-known varieties (the whites Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, Asprinio, Fenile, Ginestra, and Biancolella; the reds Piedirosso, Tintore, and even Merlot) and their producers. So Pietracupa’s and Ciro Picariello’s Fianos are presented right alongside their more famous compatriots. In the same way among the red wines, along with the famous Taurasis and Aglianicos, you find such fine small producers as Monte di Grazia, whose Costa d’Amalfi Rosso harbors the rare Tintore grape. For the wine lover who wants to explore the spacious world of Italian wine, Beyond Barolo and Brunello opens a very wide door to a treasurehouse of wines and their producers.
The Nesto/Di Savino book, The World of Sicilian Wine, approaches its more traditional subject in a more traditional way, starting with several quite interesting chapters about the long – and for its protagonists, too often frustrating – history of winemaking in Sicily, a process too often directed more by external events and foreign interests than by Sicilians themselves. There follow equally interesting sections on the geography, geology, and climate(s) of Sicily and how all of these affect winemaking. Three large chapters deal in detail with the contemporary wine situation in Sicily’s three main geographical sections, the Val di Mazara, Val di Noto, and Val Demone. All three chapters feature interviews, long and short, with producers, great and small, yielding a fascinating overview of the important trends in Sicilian wine right now, as well as informative perspectives on some of the principal players.
This clearly a heartfelt book: The authors’ affection for Sicily and its people – especially its devoted wine people – shines through everywhere, though it never gets in the way of their clear-eyed view of Sicilian winemaking’s possibilities and pitfalls. Of course in a book that covers as much ground as this one does, there are bound to be areas where my opinion differs from the authors’ – for example, I’m much more enthusiastic about the Carricante variety and the Etna wines made from it than they seem to be. But that’s a minor point: The key thing to remember is that this is a very carefully done, thoroughly researched production, packed with information and detail that will be very hard to find anywhere else. If you want to know about Sicilian wine, this is your book.