I just received a copy of a new book by an old friend, Teresa Severini Zaganelli. Grapes in the Glass is a wine primer intended for teenage readers. I can already hear neo-Prohibitionists shrieking in chorus from coast to coast. But relax – the subtitle is “Wine: Know-how, Fun and Responsibility,” and it’s a very common-sense introduction to the world of wine not as exotica or narcotica but as a simple part of everyday life, maybe even as a career path.
Teresa, a trained enologist in her own right, is the stepdaughter of the near-legendary Giorgio Lungarotti, the father of serious winemaking in Umbria. So she quite literally learned everything there is to know about winemaking at the feet of a master, and one who was around every day. She is also the mother of three, so she can be considered a master of that trade too. Which will lead me – eventually: I like to work up to things logically – to what surprised and pleased me most about her book.
What isn’t at all surprising is how good a wine primer it is. Its discussions of the progress of wine from vine in the field to juices in the cellar to nectar in the bottle is detailed, clear, and complete. Anything you want to know about the winemaking process is in there, in a very user-friendly fashion, in clear, direct language, and illustrated by many amusing drawings.
The framework of Teresa’s book – maybe fictional, maybe factual – is that her teenage son Francesco has volunteered his mother and her workplace for a class outing. What will surprise many Americans and outrage some is that the teacher and school OK the project, and Francesco and his peers visit Cantina Lungarotti for a lesson in viticulture and viniculture, conducted by Teresa.
The presentation is straightforward and light-handed but never condescending. The information conveyed – and there is a lot of it – is presented clearly, in language scaled to an intelligent beginner’s comprehension. And it isn’t just about Italian wine; almost all of the book’s explanations apply equally to winemaking anywhere in the world. There’s a lot of wine lore in Grapes in a Glass that many serious wine fans will be happy to have in so concise and clear a form. Their teenagers may well have to wait until Mom and Dad have finished reading Grapes in a Glass before they get their chance at it.
Which brings me to what really surprised me about this little book: its level of literacy, and the corresponding level of comprehension, it presumes in its intended teenage audience. As I said, Teresa is raising three children, and the frame narrative of her book sounds very much as if it is based on an actual occurrence. Anyone who has visited tourist sites in Italy knows that Italian children seem to be always trotting about on one field trip or another – so that aspect of the book is completely plausible. And if Teresa is right about the reading skills and attention levels of the young people she’s aiming her book at – and I have to presume she knows ragazzi as well as she knows vino – then that is plausible too.
And that means that Italian teenagers are simply far better readers and much more serious-minded than their American coevals. I remember with great pain that I’ve taught many college students who didn’t have the reading skills or attention span that this short book presumes. That’s sad. It makes no difference whether students are reading Marx or the Bible, wine lore or the Rapture, if they can’t understand what the words mean.
It’s bracing and encouraging to me to see evidence of a school system that is working. All we ever seem to hear about Italian education in this country is about student unrest and the crisis of the Italian universities. On the evidence of this splendid little tome, Italian schools are definitely doing something – maybe many things – right.
Grapes in the Glass was originally published in Italian and has been very well translated into English, in a British idiom, by Valeria Cazzola. It’s odd, therefore, that Amazon UK sells only the Italian-language version. Amazon US doesn’t (at the time of this writing) carry the book at all, but the English-language version is available from FdF Marketing PR Consultancy for $14.99. E-mail email@example.com.
Grapes in the Glass. Wine: Know-how, Fun and Responsibility (Edizione Gribaudo, Milano, 2011), 72 pp., many illustrations, useful index.