Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: The World of Sicilian Wine

The World of Sicilian Wine (Bill Nesto MW and Frances di Savino, University of California Press(UCP)) is simply the best region-specific wine book I have ever read. It is comprehensive, detailed, informative, well-structured, revealing, and an ode to research well done. In addition, the writing style makes it easy to read and comprehend -- traits not equally shared by all books issuing from UCP.

One of the shortcomings of many regional wine books is that they devote a minor portion of the book to geography, viticulture, and viniculture with the larger portion taken up with descriptions of the area wineries. To me this is a "filler approach" to writing about a wine region. I do not want to sit down and read about 80 wineries in a region. Nesto and di Savino eschew this approach and devotes individual chapters to: (i) Geography of Sicily; (ii) Vine Varieties; (iii) Viticulture in Sicily; and (iv) Enology in Sicily. And the treatment of each of these topics is intense and detailed. Producers are treated within the context of these individual chapters.

Before launching into the technical aspects of grapegrowing and winemaking, the authors provide cultural and vitiviniculture histories of Sicily. The figure below summarizes the political/cultural history of the island and is drawn from the book's first chapter. That chapter could have served as the soundtrack for the recent British Museum Sicily exhibition.

With the political/cultural history established, the book then turns to a comprehensive discussion of the history of wine in Sicily. That discourse is summarized in the figure below.

According to the authors, there is "no simple and logical way to discuss Sicilian wine from a regional perspective" because of (i) the confusion associated with duplicate names (provinces having the same names as the capital cities, for example) and (ii) the power politics which seep into the appellation application process and "frequently misdirect appropriate and sincere intentions." The authors turn to the Tre Valli mechanism -- initially formulated around 1000 AD (but no longer in use today) -- which divides the island into the three major regions indicated in the figure below. According to the authors, the word Valli is derived from the Arabic wali and translates to magistracy.

Sources: map -- Wikipedia; data -- Nesto and di Savino
The authors further divide the Vallis into sub-regions and discuss the individual characteristics of those sub-regions -- to include location characteristics, varieties, viticultural practices and leading practitioners.

But this is more than just a book about the wines of Sicily. Nesto calls on his MW background to provide excellent background on a number of technical issues throughout the book. For example, in describing the soils of Mt Etna, he provides a clear, succinct description of the structure and workings of volcanic soils. His description of the Sicilian climate, and moderating forces, is exhaustive.

It was a pleasure reading this book and I have drawn on it heavily for my ongoing series on Sicilian wines. If you are interested in Sicilian wines, this book is a "must-read." If you want to see what a comprehensively researched, well-written, region-specific wine book looks like, buy this book.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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