Book Review by Mark Middlebrook
Italian Wine: The History, Regions, and Grapes of an Iconic Wine Country
by Shelley Lindren and Kate Leahy
Published Aug. 2023. Hardcover. 295 pages. $35.
Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House
Imagine a country the length of California divided into 20 regions, each with its own grape varieties, winegrowing and winemaking traditions, and food specialties, all of which evolved over 2,500+ years (and continue to evolve today). That is the story of Italy’s 20 current political regions, from Piemonte to Puglia.
All of us who love Italian wine and food need some guidance in parsing this abundance, and there’s a new book to help: Italian Wine, by A16 wine director and owner Shelley Lindren and food and wine author Kate Leahy.
This is the first wine book in English I know of to cover all of Italy since Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, which, though excellent, was written two decades ago and thus is a bit dated. I’m delighted to have an up-to-date book with a similar regional approach to read and recommend.
The book begins with short and engaging chapters on Italy’s wine and political history; geography, soils, and grapes; and Italian wine at the table. There’s also a useful guide to Italian wine law and labeling, including a decoding of the alphabet soup of appellation types (DOC/DOP/PDO, IGT/IGP/PGI, Vino da Tavola, etc.)
Then we turn to the heart of the book: 20 chapters covering each of Italy’s regions in turn, from Abruzzo to Veneto. Each chapter starts with a scene-setting vignette, along with a sketch of the kinds of wines the region is known for now. Next come a short vinous history, an introduction to the geography and wines grown in each subregion, and a description of the most significant grape varieties. Each chapter closes with a page listing regional foods and some of the authors’ recommended wine producers.
Attractive photographs and not-too-detailed maps lend visual appeal, and a helpful glossary rounds out the book.
I highly recommend this book for those who want to travel more knowledgeably in the many-hued world of Italian regional wines. It will give you confidence and context during your next stop at the neighborhood wine shop or next visit to Italy.
Mark Middlebrook works for the Italian wine importer PortoVino and for Paul Marcus Wines in the Market Hall in Oakland. He has visited Italy 33 times. Disclaimer: Italian Wines recommends producers that PortoVino imports, and A16 buys some wines from producers that PortoVino imports.