Book Review: The Finest Wines of Tuscany & Central Italy

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Arv R
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Book Review: The Finest Wines of Tuscany & Central Italy

#1 Post by Arv R » October 4th, 2020, 11:04 pm

Book Review: The Finest Wines of Tuscany & Central Italy
By Nicolas Belfrage, MW
2009, University of California Press

I've been getting a more into Tuscan sangiovese lately, and picked up this book to learn more about the region, having read Rosemary George's book on Chianti recently, and well before that Bastianich's rather basic book on regional Italy. Copies remain cheap and plentiful on Amazon, and are not a waste of a bookshelf spot.

It's a well sized 300 page trade paperback with a coated cover, bookmark, and lots of color maps and pictures. It is the rare page without color or a visual of some kind. Like the other books in the UC Series of 'The Finest' it follows a structured format, even if the author has a jocular, engaging tone that is more refreshing than many wine writers.

The first 50 pages cover the history, geography, geology, and climate in this sangiovese belt. For me this was all pretty new material. Then he covers the varietals popular in the region, beyond sangiovese, and touching upon how certain DOC have rules regarding the blend. A 10 page section on the viticultural practices is also full of interesting stuff, especially for consumers who are less familiar with agriculture. Later in some producer profiles they dive into more details (like one whose vineyards rows are set up so they can send machines in six directions if needed). The next ten pages are on winemaking - blends, traditions, techniques and so on. He concludes the part of the book with the various regulations for the prominent DOC's. There is plenty of discussion on the IGT/VDT situation, where prominent wines have pulled out of the regulatory structure and market their wines under 'fantasy names' rather than appellations like Chianti Classico etc. I know I've been told or read this many times over the years, but it continues to confuse me, and maybe I finally I understand it with this book (or osmotic absorption)

The next 250 pages are on producers, broken down regionally. Chianti gets 70 pages which seems light in comparison to other areas. Montalcino gets 50, Montepulciano 25. It seems like many prominent, notable producers are excluded while others that seem like stretches are included. These might include producers with a limited number of vintages, or seem totally unknown/unavailable in the market. In any case, I suppose any book of this kind of nature is going to be forced into making choices and someone will always be say 'why wasn't Poggia XYQ included?" I did see some estates, and their descriptions which seemed interesting, and having seen them in the market over the years, it'll probably trigger some exploratory purchases of new estates along the way. The author covers all the way from the west Tuscan coast to the Marche. It might have been easier to focus on just the main Tuscan zones, but perhaps the author wanted to include regions beyond the core, since otherwise the lesser known ones might never have gotten an English audience.

After that the final act of the book covers an obligatory vintage review of the last 28 years. Some of that seems academic since the author cautions about assuming that these age past 10-15 years (no matter what Biondi-Santi might claim) and that older Tuscan wines may not be as plentiful in my area as say older Cali Cab or BDX. There is a little blurb about food pairing (basically drink Italian wines with food) and then some top ten lists of favorite estates in select dimensions. The book is well notated, indexed, and has a supporting bibliography; all befitting an academic affiliated non profit publisher.


All in all I think its a very good book and I'm going to seek out Belfrage's other books, but I can see why some WBs viewtopic.php?f=1&t=94212&p=1348967 might find the book rather basic. If one is deeply into Italian wines already, the content may be duplicative and thin. But that's not me, so I enjoyed it, and recommend it with that understanding. These books are so cheap on Amazon now that even if you refer to it once every few years for a potential yes/no purchase decision on a wine, an oenophile will get some value out of a copy in their bookshelf. Belfrage is fun to read, in a calmer, less righteous tone than some other wine journalists; his style is more like a storyteller walking the reader around a cellar bringing the personalities and land to life. There is some light discussion of specific wines and vintages, but its not a tasting note compendium (like Broadbent) nor a market/investment guidebook (85 Sassicaia FTW etc). I don't know if its true, but the Wikipedia entry for the author (who is 80ish now?) states that they renounced their US citizenship this year, 2020. I wonder what the backstory is with that.

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