I am delighted to finally introduce to you the definitive version of Italian Wine Unplugged Grape by Grape, thanks to the precious work of many contributors and readers, who not only worked on the contents but also provided feedback and insightful comments on the beta version.
This book is the culmination of a long journey that started when I met Ian D’Agata, the ultimate geek of Native Wine Grapes of Italy—also the title of his encyclopedic reference book, which also doubles as the cure to all insomniac symptoms! When I started working with Ian, I realized that trying to decipher Italian wine was a bit similar to trying to understand Italians in general: incredibly talented and creative but even more fragmented and individualistic. I had very little to do with wine prior to my engagement with working with Vinitaly, other than being a serious wine drinker, and never even bothered to try to understand the difference from Brunello to Barolo—the wine just had to be good enough to drink. That may all be good for wine people like me but once I’d started traveling to places like China I understood there had to be a different (perhaps even simpler) and original way to unlock the key to Italian wines. Trying to explain to a Chinese the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico, or even worse Prosecco DOC from Prosecco DOCG seemed daunting and frustrating every single attempt at trying to do so.
For the most part, wherever I’ve travelled to, either in China, Russia, Europe, or Stateside, often various regional bodies and consortiums, not to mention portfolio tastings organized by importers and other organizations, have focused on the appellations—the territory that the Italian wines represent. Despite my unchallenged ignorance about Italian wines, it wasn’t until I met Ian that I realized that perhaps there could indeed be a different chiave di lettura to present Italian wines—starting from the grape. Starting from Sangiovese, or Nebbiolo, or Glera, or Corvina, and then, only then, introduce the territories to unveil the Italian wine..
This seemed to be easier said than done, especially in the beginning. However, through Vinitaly International Academy (VIA), training the few good men and women to become highly specialized in Italian indigenous grapes to spread the gospel to others has given me the single most satisfying result of my current job. At the time of writing there are 114 certified Italian Wine Ambassadors and Italian Wine Experts in the world, but more about that later. It is important to note that I’ve relied mostly, although not exclusively, on this community to draft this book. The contributors and everyone who provided feedback and comments on the beta version actively participated in a collaborative and crowd-edited project.
The purpose of this book is two-fold: to have a schematic reference book for all those who are interested in Italian wine grapes and to provide the study guide to facilitate to become an Italian Wine Maestro, the intermediate-level course on Italian wine for wine professionals and enthusiasts. Italian Wine Unplugged Grape by Grape tells the story of Italian wine by showcasing the many Italian native grape varieties. Italy, as is well known, counts the largest number of native grapes in the world concentrated on its national territory, this biodiversity a compelling testimony of resilience in our age of profound climate change. The 590 indigenous Italian grapes yielding countless Italian wines may be a hard concept to make sense of, for wine lovers and professionals alike. This book attempts to map this hard-to-chart territory in a user-friendly way. It is aimed at readers who are interested in studying Italian wine for the intermediate-level Italian Wine Maestro course and certification.
The first major section of the book “Unplugging Italian Wine” opens with an essay that contextualizes Italian wine starting from a brief history of its importance on the peninsula, continuing with the geographical, geological, and climate conditions that allow the multifarious Italian grapes to thrive. The subsequent section presents Italian wine classifications and the various ways in which quality in wine is categorized for consumers. The “Vino Italiano” and “Italian Wine Classifications” subsections have been curated by Michele Longo, our Italian wine Yoda and also Panel Chairman for 5StarWines - The Book.
The central section of this book, “Grape by Grape,” provides detailed and thorough entries about over 430 Italian native grape varietals subdivided in “Must-know,” “Lesser-known,” and “Rare” grapes. This section is introduced by the essay “Unplugging Italian Wine” that outlines essential general notions and scientific concepts necessary to understand Italian native grape diversity. The “Grappling with Italian Grapes” essay has been put together by Geralyn Brostrom, Lingzi He, and Michaela Morris,whom we affectionately call Le tre dell’Ave Maria, a magic trio of VIA Italian Wine Experts, who are intellectual soul mates. The “Must-know” grape sub-section—compiled again by Geralyn, Lingzi, and Michaela—features Italy’s most well-known grapes that yield’s equally famous wines. The material in the “Grappling with Italian Grapes” and the entries for the “Must-know” grapes will feature in the Italian Wine Maestro exam. Subsequent sections about “Lesser-known” and “Rare” grapes curated by our wine Yoda Michele Longo present varieties that yield equally charismatic wines, albeit less renowned. The “Lesser-known” and “Rare” varieties sections will not strictly be part of the Italian Wine Maestro exam, however, starting to get familiar with them may be a useful stepping stone to more advanced courses on Italian wine, such as the VIA certification courses leading to the Italian Wine Ambassador and Italian Wine Expert levels.
The final visually compelling section of the book, “Wine Visions,” aims at further guiding students through the intricacies of Italian grapes. This visual apparatus features photographs of 97 grape bunches courtesy of Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo and a selection of 100 must-know grape varieties' mind maps, a work in progress by JC Viens, gourmand, storyteller with an unmistakable French accent, and VIA Italian Wine Ambassador. These mind maps help visualize important characteristics for each grape variety. The subsection “A vinous Giro d’Italia”, curated also by Michele Longo and dedicated to Italy’s numerous appellations and to grape percentages in Italy’s local wines, features maps and tables provided by Federdoc along with a short historical and geographical overview. These maps and tables are also essential material for the Maestro course.
Throughout the book a number of icons, infographics, and chromatic codes will guide users to connect information among sections and promptly retrieve it from inside the book. The material that is a crucial reading to the Italian Wine Maestro course has been also flagged to Readers with the Maestro dedicated logo. In re-drafting the final version of Italian Wine Unplugged Grape by Grape, we decided to eliminate the flash cards which featured in the beta version of the ebook released in August in order to make the book more portable.
We invested a lot of energy in make the book visually attractive, and I also worked on the design of the Italian Wine Maestro logo for quite some time. Below you can see a brief visual history of how the Maestro logo came about. Our visual journey started simply from the three initials, moving to a more abstract design hinting at books on a shelf, and finally deciding for a fusion of letters and rectangular shapes, leaving it to the viewer to connect the dots and imagine letters and books.
And I am hopeful that readers and students will continue to pile up knowledge of Italian wine–grape by grape–through the book and the Italian Wine Maestro course, whose pilot version started in Vancouver, Canada, in October 2017.
Ian D’Agata’s influence and expertise as the ultimate grape guru has lingered over us while putting together this handbook. I am grateful to him for being the supreme conductor of our Italian grape variety orchestra! It is known to the point of almost being a cliché that wine drinking in Italian culture is a ritual that brings people together—families at the table during long and abundant Sunday lunches, friends meeting for aperitivo before another festive dinner, just to name a few of the many occasions. In a similar convivial way, this book has brought together contributors who are passionate and knowledgeable about wine and Italian native grape varieties. Geralyn Brostrom, Lingzi He, Michele Longo, Michaela Morris, JC Viens all met and worked together thanks to the unstinting educational work of the Vinitaly International Academy, the international institution and community committed to explain, divulge, and broadcast the science and culture of Italian wine around the world. In a similar way, the Italian wine community more or less connected to the Academy has provided feedback and comments. For this reason, I would like to sincerely thank Gill Gordon-Smith, Paul Howard, Jia ‘Freddo’ Liu, Mike Madaio, Deborah Parker Wong, Hugh Preece, and Roddy Ropner.We tried our best to bring as many of their suggestions into this final version and the remaining mistakes and imperfections are solely ours.
Grazie e buona lettura a tutti!