Two of the most important books on Italian wine

If you are at all serious about your wine career, or just have a burning desire to learn all you can about Italian wine, these two books are indispensable.

One of the most complex and confusing of wine countries, Italy is home to hundreds of grapes and thousands of wines. How many of us, while preparing for exams, would wish for a resource to unlock the labyrinth of Italian wine?

As a collector of books on Italian wine going back over 100 years, I’ve run into my share I thought were indispensable. And they provide me with an analog agglomeration which I have referred to numerous times.

But modern society calls for quick answers, accessible information. The library of today is as easily clustered on one’s phone or tablet. And many of the books of yore are hopelessly obsolete.

Yet wine buyers, sommeliers, and salespeople need to know about the infinite varieties of Italian grapes that are available, to service and satisfy the expectations of their guests. Yesterday’s Pinot Noir is today’s Rossese Di Dolceacqua. And aligned with that is the hyper-interest in where those unique and sometimes esoteric wines are grown.

Enter Ian D’Agata and his two companion books: the groundbreaking Native Wine Grapes of Italy, a seminal work on the subject of Italian grapes, published in 2014, and his latest, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, which is being released this month.

Native Wine Grapes of Italy laid the foundation for better understanding Italian wine grapes. It also simplified and whittled down the number that have been erroneously reported over the past 50 years. There aren’t 3,000 grapes. There aren’t even 1,000. By D’Agata’s reckoning, there are just shy of 600. Take a deep breath. Finally, we know just how high the mountain is. And the author proceeds to show us how to mount an expedition to the summit.

Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs delves deeper, into the great wine grape-growing areas, the crus and grand crus of Italy. This reverence for terroir is something the French mastered early on, and they engineered France’s reputation as the world’s leading producer of great wine. And for generations, the message stuck. But now, D’Agata is here to provide easy-to-understand instructions on the mysteries, and the greatness, of Italian wine.

The book is written in two parts. Part one lays out a simple introduction to terroir from the Italian perspective in four sections: “A Brief History of Terroir in Italy,” “Italy’s Wine Terroir: An Overview,” “A Study in Terroir in Italy,” and “The Italian Job.” Part two focuses on the recognized fine terroirs of Italy in relation to distinct grape varieties. Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are covered, as would be expected. But so are grapes like Ruché, Verdicchio, and Mayolet. It’s a fascinating trek to the summit, one that could be done in a day or so, or one that could (and often does) take a lifetime. D’Agata introduces you to the grapes. It’s up to you to invest the time that gives the experience and hopefully some degree of mastery—and maybe even wisdom . . . ?

I absolutely adore these books. I’ve read them cover to cover, and I refer to them constantly in my lifelong pursuit of understanding everything about Italian wine. These two books will give anyone the same opportunity to reach goals for greater knowledge and insight into Italian wine, and will serve one well in the pursuit of mastery.       

The recommended books, by Ian D’Agata:

Native Wine Grapes of Italy (2014)

Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (August 2019)