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Slow Wine 2012: A Year in the Life of Italy's Vineyards and Wines Paperback – February 20, 2012
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About the Author
Slow Food Editore was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. It now has more than 80,000 members in 120 countries around the world.
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In 1989, Slow Food International (SFI) was formed. Its goal: hand to hand combat with fast food. Slow Food would promote healthy eating, local food traditions and ecologically sound farming as an alternative to the nutritionally empty, high calorie fast food produced by the farm-industrial complex. Although "fast wine" has not yet entered our vernacular, SFI has nevertheless coined the term "slow wine," its weapon to battle the industrial wine-making giants. This guide tries to single out and promote Italian wineries which share SFI's goals.
It's easy enough for most of us to distinguish fast from slow food. We know the companies that produce fast food. We know what it costs, how it tastes, what it looks like. But judging wine is more difficult, isn't it? All wine bottles are more or less the same. There aren't many visual clues to differentiate fast from slow wine, unless the word "organic" is featured prominently on the label. After a bottle is opened, many wine drinkers have a hard time distinguishing the fast from the slow. For those who want to drink and support slow wine, the difficulty is compounded by numerical wine scores, since these ratings take only the taste of wine into consideration, disregarding entirely how the wine was produced. Your 96-point wine may have been made from irrigated grapes smothered by pesticides, with the addition of liquid tannins and "Mega Purple". It may contain enough alcohol to pickle a small animal. Yet, it is still a 96-point wine, a concept that is simple, easy for anyone to understand.
The aim of Slow Wine 2012: A Year in the Life of Italy's Vineyards and Wines is to provide an alternative to the "easy to understand but ultimately trivializing method of awarding points." In this guidebook, the objective is "telling the story of wine," to look at wineries in their entirety, rather than simply rating wines without consideration of the environment, wine production methods, or respect for the territorial identity of the wine. In short, the authors urge consumers to reject the naked consumerism of points in favor of a more nuanced view, which takes health, social, and ecological factors into consideration as well as flavor and enjoyment.
To produce this book, "more than 200 collaborators travelled the length and breadth of Italy to review...1904 wineries..." In addition, more than 20,000 wines were tasted blind. An ambitious, noble (and enjoyable) undertaking for sure, but the effort appears to have been more valuable for the authors than the readers.
This guidebook, like any other, must distill and simplify. Telling the story of a winery is not easy to do in a page. Although generally well written, the book struggles to be pithy, to define the essence of the wineries. There is also a lack of consistency in the entries. A large number of "collaborators" inevitably means a wide range of experience and the lack of a consistent viewpoint in the winery descriptions.
The use of points may be simplistic, but they do have a clarity not matched in this guidebook. Here, wineries are awarded symbols, and the snail symbol is "awarded to a winery we particularly like for the way it interprets slow food values (sensory perceptions, territory, environment, identity." But how would the authors explain Ca' del Baio's snail, when the winery uses mineral fertilizer, systemic insecticide (on occasion) and "selected" yeasts?
Other symbols are used in the book too, including "the bottle" (excellent average quality) and "the coin" (good value). Oddly enough, each winery receives only one symbol. Badia a Coltibuono gets "the bottle" but not "the snail" even though its farming has been organic since 2000, it has done much to reintroduce the native grape varieties Malvasia Nera and Colorino, and it has organic certification.
The layout of this guide is very clear and elegant. So, it is a paradox that the book is rather difficult to use, even confusing. Telling the story of wine in a guidebook is not an easy task. While this guide's "collaborators" may have been educated, you and I can pass on this book. Visit wine shops, read books and blogs, and taste many Italian wines. That is the way to learn the story of slow wine.
"Snail" awarded to a winery that we particularly like for the way it interprets Slow Food values (sensory perceptions, territory, environment, identity).
"Bottle" awarded to wineries whose bottles presented excellent average quality in our tastings.
"Coin" awarded to wineries whose bottles are good value for the money.
"Slow Wine" awarded to wines of outstanding sensory quality, capable of condensing in the glass territory-related values such as history and identity.
"Great Wine" awarded to the finest bottles from the sensory point of view.
"Everyday Wine" awarded to wines that offer excellent value for the money.
The Slow Wine award is most intriguing and ambitious. Essentially it's an award for outstanding wines that communicate place. A few of the wines that were awarded the Slow Wine are: Kuenhof Alto Adige Valle Isarco Sylvaner 2010, Zuani Collio Bianco Vigne 2010, Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2007, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2007. I couldn't agree more that these are outstanding wines that condense terroir in the glass.
The guide includes for each producer hectares of vineyards owned, number of bottles produced annually, kinds of fertilizers/plant protection/weed control used, whether native or selected yeasts are used, percentage of grapes from estate vineyards and certifications such as organic or biodynamic.
Overall this is the best guide Italian Wine Guide I've seen yet in English. In future editions I would like to see all the wineries in the Italian version covered in the English version and a bit more about winemaking, particularly a note as to whether barrique is used or large casks. At any rate, this is an intriguing alternative to Italian Wines 2012 and while it covers far fewer producers and wines, it provides much more story and context.