I’ve personally been using these two books for the last 18 years(+). At the beginning of my career, while turning each page with the utmost interest and finally understanding why my grandfather loved wine and winemaking so much, these two books proved to be extremely helpful in many ways and somewhat determined my path as a future wine buyer. I never put them down since.
I know that there are plenty of other great books about wines, but with those two, you will not need much more to become extremely knowledgeable about wine and everything that surrounds it (like geography, topography, types of soil, climates and microclimates, grapes, vine growing, winemaking, and much more).
I hear you say: “no need for such books now with the internet!” Well, I’ll need to disagree. Internet is surely a great source of information, with an infinite growing number of pages, websites, articles, posts and notes about wine and its world.
Yet, and I hope that I’m right when I say that (and even if I have tremendous respect for the forests, the nature and the environment overall), a book will always remain a better source for a specific amount of information at a given time and will always be by your side if you need it. It is a bit old school, I admit, but it works, any time, any day.
True, you can not browse as quickly many pages at once and it will never be updated as fast as an internet site… yet it may, in some ways, be more accurate, explicit, straight to the point and factual….
However, what will you do if your computer crashes unexpectedly? Or what if a sudden electricity blackout strikes your area? You will have to go back to your good old books, that’s what you will do. Remember to never trash the irreplaceable classics (that goes for everything), they will always be non-negligible references no matter what.
“The World Atlas of Wine” was first written and put together by Hughes Johnson about 30 years ago, and still remain one of the best books about most wine regions of the world, boasting an impressive amount of wine region maps complemented with clear, straightforward explanations. Jancis Robinson joined him and teamed with him some years ago, to create one of the most dependable wine book ever written. Hughes Johnson's wine guides have always been standards of connoisseur's bookshelves, although I remember countless arguments that him and I had regarding certain wines when we talked while he was having lunch at the restaurant. We have slightly different palates, that's all.
Talking about Jancis Robinson (MW), one of the first female Master of Wine, imagine, “The Oxford Companion to Wine” was basically her thesis to obtain her Master… and consequently, she immediately became one of the most recognized wine authorities in the world and still nowadays enjoys a great deal of press coverage and followers with her books and blog, continuing to lead the way as one of the most knowledgeable wine writers.
I had the pleasure to meet them both in many occasions when I was working as Wine Buyer in London: Jancis Robinson in quite a few tastings in London but also in Bordeaux for the “Primeurs” and even in New York. And Hughes Johnson was a regular customer to the restaurant where I was working as a Chef Sommelier, called “CHE” located in the economist on St. James Street in London. Without knowing it, both were very inspirational.
However, let get back to our wine of the day which is bringing us back to one of my favorite Italian wine region: Piedmont.
If I started this post talking about how to find references to things related with wine in the books of Hughes Johnson and Jancis Robinson, it is because I recently came across a grape variety that I never heard of before and needed an explanation. I now more and more browse out the internet for answers rather than books (I admit it, it is easier and faster, although not always accurate and demand more attention and research), but I felt the need to mention these two books because they were the precursors of nearly everything that you can find on the internet regarding wine maps and wine knowledge, before the commercialization of the international network (in short "internet") in the mid 1990s.
Ever heard of “Favorita” grape variety? Me neither, until I tasted this little Piedmont’s white wines imported by Kermit Lynch. So I looked into my Jancis Robinson’s “Oxford Comapnion to Wine” and on her website and found out that “Favorita” is another name for Vermentino in Piedmont and that it ages better than Arneis. Well, it is only part of it.
With a bit more research, one can come to the conclusion that “Favorita” is a white Italian grape variety primarily grown in Piedmont. The results of recent studies of its DNA indicate that it is somewhat linked to Pigato and Vermentino, two other Italian white grape varieties. Commonly used as a table grape in Piedmont due to its larger berry size, it is apparently on the decline as Arneis and Chardonnay have increased in popularity over the last 10-15 years.
“Favorita” is not widely planted and only a few producers still use it as part of the blend in some of their whites. One of these producers is Elvio Tintero.
(overlooking view of the vineyards and the hilltop village of Mango, Piedmont, from Azienda Agricola Elvio Tintero and their Bed & Breakfast estate called "La Grangia", courtesy of Elvio Tintero at www.tintero.it)
Azienda Agricola Elvio Tintero is located on steep but spectacular hills of Mango, a small village of ancient historical and cultural traditions situated between the Langhe and Monferrato areas (in the province of Cuneo in an area called “Località Gramella”); about 12 kilometers southeast of Barbaresco and about 18 kilometers east of Alba (and about 60 kilometers southeast of Torino), nestled at about 450-500 meters above sea level in the hilly region south of the Tanaro river.
On these hills, the Tintero family has been taking great care of their lands and tending their vines for 3 generations. Nowadays run by Elvio, Mark, Cynthia and Adriana, the winery represents a symbol of tradition and prestige.
In the 80s, attracted by the potential of the omnipresent Muscat grape (called Moscato in Italian) in the area and from the optimal position of the vineyards (south, the south-west) the Tintero family decided to expand their experience and production. At the same time the Controlled Denomination of origin (D.O.C. or Denominazione di Origine Controllata) was reaping its first fruits in aiding the development and protection of this product.
It is only about 10 years later, around 1993, that the slightly effervescent and slightly sweet Moscato white wines attained high quality and started to have a certain recognition, thanks to the D.O.C.
Although a company linked to the traditions, Tintero winery follows with great perseverance and commitment to the evolution of the market and its demands. Their consistent research is devoted to product quality not only as an element related to sensory aspects but also in respect of the balance of nature linked to it.
In fact, Tintero owners are constantly attentive to the evolution of the different ecosystems using more appropriate and natural agronomic practices, less "revolutionary" but more adapted and in respect with environment. The winery and vineyards management are monitored by qualified personnel allowing compatible methods to be used, with daily concerns for the environmental protection and the maintenance of the countryside.
The winery produces about 8 wines: 4 whites (Langhe DOC Arneis, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Langhe DOC Favorita and Grangia) and 4 reds (Barbaresco DOCG, Dolceto d’Alba, Langhe DOC Freisa and Barbera d’Alba).
“La Grangia” is the name of a part of the estate, which is also used to welcome agro-tourists. The name “Grangia” goes back to Cistercense architecture and defines an enclosed place near the convent in which the harvest was stored. Recently refurbished as a Bed & Breakfast, "La Grangia" is located in the midst of lush vineyards no more than a five-minute walk from the village of Mango (see the above picture, beautiful). Overlooking the vineyards and the gentle surroundings hills, “La Grangia” is enveloped by a splendid soft hillside landscape that makes the environment relaxing and unique.
“Grangia” also gave its name to a surprising dry white wine that I really enjoyed and discovered a little while ago during a Kermit lynch tasting at the store.
Elvio Tintero “Grangia” Vino Bianco Secco Piedmont Italy
Suggested retail price $9-$12
Imported by Kermit Lynch
Although most of the producers of the area are mostly concentrating on producing slightly sweet Moscato d’Asti, Tintero winery, which possesses vineyards of the rather unusual Favorita grapes, decided to produce a dry version of it named “Grangia”.
Made with roughly 90% Favorita and 10% Moscato (to add aromas) from carefully selected and hand harvested grapes from their organically managed vineyards, this gentle and summery fizzy white wine is an enjoyable surprise. It could almost be compared to a Vinho Verde from Portugal, with a bit more complexity and length.
Grangia has a very pale greenish color. Clean and clear with tiny bubbles, it seems super light in appearance. The nose offers complex yet discreet aromas of white and yellow fruits like peach, citrus and apricot intermingled with blossom and other floral notes. A touch “perling” on the tongue (as we say in French), the palate is light, elegant and easy, quite friendly, and boasts slightly different and crispier flavors than the nose including green apple, lemon zest and lime peel combined with mineral and enhance by a great acidity. Lingering dry, zesty finish. Overall, it is a pleasantly enjoyable summer wine to enjoy at any time with or without food. Yet , some “Frutti di Mare” will complement it perfectly, especially oysters, shrimps and mussels.
LeDom du Vin
Info partly taken and edited from the winery website at www.tintero.it
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