Book review: The World of Sicilian Wine

The World of Sicilian Wine, by Bill Nesto MW and his wife Frances di Savino, is an excellent survey of an important wine region of Italy that is all too often overlooked by wine writers. Both authors claim Sicilian roots, Nesto directly and di Savino by way of her ancestors who came to Campania via Sicily. Nesto book coverThey demonstrate great depth of knowledge about each of the denominations and grape varieties of Sicily, and most of the producers as well. They do not assume a strong foundation on the subject from the reader, however, making it accessible to anyone with an interest in Sicilian wine and a passing familiarity with wine terminology.

In places, the book reads more like an expanded encyclopedia entry about Sicilian wine than a romance novel, but that’s reasonable given that the intention is to inform rather than to entertain. Yet the history, traditions, and culture of Sicily are inherently fascinating. Both the structure and the presentation of the writing are logical and clear, with the treatment of many of the individual topics showing Nesto’s credentials as a Master of Wine. Indeed, most chapters and sections are sufficiently self-contained that they can be read on their own without relying on material found elsewhere in the book.

The World of Sicilian Wine (University of California Press, 2013, $34.95) has 14 chapters, beginning with three that chronicle Sicilian history from ancient times to the present day with a consistent focus on the development of grape growing and winemaking on the island. Muslims, Normans, Swabians, Il Gatopardo, and fortified wine–loving Britons all make their appearances. Later chapters tackle the topics of geography, viticulture, winemaking, and wine regions. The authors devote four chapters and 40 percent of the book to the regions; each denomination is described individually, and major producers are profiled. An entire chapter is devoted to grape varieties, including history, cultivation, and tasting notes. Injecting the authors’ personal warmth into the text are three chapters described as “vignettes,” each describing a particularly memorable visit to a producer.

In its 307 pages, The World of Sicilian Wine has extensive notes and a detailed index, but only six small maps and sadly no photographs (apart from the lovely jacket photo). To see a few of the photos Nesto and di Savino took while researching this book, and to read more accounts of their travels, you’ll have to visit their blog, www.theworldofsicilianwine.blogspot.com. The World of Sicilian Wine was selected as the 2013 recipient of the prestigious André Simon Food and Drink book award.

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