Wine Books: Nicholas Belfrage
Nicholas Belfrage kept himself busy in wine retail before putting his knowledge of Italy down on paper, becoming one of the most qualified commentators on the wines of this nation in the process.
The second part of Nicholas Belfrage's guide to Italy, published as part of the Faber and Faber series, is somewhat more weighty than the first. It maintains the positive characteristics of that volume, with reams of informative text broken up by good quality maps and monochrome label images. The bulk of the book, as with part one, is dominated by an account of the important wine producers of the region, ordered in the same manner. The producers are divided up first according to broad regions (Central West, unsurprisingly dominated by Sangiovese and Chianti, Central East, South & Islands) and then by the DOC/DOCG according to the grape varieties permitted. As with the first book, he deals with the wines produced using international grape varieties and blends in separate chapters. It sounds confusing, but I promise it isn't. Belfrage has wisely avoided the obvious pitfall of surrounding his in depth account of the producers with the same introductory text and appendices as in part one - instead in this volume he uses an interesting account of typicity versus internationalism as an introduction, and rounds the book off with an account of Italian wine law, together with three excellent appendices - suggesting revisions of existing IGT and DOC classifications, and a critique of current DOCGs. Another excellent work of reference.
Nicholas Belfrage has worked with Italian wine, either in the trade or as a writer, since the early 1970s, and qualified as a Master of Wine in 1980. This is the first part of his contribution to the Faber and Faber series of regional guides, which in general are extremely reliable and packed with information, presented in a very sane, ordered fashion. This book is no exception, and in fact rises above many other titles in the series, with better quality maps (although there are just six in total) and good use of label images (in monochrome) which help to lighten the tone of the book. Belfrage deals with the North West and North East in separate chapters, each dominated by an account of the important producers of the region. He groups his accounts of the winemakers of each region according to DOC/DOCG involved, and the order of these is based on the indigenous grape varieties used, rather than their geographical location. This is an approach that at first I thought unusual, although as I used the book I found it worked quite well. These are followed up by chapters dealing with details of wines made using international varieties, blends and sparklers. There are other useful sections, including a glossary, a very useful guide to Italian pronunciation and a rapid guide to Italian wines (first printed in Decanter magazine in 1997), which is perhaps a good place for those with absolutely no knowledge of Italy to orientate themselves. A very worthwhile book indeed.