Burton Anderson: Beyond Vino

Burton Anderson: Beyond Vino
Life is a fiasco


My Life in Wine
The Good, the Bad, and the Bubbly

My life in wine—like the other thirty-odd years of it—has had its ups and downs. If I had that time to live over, I’d strive to become a complete writer, oriented more toward mastering the craft of fiction and less toward appraising the virtues of nectars of the grape. But since I joined the field and stayed there due to my own stubborn volition, I can hardly complain. I’ve had happy and proud moments with writers, winemakers, cooks, and other people who love to eat and drink, though there have been times of sweat and strain, and, of course, some disappointments.
It began in the early sixties, when I took a job at the Rome Daily American and cultivated a true amateur’s devotion to vino, canvassing Italy for novel names and flavors. I collected labels and notes, but didn’t begin writing about Italian wine until I moved to Paris, to the news desk of the International Herald Tribune, and acquired a farmhouse near Cortona as a retreat and research base.
My first article, in 1971, was a profile of Franco Biondi Santi and his Brunello di Montalcino—names that became legends but were then scarcely known beyond the province of Siena. “Wine for People with Patience” was the title, an irony of sorts, since I’ve never had the diligence to let a fine bottle collect dust in the cellar.
My aspirations grew until, in 1977, I turned down a generous offer to become managing editor and quit the IHT—my last gasp of stable employment—packed wife, kids, and a dog named Grappa into a Peugeot station wagon and headed for Tuscany. While waiting more than two years for a phone to be installed in our home at an isolated burg called Teverina, our link to the outside world was La Posta Italiana, which functioned at about the speed of Pony Express. Verdicts on my career choice among colleagues and friends leaned decidedly more toward crazy than courageous.
I’d already begun writing a book about Italian wine, though, aside from an insatiable craving for the stuff and a gift of taste memory, my qualifications were practically nil. Yet I did have something going for me. At that time, few English-speaking readers were aware of the vast and varied compass of Italian wine. So, after traveling around meeting winemakers and recording impressions, I filled a void with a book called Vino, the Wines and Winemakers of Italy, published in 1980 by Atlantic-Little, Brown after a dozen or so rejections.
Vino even won some praise from Francophile U.K. critics, perhaps amused that an upstart Yank would dedicate an entire book to a country noted for cheap and cheerful Chianti in the straw-skirted flask—or fiasco, as it’s called in its native Tuscany. Besides Chianti, the U.S. market then overflowed with sweet Lambrusco (Italian Coke), bleached blond Soave, Frascati, and Verdicchio, and jugs of dago red.
More books followed—principally The Pocket Guide to Italian Wine, 1982; The Wine Atlas of Italy, 1990; Treasures of the Italian Table, 1994; Burton Anderson’s Best Italian Wines, 2001—along with articles, columns, booklets, lectures, conferences, videos, and more. Everywhere I’ve gone, people have alluded to my luck in having such a cushy job. Imagine getting rich lounging around the pool in Tuscany sipping Brunello and Barolo.
Get real. The free-lance adventure has comprised thirty-five years of scraping together funds to finance a family, homes, college tuitions, research, travel, fiscal bumbles, lawsuits, and the mandatory ex-pat visits to far-away relatives. Forget vacations. I might have tried more gainful pursuits, but never got around to it. Too busy meeting deadlines, I suppose.
Through it all, I’ve watched Italy surge to the forefront of world wine, though that was inevitable, given the country’s ubiquitous aptitude for vines and its people’s ingenuity. Still, I like to think that I gave a small nudge to Italy’s modern renaissance of wine. And I get a contrarian’s kick out of reminding legions of doubters of Italian potential that I told them so.

Sour Grapes

Soon after the turn of the century, and the publication of the unrewarding Burton Anderson’s Best Italian Wines, I decided to point my literary career in new directions. My way of writing about wine, which intuitively traces quality and character to people and places, had been superseded by the summations of taster-raters, led by Robert M. Parker, Jr., whose peerless palates spew verdicts in points with notes as sacrosanct as papal bulls.
Sour grapes? You bet, but what are old codgers for if not to carp and grumble? The change of direction, among other effects, reinforced my conviction that I was not too old to make it as a serious writer. Others have expressed serious doubts, inciting me to swallow my pride and take a walk on the wily side. Among suggested schemes:
1. Dash off a book on Italian wine with points and tasting notes. I get it. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. But at my age could I master the wine guru lexicon, that list of two-hundred—or is it two-hundred-and-fifty?—terms describing odors, flavors, colors, and more, through often gaudy analogies to animal, mineral, and vegetal sensory perceptions, including every imaginable fruit except grapes? No cakewalk that. Also I’d have to brush up on counting backwards—not having had much practice since high school team-bus choruses of “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” But since wine is the subject, I suppose I’d only need to count down from a hundred to around seventy-five. To the raters, that’s already purgatory, just a point or two from hell.
2. Whip together a recipe book with lots of great pictures. After cracking Julia Child’s weights-and-measures codes for boeuf bourguignon and bouillabaisse—risking a crise de nerfs in a cramped Paris kitchen to conceive the best versions of those dishes I’ve tasted—I swore off recipes forever. I’ve since played it by nose the Italian way, sniffing out the best ingredients at hand, preferably home grown, while holding the cooking to a respectful minimum.
3. Become the Peter Mayle of Tuscany. Uh-huh. Or maybe the Walt Disney. Dare I admit that I’d bitten into as much as I could swallow of A Year in Provence by about Page 40—which more than doubled my endurance mark for Under the Tuscan Sun. Am I being snotty? Could it be that I lack the bestseller gene in my DNA?
Anyway, shunning those and other shenanigans, I knocked out a novel to try my hand at the fiction I should have pursued much earlier. Entitled Boccadoro, it’s a romantic thriller about a middle-aged Yank with a golden palate who takes up with a gorgeous Italian widow running a restaurant on a Tuscan island. While writing, I envisioned it as a terrific movie starring Jeff Bridges and Carla Bruni. Might be a little late for that now.
Attempts by agent Alan K. to push it to publishers drew nixes, some with remarks. One: “Hilarious insider stuff on Tuscany, food, wine and people, but slow in spots and short on sex.” Another: “Builds to a convincing climax of suspense, comedy and romance, but early chapters read like a travelogue.” I more or less agreed with the latter, but instead of tightening and rewriting, I self-published Boccadoro with iUniverse in 2007.
Meanwhile, I dabbled away at Boso’s Tuscany, a tale of a long-lost ancestor who was head man in Tuscany in the 10th century. Sample chapters submitted by Alan and an English rep elicited perplexity. One reply: “Wonderfully wacky. Loved it, but fear it won’t sell.” Another: “Might work if Anderson cut back on the history and assumed more of a Peter Mayle style.” Him again. How about Boso’s Provence? My ancestor was born at Arles, by the way.
With Boso on the back burner, I turned my attention to building a house—and selling another—and, just for the hell of it, writing about the experience. Even the nascent Rockfort Chronicles risked getting waylaid when, in the fall of 2009, a hyperactive wine wizard, Ian D., talked me into co-authoring a new version of my first book Vino.
Ian, who bills himself as “Italy’s foremost wine expert,” said that Vino had inspired his own career. He offered to supply the bulk of information while I wrote in my style. With the data at his fingertips, he figured we could dash off the book by October for the Christmas market—self-publishing with the expectation that a big-name house would pick it up for a handsome fee and make it a bestseller. Sure thing, while I metamorphose into the speed king of ink slingers .
I insisted on trying for an advance from a publisher. So I turned again to Alan K., who as a lawyer had managed to free me from a quarter-century of bondage as an author-serf to the U.K. publisher I call Mitchell Beastly. Alan liked the Vino-2 idea, calling it a potential winner. But he doubted a big advance, reminding me that the golden days of publishing were over and that even authors like Dan Brown were having trouble. Poor Dan. Poor me.
I humbugged it through the holidays, working to organize the project and have a précis ready for potential publishers by January. Meanwhile, I heard nothing from Ian, who was not answering e-mails. His odd silence continued until I sent him a note saying forget it, I’m going on my own. That brought no reply either, then or ever. Oh well, co-authoring always struck me as something on the order of sharing a mistress or of two dogs gnawing on the same bone.
Alan reported two rejects: from Simon & Schuster, with a couple of ho-hum lines after a three-month wait, and Norton, whose culinary matriarch Maria G. reviled me: “There’s no place for Burton Anderson in a Parkerized world where people buy wine by numbers.” Gulp. The proposal went to Thames & Hudson in May 2010, but I heard no more about it. So much for hot-wired wine wizards, warmed over culinary matriarchs, well-meaning agents.

The Rating Game

I’m beginning to suspect that I’m a slow learner—not so good when you’re over seventy. After a decade-long sabbatical, it was presumptuous to suppose that I could write an opus on the rapidly evolving realities of Italian wine. On the other hand, I might have come up with a passable guide filching info off the net. But that would have been too much like the easy way, which I seem to resist by nature, along with anything that smacks of styles or trends. Exhibit A: my wardrobe.
One thing I have learned, though, is that times have changed. And how. When I started out in wine—and well through my journeyman years in the eighties—writers, producers, and people in the trade got together to taste and have fun and exchange views. I rarely took notes, recalling details about wines, winemakers, vineyards, and cellars through the acumen that rewards a devotee’s ardor.
At the start, I followed a simple rule. If I liked the wines, the people, and the ambience, I’d write about them. If I didn’t, I tried to ignore them. Fair enough for an unknown. But, when published, as my name got around, all that changed. I became the target of a new breed of predator: once-clueless producers who’d discovered the powers of PR (and/or the benefits of BS). They barraged me with hype, invitations, propositions, samples, gifts, none of which I asked for—though, I confess, I never went to the trouble and expense of sending the baksheesh back. It was no mean feat to make it known that I couldn’t be bought. That attitude, as I’ve been reminded too often for comfort, made me a rare bird in Italy’s flock of wine hawks.
Yet I couldn’t avoid getting involved, however modestly, in the rating game. That U.K. house I mentioned earlier published many guides, following a formula of evaluating wines using stars in a range of one to four. In my often updated Pocket Guide to Italian Wines, I used the scale mainly for collective denominations (i.e. Barbera d’Asti *à***; Taurasi **à****), although appraisals couldn’t be avoided for well-known individual wines from noted producers.
Since the system was vague, and the sliding scale wishy-washy, I followed it in a perfunctory way. I’d always believed that describing wines in words is more meaningful to readers than rating them on a scale, whether using numbers, stars, or other symbols. Dream on. Only a slow learner would have failed to fathom the impact of the worldwide web on the literature of wine.
In the nineties, raters came to dominate the wine media, beginning in America with Parker, whose 100-point system was copied by The Wine Spectator and others. Their sphere of influence spread to Europe and beyond, changing patterns of buying, selling, and even producing wine from California to the historic vineyards of France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Newsletters, blogs, and websites provided instant access to all the info needed to buy a ranked bottle at the nearest shop (where you’d be certain to find the pundits’ scores already posted).
The market for wine books by literary-minded authors plummeted. But since print publications are in crisis everywhere, the raters can’t be held entirely to blame. Even disgruntled literary types like me will admit that the best of them are skilled tasters and judges of quality, though there are plenty of copycats, sycophants, and second-raters (pun intended) in their ranks.
What aggravates me is the often arrogant way many of them use, and abuse, their palates. The standard rater ritual entails tasting through a series of wines in a limited time: sniffing, sipping, analyzing the wine in the mouth without swallowing, then spitting it out. Points, or other criteria, are assigned to each with descriptive notes. Such reports provide insights into a wine’s quality at a moment of its life. But all too often critics have the gall—and, worse, readers the gullibility—to regard such judgments as definitive.

The Godfather

The virtuosos often taste in solitary confines remote from the atmosphere in which wine is normally consumed: with food, in company in convivial surroundings, as a drink to be savored and admired, not as a specimen being put to the test. It depresses me to witness wines being judged clinically, scrutinized and analyzed by impersonators of wine-tasting robots.
Obsessed with omniscient numbers, people sometimes seem to forget that wine’s main role is to provide enjoyment—where, in times past, it was a basic nutrient used prevalently for medicinal and religious purposes. Yet, even in the old days, wine was exalted by those who knew it as the paragon of pleasures of the table and the noblest expression of man’s mastery over things that grow.
Most of us veteran writers have done extensive analytical tasting, enough to know that evaluating wine requires concentration, experience with grape varieties and places of origin, and the knowledge that the subject of our scrutiny is in a phase of evolution. I’ve always taken into account the enduring factors that determine a wine’s quality over time, the natural and human elements that govern development of individual character.
Here I’m talking about wines that bespeak their origins. And, yes, I’m an advocate of the tenets of terroir, the credo of cru, as conceived by the French and embraced by winemakers everywhere who work with grapes from designated vineyards. To us terroiristes, it’s essential that procedures in vineyards and cellars respect the nature of the soil, the ecosystem, the variables of each vintage, the bona fide ways of producing and aging wines. Such wines carry an indelible pedigree, whether they come from a grand cru chateau or a devoted vigneron’s half hectare.
The pedigreed class excludes a majority of the world’s wines, as processed and priced for popular markets. I don’t mean to be condescending; the overall quality of everyday wines has never been better. More pointedly excluded from the category are designer or proprietary wines, blends of unstated origin ostensibly tailored to the tastes of influential critics and the cults that follow them. Closely related are artsy-fartsy wines devised by companies that put more stock in packaging—posh bottles, labels, corks, capsules, crates, etc.—than the integrity of the product.
Beyond cliques and fads, mainstream wine drinkers often base purchases on points rather than personal tastes. Some lack experience and the confidence or means to buy and compare. Those who can afford them, tend to covet wines that rate 90 or more, regarding anything from 89 down as second class. Conscientious merchants steer customers toward worthy alternatives, ignoring the scores. But many retailers seem only too happy to let the critics do their work for them.
In Italy, winemakers keep an eye on the main domestic guides—Gambero Rosso, L’Espresso, Veronelli—but by now the world brotherhood of raters has fixed standards so stereotyped that they hardly need to bother. The universal trend has been toward wines that are richer in flavor, bouquet, color, body, and alcohol, thanks to advances in cellar techniques, as well as the bags of tricks used to ameliorate mediocre vintages.
The points of Parker, and a choice few others, not only determine the commercial success of certain wines, but dictate styles that winemakers strive to emulate. This phenomenon is so widespread that critics condition global production trends—most conspicuously at premium levels where points can make or break a wine. In doing so, they boost the egos and earnings of producers whose top-ranked bottles often sell at wildly inflated prices.
To hear the raters tell it, their numbers and notes provide a key consumer service as guides to what to buy, and what to avoid, through fearless criticism of wines that don’t meet standards and lofty praise for those that do. What could be loftier than a Parker score of 100? What could be lowlier for a wine of established reputation than an 80?  But is Parker to blame if his judgments are taken as gospel by customers and as godsends by commercial interests that profit from propagandizing his points? Isn’t he, after all, just doing his job?
Of course he is, having become rich and famous in the process of advocating what a Parker biographer called “the new world order” of wine. Good for Bob. Bad for those of us who pursue the once honorable calling of putting wine into words.
If, in the beginning, I’d imagined that one day the most important figure in wine would be a taster, a rater, I might have chosen to explore more venerable subjects of interest to me, such as archeology or architecture. The biographer called Parker “the Emperor of Wine,” concluding that he has a “unique semi-divine tasting ability.” Wow. As the boss of bosses of production, commerce, and consumption, Godfather might be more to the point. Or, in a not so different sense, Big Brother.

Great Expectorations

But, hey, no hard feelings that couldn’t be assuaged by the laughing cure (for a jocular fifteen minutes daily). In my active days, I did a lot of tasting myself, most of it decorously, but not always. That’s what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned palate abuse, a subject I know a thing or two about.
An extreme example was a tour de force tasting of a hundred and eighty Italian red wines over the course of a day in London in 1999. The event was arranged to expand the data base of the New York Times website Wine Today, of which I was a columnist. Also on the panel were three British critics, including the actor-singer-tasting champ Oz Clarke. Our job was to assess the qualities of various Italian wines without actually ranking them.
The session began in mid-morning, as we focused eyes, noses, mouths, and wits on endless rows of glasses—swirling, sniffing, ogling, sipping, sucking, swishing, gurgling around the tongue,  and spitting, a routine often repeated two or three times. We evaluated each wine using criteria the details of which I’ve gratefully forgotten. The line-up included major Italian reds, spearheaded by Tuscans and Piedmontese, but I don’t remember much about them either. I shudder to imagine how many gallons of fine wine were dispatched into the salivated murk of spit buckets that day.
The Wine Today organizers commended my speed and accuracy in identifying types in a marathon that went beyond testing tenacity to pushing palates toward licensed torture. I tried to be judicious, but my senses weren’t always up to the task. In the afternoon, I ran ahead of the pack, aware that by spending, say, fifteen to twenty seconds on a wine I could analyze it better than if I dwelled on it longer. Oz took it easier, ducking out for a leisurely lunch with a lady friend, a neat excuse for skipping a good third of the tasting.
Normally, when I taste wines in sequence, I sample each and come back later for another exam, as aromas and flavors evolve. Not during that blitz. Some critics have more acute senses of taste and smell than others—and I’d always counted myself among the adept. But no matter how sharp and disciplined we claim to be, sensory research has shown that we lose lucidity in tasting multiple wines in succession.
Much as we spit and rinse with water, we inevitably swallow a little wine, amounting to a notable alcohol intake over the course of a long tasting. This ingestion desiccates the oral cavity as salivary secretions decrease, dulling taste buds and blunting “mouth feel” the perception of texture, weight, and balance. Repeated exposure to wines’ odors causes olfactory fatigue, attenuation of the all-important sense of smell.
The studies concluded that to be accurate and fair in tasting wines, one needs frequent breaks to clear the nose and mouth. Only a layoff of at least five minutes between wines permits reasonable recovery of olfactory perception. In any case, it’s not physiologically possible to judge the thirtieth or fiftieth or hundredth wine in a series as precisely as one judges the first ten or fifteen. Yet self-proclaimed supertasters pooh-pooh the evidence while immortalizing up to a hundred and twenty-five wines at a sitting. Follow their scores if you will. It’s your money.
I’m no scientist, but I can sure as hell vouch for the validity of the aforementioned research. During the London grind, a cartoon kept coming to mind of a chimpanzee—J. Fred Muggs, I believe—holding a glass of wine with the caption: “It’s a rotten, thankless job, but somebody’s gotta do it.” To judge by my wooziness toward the end, I’d guess that I imbibed the equivalent of way over a liter.
Our mouths were stained purple: lips, teeth, gums, tongues, no doubt even gullets. Mouthwashes didn’t help, nor did brushing with strong dentifrices. Bubbly wine, Champagne no less, tickled our parched tongues. But the true antidote turned out to be a London pub crawl, quaffing beers until we’d giddily chased away the demons of the day’s nightmare. I recorded the experience as Great Expectorations, all the more fitting since we were in Dickens’s old bailiwick.
Soon after that I quietly bowed out. Wine Today folded, Burton Andersons Best Italian Wines flopped (at least in terms of earnings), and I got to thinking how warped and weird my once wonderful world of wine had become. The few times I’ve mingled with modern wine crowds since, I’ve felt awkwardly out of my element.
The last event I attended was a comparative tasting of Chianti Rufina and Barbaresco, held in a chichi Florence hotel in November of 2009. I’d reluctantly agreed to serve on the panel, where my role seemed to be that of the wizened veteran recounting the good (read preposterously quaint) old days on the Italian wine trail. There must have been eighty or so participants, tasting, making notes (mainly on laptops), and taking themselves extremely seriously. It dragged on for more than five hours; my attention span, even in the best of times, is well under three.
During the endless Q&A, I felt an uncomfortable sense of pity watching people make work of what my generation of scribes and aficionados would have turned into a festive occasion with a little learning as a bonus. It was as though I’d accidentally wandered into a meeting of scientists, whose grim visages might have been those of lab technicians analyzing specimens of body wastes or—perish the thought—pathologists examining cadavers.
Most of the discussion was in Italian, naturally, spiked with foreign terms—savants love to flaunt erudition in mispronounced English. Much of it sounded like shoptalk in a lingo that could have been Mandarin for all it meant to me. A colleague explained that Roman wine geeks had devised a lexicon to cover minute details of vinous sensorial analysis, adding that the Rome school was way ahead of everybody in the field, even Parker.
I nodded in wonder, recalling that in my time there in the sixties I rarely came across a Roman whose knowledge of wine went beyond his daily doses of dubious Frascati—often diluted with fizzy libations, including—I swear to the wine god Bacchus—Coca-Cola.
All of a sudden it was my turn to speak. Dispirited by the somber mood, I felt like shouting, “Don’t worry. Be happy!” But I couldn’t get up the nerve. So I murmured into the mike memories of my early (read preposterously quaint) experiences with Chianti Rufina and Barbaresco. That soliloquy seemed about as welcome as a whiff of corked Barolo, vintage ’38. After an embarrassedly polite applause, the crowd returned to the earnest business of anatomizing wine.

Forbidden Fruit

Even if my literary links to wine have become casual, I still consume far more than my fair share of the stuff.  After decades of buying no more than, say, a third of the wine I drank, the balance has tipped dismayingly the other way. These days I’m forking over for about nine bottles out of ten. Gift cartons arrive now and then, mainly from old timers who appreciated my work. Now, more than ever, I appreciate their generosity.
During my career, I’ve never requested a sample bottle from a producer, let alone a handout or a gift. It’s not so much a question of ethics as a matter of respect, trust, even pride. Asking for something for nothing isn’t in my nature. Besides that, to be persnickety, how could a critic who solicits a sample be sure he’s getting the genuine article? Who’s to know if a shifty point-seeker slipped a superior wine into the bottle?
The reason I bring this up is that I’ve heard of critics who claim to be simon-pure. That seems to mean that, to avoid being influenced, they don’t accept advertising, gifts, favors—free trips, hotels, meals, etc.—from wine-related interests. Some declare that they buy the wines they rate. Swell, but if samples arrive at the door, what do they do, donate them to the Salvation Army? The way I look at it, either you’re simon-pure or you’re not. There’s no almost. It’s a bit like virginity or, maybe closer to home, biting or not biting into forbidden fruit
But there I go again berating raters for pretending they don’t do what the rest of us do with guilt-free guile. By the rest of us I refer to a mixed bag of authors, journalists, correspondents, columnist, bloggers, hacks, flacks, and loonies loosely defined as “wine writers.” Ours is not one of literature’s high callings, even if certain practitioners may tell you otherwise. Nor, in my case anyway, has it been lucrative. But the job has its plusses, first among them freebies.
It’s hard to resist becoming a freeloader when nearly everybody you run into in your line of work—from producers to merchants to restaurateurs to PR and marketing folks—foists wine and food on you. Taste this, try that, bottles and more arriving for the holidays, gala banquets, trumped-up awards and honors, all-expenses paid junkets to bacchanalian paradises in exchange for such bothers as traipsing through vineyards and cellars and tasting wines. As I learned in my conversion from a hard-nosed newspaperman to a free-lance drifter, wine doesn’t lend itself to objective reporting. Ours is decidedly not a calling for the simon-pure.
After a decade away from the circus, I sometimes pretend that those days of fortuitous mooching are over. But I know perfectly well they aren’t. Over the recent holidays, while visiting friends who run wine bars and eateries, do you suppose I managed to extract my wallet? When I’d ask for the bill, they’d hoot at me like a comic who’d cracked a bad joke. At the Enoteca-Vinoteca Lenzi, my hangout in Castiglione della Pescaia, when I mumbled something about being mollycoddled, Luciano, the owner, shut me up by thrusting a chalice of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill at me with the reminder that among real friends bubbly is always on the house. Why argue?
I’ve never been a wine snob, if for no better reason than that I couldn’t possibly afford to be. I mean, how could I lord it over less fortunate imbibers if the superlative stuff I’ve been privileged to sip over these years hadn’t come gratis?
No, I prefer to think of myself more along the lines of an upper echelon wino. Most of the time lately I’ve been forced to follow self-imposed rules of austerity in the limbo between Oliveto and Sassofortino that’s found me strapped for cash. Times are tough all over, they say. But, you know what? Life on a limited wine budget isn’t nearly as dreadful as I’d feared.
One reason is that enhanced techniques, including more or less legitimate gimmicks, have made winemaking so slick and risk-free that it’s sometimes said there’s no such thing as a bad bottle anymore. That’s poppycock. Even technically correct wines don’t always taste good, at least not to my weathered palate, which reflexively rejects wines that are overblown and overpriced.
Yet there’s no denying the steady increase in good to very good bottles available at popular prices. The world economic crisis has made markets so competitive that once uppity European houses have reassessed aims and put the emphasis back on wines of quality-price ratios to match values coming from the New World, notably the southern hemisphere. In combing shelves of Italian shops and cellars, I’ve found a surprising number of wines with the sort of pedigrees I mentioned earlier selling at €5 to €10—with a quantum leap if you up the limit to €15. I refer to full-fledged estate wines of exemplary class and character.
My current budget would probably not permit bottles that rate a 90 or over from Parker and company—not that some wouldn’t deserve it. I’ve learned to make do nicely with wines they’d likely relegate to 89 or under. Come to think of it, if I were still in the rating game, that’s what I’d assign my career in wine: a solid 89. No false modesty. But just imagine what that score might have been if my taste-buds were semi-divine.


  1. I also was totally inspired by VINO. An incredible read, not about the scores, but rather the soul and body of the winemaker and their families; their love for the earth and for their product. I have gone through three of these books-most destroyed by the constant use. I have been waiting for a Second VINO since the first came out--a view of the new winemakers and some of the old that are still with us (and not with ratings) just the heart and passion that these winemakers have for their product. I cannot forget your write-up on Fiorano, Voyat, Bartolo Mascarello, Amazing-Now Antinori Girls are looking to remaking Fiorano, Voyat family continues to make a wine, and Mascarello’s daughter continues to honor her father’s views and style in the wine she makes. These would be stories worth telling.
    Anyway, VINO is one of the best books I have ever read-wine or otherwise and one that I continue to use as a reference today.
    I would love to get my hands on the VINO 2--I wish you the best luck in getting it published.

  2. Thanks for your appreciation, Gino. I wish I could have updated both Vino and The Wine Atlas of Italy when the time was right--a couple of decades ago. But the publishers didn't make that possible. With my new blog, I hope to at least occasionally pay tribute to worthy wines and winemakers with the soul and body that you so passionately describe. Saluti, Burton

  3. Grazie Burton per la risposta. For me your book will be the true expression of what a wine book should be all about "A walk through the vineyards on a beautiful Autumn day". I will, now that I have found your blog, read it religiously and continue to hope for a new Vino. In the meantime I will search out your other books-for I so much enjoyed your writing.

    Always a devout fan.


  4. Lovely piece Burt. Can I buy you a drink when I'm back in Teverina in September?