Book Review – “The Wines & Foods of Piemonte”

Tom Hyland’s new book, The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, provides Anglophone wine explorers with a comprehensive and insightful guide to the under-discovered northwest Italy region.

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The Road Less Traveled

Author, freelance wine journalist, and diehard Italophile Tom Hyland’s first trip to Piemonte was in 2001, shortly after I first ventured south from Zurich to the splendid gastronomic region in northwest Italy. When the new millennium dawned, only dabs of ink had been spilled for Piemonte in Italian travel guides. It was as though the historic wine region, home of unified Italy’s first capital and one of the wine world’s most prestigious varietals, was an afterthought. Social media then consisted of actually communicating face-en-face and modern blogging was not yet common. Let’s just say, both of us, like many others traveling this under-discovered region, were left on own to figure out where to go, what to eat, and, most importantly, what to drink. Perhaps that was a good thing in retrospect, but not everyone has over a decade to get to know a place.

Today, nascent Piemontephiles, as well as seasoned wine explorers, have a wealth of information available in cyberspace and bookshops. The plethora of wine tourism blogs and the publication in my many languages of more books specifically about Piemonte have helped spark interest in the region. Tom Hyland’s latest book, The Wines and Foods of Piemonte (University of Nebraska 2016), is one of those and serves as a valuable addition to the resources available on Piemonte.

I met Hyland the same way I met my editor, Elatia Harris, and many others who helped me write, launch, and promote my own book: on Facebook. We were both in the throes of researching and writing books on Piemonte, only it was my first project and he was a seasoned pro. Hyland possessed something I lacked: a deep knowledge of Italian wines from all regions. Reading his posts on his blog, LearnItalianWines, helped me with my research. I’m a wine family expert; he’s a food and wine expert. We share the same passion for giving voice to the vintners to inform, educate, and inspire. I’m delighted he published his book this past summer — just a month after Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte — because the books are perfect companions.

Guiding Oenophiles Through Piemonte

In his introduction, Hyland declares his love of Piemonte and reverence for the families whose vines are anchored deep in its soil. The book opens with his admission that has “a love affair with Piemonte.” I know that feeling. It’s impossible not to love the region if you enjoy indulging in scrumptious food and wine and immersing yourself in the culture that is an integral part of its enjoyment.

“Piemonte,” he says, “is more of a destination for the serious wine and food lover.” Agreed. Perhaps this is why books like Hyland’s have been slow to evolve. The need was there, but the demand was slow to grow.

In The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, with the help of renowned vinous cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti’s maps and Hyland’s own photos of places, faces, foods, and wines, he builds a perfect foundation for nascent Piemontephiles and adds to the knowledge base of those with years of experience in the region. Hyland’s lovely cover photo of the expansive beauty of the vineyards with the snow-capped Alps over 40 miles, yet seemingly a short  away begs the reader to enter the book.

Copyright Tom Hyland
Copyright Tom Hyland

The heart of the book opens with a geographical explanation of Piemonte, the second largest region in Italy after Sicily. The four major wine districts are home to a wide variety of grapes, a distinctive feature of Piemonte’s viticulture. Hyland explains each zone, noting signature varietals such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Arneis, and more obscure ones such as Pelaverga, Ruché, Freisa, and Grignolino. It’s far more than the “overview” he claims it is in his introduction.

Throughout the book, Hyland weaves quotes from and references to some of the region’s highly respected producers such as Mariacristina Oddero, Alessandro Ceretto, Angelo Gaja, Enrico Scavino and Giovanna Rizzolio, to name just a few. The effort to have the vintners speak for themselves was well spent since Hyland connects readers to them and transforms what could have been a dry recitation of technical aspects of viticulture into something far more engaging. Hyland’s photos that capture the vintners’ personalities, particularly the one of Mariacristina Oddero, add to the vintners’ words.

Hyland gives us further insight into the philosophies and passions of vintners with a section of interviews of distinguished vintners and — because food is the perfect partner of wine — notable chefs. Luca Pellegrino of Ristorante Le Torri in Castiglione Falletto, one of my favorite restaurants in the Langhe, answered Hyland’s question about unusual wine pairings with “salmon filet with a Barolo.” I must admit that I have tried that pairing at home and I loved it. I was delighted to see an interview with Dario Marini of il Fierobecco in Maggiora, a restaurant we discovered in 2015 on a visit to Lorella Zoppis Antoniolo in Alto Piemonte. A trip up the A26 from the UNESCO World Heritage site wine areas of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato is well worth the drive to visit Antoniolo and dine at il Fierobecco.

Finally, Hyland’s four appendices provide very useful quick references for his highly recommended wines, recommended restaurants, a glossary of wine terms, and classic examples of Piemontese foods. Just what the savvy wine tourist needs at his or her fingertips while exploring the region.

There is no such thing as knowing everything there is to know about Piemonte. It’s such a beautiful, diverse region where opportunities for adventures are endless. Hyland’s book has broadened my knowledge of the vinous and culinary landscape of Piemonte, adding to what I’ve learned through my own 17 years of oenological experiences I’ve enjoyed there. The Wines and Foods of Piemonte is a great guide book for those making their first journey to Piemonte, a journey they will no doubt repeat many times. 

The Wines and Foods of Piemonte is a small, softcover book that fits quite nicely into a carry-on to read on a transatlantic flight to Italy and to have handy on gastronomic explorations of this expansive region’s wine areas. It will certainly be with me on my next trip!

The Wines and Foods of Piemonte by Tom Hyland is available on his website and at the bookstores in Eataly locations in Chicago and New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

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