A Sicilian Wine Odyssey, by Robert Camuto. RRP is now £13.99 for the paperback version, but you can get it delivered by one of Amazon’s partners for around £11.00. 21cm tall and around 300 pages.
It is not a big book, not on glossy paper, and it does not have colour pictures. So don’t buy it to leave on the coffee table to impress friends. Also, do not buy it if you expect a reference book on the wines of Sicily. The author visits some 20 producers, but you do not get a neatly arranged set of pages on each one, with a description of the winemaking philosophy, list of wines with tasting notes, table of statistics, and photograph of the owner or winemaker with his dog.
All the information is presented in terms of a chronological description of the author’s visit to each place over the course of a year. You also get to hear about the journey between some of the wineries, and there is even one chapter were he did not visit a producer at all. You learn about the history, landscape and people of the island, and but it is all through the personal experience of the author and his interviews with other people. The same applies to the wines – when he tastes or drinks a wine he sometimes describes them, but you never get anything that approaches what you would call a tasting note. Nevertheless, while claiming no great expertise, he seems to understand wine well, and I find it easy to relate to what he has to say.
Personally I find many wine books rather tedious, and this approach is very refreshing. However, without the support of the conventional wine book framework, the success or otherwise must largely hang on the quality of the author’s writing. In my opinion, Camuto writes very well and the book is very successful. In particular, I appreciate the directness of his style when describing people and wines. He can be brutally honest but rarely, if ever, judgemental. You can boo, hiss and cheer along as you read about the people he visits, but I wonder to what extent you would be agreeing with what Camuto really thinks.