New book on Italian wine questions the idea of ‘indigenous’ grape varieties

A new book has launched on Amazon charting the history of Italy’s most famous winemaking grapes.

Written by Attilio Scienza and Serena Imazio, the book, called Sangiovese, Lambrusco, and Other Vine Stories, is now available in hardback, after launching in Italian bookstores and Amazon Italy on Thursday 17 October.

It focuses on the history and ancestry of vines that are cultivated in Italy such as Sangiovese, Ribolla, Primitivo, as well as Moscato, Malvasia, and Lambrusco grapes, but also includes international varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot in the conversation, highlighting cross-currents and contamination.

It aims to demystify the origin of Europe’s famous grape varieties by analysing accounts of migration, conquest, and cross-cultural exchange that have formed an important part of wine commerce and viticulture for centuries.

The authors themselves have worked extensively on vine genetics. Scienza, who is a professor at the University of Milan, specialises in genetic improvement of the grapevine, and has served on many national and international research committees and participated in the zoning of over 35 viticultural areas throughout Italy.

Imazio, who was a researcher in vine genetics at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and at the Centro di Trasferimento Tecnologico dell’Emilia Romagna; now works as a science writer for various outlets and has published books and articles on wine history, ampelography, and genetics.

In the introduction to the work, the authors state that, like much of Europe, Italy’s modern grape varieties were developed through “a tormented hybridisation of cultural contributions from the most diverse origins, ranging from Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to Central Asia.”

“In this sense, the Italian case is archetypal for the whole of Europe: from the research on the identity of the vine in the different regions, emerges a continent without rigid borders, a continuous crossroads of migrations, interactions, hybridisations, contrasts and conflicts between peoples, which has drawn fundamental sap from the diversity of roots, on a cultural and political level.”

The work blends together genetic research on grapes’ DNA, ampelography and botanical studies, anthropology, the history of ancient civilizations, linguistics and literary studies, and questions whether we can call any grape variety indigenous to a specific country or region.

In the text, the authors claim that the word ‘autochthonous’ (meaning indigenous) gradually loses its meaning, as the vines are “the result of an intense and ancient varietal circulation between areas sometimes even spanning great distances, often without geographical boundaries, so the term no longer refers to a place, but to a time, in which the vine is manifested in an optimal way through its production characteristics.”

Commenting on the book’s launch, Master of Wine Sarah Heller said Imazio and Scienza “set Italy’s story in a larger geographical, historical and scientific context.”

The authors, she said “reinforce rather than diminish Italy’s importance, expertly demonstrating how the peninsula and its myriad peoples were often key connectors joining the dots of seemingly disparate traditions.”

Sangiovese, Lambrusco, and Other Vine Stories can be purchased on Amazon Italy for €18,90 and on Amazon Kindle for US$9,99 (€ 9,02).

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