Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Zach Oden

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto
University of Nebraska Press, September 2010
Hardcover 250 pp., ISBN 978-0803228139
(paper release expected March 2012)

Va bene?

I must admit to hesitating a little before I cracked Robert V. Camuto’s latest, Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey. It had nothing to do with the author. Camuto is a fine writer with a strong trail of flavorful projects—his inspired Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country will humble any Sideways-ascribing American pinot lover, as will his contributions to Wine Spectator and The Washington Post. And the man is no critic, getting his hands dirty (literally) by crafting his own wines in France with his family. No, Camuto loves, respects, and pours over his passion for wine. Mine were personal hang-ups. I am a bourbon man and, as such, my natural tendency is to find wine (and wine writing) a bit...dry. Fortunately, Camuto’s writing is far from that, and he lends his robust talents to this imbibed travelogue, a blend of detailed studies on wine and the people of Sicily who live it.

Camuto spent a year in the largest island of the Mediterranean, immersing himself in a culture that, of it’s own account, is multi-faceted and a bit conflicted. “In Sicily, life’s little laws and sense of order—let’s call them “constraints”—tend to have a need not to be broken so much as simply ignored,” he writes upon arriving. Soon, he is ignoring speeding laws and gastrointestinal codes of conduct by whizzing through the port town of Scoglitti and stuffing himself on raw seafood at Sakalleo, a restaurant where he’s chastised by Pasquale Ferrara, the dapper and enigmatic owner, for tapping out before the second pasta dish. This is precisely what the author is after—intimate, delicious moments, which serve as an indoctrination into a true Sicilian wine adventure.

After a short night’s sleep, Camuto is off exploring the island, staying in homes and rustic vineyards, choosing to shadow eccentric winemakers such as Titta Cilia, Giusto Occhipini, and Pinuccia Strano, whose Cos winery (the name derives from an acronym of the three boisterous co-owners) is working to restore Vittoria winemaking to peaks not seen since the nineteenth century. They adopt the wine-making practices of the ancients by shunning chemicals for natural pesticide practices, paving the way for new “old” styles of fermentation by abandoning oak castes in favor of clay amphorae pots to store and age their wine.

Camuto struggles with the wine, and instead of trying to pin down a signature vino that would adequately represent Sicily, turns his attention to the local wine presses (or, you guessed it, palmentos) of the island. In the process he encounters a cavalcade of eccentric winemakers whose conflicting ideas and philosophies complicate this search for the “truest” of Sicilian wines. Camuto does a spirited job of swirling these beliefs together, allowing the voices of different vineyards to resonate and respond to one another. We are introduced to the strong and determined Frank Cornelissen, a displaced European who scales the dark soil of Etna to harvest a more authentic grape for his “island within an island” biodynamic wines. Camuto sheds light on the capriciousness of the headstrong, sports car-driving Marco De Bartoli, a King Lear-esque paterfamilias whose vineyard of quality marsala wines has been stifled by Sicily’s ever-changing distribution laws and mafia-influenced bureaucracy. All these lives converge like varied grapes blended into a delicate vintage, all like-minded individuals married to a complex quest for the most perfect, if contested, national product of an island struggling to find footing and identity in the twenty-first century.

The more he travels, the more Camuto concedes that the heart of Sicily, and the wines therein, are beating to conflicting drums of modernity and traditionalism, and that both equally impact the people who live to produce these small-volume vineyards. “I had come to Sicily to explore its wines,” he writes, “but ended up discovering many other things...the way each generation cultivates the land and reaches out across time. The simple act of trimming a vine not only changes the life of the plant but also leaves an imprint for future generations.” There is no defeat in this admission. Not content to settle for “wine as platform for travel-memoir,” Camuto turns the soil, turning the book into a robust and full rumination on the people who pour their lives into their work. Camuto shows that a wine, and by proxy an island, are only as good or as interesting as the people who make it. From the peaks of Mount Etna, to the mafia-scarred Corrleone, he brings us along, sampling and celebrating the products and people of Sicily—letting us savor the purity of his palate and the honesty of his words among the ancient vines of the Mediterranean.

Va bene?

Va bene, indeed.

July 14, 2011