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Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on 'Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey'

March 23, 2011 |  5:51 pm

Palmetto cover When my friend Paul suggests a book, I listen up. And this time it was "Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey" by Robert V. Camuto. He was a fan of Camuto's first book, "Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country" and found this one even more engrossing, probably because he knew less about the subject.

Camuto, who is Sicilian American and has written for Wine Spectator and the Washington Post, among others, wasn't all that familiar with Sicilian wines either until he decided to see what the wine revolution had brought to the island where his grandfather was born.

Camuto does a good job of evoking the beauty and mystery of the island, and captures some dozen winemakers in profiles that range from the very brief to the very detailed. Some, like Terre di Nere's Marco de Grazia, gave him only a couple of hours of their (distracted) time. Others granted him full access, flying him around in helicopters to vineyard sites, discussing the history of winemaking on the island, their philosophy, techniques and thoughts on the future at length. (In between, he fit in some glorious eating.)

Through his eyes, I enjoyed meeting Giusto Occhipinti of COS, Diego Planeta, Frank Cornelissen, Marco de Bartoli and others. I walked the vineyards of Mount Etna again. I learned that a young group of idealists in Corleone is reclaiming vineyards and farms confiscated from the Mafia and turning them into social cooperatives. And I rediscovered a longing to spend some time on the island of Pantelleria. 

Great reading on these rainy days.

"Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey" by Robert V. Camuto, University of Nebraska Press,  hardcover, $24.95.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Illustration credit: scan of the book's cover