Paul Balke, North Adriatic: Friuli Venezia Giulia – West Slovenia – Istria – Kvarner. Wine & Travel Atlas. Order the book via email: email@example.com
Anyone who has seen Charles & Ray Eames’s famous 1977 video of “Powers of 10” (see below) understands that the way you see the world depends in part on how you choose to look at it.
In the video an everyday scene is examined first from steadily expanding scales (rising by a power of ten each ten seconds) and then deconstructed by repeatedly drilling down (by powers of ten again). Which view is correct? Why all of them, of course, it just depends on what you are looking for.
Bigger and Smaller
One view makes things seem bigger and the other makes them seem smaller (an Alice in Wonderland situation). It is important to keep perspective along the way.
The bigger/smaller problem applies to wine in many ways. Tasting notes, for example, have for a long time focused on breaking down wine flavors and aromas into their elements, like the second part of the Eames video, which is useful enough unless you are more interested, as many consumers may be, in how it makes you feel (a higher-level perspective). The whole, we hope, is greater than the sum of its parts, but that doesn’t always come through.
Here in the United States one trend has been to try to break the terroir of wine=-growing regions into smaller and smaller American Viticultural Areas as wineries and regions seek to communicate their distinctive features and to build solidarity among producers. But deconstructing terroir in this way is not the only story and sometimes not the best one.
Or at least that is Paul Balke’s argument in his colorful and informative book, North Adriatic, and he makes his case in a way that will remind you of the Eames film. First, he steps back repeatedly, probing what connects the people and territory of the North Adriatic, with chapters on the trans-national regional history, geography, climate, and gastronomy (this volume is meant to double as a travel guide, so food is never far from the surface!)
Central to this section of the book is Chapter 4, which is a very short essay on borders. Its purpose is to make you think about borders, fences and divisions in an age of globalization.
Down the Rabbit Hole
The book soon reverses course with very detailed chapters on the wine regions of the North Adriatic. Each chapter is an enticing rabbit hole (another Alice metaphor) full of photos, maps, facts, and analysis.
The wine regions are Colli Orientali, Collio and Brda, Isonzo, Grave, Aquileia, Karst, Vipava Valley, Istria, and Kvarner. There are also chapters on the many grape varieties and orange wines, which are very much a thing here. Wine is the focus here, but not just wine. Given the first part of the book, it is impossible to see wine without taking in elements of the broader context.
It is not a criticism to say that these chapters are so full of interesting images and ideas that it is possible to get lost. The images of chefs and their food made me hungry. Balke intends the book to be both a reference resource and a travel guide and I think he achieves his goal. I learned something new on each page.
What you won’t find here are detailed reviews of individual wines and profiles of specific wineries. That would require another book. This one is already bursting at the seams.