Swirls: A wine guide takes a leap and does away with scores and ratings

I’m just catching up with a newly released guide to Italian wines called “Slow Wine 2012: A Year in the Life of Italy’s Vineyards and Wines,” which marks the debut of an English-language edition of this reference. The guide, which covers 3,000 wines produced by 400 cellars, is notable for a number of reasons. Not only does it describe the people, vineyards and wines involved with each property, it also lists the use of fertilizers, plant protection and weed control practices, yeasts Slow Wine (native or selected), grape sources (estate or purchased) and whether a winery has organic or biodynamic certification.

Beyond this important information, the “Slow Wine” guide is notable for how it rates wines, which, with this edition, has fundamentally changed. “We have abandoned the very easy-to-understand, but ultimately trivializing, method of awarding points and sought to look beyond the glass,” the editors announce in the introduction. Obviously, they say, the wines reviewed are of excellent quality “but for us it is equally important to describe the vineyard and vinification methods used to create these top-flight products.

“And so,” they say, “we have opted for a new mode of communication – telling the story of the wine.” While this may not be revolutionary, it is refreshing not to see scores or stars or what have you alongside the wines listed. The concise, half-page narratives about each property are generally well-written and translated. Without ratings or scores, there won’t be much appeal here for those importers,wholesalers, retailers and consumers for whom a number is what matters most. But it’s good for those of us who appreciate the narrative of a wine and getting to know how and by whom it is made.

“What matters is wine’s soul,” the editors write. “That is why we have adopted new assessment criteria including respect for the environment, the countryside and territorial identify, relatively complicated issues that have demanded, and continue to demand, a quality leap from wine lovers, critics and producers.”

“Slow Wine” deserves a good deal of credit for elevating the wine conversation. Published by Slow Food Editore, $25.