“South of Somewhere: Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy,” by Robert V. Camuto, is an important addition to the University of Nebraska’s “At Table” series, which explores food preparation, history, culture and community. Camuto, an American journalist who has lived in Italy with his family for the last twenty years, takes us on a wine-tasting journey through southern Italy and introduces us to a world of fascinating people and stunning landscapes. You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy the descriptions of the vineyards or fall in love with the winemakers he drinks and eats with in order to gain appreciation of Italian culture. Camuto writes that the south is always south of somewhere else, and that southern Italians are poor but indomitable, seeming “to have little choice but to improve what their piece of earth had given them.” The winemakers in “South of Somewhere” embody this spirit of striving for the best under difficult conditions.
Each of the eight Italian regions that Camuto visits is a world of its own, with dialects, traditions, foods and grape varieties unique to their area. Camuto does justice to those worlds by learning about them, and when he writes about what he sees and tastes, his passion resonates. Camuto has a personal link to southern Italy in the coastal town Vico Equense, his family’s place of origin. Taken there by his maternal grandmother as a boy to meet his Italian relatives, at the end of “South of Somewhere,” Camuto returns to Vico fifty years after his first visit, and is welcomed by a cousin Vittorio, who invites him to his modest apartment for linguine with clams. Camuto sums up this experience by writing that he’ll never forget the food and wine that he and Vittorio shared; “I have learned that when we drink wine, about half of what we taste is the wine, and the rest of what we sense is what we feel when drinking it.” The range of Camuto’s grape and wine knowledge, along with his love of Italy, make “South of Somewhere” a worthy work about southern Italian wines, food and soul.
“South of Somewhere: Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy”
By Robert V. Camuto
University of Nebraska Press, 280 pages