My Round: Putting the boot in

Tuscany isn't all fish and chips, it's also Italy's most famous wine area - and it's not nearly as bad as people say
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If you're heading to Chiantishire this summer, consider giving space in your suitcase to a good pair of walking shoes and Rosemary George's delectable book called Treading Grapes: Walking Through the Vineyards of Tuscany (£15, Bantam Press). Tuscany is the most famous area of Italy (see the wines below for recommendations from two others), and one whose good name has been semi-comprehensively trashed by low standards in recent decades. But the times they are a changin', and George's book documents those changes in a lively way.

If you're heading to Chiantishire this summer, consider giving space in your suitcase to a good pair of walking shoes and Rosemary George's delectable book called Treading Grapes: Walking Through the Vineyards of Tuscany (£15, Bantam Press). Tuscany is the most famous area of Italy (see the wines below for recommendations from two others), and one whose good name has been semi-comprehensively trashed by low standards in recent decades. But the times they are a changin', and George's book documents those changes in a lively way.

Over 14 months or so, George and her husband (recently made redundant, she notes gratefully, by a City firm), made nine trips tramping from vineyard to vineyard visiting the producers. They had special access, because George writes about wine for a living and is a long-time visitor to Tuscany. Her earlier visits allow her to make important comparisons with her more recent visits.

And the area deserves a visit, because George has caught Tuscany at a particularly interesting point in its history. In the bad old days of sloppy standards and a compliant export market, a lot of producers got away with turning out what we wine professionals call disgraceful, disgusting crap. They just made it their own way, and if it didn't make you gag, that was a bonus. Which would have been fine, had not some of their wines acquired a worldwide reputation which shoddy standards betrayed. The name of Chianti is the principal victim. When most people think of Italian wine, they think of Chianti. And when was the last time you had a really good Chianti without paying a fortune for it?

Well, the producers have finally gotten wise to the idea that they can't rely on captive markets either at home or overseas, and some are trying to do things better. Those are the people that George has gone to see. She has walked her way around a minor revolution in Italian wine-making. It is a bloodless revolution. Indeed, evolution might be the better word: these producers want to preserve the best of their tradition - Sangiovese, their principal grape, and the unique and unmatchable characters it takes on in the Tuscan soils - but bring it up to international standards in every sense.

Two words appear on almost every page of this book: "sour cherries". That is the characteristic flavour of Sangiovese, in George's view - and in mine. They are sour, but they are also ripe, and with a tannic grip that calls out for the softening effects of food. This character is what makes these wines so good, and it has to be preserved if they're to maintain their tipicita, which George renders as "tipicity". I prefer to call it typicalness, just for the sake of plainness. But she and I agree completely about the virtues of the wines, and about the need to bring Italian winemaking up to modern standards while preserving what's good about them.

A few caveats are in order. One: this is a book for people who are seriously interested in Tuscan wines - though not necessarily very knowledgeable, because George will teach you what you need to know. Two: this is not a typical wine book in any sense, as it follows the structure of Mr and Mrs George's walks - but that's a refreshing departure from the norm. Three, and a serious lament: the book contains no maps, which would have made it much more useful in a practical sense.

If you're willing to live with these caveats, Treading Grapes deserves your 15 quid. It's a lively read for the stay-at-homes. And if you're going to Tuscany this summer, as I said already, you should follow in George's footsteps. Her loss of shoe leather is our gain.

Top Corks: Three other Italians

Allegrini La Grola 2000 £13.99, Waitrose This Veronese producer, one of Italy's greatest, uses foreign grape varieties (Syrah here) while remaining true to traditions. Unforgettable; magnificent.

Chardonnay Salento Piano del Sole 2002 £5.99, Oddbins Chardonnay to make you sit up and listen, with all sorts of intriguing tropical, stone fruit and nutty undertones.

Negroamaro del Salento 2003 £3.99, Marks & Spencer A hefty, beefy glugger with more tannic bite and character than you expect at the price. Home-grown grape variety, showing well.

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