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Matt Kramer's Voyage to Eleganza

Wine Spectator's contributing editor finds wines of restraint in an unexpected place: Italy
Photo by: Deepix Studio
Matt Kramer weighs in on the merits of elegance in a tasting of wines from Sicily, Tuscany and Piedmont.

Ben O'Donnell
Posted: October 25, 2017

“If you think about it, we rarely hear the word ‘elegant’ applied to Italian wines," said contributing editor Matt Kramer. "If someone said, ‘Oh, I had a French wine last night, and it was really elegant,’ you’d say, ‘Of course!’” But of an Italian wine, “You’d expect to hear that it was really ‘original’ or ‘different’ or ‘strong.’ But oddly the word ‘elegant’ doesn’t get applied to Italian wines as much as it should.” So in keeping with his reputation as Wine Spectator’s longtime resident contrarian, Kramer came to the 2017 New York Wine Experience to prove that Italy could indeed produce “eleganza.”

First things first, Kramer set a definition for his standards of elegance: “Whether it’s clothes, whether it’s someone dancing, or whether it’s an automobile … they always have one common denominator: Anything of elegance must have restraint.” To illustrate that, he chose three Italian wines, from Sicily in the south to the foothills of the Alps in Alto Piemonte.

Acknowledging that Sicily’s “Mt. Etna has become a very fashionable area” for wine lovers, Kramer sought something extra-special: Graci Etna Barbabecchi 2013, an expression of pure Nerello Mascalese from a winemaker he’d visited this spring, Alberto Graci. Barbabecchi—which nurtures century-plus-old ungrafted vines—is “the highest-elevation vineyard in all of Mt. Etna,” 3,200 feet at its lowest altitude and, at 4 acres, “the size of Romanée-Conti,” said Kramer. This wine of delicacy and finesse, he added, “could legitimately be described as Burgundian.” Given the island’s hot, dry climate, a "Burgundian" wine is something “no one, even 20 years ago, 10 years ago, could have imagined a place like Sicily being capable of creating."

Next, Kramer introduced Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino 2011. Noting the wine-lover crowd likely knew the region well, he let the wine speak for itself as “what I consider to be one of the finest Brunellos that I know,” with the classically limpid ruby hue and dusty aromas of pure, lightly aged Sangiovese.

Finally, Kramer took the audience north, to Piedmont's Alpine foothill region of Ghemme, to a single-vineyard cuvée of Nebbiolo. He likened the Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo Ghemme Collis Breclemae 2010—deeper, darker and more powerful than its flight-mates—to “a Ferrari V12." Noting that these wines could drive in the cellar for decades, Kramer added, "it’s only in second gear at the moment."

Kramer concluded by sharing a tip with the crowd: For now, Italy’s oft-undiscovered wines of eleganza, like the ones he shared, can be found at equally restrained prices.

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