Beautiful Bramito

When, in the 1970s and '80s, Angelo Gaja in Piedmont and Piero Antinori in Tuscany were blazing new trails for the Italian wine industry, it was all about red wine, about transforming the reality and, just as importantly, the image of the wine from crude peasant plonk into wines of world-beating quality.

The sea change that they wrought was, at first, limited to red wine—many of which we recognize now as such treasures as Barolos and "Super Tuscans"—Italian whites remained what they had long been, poor cousins of the reds, thin and acidic lemon water. Eventually, though, some producers realized a similar move from quantity to quality that had resulted in such impressive financial rewards with vino rosso might also be possible with vino bianco, so a similar transformation began. Not surprisingly, an early pioneer of this move was the same Marchese Piero Antinori who had led the red revolution.

His most successful effort, and perhaps the most successful Italian white wine of all time, is his Cevaro della Sala from the magnificent Castello della Sala in Umbria. It is not, however, a wine to my particular taste, as it is a chardonnay given too much to the over-oaked, creamy style of California or Australia. Moreover, its phenomenal success has lead to a serious increase in price.

Less Expensive Sibling

Thankfully, though, the Antinoris subsequently released a second chardonnay from the estate, the Bramito del Cervo 2008 ($19), one that is fresher and more lively, and that, most importantly in these difficult times, costs one-third to one-half the price of its esteemed sibling.

The Bramito is just packed with the flavors of summer—think apricots and peaches—and rounded out by a toasty minerality with just a hint of vanilla. The latter comes from the judicious use of oak, thanks to the second- and third-fill bariques in which it is aged—unlike the new ones used for Cevaro. This adds the right amount of weight and body to the wine without overwhelming the wonderful, expressive fruit.

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When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary
Food Pairing: Fish, chicken, cold meats
Grapes: 100% chardonnay
Appellation: Umbria
Region: Umbria
Country: Italy
Price: $19
Availability: Moderate
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