Thursday, June 24, 2021

By the Bottle: Robert Camuto

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

Robert Camuto is an American wine writer based in Italy. I first met him in Dallas, where he was promoting his brilliant book about Sicily, Palmento.

Author of forthcoming South of Somewhere: Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy (October 2021) At Table University of Nebraska, and Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey (2010).

Writer of twice monthly on line column Robert Camuto Meets… @


What wines do you have standing up right now?

A lot of Chianti Classicos. This spring after all those months in lockdown in Italy (including a bout with Christmas Covid), the first place I headed to was Tuscany for the comfort of good old Sangiovese.

I am on a Sangiovese tear right now. It’s possibly the most emblematic Italian grape. I love the different expressions from all the different parts of Chianti Classico—austere, mineral and vertical in Radda to softer and sunnier around Castellina. Sangiovese cries out for hearty classic Italian foods and salumi. In C.C, you have the pure Sangioveses and the blends. It’s a world.


What’s the last great wine you drank?

Yesterday at lunch with a friend in Verona, we drank a bottle of Le Ragnaie 2015 Brunello di Montalcino. Long, smooth, earthy and elegant.


Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I first tried (speaking of Sangiovese) Montevertine’s mythic Le Pergola Torte. It was at the end of a central Italy summer dinner with a bunch of crazy winemakers. Sadly, I can’t remember what the wine tasted like. (One of those evenings!)


Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

With my wife and no more than four others a nighttime private spring dinner in the world’s most beautiful garden, the Giardino di Ninfa (in Lazio). A spring feast would include wild asparagus, castraure artichokes, lamb, and roasted branzino accompanied by old vintages of say, Capezzana Carmignano, Faro Palari, and a surprise Aglianico. Finished by Marco de Bartoli vintage Marsala.


What’s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

For the research on my new book, I discovered Plantamura in Gioia Del Colle, Puglia. This high altitude area was the birthplace of Italian Primitivo before it crept down to the lowlands of Manduria. They make a fresh elegant style, Mariangela is a tiny woman but a powerful hands-on winemaker. In the US they are imported only in North Carolina.


What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

Certainly Champagne. A good crowd-pleaser like Billecart-Salmon rosé.


What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

Sauternes from their birth year.


Who in wine — winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors — active today do you admire most?

I have so many heroes in the wine world—mostly Italian producers today who are working to bring their little known terroirs to the fore. I admire the young Generazione Vulture producers of Basilicata, the pioneers on Etna of the last 20 years (whom I’ve written lots about), and individuals like Marco Carpineti in Lazio. In northern Italy, I love the hardworking and ever-curious Elio Altare, who’s spending his “retirement” years working a few acres of impossible Cinque Terre vineyards in Liguria.


Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

Guilty no. But I love Montevetrano even though as a purist I should not: It’s a blend in Southern Italy’s Campania of Cabernet Sauvignon, Aglianico and Merlot.

Also—I do drink good Prosecco!


Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

Well my Dad was a very curious and pretty sophisticated drinker for his time—I think he went from drinking Lancers to Bordeaux top growths back in the 1970s. But in his older years his mind and tastes narrowed—and he only wanted to drink what he thought was the “best”  at the moment-- whether it was Ott rosé or Jordan Cabernet. It was too bad because I missed trying different things with him.


What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

In recent years, I’ve learned that wine doesn’t always fit the rules. For example take Sabino Loffredo of Pietracupa (featured in SoS) —he makes some of Southern Italy’s loveliest whites in impossible conditions. His cellar is a mess, he uses old, deafeningly loud rickety pumps and equipment and yet tasting the result you’d think it was made by a NewGen “soft” winemaker.


What moves you most in a wine?

Energy and complexity. Telling a story with the least amount of matter.


Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?

Southern wines with finesse that don’t taste like they came from the heat.


How do you organize your wines?

Organize? Hapharzardly. I lose bottles in the cellar to be found again one day.


What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

My one American wine (a gift) Matthiason 2010 Napa Valley White Wine—a Franco-Italian inspired blend of Sauvignon blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Tocai friulano.


What’s the best wine you’ve ever received as a gift?

Bertani 1959 Amarone.


How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

Well for decades with friends we put away a lot of bottles. Nowadays I’ve slowed down considerably. I love to find a bottle that is 12.5% alcohol.


You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

The Italian mythic wine writer and gastronome Luigi Veronelli, who shaped Italy’s quality movement we benefit from today.

Another myth in the wine world, man of the world André Tchelistcheff (who wouldn’t want him there?)

For a Sicilian representative Diego Planeta, another visionary in agriculture and wine.


What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

 Le Pergole Torte (I mean I drank it – see above-- but don’t remember a thing.)


What do you plan to drink next?

I am on my way through the Piedmont and heading to the south of France. While there I will surely drink Bandol red (not rosé) from Domaine Tempier or Chateaux Pradeaux.

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