A great place for “aperitivo” in Trastevere, Rome: Stavio

aperitivo italy food romeThere’s really nothing like in America, even though some would call it the equivalent of our “happy hour.” But, still, ours doesn’t come close to the Italian ritual known as aperitivo.

Literally, aperitivo means aperitif or before-dinner drink.

But in Italy today, aperitivo denotes a veritable smörgåsbord like the one in the photo above.

That’s Stavio, a beer and wine bar in Trastevere.

When Paolo hosted a group of American wine writers in Italy last month, we spent two nights in Rome, bookends of our trip.

On the first night, before we headed out to an excellent trattoria for classic Roman cooking, we stopped for aperitivo at Stavio. We had a great meal at dinner (more on that later) but the aperitivo would have been enough!

Generally, aperitivo is served without charge or for a nominal fee per person in the happy hour time slot.

No self-respecting wine bar or beer garden in Italy today wouldn’t offer its early-evening guests a nosh!

Via Antonio Pacinotti, 83
Roma, Italy
+39 06 9436 3146
Google map

Image by Alfonso Cevola.

Photos of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce

santa croce lecceWhen we visited Lecce last month with a group of U.S.-based wine writers and bloggers, one of the highlights of the trip — of course — was the celebrated Basilica di Santa Croce in the historical center of Lecce.

It’s one of the greatest works of baroque architecture in Italy and the centerpiece of Lecce, “the Florence of the south,” as some have called it.

As you can see in the photo above, the facade is being restored at the moment.

But that didn’t stop Alfonso Cevola, author of the excellent Italo-centric wine blog On the Wine Trail in Italy, from snapping these wonderful details below.

Read more about the church here.

baroque architecture italy

famous works art puglia

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Old vine Negroamaro “ad alberello” (bush-trained)

negroamaro old vineEarlier this month, we took a group of visiting wine writers and wine blogger to visit some of our best growing sites for Negroamaro in Salento not far from the winery.

Many of the Negroamaro vines that we use for our Salice Salentino, our Teresa Manara Negroamaro (which will be coming to the U.S. later this year), and our rosé are old and knotty like this one.

We could increase our yields if we were to grub these vines up and plant new and more productive vines.

But nothing can match the quality of old vines like this: The rich flavors and aromas and the acidity of their grapes are ideal for producing nuanced yet fresh wines with depth and complexity.

Most of our Negroamaro vineyards, like this one, are “bush-trained,” meaning that the canes of the vines are trellised but rather that they are allowed to grow like a tree. In fact, the Italian name for bush-trained vines is called ad alberello or “little tree” training system.

Because the vines are not uniform, they have to be harvested by hand and with great care.

Cantele uses a seasoned team of pickers who has been working with the winery for a number of years, explained Cantele’s vineyard manager Cataldo Ferrari who led the tour of the vineyards.

All of them are locals who know these vineyards intimately and thus know which bunches to pick first, which to pick later, and which to discard.

First kiss: Cantele Chardonnay 2015

best italian chardonnayOne of the most exciting sessions of our recent visit to the Cantele estate in Guagnano in Salento was our tasting of the new vintages of wines.

The 2015 harvest was a great one for the winery and our first kiss with the 2015 Chardonnay was fantastic.

Back in the 1990s, Cantele became the first Pugliese winery to grow and vinify Chardonnay. Until then no one believed it was possible to make world-class white wines in Salento. But thanks to a new approach to the cultivation of Chardonnay and advanced technology in the cellar, Cantele created one of the most popular expressions of this noble grape variety to come from Italy.

Here’s a preview of the new text and tasting that will appear on the winery’s new labels (to be launched with this vintage):

Salento forms the Southernmost part of Puglia and flanks the Adriatic and Ionian Seas for over 100 km. Cantele Chardonnay is a rich, mineral, full flavoured dry white combining soft apple and floral characters with a good balance between roundness and fresh acidity.

The Cantele Winery made history when it first began producing its award-winning Chardonnay on Puglia’s Salento peninsula, where the Mediterranean sea breeze and sun provide the ideal growing conditions for this crisp but supple white wine with notes of freshly cut flowers and Granny Smith apples.

Paolo Cantele featured by Grape Collective

christopher barnes wine writerIn late December, the popular U.S.-based online wine magazine Grape Collective and its editor-in-chief and founder Christopher Barnes (above, right) featured Paolo (above, left) and the Cantele winery in a series of posts devoted to the estate and to viticulture in Puglia in general.

It’s a wonderful interview and feature: For those not familiar with the history of winemaking and grape growing in Puglia, you might be surprised by what Paolo had to say.

Christopher’s a great interviewer and he really likes to get “to the bottom” of his subject matter.

The posts also include a link to British wine writer Monty Waldin’s excellent photos from a recent trip to the region.

Click here for the interview with Paolo (including a video and a transcription of their chat).

And click here for Christopher’s feature on Puglia and where it stands in the world of Italian and international wine today.

Really interesting stuff… Thank you, Christopher!

Bros, the Pellegrino brothers’ new restaurant in Lecce, one of the most highly anticipated openings of 2016

how to cook leeks italian styleEven though it opened shortly before the holidays, Bros by the Pellegrino brothers in Lecce (Puglia) is probably the most talked-about new entry in Michelin-style dining in Italy for 2016.

The three young Pugliese brothers have cooked and trained in some of the most famous kitchens in the world, with the likes of Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi), Renè Redzepi (Noma), Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz), Claude Bosi (Hibiscus), and Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillère).

That’s the “lacquered” leek topped with tapioca above (which was delicious).

how to cook fava beansIt’s clear that they are going for the super modern style of cooking. But at the same time, the aromas and flavors of the dishes we were served the other night at the restaurant were very pure and focused.

I don’t know how else to describe the dish above other than as dumplings or gnocchi made out of white fava beans. This dish was also a winner imho.

what is colaturaIt was pretty exciting to be there on a Friday night. The restaurant was packed and although I didn’t know all the players, it was pretty clear that Lecce’s glitterati was working the scene pretty hard.

That was my favorite dish above, housemade linguine with pistachio (cream?) and colatura, southern Italy’s famous anchovy essence. It was the simplest of all the food we were served but it was simply brilliant.

The Pellegrino brothers’ slogan is l’essenziale è visibile al gusto (the essential is visible on the palate). The may sound like an awkward or slavish translation but I actually think that it renders the idea and the play-on-words perfectly aptly (and I do know something about translating from the Italian, after all!).

do italians eat steakA lot of Americans are surprised to hear this but I’ve never eaten better beef than the beef I’ve eaten in Italy over the last few years. From hamburger to steak, it’s easier to find affordable high-quality beef there than anywhere I’ve traveled. I loved how the steak portion was just enough to satiate my palate.

Paolo (Cantele) and I were there that night with a group of American wine writers he was hosting. He talked about how this is Lecce’s first Michelin-style, high-concept restaurant. It definitely had a great vibe and people were super excited to be there.

It’s going to be exciting to watch them develop their concept and to enjoy these young and immensely talent brothers’ evolution as fine-dining auteurs.

If you happen to be heading to Lecce, you are definitely going to want to reserve there. I really enjoyed it, as did our group, and I highly recommend it to you.

Thanks again to Paolo for treating us! And thanks to Federica for swiping a menu and making a note of everything we ate!