How to pronounce Salice Salentino

After spending the day yesterday in Los Angeles tasting wines for the restaurant Sotto, where I co-author the nearly all southern Italian wine list, I was reminded by how challenging it can be for English speakers to pronounce the wine name Salice Salentino.

While Salentino isn’t as challenging because the stressed syllable is the penultimate and thus the scansion that most Anglophones expect, Salice — SAH-lee-cheh — is often problematic for English-speakers because the stress lands on the first syllable.

So I wanted to share the video that I made a few years ago when visiting Paolo Cantele in Salento.

Salice Salentino is the name of an Italian wine appellation and it’s the name of a town as well: I’ve also been working on my research into the origins of the toponym Salice Salentino and will post my findings after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanks for being here and for speaking Italian wines!

Ca’ del Sole in LA: one of the best Italian wine lists in the U.S.

best italian restaurant toluca lakeAbove: Housemade spaghetti with fresh seafood from the Pacific Ocean at Ca’ del Sole in Universal City (Los Angeles). Can you imagine how insanely well a glass of Cantele Rosato from Negroamaro would pair with that? It’s served by the glass at this legendary “Hollywood” eatery (image via the Ca’ del Sole Facebook).

Ca’ del Sole means house of the sun in Italian.

There couldn’t be a better name for this shining Hollywood restaurant institution and one of the best Italian dining destinations on the west coast of the U.S., where you’re as likely to experience a celebrity sighting as you are to have a delicious and authentic plate of housemade pasta paired with a native Italian grape variety.

While Ca’ del Sole wine list does feature the “usual suspects” and heavy-hitters from California, its heart and soul is indigenous Italian grape varieties.

best italian wine list los angelesOne of the things we love so much about this list is that it also highlights “key grapes” for every Italian region.

This isn’t just a “wine list”: it’s an educational tool that teaches its users about Italian wine and offers them wonderful breadth in terms of wines that Italians actually drink and love.

We couldn’t be more proud that Ca’ del Sole currently pours our Rosato from Negroamaro by the glass and our Salice Salentino by the bottle.

It’s a fantastic wine list to be a part of and we highly recommend it to you.

Ca’ del Sole
4100 Cahuenga Blvd
Toluca Lake, CA 91602
(818) 985-4669
Google map

Tornado in Puglia fells centuries-old olive trees

Cantele grape grower and winemaker Gianni Cantele posted these photos this week on his Facebook after a tornado ravaged olive groves that lie between the townships of Sava and Fragagnano in Taranto province on Wednesday.

tornado puglia apulia“This is the umpteenth extreme weather event in Puglia,” he wrote. “A tornado between Sava and Fragagnano and hundreds of centuries-old olive trees ripped from the ground by the power of the wind.”

“I keep thinking about my [recently picked] strawberries and I say to myself, there’s something that’s not right on this planet.”

Zoom out on the map below to get a sense of where the damage took place.

olive trees tornado puglia apulia

An argument supporting the “black black” theory for the origin of Negroamaro’s name

negroamaro grapes pugliaAbove: Negroamaro grapes are used to produce Cantele’s Salice Salentino, its Rosato (Rosé) from Negroamaro, and its monovarietal Negroamaro.

I’ve posted here on the CanteleUSA blog a few times on different theories for the origin of Negroamaro’s name.

My training as a philologist and my discoveries of early mentions of Negroamaro have led me to agree with the authors of Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz) that the “black bitter” theory is the more probable etymology.

In a nut shell, I believe that the name — literally, negro or black, a synonym for red [grape], amaro or bitter — more likely owes its origin to the fact that the variety begins to appear at a time when many winemakers in Europe were shifting from sweet styles of wine to the drier style that we know today. The theory is supported by late-nineteenth-century mentions of the name side-by-side with negro dolce, literally sweet black.

But in true philological spirit, I wanted to share a note from my research that supports the competing theory, i.e., that the ampelonym comes from the Latin niger or black and the Greek mavros or black.

Proponents of this theory for the origins of the name point to the belief that “hybrid” names were common in antiquity. In the Koiné of ancient Mediterranean culture, they claim, things were often named twice, borrowing from the Greek and Latin terms for the same thing.

In my own research, I haven’t been able to identify examples of this. I did, however, stumble across an ancient linguistic phenomenon that does support the “black black” theory.

It’s called “hybrid tautology” by linguists. In other words, a repetition of the same word in two different languages (tautology is the “unnecessary repetition, usually in close proximity, of the same word, phrase, idea, argument, etc.”; Oxford English Dictionary).

And it’s commonly found in toponymy (i.e., the study of place names) in parts of Italy that were colonized by the Greeks in antiquity.

The township name Linguaglossa (Sicily) is an example of this where the Latin lingua and the Greek glossa both mean language or tongue.

Mongibello, one of the names for Etna (also in Sicily) is another example, where the Latin mons for mountain is combined with the Arabic gebel, which also means mountain.

Here’s the link to the page on the Treccani website where I found these examples. And there are others as well (in case you’re not familiar with the Treccani encyclopedias, they are akin to the Encyclopaedia Britannica in English).

The fact that Puglia was also a Greek colony lends weight to the theory that the grape name could be a hybrid tautology.

But I would counter that the name Negroamaro only begins to appear in the nineteenth century and we simply don’t have any examples of it before then. I still believe that its are much more recent and it would be a stretch to point to precedents in ancient toponymy that were formed during the classical age.

As I always point out when I write about the origins of grape names, philology is an inexact science and it rarely delivers definitive, black-and-white answers (excuse the pun).

The great thing about research like this is that opens up a window into the past and the great cultural treasure of Italy and the Italians.

Thanks for reading.

Jeremy Parzen
blog master

Martha Brooklyn: Cantele Negroamaro in da house

martha brooklyn best restaurantChef Andres Valbuena of Martha in Brooklyn “seems to like dramatic turns,” writes “Hungry City” columnist Migaya Lishan for the New York Times.

“A native of Caracas, Venezuela, he spent a decade working in fine-dining restaurants, including Mugaritz in Spain, the French Laundry and Gordon Ramsay at the London. His dishes at Martha are a genial kiss-off to that world, intentionally disheveled, favoring big flavors over polish and nuance.”

“Mr. Valbuena’s dishes have the noisy forthrightness of good garage rock: an unkempt crumble of ground duck, five-spice powder, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine over house-made egg noodles; broccoli rabe in Chinese black bean sauce escalated with Korean chiles and chips of fried garlic; snow peas flustered by horseradish and dangerously lolling Thai bird chiles. Among these, a plate of raw fluke tempered with yuzu and bejeweled with salmon roe comes off as an acoustic number, meditative and lovely.”

If ever there were a joint that dispelled the myth that red wine should never be served with fish, it would be Martha, named after the patron saint of cooks.

And that’s just one of the reasons we are proud that they currently serve Cantele Negroamaro by-the-glass at Martha.

The other reason is “intentionally disheveled.”

184 Dekalb Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Google map

Image via the Martha Brooklyn Facebook.

Augusto Cantele, Pugliese wine pioneer

augusto canteleAbove, from left: Domenico Cantele, Kym Milne, and Augusto Cantele in 1999.

The story of Cantele founder Giovanni Battista Cantele’s “reverse” post-war immigration has been told many times.

In an era when most southern Italians were heading north to find work in the factories of Milan and Turin, Giovanni Battista headed from Imola in Romagna to Lecce in Puglia. He had traveled there many times to broker the sale of grapes to be sent to the north. And while many of his contemporaries continued to operate in the north, traveling south as necessary, Giovanni Battista set up shop in Lecce where he worked directly with growers whose grapes were used to obtain darker color and higher alcohol levels in the cooler climate of the north, where — in a time before climate change — winemakers struggled to quench the thirst of Italy’s emerging middle class.

The story of Giovanni Battista’s son Augusto has also been told many times: when the family moved south, he stayed in the north. He was a teenager when he began his studies in enology and started to work in wineries in the Veneto where white grapes — not the red of his family’s adoptive Puglia — dominated the viticultural landscape.

Augusto would ultimately return to Puglia and although he was initially reluctant to embrace his parents’ new homeland, he would become one of the region’s greatest advocates and a pioneer in Puglia’s long legacy as one of the great wine growing regions of the world.

In the 1990s, he invited two English-speaking “flying” winemakers, Australian Kym Milne (now a Master of Wine) and Warren Gibson to consult at Cantele.

kym milneAbove: flying winemakers Warren Gibson (left) and Kym Milne at Cantele, circa 1993.

Last year, I spoke with both Kym and Warren, who seemed thrilled to reminisce about their time with Augusto, whom they both adored.

It’s important to remember that, at the time, the wines of Puglia were still sold primarily in bulk in the north. While many Italians drank Pugliese wines on a regular basis at that time (and mostly from a bag-in-box), it’s more likely than not that they had no idea where the wine came from.

Augusto had a vision for the future of Pugliese wines: long before anyone could imagine the Italian wine renaissance that was about to unfold, he wanted to ship wine in bottle beyond Italy’s borders. And his first target market was the United Kingdom, where there was a great thirst for inexpensive but high-quality white wine.

It’s interesting to note that before the second world war, Bari and Lecce were second only to Alessandria (Piedmont) in their production of Italian wine and that Puglia produced both white and red wines.

After the war, however, red would come to dominate viticulture there as the north struggled to keep up with demand for white wines.

Augusto’s father surely had memories of Puglia’s past “white” glory. And that fact must have been present in Augusto’s mind when he studied white winemaking in the north as a youngster.

Echoing something you often hear people say about great winemakers like Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa, Warren talked to me about Augusto’s intimate knowledge of Puglia’s grape growing landscape. As a broker, his father knew and was courted by the region’s best growers. And Augusto was keenly aware of who grew what, how well, and how old the vines were, said Warren in our chat.

“He was just so passionate about Puglia and its grapes and wines,” said Kym. “And he didn’t want to make ‘Californian’ wine. He wanted to make Pugliese wine.”

Together the three worked with growers and helped to reshape vineyard management practices there.

Ripeness was an issue: growers tended to pick their white grapes too late, said Kym, and it only took a few vintages for them to achieve the acidity levels they need for the wines that Augusto envisioned.

They brought new French casks to the winery and began fermenting in barrique. They experimented with cultured yeasts.

Together, they created a new benchmark for the production of white wine in Puglia and their UK campaign, literally transformed the potential for Pugliese winemaking overnight.

“He was very quiet by nature and very thoughtful,” remembers Kym fondly. “He liked to have a good laugh and he was incredibly generous. He never let me pay for a meal. He was a very ‘positive sort’ of character.”

“He had a sympathetic relationship with the growers,” said Warren, “and he had a great understanding of the region and the grape varieties.”

It was an exciting time when “many of the grapes were still bush-trained. Many of the growers didn’t consider old vine material as precious but Augusto helped to change that.”

Lorraine LehenyAbove: Warren Gibson (left) visited the Cantele winery last year. That’s Gianni Cantele, Augusto’s son (center), and Warren’s wife Lorraine Leheny, also a winemaker.

Warren and Kym still stay in close touch with the Cantele family and both of them told me that their time with Augusto was one of the greatest experiences in their careers as winemakers.

(Kym told me that he remembers the very young Paolo and his fondness for air guitar, a first indication of Paolo’s passion for hard rock.)

Little did they know that their work together would become the new model for Pugliese winemaking as we know it today.

Sadly, Augusto prematurely left this world for a better one. But I can tell you from personal experience, that winemakers and grape growers from Puglia to Campania remember him as one of the greats of his generation, a man who reshaped the region’s destiny as a producer of fine wines.

His legacy lives on through his children and his brother Domenico’s children. In an Italian wine world where the impact of corporate culture has come to dominate taste, theirs is still a true family affair.

Jeremy Parzen