Children of a lesser Brett: Gianni Cantele responds to Carlo Macchi

best negroamaro harvest 2014Above: Negroamaro grapes being harvested in Puglia.

In a post published earlier this week entitled “Negroamaro, a king often with no clothes,” Tuscan wine critic Carlo Macchi recounts his experience at a recent tasting of Negroamaro-based wines and quotes his colleague Paolo Costantini:

“The interpretations of Negroamaro-based wines… do not follow any guiding tenet. The hand of the producer undeniably counts more than the appellation or the grape variety. Absurdly, the best expressions of the appellation are the most technical, impeccably and perfectly dressed wines. But they are also distant and a bit cold. Handsome wines with little heart and little Salento. And many of them are glazed over with wood. The so-called ‘modern’ style.”

Macchi laments that the majority of wines he tasted were overly dense and that they lacked freshness. Heavy-handed use of new oak aging, high levels of alcohol and residual sugar, he writes, trump food-friendliness in many cases.

“Dear producers,” he exhorts, “the years when Cosimo Taurino took the American market to the cleaners are over. Today, we need wines that you can drink. Aromatic, elegant, delicious wines that taste like the south and not like wood.”

Winemaker Gianni Cantele’s response, posted in the comment thread to the post, follows.

Translations from the Italian by blogmaster Jeremy Parzen.


Dear Carlo,

After reading your article, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you and your readers.

Without a doubt, Negroamaro is the most surly and difficult grape variety that we have here in Salento.

It’s not very generous: it never gives you anything for free and what it does give you, first in the vineyards and then in the cellar, is the fruit of hard work and tireless effort.

That’s not to say that life is easier with other grape varieties. But, beyond the current vintage, a late August harvest, naturally, allows you to secure the desired results thirty days before the Negroamaro harvest.

I can guarantee you that you’ll hear growers curse a lot less when they harvest at the end of August.

Having said that, I find that the criticism you quote from Constantini is spot on. The lack of consistency in the enological interpretation of Negroamaro cannot be explained solely with the word terroir.

The same thing happened for the Salice Salentino DOC (where Negroamaro is the main grape) before the advent of the over-arching monitoring of the appellation. On one hand, winemakers loathe the regulation because of its complexity and bureaucracy. But on the other hand, it’s also helped to “guide” everyone toward a more ethical application of the appellation’s rules.

The IGTs allow producers to exercise “free thought.” When tastemakers reward only wine with the same homogenous traits, the lack of consistency in varietal expression is screwed.

All of us winemakers should take greater responsibility in this. We’re always ready to come together and talk about how we can achieve “greatness.” But when it comes to taking action, our altruism goes out the window.

The “syrupy style” criticism is also and even more spot on. It’s been spoon-fed to consumers who have all but given up on elegance and drinkability in the wines they like.

But this isn’t just Negroamaro’s problem. Many of the highly rated wines from Puglia suffer from this, some of them with more than 7-8 grams per liter of residual sugar.

Ok, so the appellations regulations tell us that in such cases, we need to… What a pain in the ass!

In any case, your article takes a narrow view in an extremely diverse and rich panorama of winemakers. And you seem to overlook the fact that some producers are committed to making the wines from our appellation better.

I’m one of those producers. For me, Negroamaro represents a challenge with each vintage. Every year, I must sharpen the winemaking tools in my shed (even though, technically, I’m a “food science technician” by training, the term winemaker fits my job description). And I do so passionately and with a deep and unremitting sense of critical self-awareness.

I’m my own harshest critic. When I read about “impeccably and perfectly dressed” wines made with technology that makes them overly polished, I am reminded of conversations that I had at least ten years ago with American and European wine writers who found my wines to be lacking in the “classic rustic character” of Negroamaro.

Even back then, I was already monitoring the presence of volatile phenolics in every bottle I had in the cellar. I was pissed off and I would have people taste the wines that had the highest amounts. But then I would see a smile return to the tasters’ faces.

You can’t accuse me of being a producer who aims for the praise of wine magazines and guides. If that were the case, you’d also have to accuse me of being an idiot since I haven’t received any of these wonderful accolades in recent years.

I reluctantly send my wines to tastings. And it’s annoying: I wish that they were conducted blind using bottles purchased on the market and not sent ad hoc. Dignity in tasting is another question…

Carlo, when you’re ready to talk about what Negroamaro is in Salento and about what a not-so-young producer, with non-indigenous origins but with deep-seated roots in this magnificent land, thinks about it, I’ll be happy to welcome you here.

Luckily, I don’t have many casks with unbridled phenolics. Hot water, steam, and maniacal attention during aging have allowed me to make wines that taste less of “wet wool” or “wet duck,” as your American colleagues like to say, and more of Negroamaro.

But I’m afraid that for you and a few other Italian commentators, our wines will always be the “children of a lesser Brett.”


Gianni Cantele

Cantele at Frantoio, one of California’s coolest restaurants

frantoio mill valley oil press oliveAbove: Frantoio means olive press in Italian. At Frantoio in Mill Valley (Marin County, California), not only do the owners bottle their own olive oil, but they actually have a working olive press in the restaurant (note the press at the top of the image; via the Frantoio Facebook). You can see a 360° image of the stunning dining room on Google here.

What a thrill for us to read this review of Frantoio in Mill Valley by Brooke Jackson in the Marin Independent Journal!

It’s always one of the greatest rewards to learn that a critic tasted one of Cantele’s wines and liked it.

But the fact that Frantoio is one of the coolest restaurants in the U.S. sweetens the deal.

There are people who go into the restaurant business to become famous. Some even go into the trade to make money. But then there are others who become restaurateurs because they love food and wine and they love the people who love food and wine.

From its superb menu and excellent Italian- and Californian-focused wine list to the working olive press on the floor of the restaurant and the chic décor, it’s clear that the team behind Frantoio belongs to the latter group.

We’re proud to share the news that Frantoio pours Cantele (currently the Amativo).

Frantoio Ristorante
152 Shoreline Hwy
Mill Valley, CA 94941
(415) 289-5777
Google map

90 points for Cantele’s new Primitivo Fanòi from Dr. Wine

cantele winery best pugliaAbove: The Cantele winery in Guagnano, Puglia.

Former Gambero Rosso editor Daniele Cernilli’s blog “Dr. Wine” has awarded 90 points to Cantele’s new Primitivo lable, Fanòi.

“The Cantele winery began as two love stories at the beginning of the past century,” writes Dr. Wine editor Iolanda Maggio.” The first was between Giovanni Battista Cantele and Teresa Manara and the second between her and faraway angle of Puglia. It was also the story of a ‘reverse’ migration, from north to south, to the warm and sunny, enchanting Baroque city of Lecce. But it was not until 1979 that Augusto, who was still an adolescent at the time, together with his father and his brother Domenico created the family wine estate. The beating heart of this story is now in the 50 hectares of privately owned vineyards (together with another 150 that are leased). The winery, which was inaugurated in 2003, is situated between Guagnano and Salice Slentino. Today the grandchildren of Giovanni Battista Cantele and Teresa Manara continue this family saga told through glasses of wine: Augusto’s children Gianni and Paolo, along with those of Domenico, Umberto and Luisa. They all seem to have the same gaze, gushing talent and a common dream called wine.”

Click here for the complete review.

Ray Isle features Cantele and iSensi in September issue of Food & Wine

food wine magazine pugliaGianni and Paolo Cantele and their iSensi cooking school are featured in a profile by Ray Isle for the September 2014 issue of Food & Wine.

“For decades,” writes Ray Isle, Food & Wine executive wine editor and one of the most popular writers in the U.S. today, “most Pugliese wine was sold in bulk to northern Italy.”

“‘I remember my grandfather working all day to send wine out of Puglia — these huge trucks taking wine up to make vermouth,” says Giuseppe Cupertino, sommelier for Due Camini at the Borgo Egnazia resort, one of the region’s top restaurants. ‘They’d come to my hometown in November, truck after truck after truck — even late at night. I’d see their lights driving away.'”

“Augusto Cantele was one of the first local winemakers to try to change that situation, and he worked for decades to raise people’s awareness of Puglia’s extraordinary potential. Now his sons, Paolo and Gianni, are running the Cantele Winery with the same ambition.”

Click here to read a complete version of the article.

Challenging vintage but healthy grapes nonetheless says Gianni

best negroamaro grapesHere’s what grape grower and winemaker Gianni Cantele wrote on his Facebook this week…

Objectively speaking, the 2014 harvest is not going to be an easy one.

With unusually abundant rainfall in our otherwise arid (?????) Salento, it’s reassuring to see our Negroamaro grapes in such great condition [above].

Now let’s just hope that the weather forecasters get it wrong…

Mom’s eggplant alla parmigiana for a tired winemaker after a day of harvest

puglia eggplant recipe lecce“Between my work in the vineyards and in the cellar, I live the harvest in the first person,” wrote grape grower and winemaker Gianni Cantele on his Facebook this evening after returning home from a backbreaking day of harvest.

“Every year it’s a new challenge that I make to myself. Sometimes it knocks you up against a wall and forces you to make rapid decisions that you can never take back. The exciting thing is that it’s different every year.”

“The only thing I know for certain is that my mother will always ‘parachute’ in just at the right moment with provisions: eggplant alla parmigiana. Thank you, mom!

“You’ll note that this is the ‘under-the-weather’ version of this dish: it’s not fried and it doesn’t include meatballs. But it has all the other ingredients used in the Salento version. It’s a sight to see!”

Waiting for the grapes…

Harvest always teems with emotion. Here’s what Paolo posted on the Cantele Facebook late last night:

Grape bunches in the shade of broad leaves. The sound of pruning shears at dawn. A good sound for trying something with your eyes closed: every time those blades close, moments drop to the ground together with the grape bunches. A heap of moments and sudden memories relived: vigils, persons, places. For some, the days of harvest are like a camera obscura where deeply personal images have been captured.

grape harvest italy 2014