Monica Larner (Robert Parker): 90 points for 2013 Salice Salentino

linea_canteleCantele 2013 Salice Salentino
90 points

The Cantele 2013 Salice Salentino Riserva shows a greater level of depth and finesse compared to many of its peers. The wine is packed tight with blackberry fruit, with Maraschino cherry, plum and prune in abundance. The wine is chewy and rich for sure, but it also provides an authentic and generous portrait of a red wine from Puglia. A spicy beef or lamb dish would make the perfect pairing partner.

Cantele is another exciting winery that represents the energy and the innovation that comes with a new generation. The Cantele family, including siblings Gianni, Paolo, Umberto and Luisa, are symbols of the Salento new wave. They show careful attention to the Negroamaro grape (they even make a Metodo Classico sparkling wine with the variety that is very interesting) and experiment with Verdeca, Fiano, Primitivo and international varieties such as Chardonnay. I had the opportunity to visit the estate this year and learned of the many growth possibilities they hold for the future. For example, they own an abandoned Masseria (rural farmstead) that would make a fantastic visitor’s center or boutique hotel. I know that the next time I come to visit they will have new ideas to pursue. Cantele is a winery that emits a feeling of constant movement and forward-momentum.

Monica Larner
Robert Parker Wine Advocate
August 2016

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 Leheny

Above: 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

Horsing around at the winery

gianni cantele

We just had to share this photo of winemaker Gianni Cantele, horsing around at the winery.

As he noted today on his Facebook, it’s time to wind down and to relax.

This is the only time of year when grape growers and winemakers get to relax: the wine is in the cellar and the vineyards are quiet. They can enjoy some “down time” until the early new year when the vegetative cycle of the vines will commence once again.

Enjoy your vacation, Gianni! And thanks for all the great wines!

Technicolor coda to a story that begins in black and white

The Cantele story begins in black-and-white, like a Neorealist film. WWII was at its peak and Italians listened in secret to American radio. They couldn’t make out the song lyrics but they could understand the words love and hope.

When the fighting was done, Giovanni Cantele set out from his home in war-torn northeastern Italy in search of a better life. He landed in the city of Imola (in the region of Romagna, north-central Italy) where he found steady work in the wine trade and where he would meet the love of his life, Teresa Manara.

She would later accompany him on one of his trips to the Salento peninsula, the heel of Italy’s boot, his source for wines to sell in the north, where the wine industry struggled to meet the new demand for rich, deep-colored wines. She was so taken with the stark beauty of Salento and its masterworks of baroque architecture that she convinced Giovanni to relocate the family there.

And so, as many southern Italians headed north to find work in the factories of Milan and Turin, the Cantele family made its way south and settled down in Lecce.

It was there that Giovanni and Teresa’s sons — Augusto and Domenico — would first begin to bottle their own wine and later buy vineyards and build a winery. By that time, Augusto had returned to the family after studying winemaking in the north, where he developed his immense passion for white wines. Cantele’s ground-breaking, cask-fermented Chardonnay “Teresa Manara” is named for his mother and her legacy as one of the great matriarchs of Italian wine.

Today, the Cantele cousins, Luisa and Umberto (Domenico’s children) and Gianni and Paolo (Augusto’s sons), make wine in their state-of-the-art winery in Guagnano, completed in 2003.

A Technicolor coda to a story that began when the world was still black and white.

Above, from left: Gianni, Paolo, Luisa, Domenico, and Umberto Cantele.

Harvest in Puglia has begun! A note from winemaker Gianni Cantele

best chardonnay italy

Above: Chardonnay, ready to be picked, from Cantele’s top vineyard, destined to become the winery’s flagship white, Teresa Manara Chardonnay, dedicated to winemaker Gianni’s grandmother.

The first day of the 2013 harvest has been entered into the logs without any problems.

The elves who work the crushers and presses (which haven’t been fired up for a year now) didn’t play any of their usual pranks and it’s all running smoothly.

Yesterday’s work in the cellar was the classic general trial run: it helps the winemaker to peel off that inevitable patina of rust and to find the right pace and rhythm that can be taught by the harvest. You love it, you hate it, and then you love it once again.

Today we have begun working in earnest.

When I got up this morning, I thought of my grandmother, Teresa Manara, and of my many memories of her. They make me return to childhood.

And I thought of my father Augusto, who taught me everything I know. He has entrusted me with the task of continuing to create the wine dedicated to his beloved mother Teresa Manara.

Gianni Cantele