Why Chardonnay from Puglia? The answer lies in a church…

cantele chardonnayAbove: Estate-grown Chardonnay that is used to make Cantele’s line of Chardonnay wines.

When people first become familiar with the wines of the Cantele family, they are often surprised to discover that the winery produces a Chardonnay.

Primitivo? Of course! The great red workhorse of Pugliese wine.

Negroamaro? It goes without saying! Negroamaro is the quintessential red grape of the Salento peninsula and it produces one of the greatest wines of Italy.

Historically, Puglia has been known for its production of red grapes. And there was a time (and not so long ago that people don’t remember) when red wine was shipped from Puglia up to Northern Italy and even as far away as France. It was often blended into red wines that needed higher alcohol levels or more color.

Indeed, Puglia was a powerhouse in commercial wine production throughout the modern era.

If you drank a red wine in a Paris restaurant at the height of the phylloxera crisis during the mid-nineteenth century, it’s not unlikely that you drank a wine grown in Puglia.

best italian chardonnayAbove: When you visit the historical center of Lecce, you are literally surrounded by Salento limestone.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s when Augusto Cantele began experimenting with new approaches to grape harvest that Chardonnay became a commercially viable grape variety in Puglia and he is widely recognized as the Chardonnay pioneer of the Salento peninsula.

He believed — and his vision for white wine in Puglia has become a reality — that the limestone subsoils of Puglia’s Salento Peninsula were ideal for the cultivation of Chardonnay.

Indeed, the entire Salento peninsula lies on limestone.

That same limestone is what gives the city of Lecce it’s golden baroque architecture.

It’s also what has made Puglia one of the world’s greatest olive oil producers since antiquity.

“Plus, it looks beautiful on the summer table. A rare jewel of a rosé.”

“This is a terrific food wine, perhaps the most food-friendly rosé I’ve tasted in a year,” writes top U.S. wine blogger Meg Houston Maker.

“It has enough heft to stand up to grilled foods but enough freshness to pair with salads, cold seafood, and young cheeses. Plus, it looks beautiful on the summer table. A rare jewel of a rosé.”

We’re always thrilled to see Cantele wines in the media. But it was a special treat for us to read her impressions: she’s a U.S. leading wine educator and blogger and her writing (including her contributions to Palate Press) stand apart in our view as some of the best and most informed wine writing in America today (her background is in creative writing).

You can call her a “wine writer.” But we call her a damn good writer who just happens to write about wine…

Click here for her post.

Cyril Ray: “Puglia, where wine is as natural and as necessary as bread”

I just had to share this nugget, discovered recently while leafing through an autographed copy of the great twentieth-century British wine writer Cyril Ray’s 1979 book Ray on Wine (which I picked up in a rare book store on a trip to San Francisco earlier this year).

Ray had worked in Puglia as a correspondent during the Second World War and he cites that time of his life as a formative experience in his knowledge of wine and winemaking.

Remembering his time with the British campaign in the “heel of Italy,” he wrote, “we picked grapes from roadside vineyards to quench our thirst as the Eighth Army clanked and rumbled its way northwards in a cloud of dust… It was still a country where wine was a part of life and where men grew wine as a matter of course…”

“It is salutary for an Englishman to live for a while in a wine-growing country, even — or perhaps particularly — a wine-growing country as simple as Apulia, where wine is neither a symbol by which snobs can demonstrate their wealth or their taste, nor a means of fuddlement, but as natural and as necessary as bread.”

cyril ray writer britainImage via Wikipedia.

Primitivo, the meaning of the name

Perhaps more than any other grape variety, Primitivo has been intensely scrutinized by wine historians and geneticists.

See, for example, the Wiki entry for Primitivo/Zinfandel, where the editors give an excellent overview of the tide of scholarship that has been devoted to the grape, including Charles Sullivan’s excellent monograph Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine, published in 2003 by University of California Press.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the intense attention that has been devoted to Primitivo is owed to the immense popularity and commercial success of Zinfandel in the U.S.

When University of California Davis researchers first ascertained that Zinfandel and Primitivo were identical in the early 1970s, the news set off a debate — with substantial commercial stakes — on who planted the grape first, the Californians or the Pugliesi.

The answer to that conundrum was sorted out by Sullivan in his book: the earliest appearances of the grape occur around the same time on both sides of the Atlantic and the true origins of the grape lead to Croatia, where it first became popular in the late 18th century and is known today as Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag.

While no one knows why the grape is called Zinfandel in the U.S., most believe that the name Primitivo is owed to the fact that it is an early ripening variety.

We know for certain that the Latin primitivus could be used to denote an early-ripening plant. In De Re Rustica by first-century agronomist Columella, for example, primitivus appears widely in this sense.

The earliest printed mention of Primitivo (the enonym or grape name) that I have been able to find dates back to 1843 and by the end of the nineteenth century, the grape name appears in numerous works of ampelography.

At that time, the word primitivo in Italian was commonly understood to mean original, as in the original state of something, although the Latin meaning was not lost on Italian ampelographers, who were, for the most part, highly accomplished Latinists.

So why would someone call this grape, which probably arrived from the upper Adriatic basin, Primitivo?

We’ll probably never know the definitive answer. Our fervent interest in the origins of European grape names is a very recent phenomenon and early ampelographers — from the Renaissance to modern era — were simply uninterested in oenophilology.

I believe there are number of reasons why the name became popular among Pugliese grape growers and wine brokers at that time.

Today, in a world thirsty for fine wine, growers try to let their grapes ripen to perfection. In the nineteenth century, when wine was valued more for its nutritional value and for the fact that it was potable substance in an era when drinking water was harder to come by, growers sought to achieve the greatest yield possible. They wanted to make as much wine as possible with those grapes. So, an early ripening variety was valuable inasmuch as it was ready to harvest earlier in the growing season, thus reducing the risk of damage by late summer or early autumn rainfall.

At the time, most Pugliese wine was sold in bulk to northern markets, where cooler temperatures made it difficult to obtain the desired alcohol content and color. Keep in mind: in an era before climate change and before the advent of temperature-controlled winemaking and cultured yeast, a Barbera grower faced immense challenges in achieving 13% alcohol in his wines. Today, growers have no such problems, in part thanks to a warming trend and in part thanks to contemporary technology. So, the name Primitivus must have been appealing to growers because it was a sort of advertisement that could help brokers to sell it in the north (that 1843 mention, by the way, was in a Lloyd’s shipping manifest for a shipment bound for Vienna).

In other words, the name itself evoked the grape’s reliability as an early ripening variety that produce high alcohol (which it readily does) and dark color (thanks to its thick skin).

One final note on the origin of the name: for some reason, many would-be ampelographers erroneously write that it comes from primitivus or primativus.

Primativus (with an a) does not exist in Latin.

Primativo (with an a) is a modern corruption of primitivo and while it is sometimes used to denote the variety, it’s a recent linguistic occurrence and has no relation to the word’s etymon.

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy Parzen
CanteleUSA blogmaster

Cantele, the toast of London!

Cantele’s biggest market is without question Italy, where the wines are widely available in restaurants and wine shops across the country, from Milan to Naples and beyond.

America comes next: You’ll find our wines in top markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York but you’ll also find Cantele wines in places like Indiana and Texas, and not just in those states’ major markets.

But that doesn’t mean that our wines don’t enjoy a robust following elsewhere. Germany and Japan are great markets for our wines, of course, but London, one of the greatest wine destinations of all time, is yet another favorite city of ours.

We couldn’t have been more thrilled to see this post (and the photo above) by the chic and wildly popular Indian restaurant Jamavar in Mayfair, London’s “coolest neighborhood” as it has been called recently.

London, we love you! And thank you Jamavar for making our wines part of your excellent wine list!

8 Mount St.
Mayfair, London
+44 20 7499 1800

It’s summertime and that means it’s time for ROSATO from Negroamaro

best rose italy


GRAPE VARIETY: 100% Negroamaro.


TRAINING: Spur-pruned cordon-trained (5,000 plants per hectare).

HARVEST: Second half of September.

VINIFICATION: The grapes are macerated for 12-24 hours in order to extract the correct color from the skins and the classic aromatic notes of Negroamaro. The free-run must is fermented at 14-15° C. in stainless-steel vats where it remains until alcoholic fermentation is completed.

AGING: The wine is then aged in stainless-steel until bottling.

AGING POTENTIAL: Drink upon release or cellar for 1-2 years.

COLOR: Soft pink-rosé.

NOSE: Essence of geranium and rose combined with strawberry and cherry. Sweet and nuanced on the nose, with noteworthy tenacity.

PALATE: The wine’s impressive alcohol is balanced by its delicate flavors and light, bright freshness, elegance, and persistence.

PAIRING: Excellent with cheese soufflé, vegetable torts, and intensely flavored seafood and soups. Eggs, poached or scrambled, are also a favorite pairing.


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