Cantele (pronounced Cántele with the emphasis on the first vowel) has cut a rather different path to most in Puglia. Yes, it is a pretty big operation producing two million bottles a year, with a range of traditional and modern wines. They project a very modern image on their website and literature being as keen to set a mood as to recount their history since 1950. The new building dating from 2000 is flat and low with much of the winery underground, which is quite unusual in Puglia despite the obvious advantage of stable temperatures. The art work is minimalist and stylish. I don’t know if the young vineyard in the picture is theirs or not – it is short distance from the winery – but it does symbolise new beginnings in a quite conservative area.
We are given an extensive tour by Umberto Cantele who recounts the history of the family and particularly the way in which they benefitted and then got stung (my words) by the UK supermarket trade. We discuss the UK market at some length and they have now diversified their trade. They are also very unusual in the range of white wines they produce which, unusually for Puglia in general, amounts to 40% of their production. They have done this by making Chardonnay in two style and by using Fiano for their Southern Italian white.
The tasting is very generous indeed – Umberto’s explicit philosophy is not to worry about mass media which he thinks doesn’t work but to concentrate on in-depth meetings with those who are interested; they then become in effect their ambassadors. Equally they have worked on a book of cartoon-illustrated recipes to go with their wines, to share their passion for cooking and of course drinking. Puglia is not all postcards of Trulli, historic architecture and beaches, it’s a slice of contemporary life!
As it happens, the tasting we had more or less falls into pairs of wines:
|Chardonnay 2010, IGT Salento: fresh ripe apples and quite perfumed on the nose, very ripe exotic palate of medium intensity, fresh and complete. Having tasted quite a lot of blousy Chardonnays in Italy, and often in cooler climates than Puglia, this is a commendable effort at a quality everyday wine. The 2009 vintage (in fact of both Chardonnays) received ‘one glass’ within Gambero Rosso’s three glass classification of excellence and I think that is right.||Teresa Manara Chardonnay 2009, named to honour the mother of the current generation of Cantele. The grapes for this wine are harvested about a fortnight later than the unoaked Chardonnay for extra ripeness. They begin fermentation in temperature controlled vats for freshness and the wine is moved into barriques, one third of which are new each year, for the second part of fermentation. The colour is an attractive mid straw yellow with gold tints, followed by quite a powerful nose of vanilla and then ripe apple and peach notes. Real length on the palate. Quite fine and definitely balanced despite its 13.5% of alcohol.|
|Alticelli, Fiano, IGT Salento 2010: with this line Cantele are growing a pair of Campanian grapes successfully in the Alticelli zone of the Salento: Fiano for whites and Aglianico for reds. The nose is markedly floral, while the palate has a good mineral edge to it. Rounded and textured on the palate with a good cleansing finish and a salty touch, this is an elegant wine of some quality.||
Alticelli, Aglianico, Puglia IGT 2008: this grape is native to Campania and possibly to the northern part of Puglia adjacent to it. Here further south it produces a lighter, less tannic wine. It is medium in weight and very food friendly with excellent fully ripe fruit and zingy tannins – it does remind me of the young fruit-led style of Aglianico of some Campanian growers. The wine has been rounded off for eight months in barriques. This is only the second vintage and Umberto rightly sees it as very promising.
|Negroamaro Rosato IGT Salento 2010, it’s Puglia, so of course there is rosé made from the Negroamaro grape. 12-18 hours of skin contact produces a pretty vivid boiled sweet colour and a wine of some substance. As always, it is right to remember that these rosés are made to accompany food and that the food can be quite robust. A nose of roses and strawberry fruit, nice herbaceous tones on the palate and completely dry. Il vino è cibo says Umberto: wine is food.|
|Primitivo, IGT Salento, 2008, 100% Primitivo, from grapes grown on bush vines, less than a week of maceration and then matured in barriques for six months. The wine is characterised by bright fruit (plums, black cherries) and is highly drinkable, with good depth of flavour. It is released on to the market two years after the harvest.||Teresa Manara, Negroamaro, IGT Salento, 2008, no Malvasia Nera here so this is 100% varietal expression of Negroamaro. It is given 14 months in barriques in their second and third year of use. Bottled seven months ago, we agree that this is a bambino – a wine with a very expressive fruit led aroma which is already drinkable, a very good depth of flavour, pretty fine tannins and good persistence. Very good quality fruit and wine making.|
Amativo IGT Salento 2008, the name and this top wine being a blend of Primitivo (60% of the wine) and Negroamaro (40%). The maturing wine has 12 months in barriques, 20% of which are new. Although the two Salento red varieties are not blended together traditionally, si sposa bene, they go together well. The real quality here is in the combination of freshness and depth of flavour. The wine is a suitable climax to our tasting and our visit to the innovative Cantele.
Many thanks to Umberto for a splendid visit. I love the attitude which creates stylish contemporary wines from the riches of Puglian viticulture. The wines are available in the UK from Armit.
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