Restaurant tales: why I love Cantele Salice Salentino by @DoBianchi

As curator of the Cantele English-language blog, I’ve been posting about Puglia, background on the grapes, wines, and appellations, accolades that appear in English-language media, and translations of posts from the estate’s Italian-language blog… and occasionally, I post my own thoughts, reflections, and observations about the wines. The following is one of the latter… Thanks for reading!

Among the many things that I do for work these days (blogger for hire, wine industry marketing consultant, journalist, etc.), I curate the wine list at one of the most popular Italianate restaurants in Los Angeles — Sotto, named best new restaurant in 2011 by Los Angeles Magazine and Esquire.

Since we opened the restaurant in March 2011, we have offered our guests the Cantele Rosato di Negroamaro and Salice Salentino by the glass (the Cantele Rosato is the number-one selling wine of all time at the restaurant and is chef Steve Samson’s favorite wine, btw). And recently, we also added the Cantele Chardonnay by the glass (btg) as well, making Cantele the only estate to have three btgs on our list (although, for the record, the Alois winery has occasionally had 3 btgs as well).

I’ve been in Los Angeles working at the restaurant yesterday and today and Cantele Salice Salentino is on my mind.

Last night, I waited on a very nice, middle-aged couple who had requested that I come to their table to talk wine. They were clearly well traveled, well fed folks, who like to dine out and who have had a lot of experience with Italian wines.

As per our policy of generously pouring tastings of btg selections, I offered samples of a number of red wines for the gentleman, who, to my surprise, didn’t care for any of them.

“They’re all great,” he said, noting that he’d never tasted a Pallagrello Nero or a Casavecchia from Campania before. Gaglioppo from Calabria, however interesting, was “not quite what I’m looking for,” he said.

I went back to the wine station and grabbed a bottle of Salice Salentino and proceeded to pour it for the nice man.

“Now, THAT’s the Italy I know,” he exclaimed delighted at my selection. “It has the earthiness that I love about Italian wines.”

He and his wife seemed to have a great time and they ended up ordering a bottle of the wine. They tipped generously and asked for my card before leaving.

In my view, as an Italian wine lover and a restaurant professional, the Cantele Salice Salentino represented an ideal wine. And this is not to say that my Casavecchia or Gaglioppo selections are not good either (they are perhaps a bit esoteric for some of my guests).

What I’m trying to say is that this sturdy, reliable, delicious wine is at once indicative of the historical appellation and aligned with the contemporary palate. It may not be the wine that the wine nerds ask for when they sit down at Sotto but it’s a wine I know that I can turn to for someone who has a historical knowledge of southern Italian wine and wants to taste something familiar.

I find the wine to be focused, clean, vibrant with acidity, varietally correct, and just downright delicious. And it can be applied in myriad ways, from the heirloom pork chop to the classic Pugliese pittule and ricotta with mosto cotto.

We’ve overhauled the wine list twice since opening the restaurant, changing things up and replacing even some of my favorites just for the sake of variety. But the Cantele wines remain a standby btg.

And I love them for the wine and I love them for their exceedingly affordable quality and what they represent…

Thank you, Cantele family.

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