Susumaniello, what a sususurprise! (and Georgia P’s photo shoot)

Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect from a 2010 IGT Tarantino Susumaniello (100%) by the Poderi Angelini winery in Manduria (west coast of Puglia).

The craze for indigenous varieties has inspired a number of producers to deliver monovarietal bottlings of grapes that were used strictly for blending in the past.

In the entry for Susumaniello in the landmark Vitigni d’Italia (Grape Varieties of Italy), last revised in 2006, the editors underline the fact that “the grape is never vinified on its own” and is used strictly to produce vino da taglio, i.e., blending wine (employed historically to beef up otherwise “thin” wines).

Unfortunately, some of the well intentioned efforts to champion such indigenous grapes has been misguided (Uva di Troia in purezza, anyone?).

But Angelini’s 2010 Susumaniello was delicious last night: bright and surprisingly light on the palate, with the acidity that we crave, high but balanced alcohol, and juicy, chewy red berry fruit. I loved it, as did the group of wine professionals with whom we tasted it.

Inspired by our tasting, I went into the stustustudio and dug out some footage of my good friend Paolo Cantele pronouncing the grape’s name for us. Phil Collins ain’t got nothing on this baby!

In other news…

Georgia P went to one of her first photo shoots (I am such a stage father!) yesterday with our good friends and AWESOME photographers the Nichols here in Austin yesterday (remember when they shot our wedding?). Here’s a preview… WE LOVE HER SO MUCH! :)

Onion porn from Apulia

If ever there were a food photo worthy of being called “porn” on my blog, it would surely be this one: this fava bean purée and toasted bread round pie topped with a delicately battered and fried red onion round and accompanied by a lightly roasted shishito pepper (for lunch at the Masseria Le Fabriche yesterday on the western coast of Apulia). Sexy and delicious…

A year in Southern Italian wine and the unknown etymology of Puglia

Above: The Salento peninsula is “big sky” country. I was thrilled to visit for the first time in February of this year. And I’m looking forward to going back in June. You don’t need to be a great photographer to capture beauty there. You just point and shoot.

My relation to Southern Italian wine stretches back to the late 1990s when I began working as a magazine editor in New York and you could often find me at the bar at the Enoteca I Trulli in Manhattan, chatting with Italian wine industry veteran and my good friend Charles Scicolone (who then ran one of the most popular wine programs in the U.S., with a focus on Southern Italy). I was thirty years old then and Charles became one of my Italian wine mentors.

This year, as it turns out, is my year in Southern Italian wine: I’ve authored an exclusively Southern Italian wine list for my friends at Sotto in Los Angeles, next month I’ll be leading seminars on Southern Italian wine at the Atlanta Food and Wine festival, and in June, I’m heading back to Apulia where I’ll be a member of the jury for the Radici Wines festival.

Above: I found this Renaissance-era map of Apulia on a somewhat scary but interesting website devoted to the Knights Templar.

Here on the blog, By the Tun asked me the other day about the origins of the toponym Apulia or Appulia, the name that the Romans used for this region (and the name that gives us the modern-day Puglia).

Many online sources report the erroneous and folkloric etymology a pluvia, which ostensibly means without or lacking rain. There are so many reasons why this etymon is improbable. I won’t bore you with the fine linguistic print but the thesis quickly falls apart when you note that a in this instance is used in a Greek context (a privative prefix, meaning without, as in apathy, without feeling) while pluvia (rain) is Latin. The other reason is that Apulia doesn’t lack rain. In fact, it is the unique combination of plentiful sunlight and precipitation that makes the Apulian peninsula ideal for farming (a fact not lost on the ancients, btw).

Others would have that Apulia and the ancient apuli (the ethnonym used for the region’s inhabitants) comes from ancient king Epulon (Aepulon or Apulo in Italian), an Illyrian ruler of Histria. But this etymology, as most serious scholars note, is equally unlikely.

According to my trusty UTET Dictionary of Toponymy, the name comes from the Greek Iapudes or Iapigi, a toponym or ethnonym that denoted a place or people on the other side of the Adriatic. The ethnonym Apuli appears before the toponym Apulia in ancient Latin and it’s likely that the name comes from pre-Roman settlers of the region.

The meaning of Iapudes is unknown… another beautiful mystery of this mysteriously beautiful place…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend!

Negroamaro: Italian grape name pronunciation project


This week is going to be “Apulia” (“Puglia”)* week here on the blog: after Tracie P and I traveled to the Veneto and to Friuli in February, I headed — for the first time — to Apulia where I spent a few days with my friend and client winemaker Paolo Cantele. That’s Paolo’s voice above, speaking the grape name Negroamaro.

When Paolo and I met for the first time nearly two years ago (when we first became friends), we had a long discussion on the etymology of the ampelonym Negroamaro, which Paolo and I believe means black black and not black bitter as subscribers to the grape name’s folkloric etymology often report. Here’s the post on Paolo’s thought and my treatment of the grape name’s etymon.

When I met with Paolo in February, it occurred to me that one of the most commonly mispronounced Italian appellation names is Salice Salentino: SAH-lee-cheh SAH-lehn-TEE-noh. I asked Paolo to pronounce it properly for my camera and hence was born the “Italian Appellation Pronunciation Project.” Note that Salice is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable of the word. (BTW, I’ve composed an overview of the origins of the toponym Salice Salentino here, for Paolo’s blog.)

Even though I’ve studied the grapes and wines of Apulia (and I even worked for 3 years as the media director for an Apulian restaurant in NYC, I Trulli), I’d never traveled to the region until recently. The thing that impressed me the most was the ubiquity of olive trees. I’ll have a lot more to say about olive groves and the wonders of Apulia this week (“Apulia Week” at Do Bianchi!). But in the meantime, you’ll note that in the videos above, the olive groves are endless as Paolo and I drive from Lecce along the highway to the airport in Brindisi…

* Even though editorial convention in the U.S. has popularized the usage of Puglia, the proper English toponym for the geographical district that forms the “heel of Italy’s boot” is Apulia (from the classical Latin Apulia or Appulia).

Wrath of grapes: thoughts on the Calabria riots

rissa in galleria

Above: Futurist painter Umberto Boccioni’s celebrated and controversial canvas “Rissa in Galleria” (“Riot in the Galleria”), 1910. Boccioni was born in Reggio Calabria, not far from Rosarno, in Calabria (the “toe” of Italy’s boot), where African immigrants rioted over the weekend to protest “subhuman living conditions” and organized crime.

News of the riots that took place over the weekend in Calabria came to our attention this morning via The New York Times and NPR. I’ll leave the reporting to the experts but I will also report that Tracie B and I were both deeply saddened by this news as we drank our morning coffee on a chilly Austin morning today.

Most of the African immigrants (the extracomunintari, as they are called in Italian) who were rounded up by Italian authorities and bussed off to “deportation centers” (I’ll let you interpret the euphemism) do not pick grapes. In fact, they pick mostly oranges and other citrus. Historically, Apulia and Calabria (both ideal places to grow fruit and vegetables) have provided the rest of Europe with fresh fruit (including commercial grape production for bulk wine). Since Italian immigration policy began to change in the 1990s with EU reform, southern Italy has come to rely more heavily on migrant workers (sound familiar?) to pick its fruit.


Above: An image from the riots that took place in Calabria over the weekend published today by The New York Times.

From this side of the Atlantic, as much as we’d like to view Italy solely as the “garden of Europe,” the “birthplace of the Renaissance,” the “fashion capital of the world,” and the home to an enogastronomic tradition that has happily conquered the world (and it is all of those wonderful things), Italy — from north to south — is experiencing one of the most troubled times in its history — socially, financially, politically, and ideologically.

I can tell you from personal experience, as an observer and a lover of Italy: Italians, by their nature, are among the most generous and human souls on this planet. Italy is one of the world’s biggest contributors to the UN budget (the sixth biggest, the last time I checked) and Italy does more than any other European country to promote economic development in Africa (I know this firsthand from my days working for the Italian Mission to the UN).

But as Africa’s gateway to Europe, Italy also faces some immensely difficult issues when it comes to race and attitudes toward race. When I first traveled to Italy as a student in 1987, these issues had yet to emerge. Today, they are at the forefront of the national dialog.

An editorial published today by the Vatican daily L’Osservatore romano (The Roman Observer, a highly respected gauge of the Italian cultural temperature) tells its readers that Italy has not yet overcome its issues with racism, as is clearly evidenced by the events of the weekend.

I’m going to poke around this evening in our cellar for a bottle of wine from Calabria for me and Tracie B to open with dinner. As we drink it, we’ll remember the hands that picked those grapes and the people who turned them into wine.

Thanks for reading…

More grape porn triple x

This just in… Chardonnay from Salento, Apulia. For a while, I repped my friend Paolo Cantele’s wines here in Texas. I’m a big fan of his Salice Salentino and his Rosato is one of my favorite rosés from Italy this year. I’ve always found that Negroamaro is one of the best grapes for rosé.

You can see Paolo’s entire photo stream here and man, are those some sexy Chardonnay grapes or what! I can almost hear my mother knocking on the bathroom door and saying, “what have you been doing in there so long?”

You may remember a post I did about Negro Amaro and a possibile answer to the riddle of its name. Paolo subscribes to the theory that amaro is not Italian but rather a corruption of the Greek mavros meaning black (see the post for the background on the debate).

It recently occurred to me, however, that the commonly accepted explanation for the name of the Greek red grape Xinomavro is that it means acid black or bitter black from the Greek oxy (sharp, keen, acute, pungent, acid) and mavros (black). Could this be a clue that the origin of Negro Amaro’s name is indeed black bitter?

I don’t have time to get to the bottom of this today but rest assured, I will!

Apulia in New York and a visit with Obi-Wan

Above: the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Italian wine world, Charles Scicolone (left), with Tom Maresca, another one of New York’s great wine experts and writers and an authority on Italian wine.

As the newest member of the New York Wine Media Guild, I was asked to help organize and co-chair last week’s tasting of Apulian wines in New York together with my good friend and mentor, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Italian wine world, Charles Scicolone. What an honor for me to get to present Charles! He has been working in and writing about Italian wine since the 1970s, when few connoisseurs were collecting or drinking fine Italian wine. Together with two other now-legendary names in our field, writer Sheldon Wasserman and retailer Lou Iacucci, Charles played a starring role in what can now be called the Italian wine renaissance in this country. Whether selling, consulting, lecturing, or simply tasting, “it’s always a pleasure” Charles is one of the most recognized and respected faces in Italian wine in the U.S.

Above: top wine blogger Tyler Colman and agent provocateur Terry Hughes share a moment for my camera. Also in attendance, a who’s who of New York wine writers: John Foy, Paul Zimmerman, and Peter Hellman, among others.

Charles and I have known each other for more than 10 years: I first met him when I wrote about him and his wife, cookbook author and Italian food authority Michele Scicolone, for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. Later, I had the great fortune to work with Charles when he was the wine director at famed Italian wine destination I Trulli in New York. (Although he never won, Charles was nominated eight consecutive times for the James Beard Wine Professional award.)

Charles is known for his passionate defense of traditional winemaking and his distaste for new oak aging, especially when it comes to Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico. “They’ve gone to the dark side,” you’ll hear Charles say, referring to once-traditional Italian winemakers who switch over to California-style vinfication and high-alcohol, overly extracted, oaky, jammy wines. Hence, my cognomen for Charles.

Above: we were also joined by Francesca Mancarella, export director for Apulian winery Candido, and Gary Grunner, another Italian wine industry veteran.

One of the things that impresses me the most about Charles’ palate and his knowledge of Italian wines is that he tasted many of the twentieth-century’s great vintages on release and he has witnessed the evolution of the Italian wine sector during its most vibrant periods of renewal and expansion.

Charles, may the force be with you!

See also Off the Presses’ tasting notes from last Wednesday’s tasting.

Above: more than 30 wines were tasted that day, including this show-stopping dried-grape Aleatico by Candido — the only DOC Aleatico passito produced, an “idiovinification” (how’s that for a neologism?). Francesca explained that the wine’s freshness is owed to Apulia’s excellent Mediterranean ventilation.