Update on the Cantele heist

Above: I took this photo of Paolo Cantele when we first met in Austin, Texas, back in 2009.

Tracie P and I are still reeling from the news that the winery of our friends (and my client), the Cantele family, was robbed of 30,000 bottles of wine.

“It’s very strange,” said Paolo Cantele, when he and I spoke by phone yesterday. “I’ve never seen anything like this. There have been cases where thieves steal bulk wine: it’s easy to bottle and sell without being traceable. But I’d never heard of anyone stealing bottled wine” at a winery like Cantele.

I asked Paolo why the wine wasn’t insured, as his brother Umberto wrote in a letter published on their English-language blog (translated by me).

“Wineries that sell high-end wines regularly insure their wines in storage,” he told me. “But at wineries like ours, where the wines are relatively inexpensive, it doesn’t make sense since no one would ever steal [our] bottled wine.”

The 30,000 bottles were worth Euro 160,000, he said.

Where are they destined?

“They could be heading to the Balkans,” he speculated. Remember: on a clear day in Lecce, you can see Albania across the Adriatic.

“But the thieves could also sell them to an unscrupulous distributor here in Europe.”

Cantele’s wines earmarked for the U.S. market are stored in a warehouse in Genoa, he told me. Thus, it’s unlikely that the wines could make it to the U.S. “They were all labeled for sale in Europe and so you wouldn’t be able to bring them to the U.S. anyway.”

Will the Cantele winery be alright?

“We make 2 million bottles of wine every year. This was a huge setback for us but we won’t have any problems fulfilling orders. We’re about to bottle our red wines and they will ship in September.”

On his English-language blog, Paolo posted a message (translated by me): “I’m happy to inform you,” he wrote, “that Cantele’s soul is intact and perfectly healthy. The thieves gave us something that money can’t buy: the will to work harder and better.”

Thieves steal Cantele’s current vintage

Not only is the Cantele family a client of mine, they are also my close friends. It is with great sadness that I share the following message (which I translated for them this morning). Tracie P and I are keeping their families in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers. We’ll be visiting them early next month and will report back on this tragic story. That’s Cantele Chardonnay, from a past vintage, in the image above.

Dear Friends,

I’m writing you to let you know that on August 2, 2012, our winery was the victim of a robbery. An enormous quantity of bottled wine was stolen by a large and very well organized group of thieves (numbering at least 12-15 persons).

A detailed list of the stolen wines follows:

2,052 bottles Chardonnay Igt Salento 2011
174 bottles Verdeca Igt Puglia 2011
4,242 bottles Negroamaro Rosso Igt Salento 2010
4,746 bottles Primitivo Igt Salento 2009
2,640 bottles Salice Salentino Doc Rosso Riserva 2008
3,576 bottles Varius Syrah Igt Puglia 2010
3,972 bottles Varius Merlot Igt Puglia 2010
66 bottles Alticelli Aglianico Igt Puglia 2008
168 bottles Alticelli Fiano Igt Salento 2011
78 bottles Teresa Manara Chardonnay Igt Salento 2011
2,028 bottles Teresa Manara Negroamaro Igt Salento 2009
5,082 bottles Amativo Igt Salento 2009
12 bottles Le Passanti Fiano Passito Igt Salento 2007

Needless to say, we reported the crime the next day, August 3, 2012, to the Carabinieri stationed at Gaugnano.

In order to avoid any misinformation and/or to preclude idle gossip, I would like to confirm the following:

1) The stolen property was not covered by insurance.

2) Our storage of market-ready products was not protected by an alarm system; it was monitored solely by a video camera system.

In the wake of the theft, our initial sense of powerless disappointment was quickly overcome by our shared resolve, making us even stronger and more determined than before.

The only way to react to incidents like this is to get back to work. And in this spirit, I can confirm the following:

1) Tomorrow we will begin to harvest our 2012 crop, starting, as usual, with our Chardonnay.

2) The new 2010 vintage of Primitivo, Teresa Manara Negroamaro, and Amativo has been aging in bottle for a number of months and in the next few days, we will proceed to label the bottles so that the wines can be released onto the market by early September.

3) None of our winery’s projects has been or will be hindered by this deplorable event.

Lastly, I’m hoping that you will take note of any anomalies that might occur in the market in coming months.

It’s vital that we maintain and protect the supply chain, positioning, and correct pricing of each of our wines.

Thank you in advance for your much appreciated help in this matter.


Umberto Cantele

Primitivo (two ways): Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Since I’ve spent the last week in Apulia, it only seemed appropriate to feature an Apulian grape this week for the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project. And since we’ve already done Negroamaro, it seemed a propos to feature another one of the most widely planted grapes here, Primitivo. And so, the other day when we went swimming the other day in the Adriatic (at Torre dell’Orso, not far from Lecce), I asked Paolo to pronounce Primitivo for my camera.

Of course, Primitivo is one of the easiest for English-speakers to pronounce. And so I thought it would be fun to spice things up with a dialectal pronunciation.

I’m waiting until after the Radici Wines festival ends to start posting on the wines I’ve tasted, but I’ll give a little preview by revealing that I LOVED the Primitivo by Pasquale Petrera (Fatalone, Gioia del Colle). As it so happens, he uses the dialectal name of the grape on one of the labels of his excellent wines (and I’ll post on my tasting down the road): u Pr’matìv (Il Primitivo, in Italian, the Primitivo [grape]). And so I asked him to take a break from one of the preview tastings and pose for my camera.

Buona visione! And thanks for speaking and drinking Italian grapes!

Awesome stuff I ate in Puglia (part I)

On the Sunday in mid-February that Paolo and I drove from Bologna (where he had been working the market) down to Lecce, he had some personal business to attend to and I was my own for dinner. He advised me to go to the Joyce Pub, one of the only decent places, he said, to eat in downtown Lecce on a Sunday night. Wherever there are students in Italy, there are pseudo-Irish pubs (hence the name Joyce). Evidently, this place has evolved into a popular restaurant as well but you can still get a decent pint of Guinness there.

My dinner-for-one began with minchiareddi al pesto leccese (above), finger dumplings with an arugula pesto. Arugula is ubiquitous, it seems, in Apulian cuisine and this dish was delicious. (I couldn’t help but wonder the next day: are minchiareddi “little minchie,” i.e., “little dicks”? But a little bit of philological digging back in the States revealed that minchiareddi are probably so-called because they are like “little fingers” or “pinkies,” mignolo in Italian from the Latin minimus as opposed to minchia from the Latin mingere, to urinate.)

The meatballs are the big attraction at the Joyce and were highly recommended by Paolo. Most guests (on that crowded Sunday evening) ordered meatballs and French fries (cut like steak fries), dipping the potatoes into tomato sauce. To my mind, great meatballs are all about the balance of firmness and tenderness. These balls had the right stuff! I almost ordered a second helping.

For dessert, sheep’s milk cheese studded with peppers and accompanied by walnuts and honey.

I washed it all down with a rosato from Negroamaro by Vigne e Vini. I didn’t know the producer or the wine but my server was kind enough to let me taste it before ordering (on her recommendation). Saignée-method (or Salasso method as it’s known in Italy) rosé wine from Negroamaro is IMHO one of the greatest values and surest bets when it comes to value-driven food-friendly wine. This wine was fresh and clean, low in alcohol (12.5%), and had just enough tannin to pair well with the meatballs as well as the dumplings. Negroamaro is probably the greatest Italian grape variety for rosé and I’m on a personal campaign to convert my rosé-avverse countrypeople to a belief in its virtues. (We serve Paolo’s rosato from Negroamaro by the glass on my list at Sotto in Los Angeles.)

More awesome stuff I ate in Puglia on deck… stay tuned…

My olive bread gas station epiphany in Puglia

Above: In Apulia (Puglia), they don’t call it “Pugliese Olive Bread.” They just call it “bread.”

There’s a saying in the South East of the United States of America: if you can’t play guitar better than the gas station attendant one mile outside of Nashville, don’t bother going in.” Well, I’m here to tell you that the same holds for sandwiches at gas stations in Apulia.

One of the great gastronomic experiences — unforgettable, really — of our February trip to Italy did not happen at a Michelin-starred restaurant, lunch in the home of top distillate producer, or at an avant-garde pizzeria (although there were great food and wine experiences in those contexts as well). It happened at a gas station. Yes, a distributore di benzina, where I ate the mortadella sandwich, above.

Above: Gas station food in Apulia can be excellent, folks, I’m here to tell you. Note how there are vineyards and an olive grove behind the gas station. In Apulia, it as if G-d planned an eternal Garden of Eden.

Aside from the gas station and bar above, there are not a lot of food options in the vicinity of the Cantele winery, where I visited in February with my friends (marketing director) Paolo and (winemaker) Gianni Cantele. No, there’s not much — just olive groves and vineyards, as far as the eye can see, one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen. O yeah, and there are also controversial solar panels.

That sandwich was a true epiphany for me. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in 2011 and I went back to the counter for a second sandwich. The crusty bread was perfectly crunchy on the outside but delightfully firm and savory on the inside. The olives were a glorious balance of sweet fruit and savory brine and the combination of flavors and textures — including a few leaves of fresh arugula, a thin slice of provolone, and a spalmata (schmear) of mayonnaise — culled the delicacy from the mortadella (a northern food product that became a stable of central and southern Italy in the period immediately following the second world war).

Pasolini couldn’t have written it better: set against the backdrop of Apulia’s administrative dilapidation and its sun-drenched baroque lethargy, the glory of its materia prima — wheat and olives (more grains and olives are grown there than anywhere else in Italy) — spoke to me nobly in this forgotten gas station, filled otherwise with lottery tickets and tasteless tchotchkes. Writing this, I am as overwhelmed now as I was the moment I first bit into that sandwich and tasted its wholesomeness and goodness.

Does anyone remember the Corrado Guzzanti sendup of Antonello Venditti about the gas stations along the Grande Raccordo Anulare (freeway system) circling Rome?

E se nasce una bambina poi la chiameremo… PUGLIA! (If we have a girl, we’ll call her Puglia.)

That sandwich was T-H-A-T good!

Meatballs and Primitivo with my father Zane

The best advice anyone ever gave about blogging was “remember that all blogs are vanity blogs and always write what you feel.” Well, here goes…

“Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

—Henry Hill, Good Fellas, 1990

Last Wednesday’s dinner with my father Zane at Giovanni’s in Munster, Indiana brought to mind the above passage uttered by Henry Hill in Scorsese’s Good Fellas (he had the Veal Piccata, I had the Spaghetti with Meatballs).

Those of you who have followed along here at Do Bianchi haven’t heard much about my father, Zane. In fact, you haven’t heard anything at all. He left the fold of our family when I was a teenager and, truth be told, none of us — my mother and my brothers — have ever entirely recovered from that fissure. The circumstances of that schism began to unfold when I was 11 years old (1978) and in many ways, my Italophilia was borne out of the fact that my closest Italian friends (most of whom were musicians that I met when I was around 19) helped me to see the “transgressions of the father” in a light (Pasolinian?) disparate from that which shines down from Mt. Soledad onto the sun-filled spelunks of the La Jolla Cove where I grew up.

Today, he lives in Highland, Indiana (not far from Munster), a “bedroom” community (as he likes to call it) of Chicago. After leaving our family, he lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, and then Israel, where he made the aliyah and continued to work in the defense industry (his second career). About twelve years ago, when he was convinced that he wouldn’t be arrested by the FBI for espionage (as he tells the story), he decided to return to the U.S. for his retirement.

In Italian new wave cinema of the 1960s and early 70s, directors like Antonioni created landscapes that reflected their characters’s stato d’anima (state of soul). The cold temperatures and intonations of grey that greeted me there (above) felt like they came from within me rather than from the environment around me.

Ultimately, Highland, Munster, Hammond, and Gary, Indiana are towns that could have been depicted in Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town (have you seen the recent documentary?). The main employers here are the steel mills and Giovanni’s is arguably the best place around.

Zane doesn’t care much for red wine but he did share a bottle of Primitivo by Cantele with me. It was one of the two bottles that spoke to me, together with Araldica’s Gavi by the glass (Giovanni’s has an impressive website, with its wine list available online).

A friend once wrote: as “the son of a psychiatrist, Dr. J. is capable of finessing virtually any situation with seamless ease.”

I don’t know if that’s true but like every other human being on this planet, I have one father. It wasn’t and never is an easy trip. It had been too long since I’d gone to visit him… but I’m glad that I did.

As I look back and reflect on my visit and use my blog — my web log, my journal, my diary — as a therapeutical tool, there’s one thing that has come into sharp focus in my psyche: sometimes a meatball is just a meatball.

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!