Oxidative Clairette and octopus at Marea

From the department of “life could be worse”…

What a thrill to dine last night at Marea with Alice Feiring and Paolo Cantele, two of my favorite people in the world.

The food was spectacular and I was surprised to see that they’ve expanded their list greatly to include an impressive French selection (the first time I visited the focus and concentration was purely Italian).

Alice’ choice was 2007 Château Simone white, my first taste of this extraordinary expression of Clairette. It took a while to open up and I reserved a glass to drink at the end of the meal, when its fruit really began to show brilliantly.

The pasta at Marea has been consistently superb in my experience there. The long noodles with shellfish and calamari was great.

My selection was the 2001 Pepe, still very tannic and dark but utterly delicious, with that rich mouthfeel unique to Pepe’s wines.  I’ve tasted a lot of Pepe lately because we currently offer a vertical at Sotto in LA (where I curate the wine list) and these wines always inspire me.

Tonight we’re heading to Joe Campanale’s new restaurant L’Apicio and then to visit one of my best friends in the NYC wine and food scene… Stay tuned… 

Paccheri ai frutti di mare on the Ionian (TY 4 rec @PaoloCantele)

On Paolo’s recommendation, we headed to Porto Cesareo for lunch today. We wanted beach chairs, umbrella, and a restaurant right on the sea and he pointed us to the west coast of the Salento peninsula to Bacino Grande.

The paccheri ai frutti di mare were one of the best things we’ve eaten on the entire trip. The key to a dish like this is for the jus of the seafood to be absorbed by the pasta. The sauce had just the right consistency and texture and gave the pasta a wonderful savory character, with just a touch of sweetness from the tomato. Superb…

The frittura di paranza: a paranza is a wooden fisherman’s boat used for coastal fishing. This dish is akin to a “captain’s platter” fry. This, also, was over the top good.

It doesn’t really get any fresher than this. I really loved the place, even though the staff was a little bit grouchy.

Georgia P LOVED the paccheri and she had a blast dipping her toes into the warm water of the Ionian. I love how Italians rejoice when you bring a baby into a restaurant and no one ever gives you a dirty look. We are having SO MUCH fun on this trip… She is our joy…

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.”

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! :)

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!

Early report from Puglia: my first puccia! But not my last…

Landed safely in Bari today from Munich together with the German women’s national basketball team (I was one of the shortest people on the plane). Paolo generously came to pick me up and we headed down to downtown Lecce where we stopped for a puccia, the classic and ubiquitous stuffed flatbread of Puglia, one of its “fast foods.”

I wasn’t as ambitious as Paolo in the stuffings I selected (prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms, and arugula). He had his with tuna, prosciutto (yes, tuna and prosciutto!), and insalata russa (vegetable and mayonnaise salad). When I asked him about the unusual combination of salt-cured pork and olive oil-cured tuna, he said, “that’s the whole point of the puccia! You have to mix everything in the puccia!”

The quality of the bread here — even at an urban “fast food” joint like this one — just blows me away.

I wish I had been more ambitious in my fillings… but I know this first puccia won’t be my last!

A friend’s 40th, a 1990 Vin Santo, and a bunch of awesome wine and food

Tuesday night we celebrated 40 years for our good friend Paolo Cantele in our home. Paolo was on the road “working the market” with his wines, as we say in the biz. And he just happened to be in Austin on his 40th birthday.

Tracie P outdid herself with this amazing strawberry cake. I wish yall could see just how beautiful she is right now. Truly aglow… :)

She also broke out her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet to fry up some lightly battered and delicately salted okra fritters. Man, when Tracie P starts a-fryin’, watch out! Delicious…

My contribution to the flight of wines poured was this 2001 Musar white that I had been saving. The oxidative style of this wine may not be for everyone but man, I would drink it every day (if I could afford it). Gorgeous wine, imho.

Barbecue and Burgundy? The 1993 Volnay-Satenots 1er Cru by Ampeau was excellent with Sam’s smoked lamb ribs. Awesome wine, thoroughly enjoyed by all thanks to Keeper Collection and husband Earl.

My “wine of the evening” could have been this 1992 Primitivo by Savese, generously proffered by Alfonso. This amphora-aged wine (yes, amphora before it got trendy) was on its last legs and we shared its last gasps of life. But, man, what gorgeous notes, laced with fruit and earth, emerged as it departed this world for a better one.

Dulcis in fundo… of all the great wines that were opened that night, the bottle that blew me away was this 1990 Vin Santo by Villa di Vetrice, one of my favorite producers in Chianti Rufina, perhaps more noted for their legendary olive oils, but always a solid producer of honest, real wine, however rough around the edges. Vin Santo is too often misunderstood in this country, where it’s served young and regrettably paired with cookies (as per your average Tuscan tourist trap). The acidity in this 21-year-old wine was brilliant and its layers and layers of flavor can best be described as a salty ice cream Sunday (think caramel, salty peanuts, apricot jam, etc.). I’ve had the good fortune to taste a lot of old Vin Santo from Chianti Rufina and it was a thrill to revisit this wine and this vintage. It paired beautifully with the cake but the winning pairing was the fresh burrata (lightly dressed with kosher salt and olive oil) that Alfonso had brought down from Jimmy’s in Dallas. THANK YOU, Guy!

I can almost hear Gene Wilder saying, “What knockers!” The burrata was outstanding.

Paolo had flown from Apulia to Texas only to find Primitivo and burrata — from Apulia! I guess globalization is good for something… And I sure am glad that Paolo was born. Happy birthday, mate!

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).