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Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Salice Salentino

January 31, 2019 2 comments

Today, wine lovers, we are going on yet another wine journey in Italy. We are going all the way down almost to the bottom of the heel of the “Italian Boot”, to the area called Salice Salentino.

While we are on our way, I have a question for you – what do you know about first ever Rosé wine – ahh, we are in Italy, so let’s switch to the proper names – so again, what do you know about first ever Rosato wine bottled in Italy and exported to the USA? Do you know where, when, what was the name of it? I’ll let you ponder at it for a bit – the answer will come a bit later. And for now, let’s talk about Salice Salentino.

Salice Salentino is a small town located down south on the “heel” of Italy. If you will find it on the map, you will see that it is situated on a strip of the land, Salento, sandwiched between Adriatic and Ionian Seas (Gulf of Taranto, to be geographically precise). The town supposedly takes its name from the willow trees, which were growing in abundance in the area in the old days – you can see the willow tree showing up in the middle of a shield on Salice Salentino’s coat of arms. I don’t know if the land looked anything the picture below, but it is easy to imagine that this looks very authentic.

willow tree photo by arvid høidahl on unsplash small

The town of Salice Salentino was founded in the 14th century, but wine… The wine was made on that land way, way before – let’s say, about 2000 years before, as the first mentions and artifacts of winemaking in the area go all the way back to at least the 6th century BC. And why not – you got rich soils with a lot of maritime influence, and despite the close proximity of the seas, hot and dry summers, which sport on average 300 sunny days. It is easy for grapes to ripen happily and abundantly in such conditions – may be, too easy – it is difficult to tame that amount of sugar later on at the winery. It is not very surprising that for the longest time, Salice Salentino was known as the source of grapes and bulk wine, and quantity was definitely trumpeting quality.

Come the 20th century, and the situation started to change, with more attention placed on the quality of the wine, controlling the yield and focusing on the quality of the grapes. Historically, Salice Salentino, and the whole big region it is a part of – Puglia – was focused on the red grapes and red wines; ohh – let’s not forget about olive trees (Puglia produces about 50% of all olive oil in Italy – but this is not the subject of today’s conversation). When Salice Salentino DOC was created in 1976, red wines were the only ones allowed under the DOC. Rules were subsequently changed in 1990 and 2010, and now both white and Rosato are produced in Salice Salentino.

To make wine, we need grapes, right? So let’s talk about grapes. Every region in Italy has its own, unique grapes – such grapes are called autochthonous (having a local origin). Salice Salentino is no exception – Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera (Black Malvasia, a red grape which is a sibling of the well known aromatic white grape, Malvasia), and Primitivo are three of the autochthonous grapes in that area.

Negroamaro is definitely the kind of Salice Salentino winemaking. The grape’s name can be translated as “black bitter”, due to its shiny black skin and bitter aromatics. It is widely considered that Negroamaro originated in Salentino area. The grape has no problems with dry hot climate and lack of water and can consistently achieve appropriate levels of ripeness. Most of the Salice Salentino DOC red wines contain 80% to 90% of Negroamaro grape.

Malvasia Nera is a dark-skinned member of Malvasia family. Malvasia Nera is growing around Italy, not only in Salice Salentino, and it is typically used as a blending grape, adding unique aromatics to the resulting wine.

You might not be familiar with Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, but I’m sure you heard of Primitivo, which after the long research and often heated debates was recognized as an identical grape to American beloved Zinfandel. Primitivo is a star of the surrounding Puglia, especially in Primitivo de Manduria, however, in Salice Salentino it only plays supporting role in some of the blends, particularly with Aleatico.

In addition to the three grapes we already mentioned, Aleatico (red), Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Fiano can be used. Overall, DOC rules allow the production of the full range of wines – sparkling (spumante) white, Rosato, red, and dessert (Dolce and Liquorosso).

Now, it is time to taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste three of the Salice Salentino wines, but before I will share my tasting notes, let me introduce you to the three wineries.

Leone de Castris

This is definitely one of the pioneering wine producers in Salice Salentino. The company started in 1665 in Salice Salentino, by planting vines and olive trees. In the 19th century, the Leone de Castris was exporting bulk wine to the United States. The first bottling under Leone de Castris name was produced in 1925.

Now, remember the question I asked you at the beginning of this post? You probably figured that already (o mighty google), but nevertheless: the very first Rosato produced and sold in Italy, and imported to the United States was made at Leone de Castris winery in 1943, under the name of Five Roses. The name signifies the fact that multiple generations of de Castris had 5 children each.

Gradually, Leone de Castris reduced their land ownership from 5,000 acres to under 900 acres, which is split between the vineyards and olive trees. The winery makes today around 2.5 million bottles per year, which includes red, white, Rosato, and sparkling wines.

Cantina San Donaci

Cantina San Donaci is also one of the oldest wineries in Salice Salentino. It was established in 1933 by 12 local farmers. Today, about 600 partners are involved in all aspects of winemaking – tending to about 1,250 acres of vineyards, harvesting the grapes and making the wines.

Production includes white, Rosato and red wines.

Candido Wines

Candido Wines started in 1929, producing bulk wine obtained from the 1,000 acres of vineyards. In 1957, the bottling started under its own label. Today, the winery owns 350 acres of organically farmed vineyards, focusing on the autochthonous varieties, as well as some of the international ones and producing the typical Salice Salentino range of wines.

Here are the notes for the 3 wines I tasted.

2015 Leone de Castris 50° Vendemmia Salice Salentino Riserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera, 12+ months in barrel, 6+ months in bottle)
Dark ruby
Herbs- driven nose – sage, oregano, excellent minerality, underbrush, a touch of cherries
Ripe cherries on the palate, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, a touch of sandalwood. Good balance.
8, the wine is super food-friendly, and it is a lot of wine for the money.

2017 Cantina San Donaci Anticaia Rosato Salice Salentino DOP (13.5% ABV, $8, 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera, 18-20 hours skin contact)
Beautiful Intense Rose color
A touch of strawberries, restrained,
Beautiful strawberries and cranberries, good acidity, fuller body than a typical rose, but nicely balanced, good tartness.
8-, very good

2015 Candido La Carta Salice Salentino Riserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, 95% Negroamaro, 5% Malvasia Nera, aged in large casks)
Garnet color
Tobacco, sweet oak, leather, medium plus intensity
Cherries, smoke, round, pleasant well-integrated tannins, delicious.
8+, superb. Absolutely delicious. Outstanding value and QPR.

As you can see, these Salice Salentino wines are offering an outstanding value – at $12, finding the wine which gives you so much pleasure is rather difficult – and these wines delivered. They are perfect on its own and would work very well with food – antipasti, traditional local hard sheep cheeses, such as Pecorino Sardo or Pecorino Romano, hearty stews, you name it.

I hope I helped you to discover a new Italian wine region. If you are looking for every day, great value, delicious glass of wine – Salice Salentino wines are worth seeking and experiencing. Cheers!

From $5 to $95

December 23, 2018 1 comment

Taste of the wine is subjective. This is a very simple statement, but it is important to keep it in mind. It really helps to avoid disappointment, when, for example, you tell your friend that the wine is amazing, and your friend politely explains that “ahh, sorry, this is really not my thing”. This is also why all the ratings and medals simply mean that someone liked the wine – but they don’t offer any guarantee that you will like the wine too.

Not only the taste of the wine is “objectively subjective” (hope this makes sense to you), but it is also easily influenced (blind tasting is the only way to remove all the external influences and leave you one on one with the wine). There are many factors which influence the taste – bottle appearance, label, ratings, medals, friends and store clerks recommendations, and maybe most importantly, price.

Think about how you buy a bottle of wine as a present for someone. You would typically set yourself a price limit, and you will do your best not to exceed it. Let’s say you decided to spend $30 on a bottle. But what happens if the store’s employee would recommend you a bottle of wine at $15, saying also that the $15 bottle is equally good or even better than the one for $32 you hold in your hand. What will be your first thought? I bet your brain will say “ohh, this is too cheap! You can’t do this, take the one for $32!”.

It is obvious that price affects your buying decision. But the price is even more influential when you start drinking the wine, as the price sets the expectations. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, but I’m willing to bet that you expect $10 bottle of wine to be mediocre, and you will be ultra-excited faced with the glass of $100 wine. The fun part about $10 bottle is that there is a great chance for a pleasant surprise. The sad part about the $100 bottle that there is a chance of a great disappointment. The best thing to do is to keep your expectations at bay and simply taste the wine and decide whether you like it or not – but this is usually easier said than done. Oh well, just keep working on it.

The message I’m trying to convey with all this pricing/influencing talk can be summarized like this: tasty wines exist at all price ranges. You can enjoy the wine for $5, and you can enjoy the wine for $95. Will you enjoy them equally? This is a tough question only you can answer. But let me share with you my experience with the wines from $5 to $95 which I tasted throughout this year – and then we can compare notes later on. Here we go:

Under $10:

2016 San Pedro Gato Negro Pinot Noir Valle Central DO Chile (13.5% ABV, $4.99)
Garnet
Characteristic Pinot Noir cherries and lavender on the nose, medium intensity
Simple, light, touch of tart cherries, baking spice, good acidity, overall not weary powerful, but offers lots of pleasure.
7+, simple but very nice glass of wine, and an amazing value.

2016 San Pedro 9 Lives Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Chile (13.5% ABV, $9.99)
Garnet
Tobacco and cat pee
Pretty tannic, with some fruit notes hiding behind.
Not very good from the get-go.
After 3 days open – dramatic change, raspberries and blackberries on the palate, ripe fruit, good acidity, eucalyptus notes, medium body – very nice. Truly needed time ( even 2 days was not enough).
8- after 3 days.

Under $20:

2014 Domaine du Raifault Cuvée Tradition Chinon AOC (13% ABV, $17)
Bright Ruby color
Tobacco and cassis on the nose, bright and explicit
The same continues on the palate – cassis, tobacco, perfect acidity, bright, soft, round, delicious.
9, I can drink this wine any day, every day. Superb. This is the Cab Franc I want to drink.

2014 San Marzano Talò Salice Salentino DOP (13% ABV, $16.99, 85% Negroamaro, 15% Malvasia Nera, 6 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Cherries, leather, earthy notes, granite, fresh, open, inviting
Ripe cherries, vanilla, toasted brioche, sweet tobacco, succulent, open, fresh acidity, medium+ body, excellent balance
8-/8, perfect from the get go
8+ on the second and next 3 days – lots of chewy dark fruit, generous, voluptuous, outstanding.

Under $40:

2013 Xavier Flouret Kavalier Riesling Kabinett Trocken Mosel (11% ABV, $25)
Bright Golden color
A touch of honey, lots of tropical fruit – guava, mango, white flowers, intense, pleasant
Cut trough acidity, lemon, green pineapple, intense minerality, excellent
8, great Riesling as it should be – I want to try it in 10 years.

2015 Markham Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $27, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah, 15 months in barrel)
Dark garnet
Muted nose, a touch of blackberries, right, mint, minerality
The palate is also restrained, tart dark fruit, good structure, good acidity
8-, needs time.

2013 Attems Cicinis Sauvignon Blanc Collio DOC (13.5% ABV, $30, 8 months in French oak Barriques and 2 months in the bottle)
Light golden
Minerality driven nose, with a touch of truffle and sweet sage
Medium body, crisp, firm, excellent acidity but overall nice plumpness, savory lemon, crisp finish
Drinkability: 8, I would gladly drink it again any time

Above $40:

2013 Frescobaldi Castello Nipozzano Montesodi Toscana IGT (13.5% ABV, $44, 18 months in oak, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet color
Leather, forest floor, minerality, cedar, medium+ intensity
A touch of smoke, tart cherries, tobacco, clean acidity, well integrated.
8, delicious from the get-go. Excellent aging potential.

2014 Domaine Ostertag Muenchberg Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Contrôlée (14% ABV, $50)
Light golden
Rich, intense, tropical fruit, guava, pineapple, distant hint of petrol
Delicious palate, a touch of honey and hazelnut, good acidity and tons of minerality. This is minerality driven wine right now, which will evolve into a total beauty over the next 10 years.
8, excellent.

2014 Luce Della Vite Toscana IGP (14.5% ABV, $95, Sangiovese/Merlot, 24 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Pungent, dark chocolate, truffles, licorice
From the get-go, super gripping tannins. A little bit of dark fruit is immediately displaced by the tannins. Based on the initial sensation, lots of French oak.
Not drinkable from the get-go. Needs time.
3 days later – superb. Succulent cherries, firm structure, a touch of leather and tobacco, unmistakably Italian, and unmistakable super-Tuscan. Great acidity.
8+

As you can tell, I was equally struggling with the wines at $10 and $95, and my most favorite wine from the group was a mere $17 wine – but overall, there were no bad wines in this group. How do you see the prices of wine? How influential are prices when you buy the wine and when you drink it? Cheers!

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