Jeremy Parzen of the Do Bianchi blog e-mailed me recently to see if I'd be interested in trying some wines from Cantele made in the Salento bootheel of Italy. I replied in the affirmative, and a week later a quartet of bottles were sitting in my living room. A white, a rosé, two reds... My first reaction was that it was time for a dinner party.
I checked with Julia, and she was housesitting somewhere with a great kitchen. Her friend Kerrie was able to join us, and my friend Grace was also free for the first dinner together in well over a year. Everything was in place, and I slid easily into the old routine of dinner parties.
For the first course, I had to make Julia's favorite: sweet potato soup. I still get a kick out of doing the initials on top with thin Mexican sour cream. Also, I take the extra time to grind the nutmeg on top of the soup before adding the lettering. Pro tip: if you screw up a letter, just use a spoon to blend in the soup and then start over. No one will be the wiser. With this soup, I served the lone white:
2011 Cantele Chardonnay
$12, 12.5% abv.
Light and mild thanks to the all stainless steel fermentation. Light floral notes with white peach flavors on the finish. Delicate, and surprising for a warm climate Chardonnay.
Next, I served grilled shrimp with sweet peppers, garlic scapes, and cheesy grits. My grits were not quite tender enough for the table (my fault), but the shrimp were well-received. More than anything in this lineup, I was excited to try this wine. A Negroamaro rosé years ago was my first introduction to the style of dry rosé that continues to be a personal favorite.
2011 Cantele Negroamaro Rosato
$12, 13% abv.
Pretty red for a rosé, but bright and ripe and full of red berries. Great cherry and strawberry flavors follow the nose, and the wine has a clean, crisp finish. Bold and delicious, and I thought it worked out well with the shrimp and grits.
For the final dish, I braised short ribs in some of the two red wines along with onions, tomato sauce, and a few other dashes of magic. Right before serving, I pan-cooked white asparagus and Belgian endive. I love getting a little char on those and then dashing them with balsamic vinegar. The meat was properly falling off the bone, and it was definitely time for some firm red wines.
2010 Cantele Primitivo
$12, 13% abv.
Some of the jammy elements of cousin Zinfandel come through in this, with black cherry flavors and a touch of spice on the nose. This wine in particular would be a great one to serve with smoked pork ribs. Even though it's fairly young, this wine is fruit forward and ready to drink now.
2009 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva
DOC Salice Salentino
$12, 13% abv.
Greater complexity with this one, including notes of leather and blackberries and some herbal bits. Softer than you'd expect, though I imagine that the tannins will continue to mellow over the next few years. While I enjoyed it with the short ribs, I found myself craving grilled lamb.
Grace took care of dessert with tiramisù, and we all chatted for a few hours after dinner while the dog Elli lay on the floor and loved all the attention.
Note: These wines were received as samples.