Spotlight on Southern Italy: Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva 2004

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negroamaro_wine_grapeYesterday I introduced the Spotlight on Southern Italy series with a look at the Apulia region (in the southeast), and specifically at the primitivo grape. Primitivo, however, is a relatively new development when it comes high quality wine in Apulia. The main grape for such wines has always been negroamaro, which technically means bitter black, but I don’t think that name is particularly useful in describing these wines.

The negroamaro grape produces pretty dense wines, known for their dark colour and rustic earthiness, and is perhaps one of the oldest varieties in Italy. The Salento peninsula (the heel of the boot) was a cross-roads between many ancient cultures, including Phoenician, Greek, and Roman. In fact, the original Greek settlers brought a special cultivation method known as “alberello speronato”, which sees grapes grown on low bush vines. This avoids the need for trellising, and is made possible by negroamaro’s unique physiology of sturdy shoots with short internodes. The Salento region, which is the best and most important region for negroamaro, has very little surface water, which, given the very hot climate I discussed in my last post, requires constant tilling of the soil in order to avoid the need for irrigation. All that said, this traditional method of growing negroamaro is becoming less and less common with the introduction of machinery and irrigation. My hope is that the best producers will keep this unique method alive.

While one can find 100% negroamaro, it is pretty hard to do so in North America. Most of the time one will find blends, as is the case with this Salice Salentino wine. Such blends usually have a required minimum of the grape, but also add varieties such as sangiovese or malvasia nera to round out the wine. Salice Salentino is a DOC designation and as such requires a minimum of 85% negroamaro.

IMG_4555This particular wine is a blend of 85% negroamaro and 15% malvasia nera, a variety known for its intense fragrance. Aged for 6 months in old oak, the oak characteristics are barely perceptible in this wine, which allows the fruit to speak for itself. There is a lot of pleasure to be had here, even if the wine is straightforward. On the nose I got dark cherry, earth, flowers, and metal. The nose is a bit shut down when you first pop the cork, so make sure to give this a good decant. The palate continues the dark cherry and adds meat and spice in the mid palate. The finish grabs hold with hints of chocolate, herbs and earth. While some criticize negroamaro for being a bit backward, this particular wine is not ‘rustic’ in a bad way at all. Instead, it’s got old world finesse and understatedness, but great smoothness and is a very clean wine. While I could not find out that much about this producer, they seem to be making modern wines with good density and structure, but also great balance. Add in the spicy earth characteristics, a pizza or pasta, and the very reasonable price tag, and you have a winner.

Very Good
$22 at Kitsilano Wine Cellar


  1. Paolo Cantele
    January 12, 2010

    Hi Shea!

    Thank you so much for you very nice review of our Salice Salentino. I’m very happy you like it! I really appreciated your well written post about Salento and Puglia (you know it more than a lot of italians!) and Negroamaro grape. In particularly when you say that many people consider Negroamaro wines “rustic in the bad way”. There are good young wine producers that are working very well to produce tasteful elegant wines, respecting, of course, tradition and terroir.
    Come to visit us in Puglia!

  2. Shea
    January 12, 2010


    Thanks for your reply. I love that there are now a bunch of new and dynamic producers showing what Negroamaro can do. And, you have to love the values! The next time I’m in Italy (perhaps next year) I will definitely drop by.



  3. Davina Valaydon
    March 21, 2013

    Dear Shea,

    I’m a little late, but really enjoyed stumbling across and reading your article! And Paolo, your wine is fabulous!!

    Ciao Davina

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