Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva, 2006

Often in winter I am looking for just one thing in wine: compatibility with food. If I cannot choke down my glass with whatever is on my plate, immediate action must be taken. The cold months make for hearty dishes, full of roasts, root vegetables, and flavors leaning towards umami. As a result, my rotation of wines shifts to the deep end of the color spectrum, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel dominating dinnertime.

Not all of my meals are giant grilled steaks, however. Sometimes that lamb just wants a little finesse, a light touch. Sometimes I want blackberry fruit without the bramble pepper of Syrah, or the wall of tannin presented by a tight Cabernet Sauvignon. When those times arrive, I look to Italy for inspiration, due to its plethora of obscure varietals and regions that offer some great values.

A recent glance in that direction provided me with this bottle, the 2006 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva, from Puglia. Affordable, tasty, the wine is a fine example what a blend of 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera, both southern Italian grapes, can achieve. After the grapes are pressed, the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and this shows itself in the clarity of the fruit. In the glass, this wine is a lovely garnet color. The nose features strong notes of blackberry and dark chocolate aromas, punctuated with some mineral. Soft, lush, extremely supple in the mouth, like a kitten using your tongue as a blanket, but without the fuzz or sharp bits. Dark fruit is backed by some light tannins, balanced acidity rounded by malolactic fermentation, and hints of earth and dried herbs. Medium finish. Begs for roast lamb shank or shoulder. $11.

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