A pizza and pasta kind of wine.
Sal Diliberto’s tasting room is next to his house. Not next door to his house, but so close that someone with long arms could reach out and touch the outside walls of both buildings. The person with the admirably long arms could also do this while looking at the family’s four acres of vines that surround the house, and, if it’s a Sunday, while eating some homemade pasta as part of a weekly event called “Sundays with Grandma.”
It’s a remnant of Italy, where for generations families have lived among their vines and worked in their basement cellars complete with fermentation vats, barrels, empty bottles waiting to be filled and full bottles waiting to come of age.
One weekend this fall, Diliberto sat in the tasting room while limos and cars pulled up and people poured out to taste his wine and listen to a guitarist playing wedding goodies to an appreciative crowd. The musician wasn’t the winery’s regular, who is more inclined to play Italian favorites with Diliberto adding to the vocals.
Wine tasters hugged the patrono, and returning customers were greeted with a familiar handshake and questions about their family. That’s the theme, family. And it’s the inspiration for Mr. Diliberto’s latest cuvée: Cantina, a blend of red grapes meant to be a rustic everyday wine like the ones his relatives make in Italy.
“A cantina is a cellar,” says Diliberto. “And on the label is the castle next to my family’s home in Dugenta.”
From their basement, his family can access the castle’s cellars and store their wine.
While in Dugenta, in the Campagna region of Italy, Diliberto had a local artist do a rendering of the castle, which now decorates the label of Cantina.
“I brought some labels the next time I went to visit,” he says, “and they joke now that their little town is famous in the United States.”
On sale in the tasting room is the 2005 version of Cantina. It’s a blend of cabernet franc and merlot made of the fruit of young vines. To achieve the rustic flavor he wanted, Diliberto used must (the fresh-pressed grape juice) from the end of the press run called “hard pressed.” At first, must flows freely, resulting in “free-run” juice. By the end, the press is pushing hard on the grape skins and seeds, resulting in must that contains more tannins and color.
Diliberto added the hard press to free-run juice and aged it in older barrels so no tannin or flavor would be extracted from the wood. His desire was to soften the existing tannins while still having the fresh young fruit show through.
The finished wine was not refined or filtered, so a glass of Cantina can appear cloudy. “It’s sort of a pizza and pasta kind of wine,” says Diliberto.
His wife, Maryann, and his daughter, Dena, walked in the tasting room with the Diliberto’s first grandchild, Charlotte. For a moment Mr. Diliberto’s attention was diverted from the busyness of the tasting room and the cooing and beaming began.
Dena and her husband live above the tasting room, and the house next door is being renovated for them. The next generation, too, will live among the vines.