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Forget French Rosé, Italy's under-explored pink wines offer big value
FOR the past month, I've been dreaming of Italy and the summer trip that never happened. Past memories of beaches with views of the blue Mediterranean, winding paths to hike in the Dolomites, and trabocchi fishing platforms in the Adriatic Sea, where you can dine as the sun sets, play like a film loop in my fantasies. Not to mention the freshly made pasta, the espresso, the gelato, the truffles, and, of course, the vino.
So this August, I'm taking my much-longed for visit via a tour through the country's little-known rosatos, or pink wines, which are produced in some of Italy's most beautiful places. Members of a new movement, Rosautoctono, want to chart its future as high-quality wine made from native grapes and to remind people that it has a long history as an everyday wine. They're pushing the term "rosa" to describe the country's best pink wines, though so far, only a few wineries are putting it on the label.
Italy's rosas offer a wider range of hues than do French rosés, from pale salmon to an intense, dark-cherry pink. Taste diversity runs from light and bright to soft, round, and--- fruity and even bold, rich, and full-bodied. They brim with savoury, cherry, and herb flavours that will still be delicious on the table long after Labor Day.
In this country of hundreds of native grape varieties, every region has its own version, often with its own name. Professor Attilio Scienza, the scientific director of Vinitaly International Academy, points out several regions noted for rosé: Bardolino near Lake Garda; Valtenesi in Lombardy; Abruzzo; Puglia's Salice Salentino and Castel del Monte; and Calabria's Ciro.
Ian d'Agata, author of two books on Italy's native grape varieties, says six regions make superb rosés, among them negroamaro (Puglia), Montepulciano (Abruzzo), and nebbiolo (Piedmont), but he can't resist adding a few, such as grignolino and sangiovese. And, he points out, Italians consume only 7 per cent of the pink wines they produce.
High-quality examples didn't really become popular in Italy until the 2000s, explains Jeremy Parzen, who hosts influential Italian wine website Dobianchi.com. He's convinced that their popularity in the US spurred Italian winemakers to ramp up production to cash in on the trend, and then their quality started drawing attention from Italians themselves. "Rosato is photogenic, ideal for the Instagram generation of Italians," Mr Parzen quips.
Maybe official approval of pink prosecco in May, which will allow the first to go on sale in January 2021, will give all pink wines a local consumption boost. Ditto the entry of premium celeb rosato by Dolce & Gabbana, made by one of my favourite Sicilian producers, Donnafugata. It's way better than it needs to be, but it is still difficult to find.
Luckily for us, Italy's rosatos continue to cost less than favourites from Provence. On Aug 12, the office of the US Trade Representative extended the sales-killing 25 per cent tariffs imposed last October on French, German, Spanish, and UK wines with less than 14 per cent alcohol. Once again, Italian wines escaped.
Which makes my "tour" all the more timely. And although I won't get the chance to grab a glass of rosato via Florence's buchette del vino - the pass-through wine windows used during 17th century bubonic plague outbreaks now being revived to sell wine in a socially distanced way - the rosatos below will taste just as delicious on my New England deck.
Italian Rosato bottle buying guide
Veneto: 2019 Cavalchina
Bardolino Chiaretto (US$17)
A rosé revolution in 2014 pushed producers in the Lake Garda region toward paler examples of the pink wines known as chiaretto di Bardolino, which are made from corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes. This bottle shows lively aromas of rose petals and delicate, bright, spicy cherry and strawberry flavours.
Friuli: 2019 Attems Rosé
Pinot Grigio Ramato (US$15)
In the far north-east, crushed pinot grigio grapes were traditionally left on the pinkish skins to pick up colour and flavour. This rich, spicy example shows off mineral tones and a slightly bitter aftertaste that make it superb with food.
Vino Il Rosato (US$26)
Local nebbiolo grapes go into the region's famous Barolos, but also give a savoury licorice character to pink wines. This one, which also includes uva rara grapes, has floral aromas; salty, zingy, and fresh herb flavours; and plenty of texture.
Liguria: 2019 Lunaie
Bosoni Rosato Mea Rosa (US$20)
This large producer in Italy's northwest uses rare, native red grape vermentino nero to make a spicy, mouthwatering wine with flavour notes of pomegranate.
Tuscany: 2019 Il Poggione
Rosato Brancato (US$17)
Younger sangiovese vines whose grapes will one day go into the winery's Brunello make for a pretty wine with aromas of mint, spice, and ripe strawberries and satisfying round, fruity flavours.
Abruzzo: 2019 Tiberio
Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo (US$20)
The region's red montepulciano grapes also go into its rosés, known as cerasuolo d'Abruzzo. This pale, fuscia-coloured pour is smoky, savoury, and silky textured, with tart cherry-raspberry aromas and flavours. It's almost like a light red.
Puglia: 2018 Leone di
Castris Five Roses Rosato (US$14)
A grandfather of Italian rosés, first made in 1943 from negroamaro with a dash of malvasia nera, boasts scents of wildflowers and bright, crushed-raspberry flavours. Pink wine in the heel of Italy's boot, also known for thalasso therapy spas, goes back to the Greeks.
Calabria: 2019 Sergio
Arcuri Il Marinetto Rosé (US$23)
Vineyards of gaglioppo grapes stretch along the coastline of the foot of the peninsula. Succulent, rich, and vivid orange-pink, this structured, textured organic wine has aromas of white flowers.
Sicily: 2019 Bonavita Terre
Siciliane Rosato (US$24)
Italy's largest island is now a wine hot spot. This outstanding, ruby-colored example comes mainly from nerello mascalese grapes grown at the northeast tip of Sicily, overlooking the sea. It has fruity cranberry and raspberry flavors and an exotic spiciness. BLOOMBERG