The Lighter Side of Red
Italy’s pink-hued rosato holds a special place in Anthony Giglio’s summer wine lineup.
by Anthony Giglio
I’ll never forget the first time I tried a rosé wine that wasn’t overtly sweet and one-dimensional. I was at a bar in Nice, France, dining al fresco, facing the sea, and the beautiful jeune fille taking our order suggested we try one. My buddies and I (we were in college at the time) reacted like most guys do when offered pink wine when not with their girlfriends: “Non, merci.” But she was beautiful and persuasive, and we were thirsty and interested, so we let her pour us glasses of the salmon-colored wine, and then toasted her excellent recommendation. I don’t remember the producer, but I recall that it was from Bandol, a region in Provence famed for red and rosé wines. It smelled like wild flowers and berries, and tasted like red wine, only much lighter, with great acidity that made it perfect for that particularly warm day.
That was the beginning of my love affair with these wines. A good rosé appeals to my preference for red wines, but since it’s served chilled, it’s more versatile in hot summer months—perfect with and without food. While decent rosés were rare in the U.S. until the last decade, French rosés are now enjoying a craze here. In Italy, where it’s called rosato, many producers include it in their lineup and approach making it with as much care as they give their red wines. If the French took center stage for the original rosé invasion of the U.S., it’s time for rosato’s moment in the spotlight.
In the most common method of making quality rosato—or, as I like to think of them, red wines in disguise—the grapes are crushed and the skins stay in contact with the juice, as with red wine, but for a much shorter period, typically between one and three days (red wine is usually left on the skins for at least 10 days). Then, the must (skins and juice) is pressed, the skins discarded, and the resulting lightly colored wine continues to ferment. The wine’s final color and flavor depend entirely on how long the color-imparting skins were left in contact with the juice. Shorter maceration produces pale wine, which will generally be lighter bodied and crisp, while longer maceration pulls out more of the flavorful tannins and lends a darker color to the wine.
In Italy, you can find rosato in every region and of every hue. To the north, in Piedmont’s steep, sandy hills of Roero, is Castello di Santa Vittoria, where the celebrated Piedmont winemaker Beppe Caviola consults for the winery. “Roero’s sandy soil gives particular freshness to this nebbiolo-based rosato,” Caviola says of his Rosa Vittoria. “In fact, it possesses amazing acidity.” Indeed, the lightest hued rosato of our selections is remarkably crisp and balanced.
In the heart of Veneto, Luca De Palma has been experimenting with various styles of rosato for a decade. He describes his Santi Bardolino Chiaretto “Infinito” as a work in progress. “In the past, we did many experiments to obtain the right choice [of grapes], as well as trying malolactic fermentation [which results in a creamier style], and researching different varietals,” De Palma says. This wine is 65 percent corvina, the workhorse of Veneto wines, known for refreshingly high acidity and low tannins. “Infinito,” De Palma says, “is a very good wine: intense, salty, ripe, with a beautiful acidity—it’s not fat, or bitter and green.”
The Fattoria Ambra Rosato di Carmignano Vin Ruspo comes from Tuscany’s Carmignano region, northwest of Florence, where there’s a long history of rosato production. Winemaker and owner Giuseppe “Beppe” Rigoli, who’s also president of the Department of Agriculture at the University of Pisa, explains that vin ruspo means stolen wine, “because during the Carmignano harvest, farmers used to steal a part of the must formed at the bottom of the open barrels in which the grapes were taken to the winery.” Then they made it into rosato and enjoyed it during the wheat harvest.
Brothers Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella, two of Italy’s most celebrated winemakers, founded the Falesco winery, in Umbria, near Orvieto, in 1979. Their coral pink Falesco Vitiano rosato is an equal blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, plus 10 percent aleatico grapes. “Vitiano rosato was born with awareness that the particular blend of grapes in our red wine could give very interesting results,” Riccardo Cotarella says. “The idea, then, to add the aleatico was basically what we like to call a cherry on the cake.”
Farther south, in an arid stretch of vineyards in Puglia’s Salento region, on the heel of the “boot,” grapes grow under spectacular sunlight that’s tempered by the nearby Mediterranean Sea, which provides cooling maritime winds. Here, Kreos rosato is made in the saignée method, in which a winemaker bleeds off pink wine in the early days of fermenting red grapes to intensify the flavor and power of the remaining red wine. That cast-off pink juice is then fermented separately as rosato. Kreos is made with the negroamaro grape, and a splash of malvasia nera from a parcel of vineyards dedicated to making this rosato. “We do a lot of experiments to develop minerality and salinity in this wine,” Andrea Leonardi, the winery’s technical director, says. “Rosato for
us is not a second wine, but a top wine.”
Mastroberardino, in Campania’s Irpinia region, was established in 1878 and has long championed the indigenous varieties of this region, particularly aglianico. Their Lacrimarosa, which means pink tear, is made entirely with aglianico grapes. Piero Mastroberardino says this wine has “all the minerality typical of our soil, the freshness and acidity that identifies Irpinia, and the body representative of aglianico grapes, but at the same time it has the unique, refined style of our white wines. This makes it extremely personal.”
In the sun-battered southern region of Calabria, Paolo Librandi’s family has been making wine at their eponymous winery since the 1950s, including their hefty and dark Librandi Cirò rosato. Librandi explains that, in Calabria, before modern temperature-controlled winemaking, fermentation time was hindered because it became too hot, and the resulting red wines were more in the style of a rosato. “That’s why a lot of Calabrians are used to drinking pleasant and lighter wine every day that pairs with all our typical recipes,” he says. “Rosato is in the DNA of Calabrians.”
Illustration by Alain Pilon
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