Thursday, June 10, 2010

Italian Rosè

Pink is the new white. Last night’s rosè tasting was a lot of fun, and an eye-opener for many who had always associated rosè with the cloyingly sweet versions of the wine. Quality rosè in Europe though has always been dry for the most part, and is a wonderful choice this time of year.  Warm weather has finally arrived in Rome and mother nature seems to be making up for lost time by blasting us, and it has had me reaching for the rosè! Big red wine sounds so unpalatable, but sometimes you want more than a white. With rosè, you can get the body of a red with the thirst-quenching quality of a white. They often bring a spiciness to the palate that is a wonderful accompaniment to the peperocino-laced fish stews that abound along the Italian coasts, or the fiery foods of Calabria like ‘nduja sausage. Not too many whites out there could hold their own against all of that flavor and heat, but a good rosè will cool you down without being overpowered. 
Quality pink wine is made not by blending white and red wine together, but instead by allowing a limited skin contact time. (The one exception is pink bubbly, rosè Champagnes and other quality sparklers do indeed blend white and red together, which is just one component of the complicated assemblage  process involved.) Red wine derives its color from the skins, which is extracted during the fermentation process. Those skins also contain tannin, but the color is extracted first. Reds might spend weeks macerating with their skins, but depending on the grape variety you have and the type of rosè you want to make, a pink wine will spend somewhere between 12 and 48 hours. This usually  means tannin has not been extracted, so with rosès you rarely get the astringency that can accompany young reds. Colors can range anywhere from peach (made from white grapes) to bright cherry reds. The aromas are usually of bright fruit, sometimes with some spiciness with cinnamon or floral notes.
Tonight we looked at five Italian rosès, all from the south. I love northern rosès as well, but I wanted a more focused tasting this time. Overall we were very happy with the wines, especially when you consider the prices. Only one wine was 20 euros, and the other four all fell between 7 and 9 euros. The first two were a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo and a Salento Rosato from Puglia. They were quite similar in color and aroma, despite being from distinct regions. Both were a bit muted in their flavors but presented a nice, refreshing acidity, with the second wine perhaps being a bit more thirst-quenching. The Salento wine is one of the more famous Italian rosès, the Rosa del Golfo. This bottling didn’t quite seem to live up to its reputation. 
The next three wines were the clear favorites of the evening. The third was actually the oldest wine, a 2007, from Sicily. Often in a tasting you go from youngest to oldest, but I felt confident that the other remaining wines would be more complex and concentrated and I didn’t want it to be overpowered.  It turned out to be a wise choice. The wine was a blend of nerello mascalese grapes without the skins, together with the skins of nero d’avola grapes- a rather unusual method. It had wonderful citrus flavors of grapefruit  along with peach and hints cinnamon. On the palate its substantial acidity was well-balanced by the alcohol. Our next choice is perhaps the most famous of Italian pink wines, the Five Roses from Leone de Castris. Also from Puglia, this wine was a much more expressive example than the Rosa del Golfo. It had wonderful spicy aromas of cinnamon and orange zest and felt full and balanced on the palate. The final wine of the evening was a medal winner, the Grayasusi from Calabria. Made from the gaglioppo grape, it was the most complex of our wines. It had distinct aromas of red cherries and a smoky, buttery character to it. The last two wines were the favorites, and the Five Roses at 7.50 a bottle versus the 20 euros for the Grayasusi, offers the best value for money by far. Both though are excellent examples of the “pink stuff”, and are destined for different uses. The Five Roses is a classic rosè with bright acidity and primary aromas of fruit. The Calabrese wine has the complexity of a red, but a price to match. If the weather is as hot where you are as it is in Rome, think of rosè the next time you’re looking for a change. You just might be converted.
The line-up:
1. Montepulcianod’Abruzzo Cerasuolo 2009 Cataldi Madonna
2. Salento Rosato Rosa del Golfo 2009 Cantine Rosa del Golfo
3. Sicilia Le Rose 2007 Regleali
4. Salento Five Roses 2008 Leone de Castris
5. Val di Neto Grayasusi 2009 Roberto Ceraudo

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