Sunday, June 18, 2017

Puglia's Rosé Conundrum - Through a Glass Darker

How is it a trait that a place is known for, even famous, shuns the quality in favor of fashion? It happens all the time - take a walk through Times Square and feast your eyes upon all that which is desirable. In the case of Puglia, today, the place has an identity crisis. And it centers around the color of their rosé wines.

Rosé wine is all the fashion today. And this is cause for celebration from those of us who never thought we’d see this day. From every nook and cranny of the wine producing universe, someone is bringing out another rosé. Germany, Spain, California, France, Texas, Argentina, Australia, Lebanon, yes Lebanon! Rosé wine is no longer this impossible dream of wine lovers, that someday we might find ourselves in a world where the pale red isn’t shunned.

I couldn’t be happier. But I also am concerned. I like deeply colored rosé wines and some of my favorite wines are starting to look pale and anemic.

“You are trying to be Brigitte Bardot when you are Claudia Cardinale!”

That is the mid-century mantra that roils my reverie. Negroamaro, Primitivo, Aglianico, Nero di Troia and Susumaniello, among others in Puglia, are deep red wines. This isn’t Sangiovese or Nebbiolo we’re dealing with. “the strong sunshine, in addition to, in some parts, the heavy soil, produces strong, coarse wines,” so waxed Cyril Ray more than 50 years ago in his then groundbreaking tome, The Wines of Italy. Puglia winemaking has come a long way from that time when Ray indicted them as “course wines, the reds used for blending and the whites as a base for vermouth.” Indeed, this could be a whole book, breaking things down to reds, whites, sparkling dessert and rosé wines.

When rosé wine first began to be exported from Puglia to the rest of the world (or at least, America) in the 1950’s, the producer Leone de Castris blazed that trail. A deep rosé at the time, called Five Roses, it carved out a niche in the American market in southern Italian eateries in New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. But even now the wine has lightened up, as Ian D’Agata noted recently in Vinous, “Bright pink; this is much lighter in color than previous vintages. Cedar graphite and fresh apple on the nose, then more complex on the palate with similar flavors to the aromas, but also hints of pear and blood orange. Very fresh and long on the finish.”

During the week I was in Puglia this month for Radici 2017, we tasted through many rosé wines, and I noticed the trend towards lightening. How funny, the Italians pride themselves on getting out to the beach (or the pool) to bronze their bodies, but their wines they lighten up, as if a darker color is an embarrassment of sorts. I just don’t get it.

Actually I do. It’s the Provence envy thing. People see how Provence rosé sales are exploding and they want a piece of the pie. But there are rosé drinkers and there are rosé lovers. I’ll explain.

For the most part, there are folks who would just as soon drink a glass of Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay (or Moscato or White Zinfandel) than rosé. But these pale, onion skin rosés (ala Brigitte Bardot) are trending and fashionable. So they go with that. And producers ramp up production in order to catch that wave. But those of us who have been in this game for more than eight innings know those people follow the styles. Today it’s Provence rosé, yesterday it was Chardonnay. Tomorrow, who knows?

But there are those wine (and rosé) lovers for whom a delicate yet richly colored rosé wine is part of the flavor palette of those who value any number of wines – from Bordeaux to Barolo to Verdicchio to Aligoté. And for that reason, some of us still long for a Negroamaro rosato that has a good summer tan (ala Claudia Cardinale). And that goes for Primitivo, Aglianico, Nero di Troia, Susumaniello along with most Italian rosatos (sans Bardolino Chiaretto). Why? Because that is part of their nature – and aren’t we all a little in love with the natural these days? Or at the very least, that which is authentic?

In that way, when I see a bleached out (in color but also smelling a little of it as well) rosé from Aglianico, I’m disappointed. Just as I was when I sipped on a lighter-than-it-should’ve-been Cerasuolo of Montepulciano recently in the wine bar at Roma Termini's Mercato Centrale.

Perfect example: I’m in an Adriatic seaside town, ordering lunch with a friend. They bring Orecchiette all'Arrabbiata. It’s 35°C outside in the noonday sun, and we’re seated inside, in a bright room, which although somewhat cool, is slightly balmy. A red wine won’t do; a white wine would if it was the only option. But a chilled bottle of deeply colored (and flavored) rosato is (and was) the perfect companion. You need the body and the color backs up that proposition that the wine have some “stuff” to it – not just filler for a trend-deprived diner looking to be seen as cool.

No, it’s more than “being seen” as cool. In the Mediterranean, one actually needs a vehicle to cool the body down, but again, not as a pale rider. Some of us like the heft, the power and the punch that a darker rosé conveys.

So please, dear producers in Puglia ( and Basilicata, Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Sardegna, Abruzzo and so on..), please get over your Provence envy in regard to the color of your rosé and keep making what it is you became famous for. Follow not the trends. Never,ever, relinquish your bona fide path, on the wine trail in Italy.

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1 comment:

  1. Marco Ciro MarinaJune 19, 2017 at 7:05 AM

    I have come to appreciate the darker rosato's and grab them whenever I see those Claudia Cardinale's on the shelf. Up here one rarely comes across a Pugliese, Calabrian or Campanian rosé. While Provencal rosé can be fine on a 90 degree day, there is a certain sameness to them, non? Excepting the Bandol's.


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