Rosé wines get a bad rap. Damned with faint praise as a “great summer sipper” and showcased by wine shops from June thru September, rosé wine is lumped in with pop top wine spritzers and sweet, beach-ready whites. I think rosé still suffers from the dreaded “blush” wine craze of the 1980’s—remember ‘White Zinfandel’?—and from the cloying, pretty in pink French rosés that now dominate many wine lists. Well, I’m here to rescue rosé from the summer bargain bin and give the serious Italian rosatos I favor the gravitas they deserve.
For about a decade, I’ve been exploring Italian rosato, from the more delicate wines of the cooler Piedmont in the North down to the more robust wines from the southern regions of Sardinia, Sicily, and Puglia. The attraction? Aside from the delightful range of colors, from the palest apricot to Bing cherry red, I find the flavors more complex than most whites, but without the bite or heaviness of big reds. The rosatos I favor pair just as easily with baked cod as with veggie lasagna. And while many rosatos are made from classic red wine grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Montepulciano, a few of my favorites are from native varietals I had never heard of like Gaglioppo and Nero d’Avola.
I usually enjoy rosato in the company of serious red wine aficionados whose drink of choice is a Napa Cab, a Bordeaux blend, or Brunello. After years of haranguing them about the joys of Italian rosés, I finally corralled them into a rosato tasting. The deal: four rosato wines, followed by a blind Napa Cab tasting. The game was on.
The Contestants: Four Italian Rosato
I selected wines made from different grapes in disparate regions, from North to South. We put out a spread of cheeses, nuts, and fruit and began to drink.
Magella Lampato Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2018
Scala Ciro Rosato 2019
Poderi Cellario – E’ Rosato
Grapes: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto
Cantina Lilliu Rosato Pantumas 2017
All four of the wines had their champions, but there was a clear first-place winner—Cantina Lilliu Rosato Pantumas 2017, from Sardinia. Made from 100% Cannanou grapes—the local name for Grenache—The Pantumas was a beautiful amber color with a floral/fruity nose. Several tasters noted a hint of licorice on the palate, along with flavors of apricots and orange. One fan said it tasted like Porto. A slight fizz, light acidity, and a long finish adds to the wine’s charms. We loved this wine. And at the end of the tasting, the bottle was empty! Available online at Eataly Boston/$30
The 2nd runner up was the Poderi Cellario – E’ Rosato, from the Piedmont Region. Before the tasting, I expected to hate it. From its too cute by half pop top to the bright cherry color and winsome label, this wine’s package born to offend. But shut my mouth…the Poderi Cellario was a treat to drink. A blend of Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, the wine boasts watermelon on the nose and strawberries on the palate. It’s dry yet juicy and paired beautifully with dried apricots and comté cheese. This was almost everyone’s second choice, including me, and while it might fall into that “summer in a glass” trope, it’s a most enjoyable glass. Available online via Wine-Searcher/$22
My #1 wine, the Magella Lampato Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2018, was dismissed by others as “inoffensive.” I love its perfumed nose, bright fruit flavors, and fresh acidity. And since it appears to be unavailable in the U.S. except at restaurants, I will continue to drink this bone dry rosato at Vinotta, one of the newer restaurants on Moody Street in Waltham, Mass.
When the tasting was over, did I win any converts to Italian rosato? Doubtful. But if these Napa Cab-loving friends have a little more respect for the wines I love, I’ll be satisfied. And speaking of Napa Cabs, stay tuned for the next VinoDuo post on the blind tasting of the 2017 vintage.