I’m not normally a fan of rosé wines. I’ve been underwhelmed by some of the most famous names of rosédom – too flabby, too sweet, too characterless. But two weeks in Puglia earlier this summer changed my mind about rosato, which as the Pugliesi make it is a whole different kettle of fish – which, not coincidentally, rosato beautifully accompanies.
Puglia is in vinous terms something of a paradox: A hot, semi-arid land with miles and miles of coastline on two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionic, it should be white-wine heaven. Its heart is nevertheless in red wines, which it produces in splendid abundance and variety. (I have an article about this aspect of Puglia coming out in Decanter.)
While Puglia does make white wines, they are few in number and variety compared to the sea of reds it produces. The heat and flatness of much of Puglia militates against any large white wine production.
The hilly area around Castel del Monte, one of the northernmost and highest zones, accounts for the great bulk of the region’s white wines, probably the best known of which is Locorotondo, vinified from Verdeca – like many of Puglia’s wine grapes, an indigenous and highly localized variety.
But with all that great stretch of seacoast, Puglia has always needed something lighter than the region’s reds to enjoy with fish and to drink on the beach. It long ago found its answer with rosato, which local growers produce in great quantity – and often very high quality – from several native red grape varieties. Everything from the relatively well-known Primitivo (passable) to the utterly unknown Bombino nero (excellent) is used. For my palate, rosatos vinified from Negroamaro stand among the world’s most pleasing rosé wines – light-bodied, fresh and refreshing, with the sweet/sour berry taste that is characteristic of the Negroamaro grape. They have charm, plus a little character – or, to put it another way, they have the lightness of a white wine and the richness of a red – and that puts them miles ahead of the bulk of the world’s rosés.
Another peculiarity of Puglia winemaking is that many of its grapes are grown as alborelli – literally, little trees: free-standing vines, unwired and untrellised. Most places (except some older California Zinfandel vineyards) regard alborello as a very old-fashioned system, but it has the advantage in sunbaked places like Puglia of letting each vine shade its own grapes, all day long. And it has the disadvantage of requiring hand labor for every vineyard operation, thus making it too costly to be considered in most places, whatever its virtues.
The Puglia Best Wine Consortium estimates that some 60-70 percent of Italian rosato comes from Puglia and Abruzzo. I found it impossible to get any firm figures about what percent of Puglia’s red grapes go into rosato, but I suspect it’s quite substantial. The regional market alone for such wines is quite large, and once the rest of the world notices how good Puglian rosato is – especially the Negroamaro – Puglia may find itself asked to slake an enormous thirst.
Here are some of the rosati – and their producers – that most impressed me during my torrid two weeks among Puglia’s vineyards and olive groves.
Apollonio. A 20-hectare family firm since 1870. 2010 Diciotto Fanali: a rosato from Negroamaro: fresh and intriguing, with the gentleness of a white and the spine of a red.
Castello Monaci. A large estate that separately vinifies different vineyards of, primarily, Negroamaro and Primitivo. 2011 Kreos: a lovely, racy rosato from Negroamaro.
Colle Petrito. 80 hectares of vines in a high, hilly part of Castel del Monte, growing many varieties, including whites. Most interesting: Ferula, a 2011 rosato from Bombino Nero (wild strawberries and mineral: delicious).
Fatalone. Fifth-generation, family-owned, certified organic estate in Gioia del Colle, where Primitivo is a specialty. 2009 Primitivo Rosato: one of the few successful aperitif versions of this grape, with beautiful acidity. Very fine.
Li Veli. A project of the Tuscan Alberto Falvo, of Vino Nobile and Vin Santo fame, this estate works almost exclusively with indigenous Pugliese varieties, head-trained, hand-tended, and planted in “septcunxes.” Its 2011 IGT Salento Rosato is entirely from Negroamaro and combines the richness of that variety with an almost-white-wine delicacy.
Tarantini. a family estate, with 12 hectares in vines, all indigenous varieties, and never in barriques. Especially nice 2011 Petrigama Rosato from 100% Bombino Nero.
Tenute Rubino. One of the most dynamic, forward-looking producers in the region. 2011 Saturnino (IGT Salento Rosato): vinified from Negroamaro, and one of the most characteristic and enjoyable of the class.
Vallone. A large, top-quality producer, with some wines from the Brindisi area but most from the Salento zone. 2011 Vigna Flaminio Brindisi Rosato (80% Negroamaro/20% Montepulciano): strawberry nose and palate, very refreshing.