Your Cheat Sheet to the Best Italian Rosé

Rosés in a glass
Photo by Ashton Worthington

Fans of crisp, savory rosé should familiarize themselves with Italy’s bounty of beautiful pink-hued offerings. While in the past it was not common throughout much of the country, producers from north to south have ramped up production of stellar vini rosati from native and international grapes. There are a number of styles and designations, but the best are bright, vibrant and dry. Here’s your cheat sheet to the best rosatos out there. —Kerin O’Keefe 

Guerrieri Rizzardi 2018 Classico (Bardolino Chiaretto);Cavalchina 2018 Bardolino Chiaretto;and Le Fraghe 2018 Ròdon (Bardolino Chiaretto
From left to right: Cavalchina 2018 Bardolino Chiaretto; Le Fraghe 2018 Ròdon; and Guerrieri Rizzardi 2018 Classico (Bardolino Chiaretto) / Photo by Ashton Worthington

Veneto

Around Lake Garda, where the Veneto and Lombardy regions converge, the production of rosato is a long-standing tradition. Known locally as Chiaretto, meaning “light” or “pale,” it was first made in the area in 1896, which makes the region one of the oldest rosé producing areas in Italy.

There, the most famous appellation for rosato is Bardolino Chiaretto. It was recently renamed Chiaretto di Bardolino, so bottles may carry either designation. The wines are made exclusively from red grapes grown in the province of Verona.

Corvina is the main variety utilized, blended with Rondinella or Molinara, all grapes that are also used in Amarone, Valpolicella and Bardolino for the region’s classic reds.

Until five years ago, most winemakers obtained Bardolino Chiaretto by “bleeding” the must of their red wines. The technique, called saignée in French and salasso in Italian, both of which mean to bleed, takes a portion of red grape juice after short contact with the skins and seeds to be fermented separately for rosé. Critics argue that the technique’s true purpose is to create more concentrated red wines, and the resulting rosatos are simply byproducts.

In 2014, the Bardolino consortium launched a so-called “Rosé Revolution.” The campaign encouraged producers to make lighter-colored, fresher Chiaretto by urging the use of grapes grown specifically for rosato, along with earlier harvests to retain more acidity and vinification like that of white wines, with minimal skin contact. It’s led to more vibrant, pale Chiarettos that boast floral, red berry, citrus and spice sensations.

But not everyone has abandoned salasso. Matilde Poggi, owner and winemaker of Le Fraghe, is one prominent Chiaretto producer who maintains use of the traditional technique. She allows six hours of skin contact for two-thirds of her iconic Chiaretto Rodon.

“I like salasso,” she says. “I find it makes rosatos with more structure and complexity.” —K.O.

Cavalchina 2018 Bardolino Chiaretto; $17, 91 points. Inviting floral and wild berry aromas mingle with whiffs of botanical herbs. On the savory, refreshing palate, tangy acidity accompanies pomegranate, juicy pink grapefruit and creamy white peach. It closes on a saline note. de Grazia Imports LLC. —K.O.

Le Fraghe 2018 Ròdon (Bardolino Chiaretto); $16, 91 points. A blend of organically farmed Corvina (80%) and Rondinella (20%), this elegant rosato opens with enticing scents of spring field flower, aromatic herb, ripe peach and a whiff of baking spice. Smooth, bright and juicy, the savory, easy-drinking palate offers wild red berry, tangerine zest and a hint of white pepper alongside tangy acidity. Oliver McCrum Wines. Editors’ Choice. —K.O.

Guerrieri Rizzardi 2018 Classico (Bardolino Chiaretto); $16, 90 points. Sleek and vibrant, this has alluring aromas of white and yellow spring flower, wild berry and yellow stone fruit. The succulent palate has more structure than most Chiarettos, offering sour cherry, juicy strawberry, honeydew melon and a hint of baking spice before a crisp, dry finish. Elixir Wine Group. Editors’ Choice. —K.O.

From left to right; Fattoria Fibbiano 2018 Rosé (Toscana); Campo alle Comete 2018 Rosato (Bolgheri); and Terre di Talamo 2018 Piano Piano Rosato (Toscana)
From left to right: Fattoria Fibbiano 2018 Rosé (Toscana); Campo alle Comete 2018 Rosato (Bolgheri); and Terre di Talamo 2018 Piano Piano Rosato (Toscana) / Photo by Ashton Worthington

Tuscany

Rosato production in Tuscany, one of Italy’s premier red-wine regions, has taken off over the last several years. Producers use a plethora of grapes, from noble, native Sangiovese to international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.

While some winemakers use the salasso method to create bright pink rosatos with structure, an increasing number of producers now harvest grapes specifically to craft crisp, energetic offerings through other production methods that employ minimal skin contact.

Sangiovese’s high acidity makes the grape extremely adaptable to various winemaking techniques. However, the best and freshest are made with Sangiovese grapes destined for rosato, not any sort of red wine spin-off.

“We chose to make a rosato with Sangiovese because of the grape’s unique ability to interpret our terroir, offering finesse, savory flavors and mineral,” says Nicola Cantoni, owner and winemaker at Fattoria Fibbiano, located in the hills around Pisa. “To make an authentic rosato, we pick the grapes early and vinify them apart.”

Meanwhile, before red wines produced with international varieties took off, Bolgheri turned out almost all white and rosé selections. Rosato from the Bolgheri Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is vibrant and savory, due in great part to the appellation’s coastal location. International red varieties are used mostly, although up to 50% Sangiovese can be included.

“Thanks to the proximity to the sea and the almost constant wind that helps keep the climate fresher than other coastal areas of Tuscany, it’s possible to make high-end, elegant rosé in Bolgheri,” says Antonio Capaldo, president of Campania-based Feudi di San Gregorio, which acquired the Tuscan estate of Campo alle Comete in 2016. The winery makes its rosato starting in the vineyard, from a blend of international grapes picked for freshness. —K.O.

A Quick Guide to Rosé Wine

Fattoria Fibbiano 2018 Rosé (Toscana); $22, 91 points. A 100% Sangiovese rosé, this opens with inviting aromas of wild berries, grilled herbs and a whiff of culinary spices. On the bright, savory palate, hints of ground clove and white pepper accent juicy red cherry, white peach and citrus while bright acidity gives it a tangy finish. Artisanal Cellars. —K.O.

Campo alle Comete 2018 Rosato (Bolgheri); $23, 90 points. Made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, this fresh, tangy rosato boasts juicy primary flavors of red currant, black cherry and raspberry. Notes of white pepper and Mediterranean herbs accent the fruity flavors. Vias Imports. Editors’ Choice. —K.O.

Terre di Talamo 2018 Piano Piano Rosato (Toscana); $18, 90 points. A 50-50 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, this savory rosato opens with inviting aromas of wild berry, botanical herb and a hint of baking spice. Reflecting the nose, the juicy palate doles out cherry, red currant, citrus zest and a bit of ginger alongside tangy acidity. Michelangelo Selections. Editors’ Choice. —K.O.

From left to right; Cantina Zaccagnini 2018 Dal Tralcetto Dry Rosé (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo); De Fermo 2017 Le Cince Superiore (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo); and Fantini 2018 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo
From left to right: Cantina Zaccagnini 2018 Dal Tralcetto Dry Rosé (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo); De Fermo 2017 Le Cince Superiore (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo); and Fantini 2018 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo / Photo by Ashton Worthington

Abruzzo

Nestled between the peaks of the Apennines and the Adriadic Sea, Abruzzo’s hilly and coastal wine regions are well suited to the Montepulciano grape. The region’s main variety, it’s the focus of the red-wine production of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but the grape is also used to make the bold, cherry-hued rosatos of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

“The origin of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is strictly connected with the origin of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo,” says oenologist Concezio Marulli of Cantina Zaccagnini, a winery that has produced Cerasuolo since its foundation in 1978.

In the past, farmers used the same grapes to create different types of wine with staggered releases.

“The first wine ready to be drunk was the Cerasuolo, ready after few weeks of maturation, and the second one as a red version with ruby red color,” he says.

Cerasuolo, which means “cherry,” references the wine’s typical deep pink hue, a result of the rich pigments found in the skin of the Montepulciano grape. The grapes typically undergo a short maceration period of a few hours before the must and juice are separated. The wines are often rich in color and well structured by framing tannins and tangy acidity, with plenty of cherry, berry and herb flavors. Top examples can be enjoyed a few years after bottling, which bucks the trend of drink-now rosés.

While Abruzzo’s red wines have been well received outside of the region, its pink-hued offerings have traditionally been appreciated and consumed on a local level.

The establishment of the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC in 2010 aided in global recognition of the style, and it has since gained notoriety as one of the best appellations for quality Italian rosato. —Alexander Peartree 

Cantina Zaccagnini­ 2018 Dal Tralcetto­ Dry Rosé (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo); $18, 91 points. A wild strawberry and herb aroma carries a slight balsamic edge on the nose. The palate is well rounded and juicy in feel, with delicious red cherry and strawberry flavors that are honed by bright acidity and a tangy slick of wet stone. Cherry skin astringency marks the close, extending the fruit flavors into a medium finish. WinesU. Editors’ Choice. —A.P.

De Fermo 2017 Le Cince Superiore (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo); $30, 91 points. High-toned aromas of wild strawberry, crushed cherry and powdered stone dazzle on the nose of this rusty-pink hued wine. There’s ample tang and energy to the palate, with cranberry and cherry skin flavors enlivened by a slick of wet limestone. Red apple peel tannins offer a soft frame to it all, rising up on the finish to offer a final kiss of astringency. Grand Cru Selections. —A.P.

Fantini 2018 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo; $13, 89 points. Bright aromas of candied watermelon and pink grapefruit grace the nose of this neon-pink rosato from the Farnese group. It’s textural and soft on the entry of the palate, yet a veil of tannins offers a solid frame to flavors of cherry, melon and citrus. Cleansing acidity rises up on the finish, which creates a refreshing overall experience. Empson USA Ltd. Best Buy. —A.P.

From left to right: Cantine Menhir 2018 Numero 0 Negroamaro-Susumaniello Rosato (Salento); Castello Monaci 2018 Kreos Negroamaro Rosato (Salento); and Rivera 2018 Pungirosa Bombino Nero Rosato (Castel del Monte
From left to right; Cantine Menhir 2018 Numero 0 Negroamaro-Susumaniello Rosato (Salento); Castello Monaci 2018 Kreos Negroamaro Rosato (Salento); and Rivera 2018 Pungirosa Bombino Nero Rosato (Castel del Monte) / Photo by Ashton Worthington

Puglia

Defined by an endless turquoise coastline speckled with white sandy beaches and quiet seaside towns, this southern Italian locale has proved hospitable for rosato. While the vibe in Puglia may be relaxed, the wines are serious. Rosato production dates back more than 75 years, with the first commercial bottling attributed to Leone de Castris’ Five Roses. Clearly, this is no passing fad.

Though the region grows a wide array of native and international red grapes for rosato production, it’s the Negroamaro-based bottlings that are some of the best examples. The variety delivers both structure and bright acidity, key for a quality rosé. Alone, however, the grape often fails to offer a complete package.

“The addition of Susumaniello to the blend softens Negroamaro’s harsher notes, especially its acidity,” says Marco Mascellani, head winemaker at Cantine Menhir Salento, in reference to his Numero 0 bottling from the Salento peninsula.

Susumaniello and Malvasia Nera, another common blending grape, are rich in anthocyanins, or pigments, which impart a coral-pink hue to the wines. The two varieties also deliver fruity and floral elements that help round out the blend and result in bold yet balanced rosatos.

Farther inland is the Castel del Monte appellation. Within the area, the Castel del Monte Bombino Nero Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), established as a separate designation from the larger appellation in 2011, is the home of the Bombino Nero grape. It’s also one of Italy’s only DOCGs dedicated exclusively to rosato.

Bombino Nero is a thin-skinned grape that shows uneven bunch ripening. This results in high acidity and low sugar, both welcome attributes for rosato production. Wines produced from the variety are typically boisterous and fruity in strawberry and watermelon flavors, which make them immensely accessible and easy to enjoy. —A.P.

A Beginner's Guide to the Wines of Sicily

Cantine Menhir 2018 Numero 0 Negroamaro-­Susumaniello Rosato (Salento); $15, 90 points. This vibrant coral-pink rosato is a blend of 70% Negroamaro and 30% Susumaniello. The nose offers lifted aromas of gardenia and rose, with a squeeze pink grapefruit giving a burst of freshness. It’s light in feel but bright on the palate in crisp citrus and melon flavors. There’s a pleasing creaminess on the midpalate that leads to a kiss of grapefruit peel on the finish. Francoli USA. Best Buy. —A.P.

Castello Monaci 2018 Kreos Negroamaro Rosato (Salento); $13, 88 points. This saignée of Negroamaro offers pretty aromas of grapefruit, white flowers and strawberry on the nose. It is silken in feel, with creamy red fruit flavors, yet propped up by just enough acidity to keep it refreshing. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. Best Buy. —A.P.

Rivera 2018 Pungirosa Bombino Nero Rosato (Castel del Monte); $15, 88 points. This Bombino Nero rosato is unabashedly fruity on the nose and palate with watermelon, grapefruit and strawberry tones taking center stage. It’s a soft, easygoing sipper that is sure to please many with its straightforward appeal. Montcalm Wine Imports. —A.P.

From left to right: Barone di Villagrande 2017 Rosato (Etna); Sallier de la Tour 2018 Madamarosè (Sicilia); and Cottanera 2018 Rosato (Etna)
From left to right; Barone di Villagrande 2017 Rosato (Etna); Cottanera 2018 Rosato; and Sallier de la Tour 2018 Madamarosè (Sicilia) / Photo by Ashton Worthington

Sicily

The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily’s wine scene is booming, and rosato production is no exception. Bottlings from both native and international grapes are produced across its landscape, with colors that range from light onion skin to deep pink. They can be fruity or floral, but nearly all showcase a savory salinity.

One of the island’s most exciting winemaking regions is Mount Etna. The area turns out vibrant and intriguing rosatos, thanks to its unique combination of indigenous grapes, soaring vineyard altitudes, volcanic soils and intense sunlight. Those factors are also coupled with cooler, wetter growing conditions in comparison to the rest of Sicily.

Nerello Mascalese is the native grape that serves as the backbone of Etna’s elegant, racy rosatos. It yields crisp stylings when harvested early and vinified like a white wine. Alternately, several hours of skin contact yields more fruit and a deeper color.

In other parts of Sicily, producers make pink offerings from Nero d’Avola as well as a variety of international grapes. Syrah is one that often shows especially well.

“In the Monreale territory, Syrah expresses unique characteristics, thanks to the depth and freshness of the soil,” says Alberto Tasca, CEO of Tasca d’Almerita in Sicily. It owns several estates on the island, like Sallier de La Tour.

“On the Sallier estate in particular, numerous natural springs nurture the soil, making it particularly suitable for Syrah,” he says.  The winery’s brand-new Syrah Madamarosé shows structure, finesse, freshness and typical spice notes. Or, as Tasca puts it, “a rosato true to the variety, but with a Mediterranean flair.” —K.O.

Barone di Villagrande 2017 Rosato (Etna); $22, 92 points. Fragrant and refined, this rosato has enticing aromas of red berry, citrus, wild herb and nectarine. A blend of 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Carricante, the savory palate doles out juicy strawberry, sour cherry, ginger and peach alongside tangy acidity. A saline note closes the finish. Omniwines Distribution. Editors’ Choice. —K.O.

Sallier de la Tour 2018 Madamarosè (Sicilia); $19, 91 points. This absolutely delicious rosato opens with alluring aromas of Spanish broom, wild berry and a whiff of sea breeze. The smooth, savory palate doles out mouthfuls of juicy raspberry, pink grapefruit, white pepper and a salty mineral note alongside fresh acidity. Bourget Imports. Editors’ Choice. —K.O.

Cottanera 2018 Rosato (Etna); $18, 89 points. Aromas of Spanish broom, wild berry and a whiff of Mediterranean scrub form the nose on this vibrant Nerello Mascalese rosato. The crisp, savory palate offers sour cherry, tangerine and botanical herbs alongside bright acidity. Indigenous Selections. —K.O.

Published on June 11, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings


SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories