It’s peak summertime, which also means it’s full-on rosé season! In search of ideal selections for summer refreshment, we venture beyond the traditional pale Provençal pour and explore Italian rosato, especially those from the Southern Italian region of Puglia. Made from an array of grapes, with varied intensities and flavor and aroma profiles, there’s a world of stunning Puglian rosato, or vino rosa, worth your consideration.
In this episode, Tasting Director Alexander Peartree speaks with Enrico Contini, Marketing Director at Vias Imports, all about the diverse rainbow of rosato offerings from this beautiful Italian region.
From popular Primitivo to exciting Bombino Nero– and Negroamaro-based selections, there’s so much to taste from this exciting, enticing and affordable category of wine, all ready to tantalize your taste buds and refresh your palate through the remaining dog days of summer and beyond.
Some of the wines and varieties discussed in this episode include:
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor here at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, we’re in search of some ideal selections for summer refreshment. That’s right, it’s summertime, which means it’s officially full-on rosé season. Today we’re thinking beyond the traditional pale Provencal pour and exploring Italian rosato, especially those from the southern Italian region of Puglia. Made from an array of grapes with varied intensities and flavor and aroma profiles, Tasting Director Alexander Peartree and Enrico Contini, the marketing director at Vias Imports, explore the diverse rainbow of rosato offerings from this beautiful Italian region, all ready to tantalize your taste buds and refresh your palate through the remaining dog days of summer and beyond.
Alexander Peartree 1:10
Alright, so I am today chatting with Enrico Contini, the marketing director at Vias, which is an importer based in New York City that has a quite extensive Italian portfolio. Enrico, welcome.
Enrico Contini 1:28
Thank you very much, Alex, for chatting with me. I’m very happy and proud to be here today with you.
Alexander Peartree 1:33
Wonderful. So, the reason why I wanted to chat with Enrico is because I wanted to get his take on a category that I think is growing. It is becoming more and more popular, not only in Italy, but it’s becoming more recognized here in the States. And that category is rosé or Rosato. One of the regions that is becoming a key player in that style is Puglia. For people who are unfamiliar with Puglia, it’s a region in southern Italy. If you look on a map, it’s essentially the heel of the boot on the east coast. For many, and actually, for many Italians, it’s probably went more well known as a vacation destination since it has pretty much endless miles of coastline. Would you not agree with that, Enrico?
Enrico Contini 2:32
I totally agree with you. It’s one of the best places for vacation in Italy for sure.
Alexander Peartree 2:37
But I think you might also agree with me on this: It is also a region that grows in an incredible array of produce, from olives to wheat to legumes. It grows an amazing assortment of food, and that also includes an amazing assortment of wine grapes.
Enrico Contini 2:59
Alexander Peartree 3:02
I think if Americans were to to know one thing about Puglia, they probably would already know about one of the main grapes, Primitivo, which is related to the American Zinfidel. But there’s so much more beyond Primitivo. And actually, there’s this grape that I think is one of the key stars in Rosato production in Puglia that deserves a lot more attention. That grape is Negroamaro, which I think actually this might be a good segment for you to talk about because of your tie with the winery Leone de Castris, which is in the Vias portfolio, has a wonderful Negroamaro-based rosé.
Enrico Contini 3:53
Yes, I agree, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk a little bit about the Negroamaro grape and, of course, Leone de Castris, which is one of the leader estates in rosé production for one of the most important rosé wines that we have in Italy, the Five Roses. So Negroamaro is actually a grape that is composed by two words Negro and amaro. So in the past people usually refer to Negroamaro because the color black is Negro in Italian, and the word Amaro was erroneously and mistakenly considered as a bitter, which is the actual meaning of the word. But nowadays, we understand that the word amaro comes from the Greek mavro. So it’s the word that stands for black in Greek. So the negroamaro word is just a word that explain that the grapes are black and dark in both words. So it’s not just black and bitter as people used to say, and used to conceive. Now they understand that is black and black from the Greek origin. So it’s even darker than what we expect. It’s the color of the berries that makes the this name of the of the grapes, which is very, very, very dark. This grape is usually planted in Puglia. We find it in Puglia very commonly, but we also have some Negroamaro in Basilicata and Campagna too. We believe that is a great key import in Puglia that was colonized by the Greeks around the seventh century before Christ. So it’s a grape that has been for a very, very long time in Puglia. The wines that are coming from Negroamaro are wines that usually are very structured, ideal for long-term aging. So it’s a grape that is a very abundant output and it tolerates drought. So it’s very suitable for the Puglian terroir. The great characteristic is that is not losing any acidity. So despite the fact that it’s getting a lot of like maturation, the acidity is still there and that makes the wine very ideal for long term aging and as well for rosé production so it doesn’t drop acidity easily and even grows in very warm conditions.
Alexander Peartree 6:17
So the grape itself is is pretty at home on the Salento Peninsula, which is that area that juts out into the sea, which is relatively flat, but there’s a constant breeze coming off of the ocean that helps moderate the temperature. That coupled with the fact that Negroamaro maintains bright acidity, even in the warm temperatures is one of the reasons why it’s an astounding wine for Rosato production. And so rosé in Puglia is nothing new, while people might think it’s like a new fad it’s actually been going on for quite a while. Why don’t you give us a little insight on essentially how long it’s been going on and Puglia.
Enrico Contini 7:10
Rosé for Puglia is a very, very long tradition. As I was mentioning, Leone de Castris was the very first winery in Puglia that bottle a rosé wine and this wine was called the Five Roses and was bottled in 1943, right after World War II. So we’re talking about a very long and ancient tradition. Actually, it’s a great story. The wine was bottled for the US Army, actually. The General Charles Poletti, who was a supply officer of the Allied Forces, was looking for some wine and he tried Leone de Castris rosé and fell in love with it and he asked the winery to bottle it right after World War II finished. He was able also to import some bottles and bring it to the US market, so it was a great story for timing. The wine production was just at the beginning like right after the World War II. The very first vintage was bottled in beer bottles, just to give you an idea that all the other glass factories were shut down because of the war and then they don’t know where to put the wine so they find those different sized beer bottles and they start pouring the wine in those bottles. It was a great story to start with. And then little by little there was a tradition that grew all over the peninsula, all over Puglia too. We have like a great appellation now—Castel del Monte Rosato is one of the appellations that is very famous for rosé as well. Rosé can be done with Negroamaro but usually also you can use Bombino Nero, or other indigenous varietals. So nowadays you can really find a plethora of indigenous grapes that are suitable for the production of rosé. Some roses are fresher than other ones, especially Italian roses have a little bit more power in terms of color and in terms of structure, but this is because of the DNA of the grapes and the characteristics of the polyphenols that are on the on the skin of the grapes. You know, they give the color and the pigmentation to the grape itself.
Alexander Peartree 9:24
Absolutely. And so going back to that topic of how Italian Rosato or even how Puglian Rosato is different than what you might find elsewhere for, say, French rose, maybe. Obviously, the grapes themselves to make these wines are quite different than what you would find in France. And the result is something a little bit darker, a little bit heavier, and even actually, if it’s not quite darker, there is a little bit more of that tannin extraction or polyphenol extraction that’s giving a little bit more roundness and weight to roses. I do find that a lot with the Negroamaro roses, I do find that they are definitely heavier than a Provence style of rose, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. People have been so accustomed to those really, really pale, nearly white roses, but I think now that people realize that rose comes in all different shades, they should really get into the Negroamaro roses, and then you even mentioned another great grape Bombino Nero, which is making wonderful rose wines in the Castel Del Monte region, which is in Northern Puglia. So quite different than the Salento Peninsula.
Enrico Contini 10:54
Exactly. I agree with you totally. I mean, that’s the beauty of the indigenous grapes that we can find all over Italy and all over the world. Especially Negroamaro has always been a very, as I said, structured grape that can give birth to structure wines. And of course, we cannot have a very pale rose from Negroamaro grapes, it’s impossible. It’s the DNA of the grapes that has the color, the anthocyanins and all the pigmentation on the skin. So it would be like going to an Indian restaurant without eating spicy, you know, you can’t, you can’t. Those are the characteristics of the grapes and you want to enjoy the characteristics of the grape for what it is. I really like all the shades of the rose that we have in Italy and, as you said, those are like the main characteristics of the Italian rose, still with nice acidity, with a light body, but you have also those crispy berry aromas like strawberries and cherries that makes the wine richer and with a fuller body than the usual pale rose there that we find another countries, which is totally legit. It’s the beauty of the diversity in wines.
Alexander Peartree 12:13
On top of all that, I think one of the great things about Puglian rose is the fact that the price point is so incredibly approachable. I’ve seen this this fad a little bit with French rose that their prices seem to be increasing as more and more people become interested, but with Puglian rose, the prices are so approachable. I rarely see when over $20 a bottle and if they are, they’re not much over $20. The Leone de Castris, I think, is a great example of that, The Five Roses. But there’s also wonderful bottles from estates like Tenute Rubino, Masseria Li Veli, Castello Monaci. There’s so many things that are available to Americans and there’s really no reason to not get them because they’re so well priced.
Enrico Contini 13:12
I agree the price point is very affordable and with $20 you have a great value wine. Especially you can try many, many different varietals of rose. One day you can try a rose with Negroamaro, another day with Bombino Nero and another day maybe you can get a Primitivo rose. All of these are opportunities to find different grapes that can makes a different shade of rose is also something unique. Then you discover with time what you like the best and then you stick with it. But at least you have the opportunity to try things that are completely new and not the same known varietals that you drink for the dinner or lunch or aperitivo time. The beauty of this region is that Negroamaro has never been a monovarietal wine, so usually you blend it with the other indigenous varietals from Italy, like Malvasia Nera, for example. So, you always try to find the right balance for the roses. So when you have a grape that is very, say, powerful in structure and there’s a lot of tannins, they want to smooth the tannins with another feeler in the blend that can smooth the body and help the aromatic compounds to come up. That’s the role of, for example, the Malvasia Nera and in the Negroamaro blend for the Five Roses, the Rosato that we were talking about. But also many Rosato that we have in Puglia, you can find 90% Negroamaro and 10% of the Malvasia Nera, which is very usual blend for rose. The same for Primitivo and Bombino Nero. Bombino Nero usually is another filler for for rose blends, so you can also find 90% Negroamaro and 10% Bombino Nero, which gives this crispiness and delicatesse to the body. So it’s very interesting to experiment and find new different rose wines, depending on the region and the area that we are living in is Puglia or other Italian regions.
Alexander Peartree 15:26
Absolutely. So let’s talk actually about another of the major grapes in Puglia, which we touched on before: Primitivo. Many people are probably more familiar with Primitivo as a red wine. It’s made mostly in the Salento Peninsula and is prominently grown in Manduria where it makes Primitivo di Manduria, which are these really, really big, heavy red wines. But on the Salento Peninsula they also make some really quite delicious rose wines. For me, these wines tend to be, comparing it to Negroamaro and Bombino Nero, a little bit more powerful with also maintaining a lot of that characteristic spice note that Primitivo has. So what is your experience with Primitivo as a rose wine?
Enrico Contini 16:31
Primitivo is the iconic indigenous varietals of Puglia. Primitivo is planted almost everywhere. And as the name said, primitivo is from the Latin word primativo, so it’s an early ripening grape and is also the first to be picked in Italy. So during the summer season in August is the very first grape that has been picked during the harvest. That’s why you really need to be careful with primitivo because it’s a grape that accumulates sugar easily. It’s a very sensitive grape, so you just want to make sure that y=ou provide the right sugar concentration but not too much in order to have in control the alcohol level of the wine that you’re going to do with your Primitivo. I think that it’s very important in the structure and in the acidity to of the wine that gonna make with a Primitivo. But you also need a little bit of softening for these these grape that is sometimes too strong. So you really need to be careful during the winemaking process and also during the harvest. When you are in the vineyards you need to make sure that the grapes didn’t get too much ripening and needs also some aromatic compounds.
Alexander Peartree 18:05
I can say from a recent group of tastings that I’ve done for the latest vintages of rose wines from Puglia, I had a few that were made predominantly from Primitivo and, as you say, some of them were a bit overblown. It can just be like a few degrees of alcohol difference between one that is really well balanced and one where you can actually notice the alcohol. But I think if winemakers are very cognizant about harvest times they can make a really wonderful style of rosato. [There are] two that come to my mind. One is a great co-op from the Manduria region called Produttori di Manduria. They make this really richly colored rose wine called Aka. It has like a really pretty picture of coral on it and they the name Aka references an actual type of coral, so it’s really, really pretty. And then another rosato that I enjoy from Primitivo is from the estate Pietraventosa, which is actually an estate in northern Puglia in the Murgia region, which is quite different than the Salento Peninsula. It’s much higher in elevation and they make a really elegant rosato.
Enrico Contini 19:37
Yeah there are like now many producers that are doing an elegant rosato with Primitivo. You mentioned and there are also in Gioia del Colle—Nicola Chiaromonte or Gianfranco Fino, Raccemi—those are like all great names together with of course Leone de Castris that we represent, but nowadays you can really find more and more elegant wines in Primitivo, which is not easy because we said Primitivo is a difficult varietal to be to be cultivated. You’re susceptible to drought to spring frost, sometimes also floral abortion, so you just have difficult conditions that you have to deal with every year. Sometimes it’s also prone to uneven ripening and you really need to find the right balance to do good Primitivo. So it takes time and, of course, experience and that’s why little by little we have a lot of estates and wines that are getting better and better with time in the rosato production and in the Primitivo production.
Alexander Peartree 20:40
Absolutely. So we’ve talked about Negroamaro, we’ve talked a little bit about Bombino Nero and we just talked about Primitivo. Why don’t we talk about one more grape that I think is worth mentioning. And the grape is Susumaniello. It’s not a very widely planted variety and it’s actually used in blending a lot, I believe. There are few rosato wines made from Susumaniello predominantly. So do you have any insight on the grape?
Enrico Contini 21:16
That’s correct. I mean the Susumaniello is similar to Bombino Nero that we mentioned before and the Malvasia Nera. Those are the three main fillers for rose, whether you have a rose that is Primitivo based or Negroamaro based. Susumaniello is a very old grape, indigenous grape that was discovered now like some years ago, was brought back to the attention of the public. It’s a very productive variety. [Susumaniello] literally means loading up the donkey, because it’s a great with a very high yield. So that’s what they used to call it because, you know, they used to carry it with donkeys and it has a lot of yield, so you need a lot of donkeys in order to carry all the grapes that the plant was producing. So, especially in the first 10 years of the vines, you have very, very large yields, then little by little, after 10 years, these are gonna be lower and lower. But yes, it’s a grape that you can barely find Susumaniello by itself. It’s not a monovarietal wine. It’s a filler for blends. What I really like is it’s a great addition to the texture of the blend. So let’s say that when it’s a young wine, Susumaniello can have strong tannins, but after aging a little bit, it softens the structure of the wine. So in the rose blends, I think provides a great texture and like solidity in the body. That creates also a nice complement with either Primitivo or the Negroamaro grapes, which are the two main protagonists of the rose of Puglia.
Alexander Peartree 23:15
Yeah, absolutely. In my tastings, I haven’t seen too much single varietals Susumaniello wines. A little bit more with with bottles that are red wines, but I did actually find one that I really enjoyed that was predominantly Susumaniello and it’s from Masseria Li Veli. They’re a pretty great producer located right in Salento Peninsula.
Lauren Buzzeo 23:48
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Alexander Peartree 24:25
With the concept of all of these wonderful roses in our head, I am just reeling back to my memories of visiting Puglia. It’s been about a year for me and I am just remembering the gorgeous seaside landscapes, but then the also the countryside, very provincial interior that has so much charm to it. And honestly the food that I had in Puglia was was some of the best food I’ve had in Italy, because you can really feel the connection to the land. The food is grown exactly where you are. So all of these cuisines that are from Puglia actually pair perfectly with the rosato wines that are made from it. And so I have to ask, What do you like to drink with a Puglian rosato?
Enrico Contini 25:24
As you said, Rosato is probably the most versatile wine that we can find in Puglia, in Italy. And nowadays, I like the food culture of aperitivo style, like the brunch culture that is nowadays very prominent also in Italy. We didn’t have it in the past but little by little we got contaminated by the U.S. and other countries, and now brunch is an institution also in Italy.
Alexander Peartree 25:52
Enrico Contini 25:55
Thanks to… let’s say the brunch culture that we have now in Italy, we used to pair it with many aperitivo-style dishes. I can mention some of them like bruschetta with a tomato confit or like sun dried tomatoes. I like to try it also with let’s say veggie skewers on barbecue. It’s barbecue time now and really like seafood skewers, veggie skewers and those are like very ideal pairing for a rose wine that can also pair easily with hummus and any other Tsadsiki sauce or dippers that you can find all over like the place. Olives, too, is a great appetizer that we like to drink rosato with. Also, I would mention some fresh fruits like melon and prosciutto, which is a perfect combination that we use for aperitivo in Italy. Or like specially fruits like strawberries, raspberries, also chocolate and pomegranate could be a nice combination for rose. It’s a very, very variable mix of food. Also charcuterie, like cheese and charcuterie boards, especially fresh cheese, soft cheese, mild cheese are very well paired with rose. And any kind of brunch-style dishes, asparagus with eggs or parmesan is another combination that I like too. There are many.
Alexander Peartree 27:32
I mean, obviously the scope that rosato can cover is is quite wide in terms of food and and i think in particular, what lens these Puglian rosatos so well to food is their structure. They are all very bright in acidity and they all have a really nice amount of fruit to them. But they do have this sort of overarching, soft, tannic texture to them that I think lends well to a lot of different food types. I mean, you need a little bit of that tannic structure to kind of help mellow things out to help give a little bit more presence to the wine when you’re having it with food. As we can see with everything that you mentioned, and I would agree with all of that, this specific style of rose lends really well to food.
Enrico Contini 28:35
Yeah, I agree. Totally. Also the popularity of rose is because of this growing culture of different food that can be very well paired with the nice acidity and freshness of rosato. So it’s perfect for, you know, many, many different culture of food, not only the Italian culture, but you know, we mentioned also some hummus, so maybe Labanese, Mediterranean culture. We can also match some French cuisine, some Indian and spiciness of the food with the bright acidity of the wine. So I really think it can match different categories, and that’s the very good selling point of Puglian rosato as of now.
Alexander Peartree 29:18
Absolutely. So we have been calling the category by rose-rosato up until now, but I do understand that there’s a rather interesting movement going on in Italy right now with not calling the category rosato and instead picking a different term. The term is Vino Rosa, pink wine. Do you want to speak about that a little bit?
Enrico Contini 29:49
Yeah, it’s an institution that was born two years ago, and this Instituto del Vino Rosa is basically an association, a consortium that has been created by six other rosato consorts all over Italy. And they want to just share the best practice for each different terroir and defend the tradition of the specific winemaking culture in the rose production. And they want to make sure that also the market understands the different shades of rose and the different products that are and in the big like rose category. So they wanted to create a sort of programming in which they can educate to the market all over the world about the unique characteristics of these single terroirs of Italy. So there was a rosé from Puglia, which is different from the rose that we can find in Abruzzo, different from the rosé that we can find maybe in the Chiaretto area, so they come up with this name Vino Rosa because they want to put the this wine together with the red and the white wine and the same you know level of importance. They wanted to create a wine that’s called maybe rosato, which is something that is an objective, it’s not a noun. So they want to have like the pink wine stands out together with the white wine and the red wine. So now this movement is called Vino Rosa. They want to provide more and more education of Italian rose to the market and it’s been very, very important in the developing at least some knowledge and some guidelines to understand what are the different rosato styles that we made in Italy. As I mentioned, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo as you know is still another big part of the rose tradition in Italy. The Bardolino Chiaretto, Valtenesi Chiaretto also, and the Castel Del Monte Bombino in Puglia, the Salice Salentino rosato in the Ciro rosato in Calabria. Those six consorts are the ones that wanted to create this awareness of the Italian rose all over the world.
Alexander Peartree 32:15
And it’s very interesting framing actually, because I think also the concept behind renaming it or reclaiming Vino Rosa is signifying that rosato and rose wines are not a byproduct of red wine. They are their own thing. The grapes are in many cases grown specifically for rosato-rose production. And I think that concept is not entirely well known, at least here in the United States. People still have this conception that rose wines are essentially blush wines, where they’re a blend of finished red and white wine, or they’re a byproduct of red wine production, which can be the case sometimes. But there are so many examples that go counter to that where they are made in a specific style and grown with the sole intent of being a rose wine.
Enrico Contini 33:26
Exactly. That’s exactly the meaning of the Instituto de Vino Rosa. They just want to give the same dignity to the Italian rose wine, together with the white and the red. So that it’s not considered like a B-side product. Yeah, something that is like not in the real category of wine, as you said perfectly.
Alexander Peartree 33:50
And I think it’s quite telling that you mentioned two regions in Puglia that are a part of this, and I think it just goes to show that rosato-rose production in Puglia is quite important in Italy and it’s one of the regions that is bringing about some of the best quality rose and honestly some of the best priced rose.
Enrico Contini 34:14
Totally. They are the main region out of Salice Salentino, which is the one next to Lecce and is part of one of the first DOCs that was created in Puglia. The other one is the Castel del Monte Bombino Nero and Bombino Nero rosato, which is another great category of rose. Of course, such a Salentino rosato is made out of Negroamaro for the majority of the blend and then the Castel del Monte Bombino rosato instead will have like more Bombino Nero in the blend. It’s very important, the different taste and structure of the wines. You can really find many, many, many different characteristics between the two wines that we discovered today in those two regions.
Alexander Peartree 35:09
Absolutely. Yeah, obviously there’s a understanding in Italy concerning wine. I would say that possibly the general Italian might know more than the general American about wine. But concerning the rose category, what do you think are some differences between the perception of rose drinking in Italy versus rose drinking in the United States?
Enrico Contini 35:39
Rose drinking in Italy has been always a tradition especially in those parts of the country where there was a kind of religion, as we mentioned. We mentioned some some in Puglia, but also previously mentioned the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo and the Bardolino Chiaretto. Those are areas in Italy where rose was born and rose became a category itself. So we already have the awareness of rose in specific regions that are making this wine as a primary wine. There’s no like white or red that are more important than the rose in certain areas. So the difference, I think, is this kind of awareness of rose as a category itself, as a category that can stand out pretty much like a white or an important red wine as well. And it’s a wine that has been also very popular nowadays because of the versatility and it’s very easy to drink especially during summer and during like any kind of occasion. So it’s an everyday wine and people love nowadays an everyday wine without even the big meal to be paired with. You want a wine that you can enjoy with without being like forced to cook something, you just want a wine that you can enjoy itself or with like a small bites, some fruits, some like small bites appetizer. And that’s why rose is becoming so popular. So I think that the awareness is just because the cultural side of Italy where rose is becoming more and more a category itself, and it’s not just the wine that you can use when you don’t have the white or the red to drink.
Alexander Peartree 37:31
Absolutely, yeah. And so Enrico, I think we have covered so much ground. We’ve talked about so many things. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about Puglia rosato, but also the rose category as as a whole in Italy. I think it’s a really important thing for listeners to grasp and understand and learn more about the category, so thank you.
Enrico Contini 38:01
No thank you for having me and I hope that everybody will enjoy more and more the Italian rose category or Vino Rosa, which is becoming the new phenomenon.
Alexander Peartree 38:13
Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Enrico Contini 39:15
Lauren Buzzeo: 39:25
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. After listening to Alex and Enrico, I’m totally ready to pop a stunning Puglian rosato, or vino rosa, pair it with some fresh Mediterranean-inspired food and enjoy it all al fresco right now. From popular Primitivo to exciting Bombino Nero- and Negroamaro-based selections, there’s so much to taste and explore in this exciting, enticing and affordable category of wines. Be sure to visit winemag.com/podcast for more about these mouthwatering selections, including ratings and reviews for some of the wines and appellations mentioned today and more articles to dive even deeper into the Puglian rosato pool.
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The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers!