Saturday, 7 June: Competition tasting was now in full swing, and “my” jury sat down to a morning of Pugliese rosés and an afternoon of rosés from the rest of southern Italy.
Puglia is, of course, a great source of rosés. Historically, there are two main reasons for this: 1) The need for quick cash flow in the Salento area, and 2) the bombino nero variety in the area around Castel del Monte.
In the Salento area, making rosés has a long history. The area has for ages supplied strong red wines to bulk up more insipid wines further north, however, in terms of cash flow, these wines had first to be made, which involves a somewhat lengthy process, then transported north, and then paid for by stingy northerners using long payment terms. In order to generate faster cash flows, the practice of selling rosés locally and more or less immediately after the harvest therefore developed. The method used was frequently the one called lacrima, whereby juice is macerated with the skins for a brief while, then statically decanted and fermented. Not using the saignée method, which involves draining fermenting must from red wine fermentations, meant that the grapes for rosé winemaking could be picked fairly early to preserve light red fruitiness and good acidity, rather than waiting for the harvest destined for red winemaking, which would entail darker fruitiness and lower acidity. Excellent, deliberately made rosés – with a real historical raison d’ètre and pedigree – ensued, and it was therefore not by chance at all that the first Italian rosé ever to be bottled, the Five Roses from Leone de Castris, was from the Salento.
The Salento area is blessed with one of the truly great varieties for rosé winemaking, negroamaro. Negroamaro, of course, frequently makes powerful, structured, medium-acidity red wines of considerable spiciness and dark fruitiness, however, when picked early it yields dry rosés with fairly high acidity/sapidity and wonderful aromas of wild raspberries, sweet garrigue, light spice and a floral/mountain-brook minerality. I unreservedly count the best examples of these rosés among the best rosés in the world.
Further north in Puglia, roughly inland from Bari, they grow a grape variety called bombino nero. This variety is a difficult customer, because the grapes tend to ripen unevenly within the same bunch, meaning that there will be ripe, dark red grapes and quite unripe, green grapes in every bunch. This makes the variety difficult to use for commercial styles of red wine, as acidity and bitter greenness tend to be high, while colour tends to be low. This was realized by the pioneering commercial winery in this area, Rivera, back in the 1950′ies, and the obvious connection was made: With its light colour and good acidity, bombino nero was perfectly suited for making rosés. Rivera’s owner, Sebastiano de Corato (grandfather of the present owner, also Sebastiano), proceeded to make a fresh, lively and well-made rosé, which with his hard work and perseverance became a huge commercial success all over Italy, to the point of being an actual brand and representing Pugliese wine to a large part of the Italian population. While frequently somewhat neutral, the best examples of bombino nero rosé these days have beguiling red floral, red berry and granite minerally aromas, with dry, sapid but rounded palates. Far more than just summer charmers, these wines go exceptionally well with food due to frequently considerable dry matter.
In contrast, Puglia’s primitivo does not frequently lend itself well to rosé winemaking. Primitivo rosés tend to be somewhat flabby and alcoholic (which of course can be a popular style, just consider Provencal rosés…), and only from terroirs that lend the wines great minerality and/or acceptable acidity do we see good examples of the category, although frequently blended with other, tauter varieties such as aglianico. The primitivo rosés from the Gioia del Colle area therefore tend to perform better than those from around Manduria or, more broadly, the Salento. When they are really good, however, primitivo rosés can be among the best rosés of Puglia, as evidenced by a couple of wines tasted.
The morning’s flight counted 48 rosés from Puglia, almost half of which were 100% negroamaro or negroamaro-dominated. The rest of the bunch was distributed among several other varieties, with bombino nero and primitivo in evidence, but also counting nero di Troia, malvasia nera and susumaniello. The latter, in particular, is an exciting newcomer to the rosé scene and has recently garnered much attention in that role. Expect a rush towards susumaniello rosés in the near future. The quality was generally high, as expected, with a good number of excellent wines from each of the main varieties.
For the negroamaro category, the past few years has seen a perceptible movement away from the original dry, sapid style of Salentine rosés towards a somewhat more rounded style with more obvious fruit-sweetness in both nose and mouth, and in some instances a more Provencal style. I don’t necessarily fear for the disappearance of the original category, for there is a good number still being made in the proper style, but if I were a Salento rosé producer I would not try to internationalize and thereby neuter my style if I had such an excellent, recognizable and unique product with the original style. Surely, the way forward is to have uniqueness, and surely, the road of competing with a host of somewhat standardized products on the international scene is fraught with danger as it leads to mere price competition.
The afternoon was dedicated to rosés from the other South Italian regions, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. Basilicata and Campania were represented by aglianico, and Calabria mainly by gaglioppo, but with a few wines from magliocco, both dolce and canino. Sicily was represented by nero d’Avola, frappato and nerello mascalese.
Aglianico is a truly great, noble variety, and like many other noble varieties lends itself exceptionally well to making rosé wines. In the cool, elevated zones where it is chiefly grown, it acquires the cool fruitiness, minerality and acidity that can form the basis of truly great rosés. They are not frequent, however, probably because emphasis is so squarely on red winemaking, and on this occasion aglianico also did not quite deliver at the top of the range.
The great news was that gaglioppo from Calabria really delivered the goods, with several fantastic wines of great character and terroir fidelity. Overall, this was probably the most successful rosé category of all, and quickly became the talk of the event. While there have been very good rosés from gaglioppo in the past, their appearance has been patchy, so to see so many good wines in this category bodes really well for Calabria’s vinous future.
Sicily’s performance was somewhat more sedate, but a single wine from nerello mascalese really convinced me, although its strong character was somewhat controversial.
For winners and my favourite wines in all categories, see upcoming post on Radici del Sud 2014 impressions and results.
For the evening meal, we stayed at the Masseria for a happy, friendly evening with the lovely wines and ladies of the Puglia chapter of Le Donne del Vino.
I hope I won’t be ridiculed when I say that the South seems to have changed dramatically in terms of the role of women in the economic life of the area during the past 20 or 30 years. When I started my interest in Southern Italian wine, the business seemed heavily male-dominated, and fairly traditional gender patterns were in evidence. These days, so many of the new producers, and – it seems to me – an even higher proportion of my favourite new producers, are owned and/or lead by women.
Now, I don’t hold ideas that women are necessarily better winemakers or somehow by nature are better owners or managers than men, but I am a great believer in balance and freedom, and I am sure that previous periods’ tendency to hold back an entire gender from unfolding its full potential was unjust, misguided and wasteful of talent. The new and strong role for women is to be welcomed and encouraged, and I am certain that if the trend I think I have seen continues, we will see a further acceleration of great wines from the South.
The participants from Le Donne del Vino had each brought a single wine to represent the house. Many of those were wines already tasted during the producer tastings, but a couple of them had been brought especially for the occasion:
Soloperto, represented by Sabrina Soloperto, make small numbers of a very special, semi-sweet primitivo from a rather new vineyard. The special character of the wine comes from two circumstances: 1) It is planted in an extremely rocky vineyard that had previously been thought unfit for planting vines; results, however, would seem to vindicate the decision to plant there. 2) It is made exclusively from the racemi grapes from those vines; racemi are the second set of grapes that a few varieties set, and which ripen later. Racemi grapes will tend to be slightly lower in alcohol and higher in acidity, and these tendencies, married to very late harvest, provided for a lovely wine, large and full of character, but with the sweetness well balanced by good acidity and powerful structure. This wine is not for general sale, I gather, but I do hope that once the new vineyard comes into proper production, we will see the results on the market.
The second wine was brought by Renata Garofano of Tenuta Monaci, and turned out to be a version of their Girofle rosé, but from 2011, labelled Controcorrente and made especially for aging, therefore also bottled in magnums. The resulting wine was beguiling; it may have turned down some of the exuberant berry fruitiness and sapidity of the typical Salento negroamaro rosé, but fully made up for that with a highly drinkable, rounded wine with added mineral and garrigue complexity and great weight and length. A serious rosé, for sure, and without doubt a wonderful food companion, but charming and light-hearted nonetheless. Not sure this wine is in general commerce, either, but it showed such interesting potential that the Garofanos will have to do something about that some day.
The evening continued after the official dinner had ended, and once again saw us on the terrace, joking, laughing, discussing and, especially, singing. I will always remember the sight and sound of Antonio Muci, elder statesman among Pugliese enogastronomic writers and now a new, great friend, playing Giovanni Gagliardi’s guitar while reciting popular songs in a veritable Giro d’Italia of music.
I also finally managed to taste with Manila Benedetto the various special Danish beers I had brought along for her. Wonderful Manila is a beer inventer and -writer, and was especially taken with the extremely small-batch ale from Langeland barley made by the Bøgedal brewery.
Needless to say, I got to bed a bit late again, but when one is so full of impressions and happiness, it makes little difference, for sleep is deep and sound.