’d turn to Winston Churchill whenever anyone asked me why I didn’t like rosé wines. Introduced to one Lord Bossom at a London dinner, Churchill allegedly replied, “Bossom? Why that’s neither one thing nor the other!”
I guess that’s the way most people still think of what the Italians call vini rosati, the odd bottles of pinkish wine that are not quite red, not quite white. But over the last year or so, I’ve tasted several remarkable Italian rosati. And when I recently ordered one off a massive restaurant wine list loaded with some of my favorite reds and whites, I realized I had become a fan.
Among the reasons rosé wines get a bad rap is that in the past it’s been so easy to find a bad one. Historically, the wines were almost always cloyingly sweet and one-dimensional, lacking the structure and the acidic bite to balance the fruity flavors. They were for people who didn’t really like wine. But in recent years, forward-thinking wine makers have begun paying more attention to rosés, making for some appetizing choices.
Easiest to find in Italy is probably Five Roses, from Puglia. The name is in English and the label intentionally resembles that of Four Roses Bourbon: It was marketed to GIs after World War II. It’s also balanced and dry, with lots of ripe summer fruit, and my favorite when I’m eating grilled chicken or hamburgers.
Like Five Roses, most of the rosé wines in Italy come from the south — not just Puglia, but also Abruzzo, Calabria, Sicily, and Campania. Be on the lookout for wines made from the red grapes those areas are known for: Montepulciano, Aglianico, Malvasia Nera, Negroamaro, and my favorite, Gaglioppo.
I’ve also been surprised to find several mouth-wateringrosati from the north. I recently happened on Garda Chiaretto, from near Lago di Garda, a deft match for a plate of fried calamari with lemon juice sprinkled on top, and Lagrein Kretzer, a surprisingly flowery and crisp wine from Alto Adige.
With few exceptions, the Italianrosati I’ve tried range from lively and fun to surprisingly complex. The price is rarely more than €15, and often less than half that. Don’t worry about finding a particular vintage as much as finding a fresh bottle. Most rosés older than two or three years are past their peak. The wine should be served cold, same as the average white.
Rosé can be made from any grape used to make a red. The grape skins — which give most of the tannins and colors to reds — are left briefly in contact with the juice, giving the wine a slight blush of color and the lightest tannic structure.
That middle ground makes it an unpretentious and even cunning choice for foods that would otherwise merit a heavier white wine, a lighter red, or perhaps neither one. These foods can include grilled fish, steak, fried vegetables, pasta in cream sauce, spicy dishes, and all but the most pungent cheeses.
The wines are light enough to enjoy at a seaside picnic over the summer, and with enough weight to be a good fit without distracting from a romantic night next to a fire on a cool evening. A bottle of this paradoxical wine might be the ideal choice for a time of year that’s a little hard to define, not hot and not cold, neither summer nor winter — in other words, today.