love Italy? love rosé wines?
Even if you don’t, I’m betting you’ll love the rosés from Puglia.
The region of Puglia is in the deep south of Italy, the heel of the boot. Puglia (aka Apulia) is known for its abundant sunshine, its 800 kilometers of coastline, and its lush, sensual red wines made from distinct regional grape varieties.
where there’s red wine, there’s rosé!
Most rosé lovers are die-hard and open to exploring all things pink. I love that about you! And you’ll love these wines. It’s those who aren’t in that category who may need a little convincing.
so, let’s do a little exploring by the glass!
You’ll be rewarded with rosés that are lush and aromatic. Wines with many of the characteristics of the rich reds made from the same grapes, including structure from soft tannins and long, clean finishes. Wines that are bright and crisp enough to enjoy on their own. Yet, complex and structured enough to take to dinner.
Like Italy itself, Puglia varies greatly from north to south. In the north where you’ll find the region’s capital city, Bari. The connection to Central Italy is apparent culturally as well as viticulturally. In addition to traditional pugliese grape varieties (more on those below), you’ll also find Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Aglianico, as well as international varieties.
In the Salento region, further south and deeper into the heel, it is often windy, and hot. And maybe the greatest influence, it is surrounded by the sea – actually, seas. The Ionian and the Adriatic. Cultural influences from the region’s Greco-Roman past can still be found today.
Viticulturally, Puglia bears similarity to France’s Languedoc in that it is the furthest south with the most coastline. But more so, it too has a history of high-volume, lesser quality wine production. Over the past quarter century, change is underway. New generations of wine makers are purposefully reducing crop yield in the name of increased quality. And they are taking full advantage of their ancient viticultural history, all the new technology available, and the generous support of the EU.
a taste of Puglia
This is Italy, so food is a huge part of the local culture. In Puglia, the surrounding coastline has an enormous influence of the food. Here, you’ll find seafood in all its glory. Inland, fertile plains, grassy hills, and lush valleys provide in great abundance including some of the country’s best olive oil. As with all of Italy, you’ll find regional expressions of pastas, cured meats, and cheeses.
And, of course, there’s the wine! Wine has been made in Puglia since at least 2000 BCE. This predates the Phoenicians who have been credited with the spread of winemaking knowledge from ancient Anatolia (Turkey) to Gaul (France) beginning around 1500 BCE. The wines of Taranto were even acclaimed by Horace, the great Roman poet.
Although light-skinned grapes also grow here, the region is best known for its hearty red wines made from regional grape varieties. Two of the most renowned are Negroamaro and Primitivo. However, others, including Uva di Troia (aka Nera di Troia), Bombino Nero, and Malvasia Nera, play essential roles as well.
it takes red grapes to make rosé
Although many red grape varieties grow in Puglia, I’m going to stick to the top 5 that you’ll find in most rosés from the region.
Negroamaro (Negro Amaro)
This is THE red grape of Puglia. It’s grown here for at least 1500 years. For those who know a little Italian, you may expect the translation to be dark and bitter. But no. Or, at least, not likely. Negro does translate to black from Italian, but the amaro part is thought to come from the Greek word mavros, which also means black. So, yes. Very dark grapes, indeed.
Wines from this grape have moderate to firm tannins and maintain their powerful acidity despite growing in such a hot region. Flavors are mostly dark fruits and berries, baking spices, and an almost savory earthiness. The finest examples of this grape come from Salento in the south of Puglia, specifically from Salice Salentino DOC. Rosés from that region are equally prized.
Primitivo (the ancestor of Zinfandel)
This grape got its name because it is one of the first to ripen each year (early August). The berries are high in sugar and produce wines that are inky in color, tannic, and high in alcohol. For all the intensity of the color when they’re young, they lose color quickly as they age, becoming more brick-red.
Although this grape’s origins are from across the Adriatic in Croatia, it’s made Puglia it’s home. Wines tend to be high in tannins and alcohol with soft red fruit, black pepper, and spice flavors. Rosés from Primitivo have all the soft fruit and spices with a lush texture and whisps of tannins.
Uva di Troia (Nero di Troia)
The ancient, purple-skinned grape is a native from the town of Troia… no known relation to the Troy of ancient Greece, though there are stories, as you might imagine. It’s the third most planted grape in Puglia and is gaining popularity in good-quality single varietal wines.
The wines made from this grape are full bodied, dry, high in alcohol, with moderate acidity and good structure. Frutta di bosca (wild berries) and other dark berry and fruit flavors dominate with some black licorice, tobacco and spices. Rosés are complex and aromatic and smooth on the palate.
This is a thin-skinned dark colored fruit that ripens so late that sometimes it’s harvested before it reaches its peak. No problem. The color is so deep and intense that it bleeds quickly into the juice. That gives the resulting wines great color, high acidity, and low alcohol – perfect for rosé. Flavors and aromas are of tiny wild strawberries (fragolina), bright red cherry, and fragrant flowers; fresh and soft. Arguably the best examples of this come from Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG.
This thin-skinned, dark colored, and highly aromatic grape can be found throughout Italy but is rarely singled out – it leaves that to its relatives. As a rosé it is aromatic and lush with flavors of ripe cherries and juicy plums. When blended with Sangiovese, it brings out a rich chocolatey note.
rosé? rosato? rosado?
All these juicy dark-skinned grapes, along with the hot climate and abundance of fresh seafood, just beg for some good rosé to be made. Here in Italy, rosé is rosato (rosati if you’re having more than one). Rosado is Spanish.
Since the Italians are a generous and hospitable people, they’ve bent the rules of language so we can all be on the same page and call it rosé.
rosés are, historically, a byproduct of red wine making.
The color of red wine is dependent on the extraction of color from the skins. If the juice-to-skin ratio is too high, there’s not enough color to go around. So, some of the juice may be removed before the red wine is made to allow more extraction (more color and body) from the skins. That juice is probably already turning pink from the short contact. But it can’t go to waste! Ferment it like a white wine, and you have rosé!
tears of happiness
Today, rosés are not typically a byproduct, they’re the main product. But the method of making them has not changed much over the centuries. The finest rosés in Puglia are still made by a process called vinificazione a lacrima (teardrop vinification). One of the most acclaimed wines made from this method is Vinicola Palama’s Salento IGP “Metiusco” 2019.
In this method, the grapes are not pressed. The berries (no stems) are left in bins to macerate for up to 24 hours. Only their own weight and the fragility of the skins of the ripe fruit cause the juices to run (like teardrops). The resulting free-run juice is vinified in the same method as white wines – that is, quickly at cooler temperatures.
That’s great for special wines, but what about the more carefree rosés we love? The technique used in Puglia to produce rosé in greater quantity is essentially the same as the French “saigne” method (meaning to bleed).
Red grapes are harvested and gently pressed. The must (juice and fruit) is left to macerate in tanks for 2 to 24 hours to extract color and delicate textural components from the skins. The now-pink juices are then removed from the skins and vinified like white wines.
Wine imports from Europe to the US were yet another casualty of 2020. Due to economic and infrastructure slowdowns, as well as the damage done to the restaurant industry, the flow of Italian wine into the US has slowed.
Hopefully, spring will bring renewed growth, as well as a fresh flow of rosé wines from Puglia. Here are a few to keep an eye out for, though I encourage trying similar wines from whatever Pugliese producer is available in your market. The 2020 vintage should be similar to the 2019s described here.
Romaldo Greco Wines (Azienda Agricola Greco Romaldo), Secli, Salento (website)
Founded in 1973 by Romaldo Greco in Secli, a small town in the heart of the heel that is Salento. Romaldo was joined by his children Antongiulio and Gloria in the mid-2000s. Since then, emphasis is on low yields in the vineyards, quality throughout, and “reinterpreting the centuries-old farming tradition of (their) land in a contemporary way.”
Their vineyards are located near Lecce and receive the temperate breezes from two seas. This helps their red grapes maintain crisp acidity and minerality despite the hot climate. Although happy to welcome visitors with appointments, the property remains a working family farm and home.
Romaldo Greco produces wine in four categories from everyday to grand cru. I’ll write more in the future about their reds and whites, but for now here are two of their 2019 rosés.
Puro, Salento IGP is one of their everyday wines. It’s a pale salmon colored wine from 100% Malvasia Nera. The aroma is delicate with cherry, mandarin, and some apple. On the palate, fresh herbs and elderflower, red cherry, and a whiff of almond on the finish.
Duodecim, Salento IGP is a rosé of Negroamaro from their Classic line. The juice sees 12 hours of skin contact before cool temperature fermentation and 4 months in stainless steel. The color is deep salmon red. Aromas of pomegranate and red cherries extend to the palate. This wine is round and lush with juicy plums, fresh tender herbs and blossoms, almond, and sea-air salinity on the long finish with noticeable but soft tannins.
Villa Schinossa, Trani (website)
Located just outside of Trani, not far from Bari. One side of the property faces the sea and the famous Catterdrale di Trani. The other has a view of the Murgia hills and Castel del Monte in the distance. In addition to vineyards, the property also features groves of olives, cherries, and almonds. And yes, visitors are welcome! I’m looking forward to visiting myself. Until then, I was able to enjoy one of their 2019 rosés.
Pezza Galitta, Puglia IGT is a blend of 70% Bombino Nero and 30% Aglianico. The color is translucent deep cherry red thanks to the “color bomb” that is the Bombino Nero grape. The scent of tiny red fragoline (wild strawberries) ripening in the sun comes pouring out of the glass and spills out onto the palate. This is a juicy, aromatic wine that has a clean salinity on the finish.
Donna Viola, Canosa di Puglia (website)
This is a new wine venture from the Petroni Vini family who have made wine in Puglia since 1865. Maria Viola Petroni is a 5th generation wine professional. She is passionate about her wines, her home, and her ability to impact the future of Apulian wines. Her love of Puglia is seen in the names of the wines and the local artists featured on their labels: Aurora (Sunrise), Tramonto (Sunset), Luna Nuova (New Moon), Unica Via (Only Way) and Infranto (Broken). The labels also feature the wines description in braille. Something that I hope more wineries adopt in the future. I tasted the 2019 Tramonto.
Donna Viola and Petroni Vini welcome visitors with appointments. They also feature scheduled vineyard events that are publicized on their Facebook page (in Italian, but easy to translate).
Tramonto, Puglia IGP is made from 100% Bombino Nero the grape associated with Castel del Monte. This is a complex, sensual wine. Aromas are of roses, berries, cherries and the sea. On the palate, this is a floral wine with cherry, almond, and a hint of cocoa. It’s medium bodied, bright, and clean with a long, lingering aromatic finish.
Cantine D’Alessandro, Conversano (website)
The D’Alessandro family has been making wine in this region since 1900. The history mirrors that of the Puglia. The majority of the past century saw winemaking as an industry, wines sold in bulk. Things in Puglia changed in 1995 with the introduction of the regional DOCs. By 1997, Cantine D’Alessandro did too. Today, the fourth generation of the family with Giovanni D’Alessandro leading the winemaking, takes it to the next level. There’s a full array of wines from indigenous grapes. Their reds are exceptional, with different expressions or single varieties as well as blends at a few price points. (more on those coming soon!)
In 2017 Cantine D’Alessandro opened a new facility that is open for touring and tasting food and wine. You can take a virtual tour HERE!
The 2019 rosé I was able to taste was from their everyday line, Cattedrale, which includes a red and white as well.
Cattedrale Rosato, Puglia IGP is made, interestingly, from 100% Sangiovese. The juice is held on the skins for 24-48 hours to extract the pale salmon color and mineral structure from the skins. The aromas are of fresh herbs and flowers, and cherries. The cherries slide through on the palate with a silky-smooth texture and just enough juiciness to leave your palate clean and waiting for the next sip.
what to eat with rosé from Puglia
Although I always like to match foods from the same regions as the wines, I also love having the opportunity to think outside the geographical boundaries.
For example, with the more delicate wines made from Malvasia Nera, my first thought is of burrata. The fresh creamy-cool cheese that is like mozzarella with a delicious secret is the perfect companion for the soft, floral Puro from Greco. But I’d also recommend this wine with light-bodied herbaceous southeast Asian foods like Singaporean laksa or Vietnamese pho. These wines are also perfect accompaniments to fresh shellfish. Think oysters, clams, and simply prepared mussels.
Rosés of Bombino Nero have even more red berry and dark fruit flavors coming through. They also tend to have more complexity with a longer aromatic finish. These are wines that can move easily form appetizers to entrees. From fritto misto (or fried calamari) to rotisserie chicken or grilled salmon served with sauteed greens and hearty grains. They’re vegetarian-friendly as well. I enjoyed the Donna Viola Tramonto with both wild mushroom risotto and madras-style lentils over arugula. You may also enjoy these wines with flavorful raw seafood dishes like crudo, ceviche, poke, sashimi, or sushi.
Some of the most sought-after rosés from Puglia are made with the Negroamaro grape whose intense inky color give rosés a deep sunset red-salmon hue. The red fruit flavors are round and ripe with layers of herbs, spices, and mineral salinity in some expressions. These wines often show noticeable soft tannins that provide extra dimension. This makes them perfect partners for more robust dishes. Sea urchin, known as Ricci di mare in Puglia, is a decadent partner. Vegetarians, here’s the perfect wine to enjoy with roasted eggplant dishes that would wash out lighter bodied wines. This is an easy match for spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, or a bacon cheeseburger. Or bring it to your next barbecue! Highbrow or lowbrow, you can’t go wrong.
Note: this is sponsored content. I’m working in partnership with my friends at Puglia in Rosé to bring the Puglia sunshine to the US through some of the most luscious rosés… more coming soon – including a new online class all about the rosés of Puglia!
Check out this great mini-guide HERE to get a taste of what’s to come!