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Rosé Ole: The unpretentious pink wine
By Eric J. Lyman
Whenever I was questioned in the past about why I didn’t care for
rosé wines, I recalled Winston Churchill’s comment when he was
presented to Lord Bossom at a dinner in London. “Bossom?”
Churchill exclaimed. “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.

One of 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 the wines
for people who didn’t really like wine.

But more and more forward-thinking wine makers are bottling rosé
wines these days. It’s a trend that’s just taking off in Italy, but there
are already some very appetizing choices.

The easiest rosé wine 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. But it’s also a well-made rosé: balanced and dry, with lots of ripe summer fruit. It’s my favorite wine to drink 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 have also been surprised to find several mouth-watering rosati hailing from the north: The first was one called Garda Chiaretto
from the area around Lago di Garda, a deft match for a plate of fried calamari with lemon juice sprinkled on top. And at an
otherwise uneventful cocktail party I recently tasted Lagrein Kretzer, a surprisingly flowery and crisp wine from Alto Adige, an
aperitivo several people asked the host about.

I don’t mention these names to make you seek out specific producers. There are dozens of vini rosati on the shelves of Italian
wine shops and grocery stores, and on restaurant wine lists. With few exceptions, the ones I have tried range from lively and fun
to surprisingly complex. The price is rarely more than €12, and often less than half that.

Don’t worry about finding a particular vintage as much as finding a fresh bottle. Most rosés over two or three years of age 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.

— Eric J. Lyman's email address is Write to him with comments, suggestions, and column
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September 2005