Italy unleashes native pink power with ‘Rosautoctono’ wine campaign

Italian rose wines, like the Valforte Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo on the left, are not shy about intense colors produced by native grapes – as opposed to French rose`, like that on the right, which are getting paler pink with each vintage.

Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more Italian “rosato” (rose`) at your favorite wine shop in the near future.  Italian producers from Lombardy to Sicily are banding together to promote a rosato renaissance.

The unifying movement, called “Rosautoctono”, is somewhat historic: In a country where people are extremely proud and protective of local and regional traditions, including products like cheese, pasta, wines, etc., it’s not easy to get everyone on board for a single-minded purpose.

“In Italy, the north does not drink southern wines and vice versa, but (Rosautoctono) was formed as a collaborative effort to promote pink wines made from indigenous grape varieties,” said Katherine Cole, a Willamette Valley-based wine expert and author of five books, including Rose` All Day. “The goal is to grow the partnerships and build identity of Italian rosato.”

Cole recently moderated a Rosautoctono webinar for food and wine writers.

At present, Rosautoctono (translation: native pink) has brought six rose` appellations into its association with the aim of expanding to other wine regions, according to Irene Graziotto, an international spokesperson for the Studio Cru marketing company.

They are, from north to south: Chiaretto di Valtenesi and Chiaretto di Bardolino, respectively in Lombardy and Veneto; Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo from the eponymous region; Castel Del Monte and Salice Salentino from Puglia; and Cirò from Calabria.

In addition to building awareness of Italian rose`, the campaign has a second intention: to challenge France’s dominance of the global rose` market.

Here is a rundown on several wines I sampled from the 2020 vintage that are worth tracking down.

Valforte Rose` shimmers in the glass.

Barone di Valforte Rose`, Cerasuolo D’Abruzzo, $9.99, 12% abv. -The Sorricchio family has been making rose` in some form since the 13th century when baronial ancestors first worked the land in the Teramo hills of Abruzzo. The word “cerasuolo” translates to “cherry-colored” and is the traditional name used for the region’s rosato.

How special is the wine? In 2010, the Italian government created a separate denomination – Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC – to regulate and protect the interests of cerasuolo producers. By law, rosato is required to be made from 85 percent of the native Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo grape. Also, a standard 750 ml. bottle must contain a minimum 12 percent alcohol. (The superiore version has a minimum 12.5 percent alcohol.)

Valforte Rose` is 100% Montepulciano and undergoes an extended maceration process in stainless steel tanks which helps to produce its gleaming ruby red color. The house style is said to be rustic, presenting a tannic touch and a weightier mouthfeel than lighter, delicate  rose` wines.

Overall, this smooth-flowing rosato fills the mouth with tastes of freshly picked strawberries, cherries and raspberries. Valforte’s finish is dry, bright, and slightly spicy.

Torre Zambra Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

Colle Maggio Torre Zambra, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, $13.99, abv. 12.5% – Torre Zambra’s style is a somewhat “softer” cerasuolo but no less captivating. It’s produced from 100% organic Montepulciano grapes and highlighted by satisfying cherry and plum flavors.

Torre Zambra is crafted in a white wine style. At harvest, hand-selected grapes are carefully packed in dry ice to retain freshness on their way to a gentle pressing. The free-run juice is separated from the red skins within eight hours, and the limited contact yields an enchanting pink-cherry color. After a 14-day fermentation in steel tanks, the wine ages for four months – two each in steel vats and later in bottles. Interestingly, this lighter rose` can hold its own for up to two years in the cellar.

No chemical fertilizers are used in Colle Maggio’s vineyards, and grapes grow on old vines trained in the Abruzzo pergola “canopy” system to protect grapes from the elements.

Valetti Bardolino Chiaretto is pink all over.

Valetti Bardolino Chiaretto Classico, $9, 12.5% abv. – From the hilly , southeastern side of Lake Garda, in the Veneto region, comes this beautiful “chiaretto” rose` made from Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara (the same grapes used to make the prestigious, aged red Amarone della Valpolicella Classico) and Sangiovese grapes. The color is delightfully pink with golden peach hues, a good match for the label’s beautiful pink emblem. Valetti’s vineyards are located close to the lake’s southeastern shores and are influenced by a  sunny Mediterranean climate and sea breezes. Nearby Mount Baldo, which rises 7,277 feet above sea level, protects the vines from inclement weather. Grapes mature steadily and gain mineral traits from limestone sea-life deposits in the ancient soils.

This is a captivating dry pink wine from one of Italy’s most stunning landscapes. Overall, the Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC appellation produces 10 million bottles annually – Italy’s largest rose` production.

For its under $10 price, Valetti Bardolino Chiaretto is a taster’s dream: rich notes of raspberry and cherry that flow elegantly on the palate.

Corte Gardoni Nichesole Chiaretto Bardolino

Corte Gardoni Nichesole Bardolino Chiaretto, $13, 12.4% abv. – The Piccoli family can boast of growing fruit and olive trees since the 16th century, but it wasn’t until 1980 that it began producing its own wines in the southern hills of Lake Garda. Nichesole (translation “nickel-nut”) was one of the winery’s two debut wines 42 years ago and today it is still a  favorite in the region. Described as a “soft”, dry, pink wine, Nichesole actually displays a lovely orangey hue in its pink-color scheme, giving it a unique presence in the glass. Corvina (80%) and Rondinella (20%) make up the blend, which yields intense red berry aromas and vibrant cherry and strawberry flavors.

Overall, Nichesole is a delicious, uplifting wine with a fresh and sunny personality, a good companion for a relaxing day at the beach or for entertaining friends on the patio.

Librandi Ciro` Rosato from Calabria.

Segno Librandi Ciro` Rosato, Calabria, $15, 13% abv.– From the boot of Italy’s Calabria region, in the small village of Ciro` Marina overlooking the Ionian Sea, comes this delightful coral-pink-colored wine. The ancient Gaglioppo red grape, the region’s bread-and-butter varietal, makes up 100% of Librandi.

“Vibrant, like the waves of the sea,” reads the promotional notes on Ciro` Rosato. The wine certainly has an effect: One can easily drift away to thoughts of light breezes and sun-swept ocean views  while drinking this cool, tasty wine.

Strawberry flavors are infused with citrus,grapefruit and sea-salt notes to deliver a pleasant, mouthwatering experience. Gaglioppo, fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, provides depth and heft to Ciro`, making it a wonderful choice to pair with to antipasto, pasta, eggplant parmigiana, and chicken dishes.

Librandi, a family-owned winery founded in 1950, and has led a wave of innovation by investing in modern equipment and adopting sustainable farming methods. Its Ciro` Rosato is considered a benchmark wine for the region.