“Rosato is not a wine. It’s a beverage. Red is wine.”
These are the feelings of a winemaker living near me in Chianti.
He becomes quite fierce when you ask him whether he would consider making a rosé. I wonder if he’s aware of the trends on Instagram: #roseallday, #yeswayrose and #stopandsmelltherose are being hashtagged in the thousands by pink wine lovers. The two girls who started up the account @yeswayrose as a fun way to share their enjoyment of rosé style wines now sell their own blush wine, rosé wine-related merchandise; they even wrote a book about all the ways to enjoy the pink stuff.
Jon Bon Jovi’s southern France “Diving into Hampton Water” 2017 took the 83rd spot on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2018, one of only two rosés. According to Wine Business Monthly, sales of pink wine in the US are growing by 40 percent per year—
the fastest growth in any category—and 10 percent of the world’s rosé is made here in Italy.
Yet rosé wine production is a relatively recent phenomenon in Tuscany. It is much more common to see rosé from Puglia, Abruzzo or from up north around Lake Garda. For centuries, this region has been a staunchly red winemaking region, with the exception of San Gimignano, where the white grape Vernaccia rules the vineyards.
But many wine estates are now making their own rosé and not just to capitalise on a growing wine market but to enjoy themselves at home. Elisa Sesti, a winemaker in Montalcino, tells me that she and her father began to make a rosé on the estate simply because they were desperate for something they could drink chilled for lunch on a stifling summer’s day. Back then, they only had vineyards planted with red grapes, so rosato was the simplest solution. However, when their friends and importers tried it, they loved it, and their production now sells out every year; she has to hide bottles to keep for the family.
Though that fierce winemaker in Chianti may believe rosati are beverages, the pinks currently being produced in Tuscany are far from flimsy. They’re not pinks you can drink without thinking. They are intelligent wines, with a spectrum of shades that move from oyster shell through coral to sand, to amber and dusk. I don’t find myself listing all the red fruits I know, swirling and humming “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Raspberry Beret”. Instead I swirl and sniff, and as I taste these wines, their aromas and flavours seem to sing more of Asian spice markets selling root ginger and turmeric. Or Egyptian deserts and ancient seas. If you walk through the vineyards of Le Tolfe, a rosé (and red) producer in Chianti Colli Senesi, you can find oyster fossils that originated between three and five million years old. Somehow their shell stories are transmuted into wine.
Perhaps it is because the main variety used to make them is Sangiovese, a not especially scented grape variety that is subtler in its aromatic and flavour profile, which couldn’t make a bubblegum pop pink, even if it wanted to. When Sangiovese does rosé it reveals a savouriness and salinity that is refreshing and food friendly, and has a structure that’s as complex as any red.
Flavours linger or even develop in your mouth once you have swallowed the wine. They don’t disappear immediately, leaving you with nothing else to do but to take another sip and sink a bottle without quite realising. The savouriness of this Tuscan rosé style works well with meals, which is unsurprising given that Sangiovese has always been a foodie. Think Greek salads, pork pies, falafel-stuffed pitta breads, seafood pasta, or poached lobster if your budget stretches that far.
Just don’t chill them too dramatically. Good wines, like gelato, are best served neither too cold nor too warm. Too cold and they become numb and inexpressive. Too warm and they become soupy and their alcohol seems to dominate.
The price tags on these Tuscan pinks are not low. They are wines made with as much care and attention as an estate’s red. They are wines that deserve the same level of attention, so the slightly higher price tag will encourage consumers to take them more seriously. And, yes, they are certainly not beverages.
La Torre alle Tolfe “Lunella” 2018, Chianti Colli Senesi (10 euro)
In the third year of rosé production on an estate that has records of wine production that date back to 1316. Using all organically grown Sangiovese grapes and with minimal use of sulphur, this is the first year in which part of the wine was fermented in old oak barriques as opposed to all stainless steel or cement vats. The wood brings structure and softness to the wine, and feels rounder and richer in the mouth than previous vintages, yet still with a fine minerality that seems to lift and lighten the wine.
Rosato di Fabbrica IGT Toscana 2018 (18 euro)
The first vintage from this organic estate based just outside Pienza, made by the expert hands of winemaker Maurizio Saettini and Michele Corsi (formerly the cellarmaster at Biondi Santi). This is an extremely thirst-quenching rose-tinted rosato that’s also complex and robust.
You can somehow sense that you are high up in vineyards sitting at almost 500 metres above sea level. An invigorating wine, it would be the ideal match for that lobster or a simple pecorino picnic.
Il Cellese, “Albino” 2018 (25 euro)
This wine is made like a white but with red grapes, so the grape juice spends no time on its skins and the grapes are picked early before they have developed a deep colour, so the wine is incredibly pale. Another deceptively delicate looking wine that looks like it should taste light, yet it is mouth-filling and broad, from vineyards just outside of Castellina in Chianti.