Italian rosé enjoys exponential growth
By Francesco Saverio Russo Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 16 August 2022
For years, the rosé wine category in Italy was the underdog, considered a marginal genre, almost as if it were a 'non-wine'. In recent years however, global growth of rosés, and in particular still rosés, has allowed Italian wineries to free themselves of the shackles of cultural legacies that did not value the perception and positioning of pink wines. The undeserved victim of prejudices and absurd confusions, rosé is in fact one of the most cross-functional, versatile wines, both for its potential for expression and pairing possibilities.
The traditional Italian areas for the production of rosé wines are Bardolino, Valtènesi, Abruzzo (with Cerasuolo), Castel del Monte and Salice Salentino. Yet, in recent years, the production of rosé wines in Italy has grown in almost all regions, including Tuscany and Piedmont. The latter two have indeed significantly ramped up their production of rosé, particularly in areas which do not have white grapes available and therefore need a fresh wine to replace white.
It is important to consider rosé as a wine whose versatility brings added value, and not to relegate it to the warmer months or to specific occasions such as the aperitif. The strength of rosé wines, in fact, lies precisely in their ability to embrace a wide spectrum of pairings, embracing the most delicate fish or vegetable dishes through to rich meat dishes, cured meats or cheeses. Rosé can be a real tool in the hands of a skilful sommelier who can play with both the pairing and the serving temperature based on the taste they want to achieve and the experience they want their guests to enjoy.
As far as winemaking techniques are concerned, rosé wine is made entirely from red grapes which are initially treated as they would be for producing red wine before switching to practices common to white winemaking. This is followed by short macerations (from a few hours to a couple of days) depending on the type of grape (and its colouring capacity) and the vintage, which is decisive in defining the thickness and quality of the skins. There are various 'pink' winemaking methods, but the main ones used in Italy are:
- white winemaking: the same techniques are used as for white wines using red grapes. Maceration can be divided into ‘overnight wines’ or 'one day wines'. When soaking lasts 6-12 hours, the wine is called 'overnight wine'. When it lasts around 24 hours, it is referred to as ‘one day wine’, though some soaking can be extended to over 36 hours. Fermentation, which at first is usually blocked using SO2, is only allowed to start once the must has rested on the skins.
- ‘salasso’ or saignée: a technique used by red wine producers. It has a twofold purpose: it produces rosé by taking a varying amount of must from the maceration tank or vat, which is then vinted as white wine and only retains some of its colour; it adds concentration and structure to red wine.
- blush wines or ‘vin gris’ with a pale pink colour are produced by avoiding maceration on the skins and are very popular abroad. To produce a Vin Gris, grapes with a very low colouring capacity are used, such as Cinsault Rose, Cinsault Gris and Cinsault. With blush wines, maceration is reduced to a minimum and the wines produced have perceptible residual sugar and are petillant.
In Italy, the 'salasso' technique (which was historically the most widely used) is slowly giving way to direct-to-press, the trend leaning towards wines that are lighter in colour, fresher and more savoury, similar to the rosés produced in Provence. Yet, even in the world of rosé wines, strong regional identities can be distinguished, with characters differing from north to south, and the islands becoming increasingly important. The leading markets, as revealed by benchmark rosé wineries in Italy are the USA, the UK, Northern Europe and Japan, but the domestic market is also strong, and growth is global.
Tenuta Iuzzolini – Sticking to its guns
Tenuta Iuzzolini is located in Cirò Marina, Calabria, an area historically dedicated to producing traditional wines, but also very characterful rosés. As seen from Tenuta Iuzzolini, the market for rosé wines has evolved steadily, and not necessarily exponentially. In fact, the market for rosé wines is still fairly limited to specific areas. As far as the local market is concerned, Southern Italy ranks highest for consumption, while abroad there is strong growth in demand from the Nordic countries (Denmark and Norway in particular).
Pasquale Iuzzolini, the winemaker and director of tenuta Iuzzolini
From a stylistic perspective, Tenuta Iuzzolini points to a change in the appearance of rosé. Many producers have given in to market demand for very clear rosé wines whereas at TenutaIuzzolini the style has not changed. The winery continues to keep its wines a deep pinkcolour – irrespective of their classification – as is mandatory under DOC regulations.
Tenuta Iuzzolini produces a DOC rosé from Gaglioppo grapes, a still IGT called Lumaremade mainly from Gaglioppo grapes which is briefly matured in French oak barrels, and a sparkling rosé.
Laura Aschero di Marco Rizzo – Liguria and its pink vision
Azienda Laura Aschero di Marco Rizzo, located in Imperia, is a benchmark in Liguria, the home of rosés showing great elegance and finesse. For this particular company, Italy is the main market as its production of rosé is boutique, at just 4,000 bottles, and therefore precludes exports. The Italian rosé market has undoubtedly moved in a positive direction in recent years, through changing consumer tastes and expectations. Particularly in the summer, consumers are looking for a fresh, light wine that can be paired with any dish and enjoyed at any time of day.
Laura Aschero's vineyards located about 150 metres above sea level
The Laura Aschero winery’s ‘rosato’ stems from a fine balance between Rossese grapes and some white grapes, which are grown as field blends in vineyards located in the hilly area overlooking the sea. This is an ancient approach that has been given a modern twist, and the result is some very stylish wines.
Siddura – A calling for rosé wines
Piero Aru, Siddùra's sales manager, confirms that “The Italian rosé market is experiencing a strong upward curve. Consumption of this style of wine, though still marginal in terms of absolute sales figures, is increasingly popular with wine lovers”. The trend has prompted the winery to offer a solution for regular rosé drinkers looking for increased refinement and site-expressiveness. Its answer is Nudo rosé, a single varietal made from Cannonau. The classic profile of its rosé consumers is premium, and the winery feels that this is the type of market that will continue to grow.
Siddùra markets mainly nationwide, with Sardinia leading the way, but sales and prospects for European markets are also very interesting, with Switzerland and Germany at the top. Demand from Asia is also growing.
Winemaker Dino Dini feels that Italian and Sardinian producers have gone along with an ongoing worldwide phenomenon, aligning themselves with ever-increasing market demand.On one of his trips to neighbouring Corsica before the pandemic, he had already realised there was strong demand for rosé wines among consumers, so much so that some producers had begun to devote a large part of their production to 'pink' winemaking.
Cannonau grapes are specially selected and harvested to make rosato
Again, however, it is Provence that serves as the muse for Siddura's rosé. “It is much simpler”, says Dini, “for areas which, like Sardinia, share many distinctive weather patterns and soils with France as well as some of the most important grape varieties such as Cannonau(Grenache) primarily. The approach taken for Siddura's rosé is exactly the same as the great Bandol rosés and the aim is to combine finesse and freshness with good longevity”.
Colomba Bianca – Staying ahead of the curve through innovation
For Colomba Bianca, too, rosés have evolved stylistically over the last twenty years and experienced slow but steady growth in production. Today, the company points to greater demand from both producers and consumers for greater quality fuelled by the increase in consumption. Colomba Bianca's rosé wines are mainly sold in Europe: France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Poland. Its reference market is France, home to the best rosés in the world.
Greater awareness and inquisitiveness by consumers are fundamental to the increase in sales and therefore in production. Consumers are delving deeper into the category and want toknow more, and as a result light is being shed on a wine with enormous potential that has long been underestimated.
To produce the three types of rosé, Colomba Bianca has defined precise profiles of the varietals and site specifics for its rosés, creating a style close to that of Provence, from which the wines take their inspiration. Two rosés are made from indigenous grape varieties, Nero d'Avola and Nerello Mascalese, and a third from Syrah grapes, which has adapted very well to the climate, or rather, microclimates of Sicily. The result is wines that show very well in terms of colour, freshness and elegance. Colomba Bianca produces both still and sparkling wines, from the Charmat Method to the Classic Method.
Colomba Bianca produces two rosé wines from native vines, nero d'avola and nerello mascalese, and the third rosé from syrah
Although from a sales perspective it is a niche, there is a constant shift of consumers from white wine to rosé, which is enjoyed as an aperitif or with a meal. Consumption is still very seasonal, and linked to warmer weather, but is gradually freeing itself from these seasonalshackles. The most inquisitive consumers are certainly Millennials and GenZ.
The growth of rosé wines shows no signs of slowing down, which is why Colomba Bianca continues to innovate based on the premise that consumers will continue to seek out new styles as time goes by. Colomba Bianca's current rosé production is 6% of its total output.
Statti - Three interpretations of rosé between the two seas
For the Statti Winery in Lamezia (Calabria), even the pandemic has failed to halt growth in rosé wines in the international market over the past two years. In fact, in 2021 the percentage of wine sold rose to 4.4% compared to 3.8% in 2019. Which is why, according to Antonio Statti, the company’s owner, rosé can no longer be considered as a passing fad, but rather a category following a continual upward trend. The mistake has been to think that rosé is only for women or designed only as a summer quaffer. Statti therefore focuses on making rosé an all-year drink suited to every occasion.
Important themed events organised at national and international level have paved the way for better knowledge of rosé, piquing consumer interest. In terms of sales, the regional market accounts for approximately 60% but Statti also exports to Europe, primarily to Germany which accounts for 20%.
Statti is one of Calabria's most wine tourism-friendly estates
The growth is not only in numbers but also in quality due to the winery’s policy of research and experimentation, which has raised the quality perception of rosé wines.
One of its strengths has been to experiment with the various winemaking techniques for its native grape varieties. This strategy has enabled it to assess the aptitudes of each variety for making rosé, and market unique wines with a strong regional identity. This in turn guarantees continuity and a high level of quality, creating a virtuous circle where enjoyable wines driveconsumption and attract greater attention.
The company produces three types of rosés: single varietal Greco Nero; Lamezia Doc Rosato(40% Gaglioppo, 40% Magliocco, 20% Greco Nero) and I Gelsi Rosato (85% Gaglioppo, 15% other varieties). All are made using white wine techniques where the grapes go direct-to-press with no soaking.
Torrevento and its iterations of ‘Apulia in pink’
The winery, owned by the Liantonio family, has its origins in 1913 in a distant and touchingstory of emigration to America. In 1948, this led to the purchase of the entire property in Contrada 'Torre del Vento' in Corato, home to an ancient monastery used as a winery with 57 hectares of vineyards. In its 70-plus-year history, Torrevento has grown its vineyard area to no fewer than 500 hectares in Apulia, its production ethos based on sustainability and research.
The hypogeum Torrevento's wine cellar
Great attention has always been paid to native grape varieties which feature in no fewer than 5 different labels of rosé, made from Bombino Nero, Nero di Troia and Primitivo grapes. “The Torrevento range is truly representative of 'Apulia in pink'”, comments marketing and export manager Alessandra Tedone. “It has traditionally always focused on rosé wines of excellence and today, using traditional and in some respects innovative winemaking practicesand being very attentive to the demands of the international market, it can compete with the finest rosés of Italy and the world. It has made a name for the typicity, character and differentnuances of its wines, not just their colour but also their sensory characteristics”. The challenge is to reach out to more and more markets globally, in addition to markets that are already strong such as Scandinavia, Germany and, of course, the UK and the USA. This does not imply that the company loses sight of the regional and national market, where itspresence strengthens awareness of a constantly growing brand.
Schenk Italia - A strong commitment to rosé
Schenk Italia believes strongly in rosé wines and produces several iterations, both still and sparkling, in the various companies located in some of the most important Italian wine regions.
For the group, Italian rosés, which previously represented a seasonal niche or, for some appellations, a product designed for exports, have become popular in recent years and are now drunk all year round. Many appellations that were entirely focused on red wine are now in great demand, even in the rosé version. Sparkling wines have effortlessly gained a foothold in the Italian aperitif market, but still wines are also increasing their presence, especially as food-friendly pours. Though still associated with warmer weather, they are gradually easing themselves into a role as year-round tipples.
From a sales perspective, Belgium and the Netherlands are proving to be very receptive to rosés, with the groundwork having been done by French rosés. They are followed by Great Britain but the countries of Eastern Europe are also growing. In the latter case, however, the market is still seasonal and reserved for warmer weather. Finally, the United States is also increasingly embracing rosé.
Schenk Italian winery epitomises the excellence of the Italian wine from north to south
Italian rosé has followed trends in the leading markets. Provence sets the tempo in terms of colour and in some cases Italian rosés mimic those hues. In others, the colour is more intense, due to different terroirs or deliberately longer skin contact. In this case, consumers then lookfor fruity notes, freshness, acidity and a slightly higher sugar level to soften the taste, all of which offers a new experience.
Schenk has always featured rosé wines in its portfolio. In the past, these were confined to the more classic appellations such as Schiava, Bardolino Chiaretto and Castel del Monte Rosato, but today the company has extended its range to include Primitivo, and of course Prosecco Rosé. Winemakers are currently working to further expand the selection.
Italy has shown increased awareness of factors such as the need to select the most suitable varieties for producing rosés, and sometimes even specific vineyard sites, along with a paradigm shift to more modern winemaking techniques with temperature control and state-of-the-art presses, and a virtual end of the ‘saignee’ technique. This transition has stoked the market for Italian rosés which now need to aim for higher quality still and not just at responding to market demand.
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