The Third National Italian Rosé Competition

Otranto 1

An unusually well taken (for me) photo of an Otranto sunset

Concorso Enologico Nazionale dei Vini Rosati D’Italia Terza Edizione (2014)

As bit of a mouthful? In English, and only slightly abbreviated, this becomes The Third National Italian Rosé Competition, which seems more manageable. The prize-giving conference for this Puglian-inspired yearly event took place in the magnificent setting of Otranto Castle, in the far south of Puglia, the heel of Italy, on Saturday 31st May 2014, and was thirstily witnessed by a packed room of assorted Italian journalists and writers, and a smattering of other European ones, with me and Antonio Tomassini forming the English contingent.

The competition was organized by Regione Puglia and other more national institutions to promote rosés from Italy in general, and, despite a rather relaxed start, it was a well-managed, interesting, and even entertaining event. Highlights of the keynote European speakers included Federico Castellucci, Director General of the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV). The summary of his presentation comprised a page of ominously dry-looking statistics, but he managed through his enthusiasm for Italian wine to bring it to life and make it interesting, motivational even: we learned that France consumes 34% of the world’s rosé, which represents 25% of all wine drunk there, whereas in Italy the same two data are 5%. Italy’s great strength is in export, he showed, with an increase in the last 10 years from 26% to 40% of rosé exported. Castellucci encouraged Italians to practice what they preach and appreciate that rosé is an excellent wine, and drinking it is ‘cool’. Try it yourselves, he implied, rather than just exporting it.

Talking of France… Just how seriously the French take their different wine styles is shown by the existence of the ‘Centre de Recherche et d’Experimentation sur le Vin Rosé’. Many in the trade have seen the very attractive colour chart of rosés they have designed. Gilles Masson, representing them, highlighted from this that dry, lighter-coloured styles are in vogue at the moment (which is good news for this Provence based institution, as it endorses their regional style), but that this may change at any time in this fast-moving market.

Fabrizio Nardoni, Assessore alle Risorse Agroalimentari della Regione Puglia (Agricultural Counsellor for the Puglia Region), resplendent in an electric blue suit, enthused energetically about the quality of the product, and the potential for increased export of Puglian rosé; he really is a Puglian Ambassador. This point was reinforced in a more general Italian sense by Senatore Dario Stefano, in his conclusion. To put this into practice, though, a larger showing of foreign journalists and marketers would have been of benefit; also, a similar event in the UK would bring this underestimated region more to the UK’s attention.

The strong Italian and Puglian interest in this event was further demonstrated by the presence in the audience of the hugely popular (in Italy) singer Albano Carrisi, who is a Puglian wine producer himself, and Palma D’Onofrio, TV Chef and Apulian Icon, who was invited to the stage to present the prizes.
Puglia showed well in the results; a cynic might suggest that this had something to do with the fact that Regione Puglia was the main organizer. However, in fairness, the region does produce 40% of all of Italy’s rosés, which makes it less surprising that 5 of the 18 prizes went to Puglian wines. The full results can be seen on the Vini di Puglia website.

The Museum at Leone de Castris

The Museum at Leone de Castris

Lunch at Masseria Gianca Cisternino

Lunch at Masseria Gianca Cisternino

The following day was spent on a whirlwind tour of the Salento peninsula our way back to Bari, guided by Antonella Millarte, food and cookery expert, and an inexhaustible font of knowledge on Puglia. We made brief stops at three of the award winning producers. At Leone de Castris, as well as the charming ‘Five Roses’, named after the daughters of the original owner, we had a delightfully light and floral Aleatico rosé called Aleikos presented by Dr.ssa Alessandra Leone De Castris, at the ubiquitous Due Palme we retasted the fragrant Melarosa and serious Salice Salentino ‘Selvarossa’, and at Cantine Cardone we met the very energetic Marianna Cardone and Giuseppe Palumbo from Antinori’s estate Tormaresca, further to the north of Puglia, who consults at this estate. Their award winner ‘Provit’ is a Pinot Noir sparkling rosé, crisp and red-fruited. They also make Bordeaux blend wines, with 100% new oak, well managed and stylish but not particularly Puglian, in my opinion, and more characterful wines from indigenous varieties. The lunch nearby at Masseria Gianca Cisternino was fantastic!

The way to a journalist’s heart is through his stomach, to paraphrase an old wife’s tale. The buffet after the awards ceremony would normally have been the highlight of Saturday’s conference, and indeed it was excellent. The presentations that preceded it were so interesting and presented with such passion, though, that it was a close contest! Thank you sincerely to Sergio Maglio for organizing this educational competition, we are thoroughly convinced of the quality and passion of Italian rosé in general, and Puglian in particular. Thank you also to Accademia Apulia UK for providing the cultural bridge between Puglia and the UK.

Fabrizio Nardone talked of the potential of Puglian wine in export. The UK has a rather limited understanding of these wines, largely dominated by inexpensive Primitivo di Puglia; it’s time to bring the show to the UK to show them the real stuff!

Oak Aged Sauvignon Blind Wine Tasting at London Cru

1407 Bottle shot

A blind tasting of oaked Sauvignons from around the world on the 3rd July at London Cru, organised by Jean-Christophe Mau and Richard Bampfield MW was a welcome opportunity to revisit West London’s ‘flavour of the month’ venue, as well, of course, to taste an interesting and perhaps overlooked category. Richard’s invitation proposed that: “ as Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous and producers will need to work harder to add value and create their points of difference in future, the use of oak will become more widespread”.

The tasting was very well attended; all the luminaries of the world of wine journalism were there (including me), so there must be something to Richard’s assertion. I think we have become submerged in the overpoweringly citrus and fruit-some (Marlborough, mainly, but not exclusively) unoaked version, to the exclusion of the more traditional, complex perhaps, version.

Overall, I found most very good; my lowest mark was 15/20. Looking back over the crib sheet, my high marks (18-19) were fairly evenly distributed between old and new world. In my notes I did record a less prominent fruit in many of the old world ones, and low marks to some French ones where the oak seemed a bit dried and resinous, and not supported by sufficient fruit, but I really liked the integration of oak in Didier Dagueneau’s Pur Sang 2008. It was surprisingly fresh, not showing its six years of age, other than in the oak (fermented and aged in new oak) integration. In my notes I see ‘Fumé style’ against this wine, which is encouraging for my tasting skills as the wines were blind. Happily, since this was their tasting, I gave a good blind rating to Ch. Brown 2012, which I found attractively toasty and spicy. I wasn’t as negative as I expected to be about heavily oaked new world styles, in fact as long as the fruit wasn’t dominated I found several with really well-integrated, classy oak, again in the ‘Fumé’ style; Jordan ‘The Outlier’ 2012 in Stellenbosch, Terre a Terre 2013 in Wrattonbully, and Chimney rock, Elevage Blanc 2010 in Napa stood out for me in this style. My highest mark (19, I don’t do 20) went to Valdivieso’s Wild Fermented Leyda 2012, aged for 11 months in 500L French oak, and good marks to most of the Bordeaux blends with Semillon (although there weren’t many).

I think Richard and Jean-Chiristophe are right that this is a rewarding category. Value is added in the complexity and broader, spicier flavours of the oaked versions, particularly when this is not to the detriment of the brightness of fruit, and that applies to both old and new world versions. I’m just rushing off to buy some oak-aged Chilean Sauvignon now!