Pallotte Cac e Ove & Orecchiette with 2 Brilliant Cherry Red Rosatos from Southeast Italy #ItalianFWT

Rosatos of the montepulciano grape; Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo from Cirelli and Mezzo Rosa from Valentina Passalacqua in Puglia. Bottles in the sunlight.

Pallotte Cac e Ove & Orecchiette with 2 Brilliant Cherry Red Rosatos from Southeast Italy #ItalianFWT

I love rosé, rosado, rosato.  I loved it before it was cool.  I’ll admit, back in my youth, I even loved that rosé that now makes my stomach churn, Sutter Homes.  I don’t love it because it’s pink, (I’m not a girl who wears pink…I typically live in black), but despite it being pink.  I love the way it calms me and makes me hear the ocean even when it is not near.  Not that rosés are all made near the ocean, I just always envision myself on the beach when I drink one.  It’s a getaway in a glass.  All wine of course is, but rosé or rosato, well, it seems to have an extra edge on that.

So here it is, almost August, and we are still stuck at home, in the heat. Luckily, the #ItalianFWT group, led this month by Lauren of The Swirling Dervish, (what a great name, right?) is taking us on a virtual trip to Italy to explore rosatos of indigenous Italian grapes.  Kinda perfect if you ask me. 

If you want in on this getaway, you can join us on August 1st at 8am PDT or 11am EDT, on twitter. Just follow #ItalianFWT and join in the conversation.  You can look forward to hearing about pink wines from all over Italy from my fellow wine writers!  (scroll to the bottom for a list of all the different pieces with links!)

As I mentioned, rosé or rosato, as it is known in Italy, makes me hear the sea.  So, it will not surprise you that I chose 2 coastal regions (although when you are in southern Italy, all the regions with the exception of Umbria, are coastal) to choose wines from.  Both are made from the indigenous grape montepulciano and both come from the southern part of Italy on the Adriatic coast. 

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

First let’s talk about this indigenous grape Montepulciano

Montepulciano (the grape) and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano – nope, they are not the same!

I’ve heard of that you might say, but you may be thinking of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, which is the name of a wine, that is made of sangiovese.  Confusing, no?  Here’s the scoop.

Vino Nobile de Montepulciano – that would mean “Noble wine of Montepulciano”, Montepulciano being a village in Tuscany.  The wine is made of sangiovese, the grape famous for Chianti.

Montepulciano, the grape, is a grape native to the southern part of Italy.

 Due to the confusion with this wine and the grape, the folks at Vino Nobile de Montepulciano have opted to just refer to their wine as “Vino Nobile” and it seems to be sticking.

Montepulciano – the grape

Montepulciano is the 3rd most planted grape in Italy.  It sits unsurprisingly, behind sangiovese in the top spot and the white grape trebbiano (or as it’s known in France ugni blanc), which is an undistinguished white grape, (at least typically) that is mostly used in making brandy. 

It is most widely planted in the region of Abruzzo, but is also widely found in Marche, Molise, and Puglia.  All four of these regions sit in a row down the Adriatic coast of Italy.  It is a late ripening grape, which is what keeps it in the south, further north than Marche and you find difficulty ripening it.  It is a deep colored grape that imparts great tannins and can age. 

Montepulciano as a rosato

With these deeply colored skins, you would be unsurprised to find that the rosatos are deeply colored also.  Now many people can get snooty about their rosé and want it in that ballet slipper pink or onion skin color of Provençal rosé, but I love the variety of shades.  Rosé or rosato, is a color of wine, just like red or white, and everything pink does not and should not taste or look the same.  These darker pink wines, (like Tavel in France), can carry more flavor and texture than a barely colored rosé, and as such can pair widely with foods.

Our first rosato is from Abruzzo where it is part of its own DOC for rosato.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC

Abruzzo spans from the mountains of central Italy out to the Adriatic Sea.  It sits north of Molise and south of Marche. The ancient tribes of the region long resisted Roman rule, and the rugged landscape kept it isolated for many years. 

In 2010 the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC was established for rosatos from the region.  The name means cherry in Italian, and is taken from their deep cherry color. 

This is not the easiest wine to pronounce.  It is pronounced CHER-rah-ZOO’OH-loh dah-BROO-tsoh 

2018 Azienda Agricola Cirelli, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

Bottle of Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2019 from Cirellli Collina Biologica
Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2019 from Cirellli Collina Biologica

This wine from Francesco Cirelli comes from the Cirelli Farm.  I would love to describe it to you, but I think that Francesco on his site does it best.

“The sea is only 8 kilometers away and rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves surround the variegated landscape of the town of Atri in the Abruzzo region where our farmland lies. Nearby, national parks, woods, and badlands, all wonderfully preserved, are waiting to be discovered in the majestic silence that seems to characterize this region of Italy suspended in time and space.”

Francesco Cirelli from his site

This is a farm with olive trees, vineyards, old grains, fruit trees, gardens, and animals.  It is certified organic.   The property is 22 hectares with 6 of those under vine.  They dry farm and produce abut 30,000 bottles annually. 

While our particular wine was not, he now makes a line of wines in amphorae.  I look forward to an opportunity to taste the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo made in Terracotta Amphorae. 

Tasting the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

This wine was a deep pink-orange color and was clear.  The nose took a moment to open for me, but Michael immediately got bright red fruit, “cherry fruit rollup” he declared!  As I dove into it, I found sour cherry, with notes of watermelon, white flowers, and pomegranate. Additional notes of citrus like blood orange and bits of dried herbs popped up.  On the palate it was dry with medium body, tannin, and alcohol (it sits at 12% abv).  It had high acidity, and pronounced flavors of cranberry, red currant, and a splash of lime, with a long finish.  It was tart and vibrant with red fruits bursting forward.


The second wine we had is again a rosato of montepulciano, but this one hails from Puglia.  Puglia is the heel of the boot in Italy.  This wine comes from just inland of the boot’s spur, the National Park of Gargano, that juts out into the Adriatic Sea.  Valentina Passalacqua’s vineyard sits just west of the National Park and 20 minutes’ drive south of Lake Lesina that sits on the Adriatic Coast. Her mantra is “Peaceful Living”. Many of the vines on her property are on pergolas, providing shade for the workers as they pick during harvest. She has a wonderful video on her site that I encourage you to visit and watch.

2018 Valentina Passalacqua “Mezzo Rosa” Puglia IGP

Valentina Passalacqua Mezzo Rosa - Rosato of Montepulciano 1 liter bottle with a crown cap

This wine is made from montepulciano grapes from young pergola vineyards. Fermentation is spontaneous in open vats. It is unfiltered and aged 6-8 months in steel. It is 10.5% or 11.5% abv (I found conflicting and could not locate it on the bottle) and is bottled in a one-liter bottle with a crown cap. The label was drawn by her daughter.

“My work has no secrets. Together with my collaborators-artists, I only try to collect what the Earth presents to me and to give it a personal value through art and craftsmanship. My wines are fragments of the soul of the Gargano, the Mountain of the Sun. A white limestone promontory, which extends into the Adriatic Sea with the green silences of the millenary forests of the Umbra Forest and the scents of the Mediterranean scrub of the National Park. We are waiting for you, to give you a taste of this magical reality.”

Valentina Passalacqua from her site

Tasting this rosato from Puglia

This wine had the same vibrant orange pink color but was a bit cloudy as it wasn’t filtered.  There was sediment in the bottom.  On the nose you were hit first with funk, the kind that I like.  Notes of leather and red fruit, sour cherry, and spice.  On the palate it was dry with medium tannins, body, and acidity.  I think the fact that it was unfiltered made the acidity seem lower.  On the palate I got blood orange, red cherry, blackberry, leather, and dried herbs.  I think the nose was really integrated, which was why I determined it as funk, and didn’t break it down like I was able to on the palate.

Pairing with foods of the region

I searched for dishes from each of the regions and the one thing that popped up in both was that these are poorer regions, where meat is a luxury.  As such, both my dishes are vegetarian, and both have relatively few ingredients

Pallotte cac e ove

My dish from Abruzzo is called Pallotte cac e ove (cheese and egg balls)

I found the inspiration recipe on “Italia Sweet Italia”

The recipe is simple:  Mix together ½ cup of breadcrumbs, 1 cup of grated parmesan, salt, minced garlic, pepper, and a pinch of baking soda.  Then add in 3 eggs and mix.  Roll into balls.  You can either fry them now, to enjoy as an appetizer or do as I did, and toss them in the fridge for a bit, then cook them in a pot of fresh tomato sauce for 15 minutes.

Orecchiette from Puglia

The second dish is from Puglia.  Puglia is known for its orecchiette pasta, the little hand made pastas whose name means “little ears”.  Traditionally this is served with turnip tops or broccoli rabe.  We had baby broccoli and cherry tomatoes.

I boiled the pasta and added the baby broccoli to blanche in the last 2 minutes.  I drained it reserving some of the cooking water.  Then I cooked up some minced garlic in butter and olive oil until it was fragrant, I added a bit of the cooking water then, the orecchiette and broccoli, some grated parmesan, juice of a lemon, chili flakes, the sliced cherry tomatoes and lemon zest.

Each of the dishes went well with the food, but each also paired best with the wine from their region.

We also did a cheese plate with orange, herbed mozzarella balls, blackberries, strawberries, pomegranate, rosemary asiago, prosciutto, and almonds.  The herbs from the mozzarella balls really paired beautifully, elevating the flavors of the herbs. 

So that covers 1 grape. Italy has more than 400 grape varieties allowed in their wines. Guaranteed, a few of those are international varieties, but still… If you count the subvarieties, the total comes to almost 2000. Wonder what varieties the other #ItalianFWT writers got into?

Don’t forget to join us Saturday August 1, 2020 at 11 am Eastern Time (8 am Pacific) on twitter to chat! Just follow #ItalianFWT! We’d love for you to tell us about your favorite Italian rosatos, just remember to add the hashtage #ItalianFWT to be part of the conversation thread!

Do you love pink wines? Well we have written about them before and if you would like to explore…

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
  • advinetures
    Posted at 18:53h, 31 July Reply

    Kinda perfect indeed…my travel feet are so itchy, taking a trip through wine is just what I need. And with the heat, no better topic than Rosato!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 19:38h, 31 July

      Here’s wishing you an amazing weekend, filled with wonderful wine to keep you cool! I’m looking for some wine also, and trying to stay cool. We have a heat advisory today. Currently, the temperature on the rooftop deck reads 109. I expect it to get to 140 by later this afternoon. (it retains heat up there). But of course it’s a dry heat, so I can stay relatively sweat-free! LOL! Have a great weekend! Cheers!

  • culinarycam
    Posted at 20:09h, 31 July Reply

    Those wines and those dishes look amazing! I will have to see if I can track down any of those bottles. What fun!

  • Pinny Tam
    Posted at 13:30h, 01 August Reply

    Thanks for clarifying montepulciano as grape and vino nobile de montepulciano where in this village Chianti is made. Also love the cooking video you made -fun and learn how to cook your dishes without too much steps by steps. Really want to try 2018 VALENTINA PASSALACQUA “MEZZO ROSA” PUGLIA IGP myself as I like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson
    Posted at 19:45h, 01 August Reply

    I love your description: “it calms me and makes me hear the ocean even when it is not near. ” I also looked at a Cerasuolo — and came up with very similar tasting notes. The Valentina Passalacqua “Mezzo Rosa” is a also a very fun wine. Great idea to compare two Montepulicano based wines.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 19:58h, 01 August

      Thanks, Nicole! Rose always makes me calm and happy. It was interesting to compare these two montepulciano rosatos, especially choosing a regional dish. While they went well with both of the dishes, each really leaned to it’s regional dish just a little. I look forward to reading your piece!

  • Lynn
    Posted at 09:34h, 02 August Reply

    Your digging into and making dishes from these regions always uncovers keepers Robin. Pallotte cac e ove is new to me. I can see this as a Sunday brunch dish with a rosato ;-D And these “cherry red” colored rosato… much of the wine world seems to be in a lighter style rosé phase. I like many styles but find myself looking for this type of shade more and more.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 16:10h, 02 August

      Thanks, Lynn! It’s always fun to dig into the traditional dishes of the region. I like that the pallotte cac e ove can be made as an appetizer too, by just frying them. With rosatos I love the variety of colors. With pink wines you can see this difference so clearly, it’s not as easy with reds or whites. I revel in the variety.

  • cookingchat (@cookingchat)
    Posted at 13:04h, 02 August Reply

    Alright, another Cerasuolo fan! Interesting you also found a rosato from Montepulciano in Puglia too. Great pairings as well!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 16:11h, 02 August

      My new favorite wine shop, Garagiste, happened to have both of these and I thought it would be a fun comparison.

  • theswirlingdervish
    Posted at 18:02h, 03 August Reply

    At first glance, I knew I’d love your post, Robin! (I’m with you on the color pink, by the way – great for wine; maybe not for clothing.) The deep pigment on both those wines made me want to taste them and imagine myself in Italy. One day, when we can move about the country again, we’ll meet up, crack open a bottle of robust rosato, and cheers in person. You are doing the food! 🙂

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 18:14h, 03 August

      I’m smiling so big right now! Thank you, Lauren. What a spectacular weekend of pink wines you created for all of us! I so look forward to an opportunity for us to “swirl” together, and I will happily do the food!

  • Linda Whipple, CSW
    Posted at 18:47h, 03 August Reply

    Love varietal comparisons and yours from two coastal regions is perfect – especially paired with regional food. I’m with you on the pink – not a “pink” girl but give me a pink wine any old time. Relaxing!

  • Robin Renken
    Posted at 19:23h, 03 August Reply

    Thanks Linda. I’m all for drinking pink, I just don’t wear it well LOL!

  • Katarina Andersson
    Posted at 19:28h, 04 August Reply

    The wines sound fab, I love Montepulciano rosé wines. I haven’t had the Cirelli one…and, in reality, not Valentina’s either because I think it is a very recent addition. I know her other wines very well. Cheers! 🙂

  • The Corkscrew Concierge
    Posted at 17:08h, 07 August Reply

    I love that you featured the regions that you did. And the thoughtful pairings really seem perfect. And like you, I seem to live in black but will never look past a great pink wine.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 18:55h, 07 August

      Thank you! These are regions that I have not explored much in the past, so it was nice to get a sense of them and their wines.

  • Martin D. Redmond
    Posted at 04:43h, 08 August Reply

    Two great Rosati and lovely pairings too Robin! I especially like the sound of that Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo!!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 17:02h, 08 August

      Thank you Martin! It’s those exceptional finds at my new favorite wine shop! They don’t steer me wrong!

  • Martin D. Redmond
    Posted at 04:48h, 08 August Reply

    I’m loving your choice of wines and the pairing Robin! Well done!

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