By Rick Riozza
For so many, it’s already been one of the most scariest of years. This column through the past has done its damage with Halloween themed wine articles—some droll, some a little funny, some horrific!
But this year we thought we’d approach the scariest elephant in the room—Stella Rosa. It’s a wine brand that sells as much as any other popular California wine—close to two million cases a year; the wine company is not based in Napa nor Sonoma, but in the shadow of Dodger Stadium in Lincoln Heights; it’s the No. 1 imported Italian wine brand in the U.S; and it’s a sweet fruity wine to boot! “Serious” wine folk glance at the assortment of the Italianesque designed bottles on the wine shelves while shopping—then grimace, huff & puff.
One hears jokes all the time from the vino cognoscenti, aka, wine snobs: as in, “Hey, what kind of wine are you opening up?” “A Stella Rosa.” “That’s not a wine!”
A popular wine critic wrote: “So how, you ask, does it taste? The Stella Rosa wines resemble wine, they’re reminiscent of wine, but no one who drinks wine regularly would mistake it for wine. To my palate they have at least as much in common with soft drinks—7-Up or Dr. Pepper comes to mind.”
Enter now, “the millennials, women, as well as Hispanic and Asian buyers.” These are the words of Anthony Riboli, head of sales for Stella Rosa. Los Angeles’ historic and famous San Antonio Winery, founded in the early 1900s, is the company that owns the Stella Rosa brand. Riboli continues, “at our famous tasting room at the winery, we see these particular wine lovers are just like the melting pot that is Los Angeles.”
For more than a century, through four generations, the Riboli family has been making, importing and selling wine. Even through Prohibition, when they landed a contract to make sacramental wine for Roman Catholic masses, they’ve made wine — all kinds of wine, from jug wines to appellation wines; much of the latter now comes from estate vineyards on the Central Coast.
I’ve personally known about this family; I was born in L.A., right down the street from that winery. My cousin Francesca worked at their tasting room in the late 70s. My friend Don Galleano, owner of the historic Galleano Winery, grew up knowing all the wine-making Italian families in the area which include the Guasti, and Filippi, and De Philo. And I was fortunate to meet all these families back in the day.
Indeed, about four years ago, Patriarch Santo Riboli was in our valley and I took him to meet Ralph Innuzzi and Jack Dixon, owners of the Wine Vault in Palm Desert. You wine collectors know this place. I’ve written on them often—it’s the place we all keep our wine properly chilled and stored in the desert heat.
Anyway—almost twenty years ago, as the story goes, that the Riboli family had so many requests for the “Italian wine” that was sweet and fizzy, and could they get that in to their tasting room. The Ribolis had import partners in Piedmonte who were already making versions of such wines, like Brachetto d’Acqui, a light, fizzy red wine with sharp, bright aromatics. So, they ordered some prototypical blends and from those initial samples, Stella Rosa red was born.
You see the wine brand all over the place and now there are 22 flavors to try. Stella Rosa wines are 5.5% alcohol by volume, that’s than half of the average bottle of wine. The arrested fermentation leaves plenty of residual sugar, and the wine is lightly frizzante—light bubbly, which gives it a really easy mouthfeel.
And again, for you Italian wine lovers—as myself, you’ve got to give it to the Stella Rosa folks; the half-sweet, half bubbly is still produced in Piedmonte region of Italy. And at best, some of the Stella Rosa brands, especially the Rosso, do taste like a popular Lambrusco. Easy drinking for sure and a favorite for the new wine enthusiast.
One can tell the company especially targets the Hispanic community. Check out the back label which is written in English and translated into Spanish—not Italian.
The original Stella Rosa was Moscato d’Asti, followed by the Stella Rosa Rosso red, but over the years, the Riboli family has put together a rainbow of Stella Rosa wines — with a variety of styles (the classic Moscato, Rosso, Rosé & the luxury Platinum variety) and flavors—Pineapple, Peach, Red Apple, Green Apple, Ruby Rosé Grapefruit, Watermelon, Blueberry, Orange, Tropical Mango. There’s even a Brachetto d’Acqui from its full-sparkling “Imperiale” lineup. Stay tuned, certainly, for new colorful flavors.
Stella Rosa Black is our 2020 Halloween wine pick. The big 1.5 liter bottle ($22) is in limited release that features your usual “Day of the Dead” images of either a decorated skull or something along those lines. I think I’ll buy that bottle just for the kitch of it.
The Black is a red wine made primarily from the Italian Brachetto grape, as well as other varietals. Fermentation at various intervals throughout the year allows the Stella Rosa Black wine to maintain its freshness and delicateness.
The reviews keep coming: “in a good way—it’s like a blackberry Italian soda”. Allora!
Will you “Stellabrate” for Halloween! A sweet Cheers to you!