There’s a cool breeze blowing in across Lake Garda and, despite the record breaking drought of Italy’s ’22 summer, the horizon line between the lake and sky is a silky, silvery grey, with the lower ranges of mountains fading in and out of vision; rain threatens.
Closer to hand, the ancient fishing town of Bardolino, with a small marina, an idling Ferris Wheel, and a tight grid of streets, guides a steady flow of late season visitors. The foothills of the Alps rise up behind into the mountains, famous for luscious vineyards, orchards and wild fruits. Vines grow here at altitudes between 65 and 350m above sea level. Despite the expectation of alpine conditions, there is a double wind that blows across the lake, from north to south in the morning and back from the south in the evening, giving Bardolino a distinctly Mediterranean climate.
The basin of Lake Garda was shaped by glaciers during four glaciations: Günz (ended 600,000 years ago), Mindel, Riss and Würm (ended 12,000 years ago). Without human carbon dioxide pollution our planet would be heading back into a glacial period now, however, ice ages have been postponed for the foreseeable future. When I spoke to Swiss glaciologist, Dr Matthias Huss at COP26 in Glasgow, he said their research indicated that the Alps would lose all their glaciers this century, leaving them relatively ice free (I digress).
I’m here with an international vino swilling crew from the UK and US, to explore what Bardolino has to offer. We are dining at il Giardino delle Esperidi, equally ancient and hospitable; a cavernous fine dining room facing the lake, with a wine list offering 700 labels. The tastebuds are put on notice.
A lake of roses
I typically don’t drink a great deal of rosé outside of professional tastings, not consciously anyway. This is what made this visit so arresting. The red wines of the Bardolino DOCG are what I assumed we were here for, and yet, pressing this glass of pale pink liquid to my lips, a Garda wind returns, blowing mountain and orchard fruits across the senses, super-fresh and pleasing.
This first evening is about meeting everyone and receiving a brief introduction from our hosts, who include, Franco Cristoforetti & Angelo Peretti, President and Director respectively at Consortium for Bardolino-Chiaretto. Over the next few days, Angelo regales us with information about the region, describing the morainic hills with 66 soil types, upon which the vines thrive, to pairing the young lively Bardolino reds with local cheeses.
This evening at il Giardino delle Esperidi, we are served an array of seafood dishes to pair with a wide selection of wines. Most memorable for me are the grilled breadcrumbed scallops with Giovanna Tantini’s Il Rosé, Chiaretto di Bardolino. The following day, Giovanna made time during the harvest to join us for a tasting and dinner. A former lawyer, she has thrown her energies entirely into her vines and the results here are a strikingly clean, elegant rosé, with very sip-able ripe summer fruits; a quality wine.
Like in Provence, the Romans played a significant role in improving pale wines, introducing grape presses, allowing the juice to run off, reducing the extraction of colour, aroma and tannin from the skins. The results, as we see, are lighter, fresher and, when good, garner widespread appeal.
Heading upwards and eastwards from Bardolino town, we stop in to visit Mathilde Poggi at La Fraghe, an organic producer, with her selection of small scale artisanal wines. The old farmhouse is arranged with the winery hosting an array of amphora, concrete and steel tanks, from which Mathilde is conjuring flavours, reflecting this small plateau of land.
Le Fraghe’s Ródon (Greek for ‘pink’) is made from the Corvina (80% ) and Rondinella (20%) grapes, vinified separately, aged in steel and a little concrete. The maceration lasts for 6-8hours, giving the wine the pinkness that its name implies. There are no selected yeasts used and no sulphites added before the wine goes beneath the screw cap, a closure that Mathilde says preserves the flavour components and freshness of the wine.
The Ródon has attractive pear, citrus and red berry notes, held together by an whip of salinity that gives the wine a fabulous identity.
We then taste the Traccia di Rosa 2020, Corvina (90% ) and Molinara (10%). Molinara is not used so much as in previous decades but contributes higher acidity. The 2020 has a similar citrus and pear fruit profile to the Ródon but is softer and more opulent. The 2019 is a surprise, giving honeydew melon aromas. It is richer, leaving a light textured coating and lingering fruit sweetness of flavour in the mouth.
At a post-tasting dinner with Bardolino winemakers, it heartening to see so many young people leading their estates and putting the environment at the forefront of practices. Daniele Delaini, of Villa Calicantus, a biodynamic estate 2km’s from the lake, speaks openly about his fears of how the climate is changing. We can all talk about respecting nature, but for so long, it has been our species disrespect for nature that will determine our collective fate.
Daniele’s Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico DOC 2021, in this case renamed ‘Chiar’otto’, is a blend of old vine (54 years) Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Sangiovese, aged in 225litre wood vats, non-filtered. The bottle says there are 8266 produced and this one, 6183, is complex with a fabulous mineral structure. He describes it as both modern and traditional, the oak and acidity balancing very well with waves of flavours from the fruit. Great wine and company.
In the midst of the conversation blowing back and forth across the table, I am handed a bottle of Enricio Gentili’s Chiaretto Spumante, made from a blend of Corvinone, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara with zero dosage (added sugar). Many zero dosage (Dosaggio zero in Italian) sparklers are for me too acidic and unbalanced but this is a deliciously well balanced wine. It has 1g of residual sugar and 8g/l of acidity. Grapefruit, a touch of balsamic and fine salinity, make for a perfect wine to close a fabulous day of tasting.
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Chiaretto di Bardolino producers:
Giovanna Tantini, Il Rosé
La Fraghe, Rodon and Trachea di Rosa
Villa Calicantus, Chia’Otto
Enrico Gentili, Sparkling Chiaretto
Banazzoli, Made By Women, Tecla Chiaretto
RoccaSveva, Chiaretto Di Bardolino Classico
Villa Bella, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico DOC
Aldo Adani, Chiaretto Bardolino
Bigagnoli, Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC Classico
Gorgo, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC
Le Ginestre Vineyards, Chiaretto Classico DOC
Monte Zovo, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC
Monte Del Fra, Chiaretto Di Bardolino DOC
Poggio Delle Grazie, Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC
Tenuta La Presa, Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC