Sometime slightly before the turn of the LAST century, the wines from the eastern shore of Lake Garda in Veneto became known as Bardolino. This is Corvina country, and it is the dominant variety in not only the Chiaretto rosé, but the DOC and Bardolino Crus and of course the–probably a bit better known–Valpolicella a little further east. Tucked up against the foothills of the southern Alps, and owing much influence to the massive body of water on the west–Lake Garda–three distinct Crus are created, La Rocca: bordering the lake and stretching up along its shore in a narrow strip of citrus-producing hillsides; Sommacampagna: a more ‘flatland’ region to the southeast, still incredibly glacier-induced, but identifying with more clay; and Montebaldo: fully ensconced up in the jagged fingers of the mountains reaching southward. Visiting these three distinct regions in the glass enunciates their respective regional style.
From Sommacampagna, 2016 IL PIGNETTO Bardolino DOC: zesty and sharp, thin and grippy with ridiculous acidity (this is a theme of Bardolino you will read over and over in my notes), all clustered around a lively and juicy Jolly Rancher and lollipop fruit core.
Out in La Rocca, 2018 LE MORETTE Bardolino Classico: bringing much more of the things which draw comparisons to Cru Beaujolais. Funky, with a little barnyard, dirty baby diaper, and the savory zest of raw beef. There’s a teensy Zin characteristic to the full, dark fruit, and its woody, licorice ripeness evolves to less tannin.
Up in Montebaldo: 2013 VIGNETTI VILLABELLA Bardolino Classico: A little age here is an almost unfair advantage. These are such bright fresh wines young, but tasting several with a little bottle-time on them over the week shows how they can develop nicely. This one tends more toward pure Burgundy in nuance, a touch oxidized and reflecting a nuttiness and thick, ripe fruit with a thin wedge of prune. Velvet theatre seats give a dusty texture to the nutmeg and clove opening to still-vibrant tannin.
The CONSORZIO DI TUTELA CHIARETTO E BARDOLINO is taking Bardolino production very seriously now, after decades of having a reputation of mass-production and extreme variables in quality. In addition to developing the three crus and placing chiaretto–a SERIOUS contender to Provence Grenache, I should add–on the world rosé stage, a “Procedure Guideline” has been agreed upon and largely enforced. Corvina is getting a larger percentage in the blend, edging out the classical Rondinella additions. Yields are limited in the vineyard, and ripeness at harvest controlled. A sub-14% ABV is targeted, and cold-soaks, extended macerations and new-oak aging prohibited. Everything possible is being done to preserve the freshness of the fruit, the acidic vibrancy and the delicate tannin. Everything possible to separate the style from the opposite-world of ripasso, recioto, and amarone versions of Corvina from the eastern Veneto Region. Everything possible to create a sole identity for the wines of Bardolino.
The footnote here is: These are EXACTLY the wines the America needs. Everywhere I go, I hear wine people clamoring for fruitier, more acidic, lower alcohol, mineralific wines. Somm-culture–if it has done ANYTHING positive–has created an entire demographic weary of jam-bombs and alcoholic blockbusters. Inexpensive wines; Wines fabulous with food; Easy-drinking wines; FUN WINES. After drinking all over this region for a week, it is a painless recommendation: If you drink Chinon, if you drink Cru Bojo or Sicily, Tenerife, Alto Adige or the “New California Wine”, you NEED to find these Bardolinos.