This month several events were held to mark the 50th birthday of the Bardolino DOC in Italy’s Veneto province. For publication in the week starting 15 October 2018.
The fascinating thing about the neighbouring Bardolino and Valpolicella regions in northern Italy is the fact they grow the same grapes yet produce entirely different kinds of wine.
Some experts maintain it is because of the unique terroirs of each region but other factors include different wine-making styles, traditions, economics and a desire to fashion wines to meet specific markets.
The Valpolicella region sits north of the beautiful city of Verona, famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The Bardolino region (shown left) is west of Verona, with Valpolicella as its eastern border and Lake Garda to the west.
The Adige River separates Bardolino and Valpolicella. Soils in Bardolino are known as “morainic” and were created thousands of years ago when glaciers carved out Lake Garda, transferring rocks from the mountains in the north to land south-west of the lake. These soils are full of smooth rocks and are poor quality, but ideal for growing grapes. The terroir gives Bardolino wines minerality and a lightness and elegance that some liken to Burgundy. Soils in Valpolicella, on the other side of the Adige River, are darker and give red wines more structure, colour and higher alcohol.
The same red grapes – Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella – are grown and blended in both regions. Corvina dominates the blend in both areas. It is highly sensitive to its terroir and has high acidity. It contributes sour cherry and plum flavours to the blend and its thick skins makes it ideal for drying.
Corvinone translates as “big Corvina” because people thought it was a relative of Corvina. But recent DNA testing showed the grapes are distinct. Corvinone contributes the tannin than Corvina lacks, along with pepper flavours. Rondinella is a child of Corvina and contributes colour and tannin. The name comes from the round shape of its berries. Its resistance to fungal diseases, likeCorvina, make both ideal for the drying process used to make Amarone and Ripasso in Valpolicella.
Grapes for these Valpolicella wines can be dried for up to 120 days to concentrate flavours and sugars and soften tannins. By contrast, Bardolino wines can only be made from fresh grapes. These distinct winemaking styles are a major differentiator between the two regions.
Other columns have focused on Valpolicella, so this column will talk more about Bardolino, especially given the week of activities at the end of September to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Bardolino DOC. The region gets its name from the town of Bardolino, on the eastern edge of Lake Garda.
Bardolino makes two distinct reds – Bardolino and Chiaretto di Bardolino. The latter is a rose style while the former is a lighter type of red with high acidity and soft tannins. Traditionally both have been designed to be consumed young, but many locals now argue for the ageing potential of Bardolino.
The region received DOC status in May 1968. In 2012 the Consorzio Tutela Vino di Bardolino became responsible for safe-guarding and regulating the appellation via quality control and promotion abroad and domestically. Last year Bardolino and Chiaretto di Bardolino became two separate DOCs. The consorzio wants Chiaretto to become known as the best Italian rose.
New guidelines introduced at the same time allowed the proportion of Corvina to be as high as 95 per cent (previously 80 per cent), and the maximum of Rondinella to be 40 per cent (up from 15 per cent). This has resulted in the planting of more of both grapes.
Maximum permitted yields have been reduced from 13 to 12 tonnes per hectare. Bardolino is promoting three sub-zones known as La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna, which are allowed maximum yields of 10 tonnes a hectare.
Because of the “morainic” soils, Bardolinos display distinct mineral qualities. Younger wines offer floral aromas while older wines smell of spices like cinnamon and cloves plus violets.
Mario Plazio selected wines for the prestigious Gambero Rosso guides for 15 years. He believes Bardolino is in a similar position to that of France’s Beaujolais region a few decades ago, and suggests Beaujolais offers a model for what the Bardolino region could become. “Beaujolais was not well known 30 years ago and its wines sold cheaply. They are similar in being easy to drink, fruity and approachable, with low tannins.” Plazio said the best Bardolino had the potential to age the same way as the 10 “cru” in Beaujolais.
Angelo Peretti is director of communications for the Consorzio Tutela Vino di Bardolino and also believes in Bardolino’s ageing potential. He noted Bardolino’s changing profile. A decade ago the region produced 4 million bottles of Chiaretto and 20 million bottles of Bardolino each year. Currently 10-12 million bottles of Chiaretto are made, along with 12-16 million of Bardolino. Future ratios were likely to be closer to 15-18 million bottles of Chiaretto and 6 million of Bardolino, Peretti said.
The consorzio intends and hopes that prices will also rise, in the same way that prices increased over time in Beaujolais. Currently the average retail price of a bottle of Bardolino in Italy is about 6 to 7.50 Euro, with Chiaretto worth about 1 Euro extra.
Most wines are sold locally because of the high number of tourists. The region’s population averages about 30,000 souls but about 12 million visitors arrive each year, mostly during the extended summer (Lake Garda has a Mediterranean climate).
Bardolino’s winemakers have tended to make wines that satisfy the tourists’ demands, but with the intention to export more wine they see the need to match wines with international styles. In the case of Chiaretto in recent years this has meant making and blending pale pink wines with floral aromas and zingy acidity, as part of the “rose revolution” that started about 2014.
Some dissenting winemakers see tourism as destroying traditions and are actively working to make more memorable wines. They and other innovative winemakers will be the subject of another column.
Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was the guest of the Consorzio Tutela Vino di Bardolino who provided transport, accommodation and meals.