Of Old Cats and Tender Mice – Bardolino Anteprima

There is something enormously suggestive and attractive about the huge furrow carved by millennia of glaciation events that is Lake Garda. In Europe, the spread of what we call culture – the spread of neolithic farming practices and the cultural mores it brought with it – largely coincided with and was predicated upon the withdrawal of the glaciers after the last ice age. At this time, Lake Garda filled up with water, overflowed into the Po system through the Mincio river, and soon this system became a major thoroughfare for cultural and trade interchange.

The Lake and its immediate surroundings provide for a unique, balmy microclimate, which for instance allows for olives to be grown far north of their normal climatic frontier. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area was used for agriculture and sustained a surprisingly thick web of interchange and commerce early on in European neolithic history. This must have been an irresistibly attractive place to be for homo sapiens for as long as we have had the opportunity.

Standing on the brink of the Lake and looking out across it in pale, lovely spring sunshine, with a mysterious slight fog hanging over it, I half expected a neolithic wooden boat, full of weathered traders and entrepreneurial youngsters dressed in coarse fur and fabric, coming out from under the fog and making landfall right before me. I don’t know who would have been more surprised, me at their appearance or them at the highly un-neolithic, heavily built-up lakeside they had suddenly appeared on. Not to mention the sharply-dressed natives. The age-old mystery and romance of the Lake had certainly taken hold of me.

I was there from 14 through 18 March 2014 for the presentation of the new vintage at the Bardolino and Custoza Anteprima event, and as it happened, I was standing at the mouth of the tiny port of Lazise, one of the beautiful towns along the Lake, an ancient trade post, complete with a restored 13th century customs house once used for taxing the numerous boats that also were plying their trade across the Lake in mediaeval times. My contemplation was certainly to some extent fuelled by a bit of travel weariness and by having just had a wonderful lunch of local fish extremely simply prepared at the excellent Ristorante da Oreste on one side of the port. But the beauty and magic are just very tangible, part of the air one breathes there. Day-dreaming and rumination come easy here.

This post will be dealing with my impressions of the Bardolino and Bardolino Chiaretto (= rosé) wines tasted at the Anteprima event. A subsequent post will provide my impressions of the Custoza Anteprima wines, and I will also be providing a post with highlights of the producers visited during my stay at the Lake.

I was there by invitation of my friend Angelo Peretti, the director of the Bardolino consortium and the organizer of the event. Angelo is a font of knowledge about the Bardolino and Custoza area – and much more – and here is what he taught me:

Situated on the eastern shore of the Lake, the Bardolino and Custoza areas, which largely coincide in the southern part of the Bardolino area, are creations of several glaciation-and-withdrawal events, with four ages of hills – the youngest and lowest closest to the Lake and the oldest and highest furthest from it, spreading in an east-north-easterly direction. Generally, the highest elevations are reached in the northern and north-eastern parts of the area, towards the Alps, with the terrain levelling out towards the south, as we approach the plains of the Po.

As you would expect, the soil here is morainic, with much gravel of various origins. And as usual, the best vineyards are on slopes with a southerly aspect.

The Bardolino wine is mainly made from the indigenous corvina and corvinone varieties, allowed for up to 80% of the wine, with the rest being made up of a plethora of other varieties, of which rondinella must make up a minimum of 10%, and with molinara, sangiovese and merlot, among others, in supporting roles. The character of the wines is therefore mostly determined by the various expressions of corvina/corvinone.

According to Angelo, in the Bardolino Classico area, the historic nucleus of production of this wine centred around the eponymous town, that expression is of raspberry and cloves. Moving towards the north and east, that expression changes into strawberries and cinnamon, whereas the character changes into cherries and crushed black pepper towards the south. This was largely borne out by my own tastings, and I must join Angelo in fervently wishing for a change of legislation that would allow for Bardolino to be made from 100% corvina/corvinone. There is essential beauty in such terroir transparency and recognizability, and corvina/corvinone certainly have the potential for very high quality from this area on their own, as evidenced by several 100% corvina wines tasted. The character expressed by the best wines here is not unlike light pinot noir in its insistence upon fairly light red fruits, with hints of spice and autumn leaves. Clearly, the very light tannins and body set them apart from many pinot noirs, but the transparency towards the growing conditions is there.

This, in other words, is a very special corner of the Earth, with a unique combination of soils, climate, grape varieties and ancient culture, a place that has had the time and, through the ages, the wealth and the surplus of human energy to find out exactly what works in terms of combining the terroir and grape varieties to come up with the best wine that can be made there. Is it not strange, then, that what they have come up with is a red wine of such ephemeral lightness and youthful fruitiness as Bardolino? Why have they not landed on a combination that produces some of the biggest, most age-worthy wines in the world? Surely, that is the ultimate goal that all winemakers must strive for, right? Well, not really, or, at least, not only. In my opinion, the appreciation of – the striving for – the understanding of the profundity in – simplicity and lightness is a sign of maturity and sophistication.

I regard that as a frequently observed phenomenon, one you might recognize in yourself (given the right age and maturity…). The typical evolution of many wine drinkers is one of going from very light, fruity wines (think Beaujolais Nouveau, my own first real wine appreciation) which give little resistance and impact, to a youthful state of being impressed by wines of enormous stature, power and wow-factor (think big red Bordeaux and heavier), and then – gradually and not without exception – developing a real appreciation for lightness, finesse, the fine details (think red Burgundy). You see this development on a larger scale in emerging wine markets, where the big wines often make up the first wave, but where the gradual maturation of wine consciousness then entails much greater appreciation for the light, complex and detailed wines of this world.

We also see this development in other areas than wine. In food, for example, the ancient and highly evolved cultures tend to end up with great simplicity, lightness and attention to the individual raw materials. Italy is a prime example. Here is a country that developed – several times, for instance during the Roman age and during the renaissance – some of the most complex and elaborate cuisines and attendant food philosophies ever seen. Yet, today, we have a cuisine that tends towards regionality, simplicity, recognizability of the raw materials and digestibility. Why? Well, certainly not just because of poverty in the intervening years. My contention is that this is the sign of maturity, of the understanding of the profundity of lightness and simplicity.

For my own part, I also see this tendency in my work as an oil industry negotiator. When I started out in that business, there was no end to the complexity and depth of solutions I could come up with. Time – and no doubt the onset of decreasing mental capacity – have taught me to avoid complexity in solutions if at all possible. In fact, these days, I find myself increasingly smiling at people presenting complexity, particularly when simple and future-proof solutions are evident.

I want to be clear here: I am not talking about lightness and simplicity in wine in the sense of banal or thin. I am talking about those characters in the sense of youthful exuberance, of the transparency towards terroir, and of the drinkability of certain wines. These are wines that I find myself gravitating towards more and more as I grow older and as I taste more and more wine. This is by no means to the exclusion of big, great wine; no, on the contrary, I may in my youthful ignorance and impressionability have tended to exclude the light wines, so this is more of an inclusive rather than exclusive process.

Danish wine importer Carlo Merolli shares a liking for such wines, and just a few days ago sent out a newsletter in praise of them. He used an old Neapolitan saying to highlight the transformation that he has also undergone in his appreciation for these wines: “Jatte vecchierelle, surice tenerielle”, which translates into “old cats (prefer) tender/young mice”. While there could be a hint towards the unsavoury, or even the implication of the debilitating effects of old age, in that saying, what it does highlight in this context is the effect of time and maturity on the development of our preferences.

Angelo Peretti, on his own web site http://www.internetgourmet.it, has introduced the moniker “vinino” for these wines. The understanding is that a vinino must be light and irresistibly drinkable, yet not banal, because it has a clear imprint of where it comes from, and little endearing details that sets it apart. This is one point where Angelo and I are in complete agreement on wine. And this is where the Bardolino that has emerged in the last 10 years is utterly archetypical. The very best versions combine euphoric fruitiness, juiciness, lightness and great drinkability with hints of spices, autumn leaves and exactly that transparency towards territory and its subdivisions which makes it non-banal and very worthy.

So it was with great anticipation and no little enjoyment that this fat old cat sat down and tasted the complete selection of Bardolino Chiaretto, Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante and Bardolino being poured at the Anteprima event. The following are brief notes on the wines that I want to highlight from those tastings. As usual, no colour notes and no points.

Bardolino Chiaretto

BIGAGNOLI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Slightly closed nose, but with acidic red berries and minerals. Sapid, lithe, dry and long.

CA’ DEI COLLI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Raspberries and granite dust. Juicy, raspberries and flowers.

CAVALCHINA Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Light raspberries and hints of garrigue herbs. Soft, fine, lightly perfumed, still a bit of reduction on exit.

CORTE GARDONI Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Juicy raspberries, flowers, herbs and minerals. Sapid, tight berries and minerality. Excellent.

F.LLI ZENI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico Vigne Alte 2013
Slightly reductive nose, with raspberries and talc. Good balance between fruit and tight struture.

SUSANNA E EUGENIO GIRARDELLI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Slightly reductive, but good weight of berries underneath. Raspberries and herbs, good weight of dry matter, lightly bitter and salty finish.

GIUSEPPE E GIAN PIETRO GIRARDI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Light raspberries, flowers. Tight, dry and juicy; give time.

GORGO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberries with a hint of spice, minerals. Soft, creamy, lightly juicy. Delicious.

IL PIGNETTO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberries, cherries, boiled herbs, hint of sweet meat. Tight, good dry matter, minerals.

LE GINESTRE Bardolino Chiaretto Classico Cà Roina 2013
Wild raspberries, elderflower, citrus and minerals. Slender, juicy, repeats nose.

LE MURAGLIE Bardolino Chiaretto Birò 2013
Soft berries, flowery talc, weighty nose. Minerally, dry, good width.

LE VIGNE DI SAN PIETRO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberries, verdant perfume and minerals. Soft, with good herbs and fruit.

LORENZO MORANDO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberry candy. Juicy/tight, raspberries and lavender.

GIORGIO POGGI Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Perfumed raspberries, light green herbs, granite. Tight, dry and minerally.

RAVAL Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Raspberries and minerals, hint of horseradish. Soft, mild and with good dry matter.

GIOVANNA TANTINI Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberry candy, lavender, good. Repeated in the mouth, dry and minerally.

TRE COLLINE Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Fresh raspberries, white flowers and minerals. Dry, juicy and minerally.

VALETTI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Somewhat neutral berry nose with hint of sweet meat. Slender, juicy, good minerality, raspberry finish.

Looking back over my notes, this was a very good sitting, with a good number of very likable wines. Generally, my preference went towards those that had juiciness, sapidity even, and which were dry and minerally. Some wines were a bit too obviously made, and I have tended to tink less of them. A few of the wines had more of a Provencal character, being quite soft and with hints of herbs, but the best of them avoided the flabbiness and alcoholic excess that otherwise tends to afflict many Provencal rosés.

Bardolino Chiaretto can be a really lovely, charming, highly drinkable wine. It generally does not try and convince you of its greatness by way of extract or alcohol, preferring instead to sneak up on you with lovely hints of light red berries and minerals. From memory, I cannot recall having had very many good Chiarettos, and I therefore conclude that winemaking practices have improved enormously here. Many of these wines are really worth seeking out for perfect summer drinking.

Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante

FULVIO BENAZZOLI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Light raspberries, minerals. Good acidity, dry and juicy

CANTINA CASTELNUOVO DEL GARDA Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Minerally raspberries. Good acidity, dry enough, minerals.

COSTADORO Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries and lavender, delicious. Slender, good acidity, juicy and dry.

F.LLI ZENI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, lavender, minerals. Slightly high on the dosage/slightly sweet, but good raspberry and lavender finish.

GUERRIERI RIZZARDI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, flowers, hint of sweet meat. Light, raspberries, minerals and flowers.

LA CA’ Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, lavender and flowers, hint of orange zest. Dry, tight, good acidity.

LE TENDE Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante Voluttà
Discreet raspberries, violets. Slender, dry, good acidity, raspberries.

MONTE DEL FRA’ Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante La Picia
Palest raspberries, very minerally. Slender, raspberries, minerals. Good.

VILLA MEDICI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, sweet herbs, minerals and flowers. Slender, good acidity, dry.

This was a somewhat smaller flight, resulting therefore in fewer wines to be recommended. Again, my preference went towards those that had juiciness, sapidity and dryness. Sparkling wines, and sparkling rosés in particular, are of course all the rage on international markets these days, and I had feared that many wines would have suffered as a consequence, being made for markets with a sweet tooth, and for a price point. Luckily, this was generally not the case, and there were many wines with good terroir fidelity. I don’t see many of these wines at home in Denmark, but the above would certainly be a huge improvement on much of the plonk being sold to the unsusecting public these days.


BIGAGNOLI Bardolino Classico 2013
Cherries, raw artichoke, iron. Light, good dryness, fruit very intact, finishes with a hint of cloves.

CA’ DEI COLLI Bardolino Classico 2013
Sweet cherries, cinnamon, charming. Juicy/sapid, cherries and ginger.

CANTINA CASTELNUOVO DEL GARDA Bardolino Classico Cà Vegar 2013
Cherry candy, cinnamon. Juicy, cherries and sweet herbs.

CASARETTI Bardolino Classico 2013
Tight nose, cherries and pepper. Juicy, dry, lovely.

Sweet cherries, sweet meat. Juicy/tight, dry and fine.

FREZZA Bardolino Classico 2013
Dark berries, hint of geranium. Tight, juicy and good.

Tight cherries, spice, minerals, hint of herbs. Fruity, juicy and fresh.

GORGO Bardolino 2013
Sweet cherries, lavender and cloves. Soft, good fruit, slightly too rounded.

IL PIGNETTO Bardolino 2013
Tight cherries, pepper. Good juiciness, tight, spice.

LA PRESA Bardolino 2013
Full of character, perfumed berries, sweet herbs, delicious. Firm, fruity, lovely minerality.

LE FRAGHE Bardolino 2013
Cherries, dark herbs and spices. Soft, rounded and dry.

LE GINESTRE Bardolino Classico Mondragon 2013
Light cherries, fennel, minerals. Juicy, lively, lovely minerals.

LE MURAGLIE Bardolino Vicentini 2013
Raspberries, sweet herbs, hints of sweet meat and wet clay. Juicy/sapid, delicious fruit.

LE TENDE Bardolino Classico 2013
Dark cherries, geranium, autumn leaves. Juicy, full of character, dry.

MONTE DEL FRA’ Bardolino 2013
Dark cherries, exotic wood, cloves and minerals. Mild, rounded, good dry matter. Good.

MONTE ZOVO Bardolino 2013
Carbohydrate minerality, light cherries, sweet flowers and spices. Juicy, fruity and minerally.

ALBINO PIONA Bardolino 2013
Fresh and juicy cherries, herbs. Slender, juicy and minerally.

GIORGIO POGGI Bardolino Classico 2013
Sour cherries and hint of meat. Juicy/tight, dry, cherries.

RAVAL Bardolino Classico 2013
Raspberries! Slender, dry and juicy. Vinino.

TRE COLLINE Bardolino Classico 2013
Soft red berry fruit and sweet spice. Juicy, lovely fruit.

VIGNETI VILLABELLA Bardolino Classico Vigna Morlongo 2013
Juicy cherries, geranium. Soft, juicy, delicious.

Balsamic cherries, carbohydrate minerality. Somewhat tannic, hint of oak, but juicy and good.

VILLA MEDICI Bardolino 2013
Spritzy cherries, sweet green herbs. Slender, juicy, good fruit.

ZENATO Bardolino 2013
Lifted cherries, perfumed green herbs, autumn leaves towards exotic wood, very charming. Juicy, long and lively, repeats nose. Lovely.

This was a lovely tasting, with many wines hitting the sweet spot in terms of juiciness, fruitiness, immediacy and quaffability. Just what the old cat needed after the dreariness of Danish winter. Again, the wines that really convinced were those that had not been overdone or rounded off. There were very few of those, which to me is an extremely healthy sign that the Bardolino winemakers have come to terms with the area’s real vocation and are working towards maximizing that expression. The few ripasso-like wines that were there were generally clumsy and much less drinkable than the good stuff listed above.

Clearly, the character in these wines is being borne by corvina/corvinone. I had the luck of also tasting a few wines that were made from 100% corvina/corvinone (notes in a later post), and they really did point towards a glorious future. They were not larger or heavier than normal Bardolinos, but they tended to express even more the lovely, transparent, euphoric fruitiness and terroir fidelity that surely is the goal towards which this area must strive (and is striving). I would particularly single out the 100% corvina/corvinone wines of two producers, Albino Piona and Corte Gardoni, in this context. If you want to taste the pure fruit and the potential, get hold of those wines.

I will be providing notes of my visits to certain producers, as well as notes on the Custoza Anteprima wines, in later posts, but just to round off this post a quick note on my favourite producers from this event: The big guns – the likes of Monte del Frà, Le Vigne di San Pietro, Cavalchina and Le Fraghe – certainly did deliver with excellence across the board, but that was hardly surprising. What really struck me here was the breadth of excellence and the serious intent and view towards the long term which was exhibited by a group of producers that really came up with interesting and lovely wines. The best among these were Corte Gardoni, Le Tende, Giovanna Tantini and Albino Piona. But this post would not be complete without me mentioning my real favourite, Raval. This tiny, artisanal, humble producer does not produce – and does not pretend to produce – the most profound wines in the world, or even in the area. But the drinkability and charm of them, the immediacy and fruitiness, the honesty and fidelity, are just off the charts. And you can buy them at the cellar door for 3 Euros per bottle. Unbelievable. Go get some.

Yours truly

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