Chiaretto di Bardolino is a rosé wine with an important history that has had an amazing and revolutionary development during the last 10 years, giving it a pole position among Italian rosé wines on the world map. It has become more essential to give an expression to micro-climate and terroir in rosé wines. Earlier this spring, I attended the Anteprima del Chiaretto and a press tour organized by the consortium of Chiaretto and Bardolino (Consorzio Per La Tutela Del Vino Bardolino D.O.C.).
We were a small group of wine writers mainly from the US – I was the only Swede living in Italy – that had a lot of fun together in the late spring. We discovered more about Lake Garda, the Bardolino area and its subzones, and Chiaretto as well as Bardolino red wines. In this article, I will talk mainly about Chiaretto di Bardolino.
The trip to Lake Garda was indeed like a breeze of fresh air, like a balm to your soul, all in all, a sign that things were moving forward again. It was also an opportunity to meet up with old wine writer friends I had not seen since back in 2019, as well as ‘new’ friends that I only had met virtually so far.
Arriving at Bardolino, the tour started off with a boat ride on Lake Garda where Angelo Peretti, the director of the consortium of Chiaretto and Bardolino, acted as the perfect cicerone while we were enjoying an aperitif with Chiaretto di Bardolino wines and lake fish delicacies. The blue of the lake and the sky melted together with the sunlight in the late afternoon. Colors that paired well with the pale pink of the Chiaretto wines in our wine glasses.
What better place than Lake Garda in springtime accompanied by a chilled Chiaretto rosé wine to get energized and ready for the Anteprima Chiaretto week?
Bardolino, the ‘Little’ Lombard Town by Lake Garda
Bardolino is a beautiful and picturesque little town situated just by Lake Garda that dates to ancient times. Settlements in the area can be traced back to the Bronze Age, but it was mainly during the Roman era and, especially, the early Middle Ages that the lake region became more populated. It was the Lombards that changed the name from Benàco to Bardolino.
If we look at the wine culture, it was the Romans who to a great extent introduced grape growing and winemaking in the area, however, it was really only during the Middle Ages that things started to move forward with winemaking techniques. This was especially important for the production of rosé wines. To be fair, the wines produced in ancient times were lighter in color and body, a sort of claret wines, and can be considered precursors to rosé wines as we know them today.
I have written previously about the importance of monasteries for the development of winemaking overall in Europe in the Middle Ages. The French monks discovered the basket press for grapes, and thus white and red grapes were often mixed, pressed, and stamped with the feet which resulted in wines with a light color, aka rosé wines.
The changes in winemaking during the Middle Ages were not only limited to the use of the basket press, but the work carried out by the monks also resulted in a general change of mindset. Many viticultural areas, such as Asolo, Bardolino, and the Tosco-Romagnolo Apennine, to name a few, owe their importance to the efforts, research, and finetuning of techniques conducted by the local monasteries.
If we return to talk about Bardolino, it has given its name to the wine denomination Bardolino Doc. The Bardolino Doc is a red wine while the rosé wine is called Chiaretto. It became a Doc in 1968, just a few years after the institution of the DOC denominations in Italy in 1963. Soon thereafter the Bardolino Consortium was founded in 1969.
In 2014, the producers of Bardolino Chiaretto decided to put in motion a so-called rosé revolution. This means that they wanted to focus on some common denominators that would make the Chiaretto into an easier recognizable rosé wine. A sort of branding of the Chiaretto rosé. Last year, in 2021, the Chiaretto rosé wine produced in the Bardolino area went from being called Chiaretto, or Chiaretto Pink as the hashtag they used at the beginning, to Chiaretto di Bardolino.
The Chiaretto di Bardolino 2021 Vintage
Every single vintage counts and is different also when it comes to rosé wines. If we look at the 2021 vintage, it was a year with good and balanced weather that led to an adequate ripening of the grapes to be used for the Chiaretto di Bardolino wines. The ripeness process also led to a darker hue in color in certain areas in the Bardolino district. Chiaretto di Bardolino is since 2014 known for its light pink color, but in 2021 there was an excessive ripening of the anthocyanins in the grapes in certain micro-areas in the Bardolino district. Furthermore, the acidity and saltiness, which are typical traits of the Chiaretto di Bardolino wines, were more pronounced in 2021 than in 2020.
The Sense of Terroir
Returning to the question of micro-areas and terroir, Angelo Peretti, the director of the Chiaretto di Bardolino consortium, told us that there is a need to express the terroir and the vintage also when it comes to rosé wines. The idea of the consortium is indeed to produce rosé wines governed by the micro-climate and the terroir. They call it a “pink terroir wine” themselves. Angelo continued to stress that it is imperative to have vineyards with Corvina grapes destined for Chiaretto rosé wines, as it otherwise becomes difficult to make a good rosé wine. The grapes that can be used for the Chiaretto wines are Corvina (max. 95%), Rondinella (min 5% and max 40%), and up to 20% of local grapes from the province of Verona.
During our mini-tasting of older Chiaretto di Bardolino vintages, I asked Angelo if this also extends to the Rondinella grapes as regards the rosé wines. Angelo answered that it depends on what the single producer decides to do and the amount of Rondinella grapes that they use in their Chiaretto di Bardolino wines. Rondinella might be better for the red Bardolino wines. Angelo, in fact, says that Rondinella needs time to start to develop its flavors that are a sign of aging, such as cinnamon, chestnut, and caramelized notes.
If we now look at the Corvina grape that is the grape nr 1. in the Chiaretto di Bardolino wines, it typically has good acidity and salinity and notes of citrus fruits, tangerine, wild red berries, apricot, blood orange, and a herby touch. These are notes that come out with the soft pressing of the grapes. Angelo continues to underline that you would lose a large part of the notes of blood orange, tangerine, and citrus if doing maceration.
Another interesting thing that also points to the importance of terroir, is how certain notes emerge from the Corvina depending on the subzone where it is grown. When we, for example, tasted the Chiaretto di Bardolino 2015 from Poggio delle Grazie I noticed a smoky trait in the rosé wine. I asked Angelo about this and he explained that this is typical of Corvina grapes that grow close to the water, i.e. Lake Garda. I take this to mean that these are notes that come with aging and that the moraine soil may have an influence too. Also, it seems to be understood to be within the La Rocca subzone.
The Perception of Rosé Wines
Just a small deviation from the Chiaretto di Bardolino 2021 topic here, to focus a bit on the perception of rosé wines in connection to the talk about the sense of micro-climate and terroir above. Rosé wines are steadily gaining their rightful position in the wine world and as we mentioned above, terroir and the typical characteristics of the local micro-climate are essential for the making of high-quality rosé wines. In the end, the quality of a rosé wine does not lie in its color, but on the contrary the obsession with the light pink Provence color as the true rosé color is a rather recent belief. If we look at rosé wines such as Tavel, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Negroamaro, or Ciró rosé wines this becomes clear.
In the recent Decanter article Full-bodied rosés: proud to be pink, Elizabeth Gabay MW talks about how it is only during the last 20 years that the Provence color has become a sort of general standard for rosé wines. Before that, most rosé wines were darker and more full-bodied. She says that this kind of rosé wine in the past often lacked “freshness and finesse”, but that today the more full-bodied rosé wines with a darker hue have developed to become high-quality and terroir-driven wines.
“Producers of these styles often have a long history of fuller-bodied rosés, and are today often fighting against the tide of international trends. The fightback has resulted in renewed pride in these historic styles and brought fresher, more modern interpretations of these wines, which are worth looking out for, despite the pressure for ‘paler is better’.”says Elizabeth Gabay MW
In another recent article in Decanter by Andrew Jefford, ‘Rosé, for the time being, is a pretty babble‘, he argues that there is still a problem today with the “language of rosé”. He thinks that most wine drinkers, in general, are not yet familiar with the language of rosé and, therefore, cannot fully understand the different categories of rosé wines on a deeper level.
I agree with him that there is still a learning curve for many to fully understand the potential of rosé wines. I agree less that the guiding principle of rosé wines should be ‘charm’ and ‘seduction’, as that might sound a bit like being stuck in the belief that rosé wine is still a type of wine only for women, i.e. to be taken less seriously. Or perhaps old-fashioned?
I could also argue: don’t all wines need to be charming and convincing to be interesting? Not only rosé wines.
This was a general belief also in a Twitter thread that resulted from my sharing of Andrew Jeffords’s article.
Elizabeth Gabay MW said in one of her tweets in the thread that
“There are producers working hard to make serious, grand rosés.”
I think that our previous discussion about micro-climate and terroir and the sense of place are very much important factors for the making of rosé wines. This has become clear to me in the past when tasting rosé wines from Puglia, Abruzzo, Calabria, Bardolino, Tavel, and even Provence. It also became very clear when we tasted older vintages of Chiaretto di Bardolino earlier this year together with Angelo Peretti.
4 Chiaretto di Bardolino wines tasted at the Anteprima 2021
I tasted many Chiaretto di Bardolino wines of the 2021 vintage at the preview tasting earlier this year in Bardolino. However, I will only mention a few of the ones I liked.
Chiaretto di Bardolino 2021 Rosa dei Casaretti, Casaretti winery
This rosé wine is made with 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, and 10% Molinara grapes. I liked it for its beautiful freshness and saltiness, intense notes of fruit such as peach, and citrus fruits, and a hint of rhubarb almost. It also has notes of rose, herbs, and an almost smoky touch. On the palate, you feel the minerality and breeze from the lake added to the freshness. It is a rosé wine I could drink a whole bottle of.
Casaretti is an organically certified family winery located in the La Rocca subzone.
Chiaretto di Bardolino 2021 Ròdon, Le Fraghe winery
It is a Chiaretto rosé wine that is a blend of Corvina and Rondinella where the grapes are processed separately. The floral notes of rosehip and small fruit such as wild strawberries and wild berries envelope you at the first sniff, followed by a hint of citrus fruit, spices, and a herby touch. At first, there is also a note of ashes or almost a smoky touch which then disappears. It has freshness, minerality, and a nice structure. It is a wine that pairs well with all kinds of food.
Matilde Poggi is the owner of the organic winery Le Fraghe. She was the president of FIVI until recently and is now the president of CEVI, the association of independent winegrowers on a European level. I believe the winery is located in the Montebaldo subzone.
Chiaretto di Bardolino 2021, Gorgo winery
The Chiaretto from Gorgo winery is an organic rosé wine made with the grapes Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. It is a fresh, tangy, and zesty rosé wine with wild red berries, white flowers, field flowers, musk, and a hint of spices. It has a fresh, mineral, and vibrant taste where you can feel the influence of Lake Garda.
Roberta Bricolo is the owner of the winery and it was her parents who founded the winery in 1975. Roberta has a background as a lawyer but then decided she wanted to dedicate her work to the family winery about 10 years ago. The winery is organically certified since 2014 and they are very focused on sustainability. Roberta is also the current president of the Custoza Consortium.
This winery is located in the Sommacampagna subzone.
Chiaretto di Bardolino 2021 in amphora, Zeni 1870 winery
Zeni 1870 is a large and classic winery in Veneto that produces wine within the Bardolino, Valpolicella, Custoza, Lugana, and Soave appellations. They have a deep connection to the local territories and a long tradition as winegrowers and producers that dates to 1870. I have chosen to talk about this wine because it has matured in amphora and has a particular style.
It is a Chiaretto wine with a nice complexity where you feel notes that makes you think of lava stone, or something like a mix between cement and steel, which is then overtaken by lovely notes of fruit such as citrus fruit and peach. Then follows notes of elderberry flowers, spices, and a distinct herby touch. On the palate, it is fresh, salty, with a nice texture and it makes you feel like you were right on Lake Garda.
This winery is located in the La Rocca subzone. However, it has vineyards in several areas.
This has been a Taste of Chiaretto di Bardolino…
without going more in-depth about the three subzones – La Rocca, Montebaldo, and Sommacampagna – that were recently instituted officially. I wanted to focus on the Chiaretto rosé wines in this article. The three subzones and how they will define the red wines, to a great extent, is something that I will discuss further in a future article. Go and find a Chiaretto di Bardolino wine and tell me your thoughts.