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A Rosé to Lay Down? The Aging Potential of Chiaretto di Bardolino Wines

A Rosé to Lay Down? The Aging Potential of Chiaretto di Bardolino Wines

Bardolino. Photo courtesy of Visit Garda.

On the Eastern shore of Lake Garda lies the picturesque little town of Bardolino, the center of the Chiaretto di Bardolino and Bardolino DOC appellations. Chiaretto di Bardolino is the traditionally light pink rosé wine made predominantly of Corvina, which symbolizes the essence of Lake Garda, with its mild Mediterranean climate and relaxed lifestyle. In fact, when German writer and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited the lake on his Italian journey at the end of the 18th century, he defined it as giving rise to a sense of sehnsucht, which means a feeling of longing. Indeed, when you leave Lake Garda, there is a sense of loss and yearning to go back.

Fabio Dei Micheli, the recently-elected president of the Chiaretto and Bardolino consortium and owner of Tenuta La Presa winery also talks about how the young rosé and red Bardolino wines “represent the lifestyle on the lake: freshness, simplicity, and a touch of light-heartedness.” Chiaretto di Bardolino rosé wines are often drunk very young, either locally by the lake or by international consumers. Still, the image of the light pink rosé wine is also starting to change, prompting the question: Can these wines age? Fabio Dei Micheli underlines that the Bardolino territory is interpreted more critically when looked upon from the various subzones, and has the potential to produce Chiaretto rosé and Bardolino red wines for true connoisseurs looking for a deeper and different emotion tied to the wines they drink. 

Map of Bardolino. Courtesy of Chiaretto and Bardolino Consortium.

In 2018, a zoning project carried out by the consortium of Bardolino introduced three subzones – La Rocca, Montebaldo, and Sommacampagna – that, in reality, had already been loosely defined in the early 19th century and referred to in the monograph “La Provincia di Verona ed i suoi vini” by local scholar Giovanni Battista Perez. Fabio Dei Micheli believes that the subzones are very much facilitating the consortium’s work of presenting and educating about the Bardolino territory.

Lake Garda in the Rearview Mirror 

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, stretching over the three regions of Veneto, Lombardy, and Trentino. Glaciers formed the lake, pushing down from the Brenta Dolomites in four different glaciation periods starting from the Günz era during the Pleistocene era about 2.6 million years ago, continuing via the Mindel and Riss periods, and ending with the Würm period 12,000 years ago. The glacier transported a lot of material, such as rocks, pebbles, gravel, strata of clay, and limestone, which resulted in the morainic hills surrounding the lake that gives freshness and minerality to the wines today.

Lake Garda. Photo courtesy of Visit Garda.

The Romans have had a fundamental impact also in the Lake Garda area, where they introduced grape growing, winemaking, and the use of the grape press. The maceration with skin contact was very brief in that period, resulting in wines that were light in color (chiaro), rather than red wines. The Chiaretto thus has a long history to fall back on even if it was mentioned for the first time only in 1806 in the Vocabulary degli Accademici della Crusca (the vocabulary of the Italian language). 

In the Middle Ages, winemaking took giant leaps forward thanks to the monasteries all over Europe, especially in France and Italy, being central to the development of winemaking techniques. It was not only a question of the French monks discovering tools such as the basket press, but also a question of a change of mindset regarding wine production. The district around Bardolino turned into a true winemaking hub for the surrounding territory with monasteries such as the Priory of San Colombano and, much later, the San Giorgio monastery.

Chiaretto di Bardolino: A Rosé in Evolution

When Bardolino got its DOC status in 1968, the Chiaretto rosé wine was included in the appellation, and the following year the consortium was founded. In 2014, the Chiaretto producers set off the “Rosé Revolution” to draw attention to the unique characteristics of the pale pink rosé wine made with mainly the native Corvina Veronese grape by Lake Garda. Since then, they have been a driving force for collaboration with other important rosé producing areas in Italy, such as Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo and Negroamaro rosé of Salento in Puglia, among others.

Photo courtesy of Chiaretto and Bardolino Consortium.

According to the DOC regulation, up to 95% Corvina and a minimum of 5% Rondinella can be used in the Chiaretto di Bardolino wines. The sapidity is one of the main traits of the Corvina grown in the Lake Garda area, and it balances out the acidity and tannins (even if Corvina is not a very tannic grape). The Rondinella grape also helps to give the salty backbone to the Chiaretto wines. At a seminar during the Anteprima Chiaretto event earlier this year in March, Franco Cristoforetti, owner of Villabella winery, stressed that finding harmony between acidity, saltiness, and tannins is crucial when making Chiaretto di Bardolino wines.

Apart from the fresh, savory, and tannic notes, Chiaretto di Bardolino wines stand out for their aromas, ranging from floral to herbal, with notes of red berries, apricot, and citrus. As the Chiaretto ages it develops more mature notes of ripe fruit, candied citrus fruit, a more complex minerality, and hints of fumé or flint.

During the last few years, the consortium has increasingly been exploring the maturation and aging potential of Chiaretto di Bardolino wines, learning about its evolution. Still, it is a work in progress because it is a fairly recent phenomenon to keep rosé wine for aging among the producers. They are discovering how the vintage and the region’s varied meso-climates are decisive for the evolution of the Chiaretto wines over time. For example, the soil closer to the lake in the La Rocca subzone is considered to give notes of fumé to the Corvina as it ages as in the Chiaretto di Bardolino 2014 from Poggio delle Grazie.

Fabio Dei Micheli, owner of Tenuta La Presa. Photo courtesy of Tenuta la Presa.

Fabio Dei Micheli, in his role (which he shares with his sister) as owner of Tenuta La Presa, winery located in the Montebaldo subzone, stresses that their love for the local territory has brought them to further develop the family winery. They aim to give value by interpreting the local territory as best they can. Dei Micheli says that for them it is all about carefully selecting the grapes, using the first pressed must, and maturing the rosé wine for at least seven months before releasing it to the market. In fact, they are one of the wineries with Chiaretto vintages that go back to around 2014, still showing great potential and complexity. 

Chiaretto is indeed becoming more of a terroir-driven wine, where vineyard sites, vintage, and aging are more important than concentrating on the color. It is very exciting to see several Bardolino producers, such as Villabella, experimenting with maturing the Chiaretto wines longer and in different types of containers such as steel, cement, oak, or even amphora, as in the case of Zeni winery, for a more discerning or curious audience.

Chiaretto has shown that it is more than a pink wine; it is a “serious” wine with a unique character. Both Chiaretto and red Bardolino wines have aging potential to make them “superior” wines, concludes Dei Micheli.