Bardolino Cru – the first vintage from the new subzones
On the eastern shores of Lake Garda, Bardolino DOC and Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC share geographical boundaries, and most wineries make both styles. However, Bardolino represents the reds (60%), while Chiaretto is the well-known Rosé (40%). Rule changes were ratified in April 2021 and applied to both from the 2020 vintage. These included establishing three new subzones, or Cru, in Bardolino. This article examines the first wine releases from six participating wineries.
These Cru wines must all have lower maximum yields, with at least one year’s maturation (much longer than the usual three months). But, as we shall see, these Cru are an official establishment of a lost pre-DOC situation.
At the same time, the allowable proportions of the Corvina and Rondinella grapes used for Bardolino and Chiaretto also changed. Both grapes remain compulsory, but the amount of Corvina allowed has increased, and Rondinella decreased.
As a result, Corvina must now form 35%-95% of the wine (the previous maximum was 80%), while Rondinella is now the remaining 5%-40%. Corvinone can replace Corvina up to 20% – that is unchanged. However, other authorised grape proportions are reduced, including Molinara (max 15%) and “others” (max 10%).
This isn’t a straightforward recipe, but in simple terms, the desire is to improve quality and identity without losing tradition or alienating wineries growing complementary grape varieties.
Developing Bardolino’s potential
A defining characteristic of Bardolino is freshness, with a corresponding lightness of colour, alcohol, tannins and body. Consequently, such wines are ideal for young drinking.
Bardolino has been compared to Beaujolais, as both offer easy “quaffing” at their base levels. Indeed, following the success of Beaujolais Nouveau, Bardolino also has a “Novello” wine made in the same way (using Carbonic Maceration). But all this implies that Bardolino has limited quality potential. That is far from the case, as the best wines are capable of ageing and development and are food-friendly.
Conditions in Bardolino benefit grape ripening, thanks to the benign influence of Lake Garda. So there is no need for dried grapes to beef the wines up, unlike in neighbouring Valpolicella with their Amarone and Ripasso. As a result, the Cru offer a different road for Bardolino.
Under the new rules, the designations for Bardolino Classico DOC (the original Bardolino wine heartland) and the tiny Bardolino Superiore DOCG are retained. Nevertheless, the three new “Cru” are designed to sit at the top of the quality pyramid, being the best terroir-based expression. Perhaps they will be seen as more akin to lofty Burgundy than humble Beaujolais in time.
The three new Bardolino Cru
In the Bardolino, zoning project were 66 different soils, with variations in temperature, rainfall, aspect and altitude. Lake Garda influences the whole area, but this strength diminishes with distance. All this information established the three Cru zones accurately.
Interestingly, nineteenth-century merchants already knew of three Bardolino wine districts. Those districts were never official but corresponded to the new Cru to an uncanny degree. Back then, Bardolino reds were highly regarded and exported widely. However, the subsequent rise in tourism around Lake Garda led to a demand for volume rather than quality. Hence, those old districts became lost when the DOC was created in 1968.
The three new Cru embody that lost pre-DOC knowledge. It’s now made official for the first time. They are called Sommacampagna, Montebaldo and La Rocca.
This occupies the southeastern part, a lower and flatter area, inland towards Verona, so it’s the warmest and driest. Wines show cherry and black pepper flavours.
This is the northernmost and highest area, with a broader range of temperature swings. It contains the 2,200-metre-high Monte Baldo and is biodiverse. Strawberry and clove notes are typical in the wines.
This comprises the entire lakefront, with Mediterranean warmth tempered by Lake winds. It includes the towns of Garda, Bardolino, and Peschiera del Garda. Wines show raspberry and cinnamon nuances.
A small degree of grape mixing is allowed between the Cru to a maximum of 15%. It’s assumed that this rule is for where wineries have holdings in more than one Cru.
Interestingly, a legal requirement is to show the Cru name before Bardolino and in a larger font. It’s reminiscent of the ten Beaujolais Cru appellations, where Fleurie, Morgon and their brethren are the primary appellations, with the word Beaujolais hardly appearing, if at all.
Participation in the Cru
There are about 100 Bardolino wineries, so adopting the new Cru will take some time. Twenty producers are already making Cru wines. To date, only eleven have been released. The remaining nine should become available by the time the VinItaly exhibition in Verona rolls around in April 2023. Quantities are small, but the 5-year goal is to produce up to 1.5 million bottles from about 14 million bottles annually.
Six Wineries and their new Cru wines
While it would be foolish to generalise too much from tasting only six young Cru wines in their first vintage, they seem to express typicity. There are differences due to different blends and winemaking styles, which could mask the Cru attributes. Perhaps only experienced Bardolino winegrowers could place each wine 100% in the appropriate Cru if tasted blind. However, this situation should resolve with subsequent vintages, more producers and wines. It may also become more apparent as the wines mature in the bottle.
Regardless, what is evident even at the outset is these wines are all outstanding examples of Bardolino. Welcome to the start of an exciting terroir-based journey.
The wineries and wines below are grouped by their Cru, with technical details separated for those that like it. Five wines are from 2020, with one from 2021. All the wines are bone dry and have hallmark acidity for youthful, fresh drinking. However, this acidity also enables the ability to age – perhaps for a decade or more. While there are differences in winegrowing, none feature new oak in maturation, so meaningful comparisons are possible. The wineries range in size from significant concerns to tiny artisanal producers, and all have sustainable credentials.
These wines were decanted before serving unchilled. They were each matched with food. For example, traditional Italian fare would include risotto, pasta, polenta, fish, chicken, pheasant, grills and truffles. Thai and Chinese cuisines are a good match thanks to their lightness, acidity and low tannins.
Monte del Frà, “Bonomo”, Sommacampagna Bardolino DOC, 2020. 13%
Grape Varieties: Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara (proportions not stated)
Farming: 100-150 metres altitude on moraines. Guyot training. Old vines
Winemaking: Destemming. Short maceration, then fermentation in steel tanks
Maturation: 3rd-use wooden barrels
Closure: Diam 5 Cork
Run by generations of the Bonomo family, this is a big winery based in Sommacampagna with an extensive portfolio of wines and sustainable wine growing. The Diam cork demonstrates this is a “serious” wine for ageing. It feels like a big step up from their excellent Bardolino. In the context of the other wines, this example is fuller in body, a shade darker in colour, perhaps a little riper, reflecting the warmth of Sommacampagna, as do the cherry fruit and black pepper nuances. A broader palate is traded for fewer aromatics. Finishing long and fresh and was served with a roasted saddle of Rabbit, an exceptional wine.
N/A as yet in the UK. In Italy, €18.50 at the winery shop. More Wines from Monte del Frà can be found here.
Bigagnoli, “Eocene”, Montebaldo Bardolino DOC, 2020. 12%
Grape Varieties: 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella, 10% Sangiovese
Farming: Pergola training on morainic hills, 160 metres altitude, manual harvest, 20-30 yo vines
Winemaking: Fermentation in stainless steel, spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts
Maturation: 14 months in stainless steel, with weekly stirring of fine lees for 12 months
Bignanoli is one of the smallest wineries in Bardolino, with just 0.5 ha, established in 2012. Eocene is the name of the geological period when the glaciers formed Lake Garda. It’s the only screwcapped wine in this lineup. The inclusion of a small proportion of Sangiovese is unexpected but complementary. It does flesh the wine out and offers some extra aromatic complexity. A mid-cherry colour, this wine shows pretty aromas of cherry and strawberry with a menthol edge. The fruit flavours follow a similar pattern, while the rounded tannin and acidity bring elegance and grace. A stellar bottle that turned a platter of Pheasant salami, cheddar cheese and sourdough toast into a feast.
N/A as yet in the UK. In Italy €26.90. More expensive than its peers, but only tiny quantities are available.
Vigneti Villabella, “Morlongo” Anniversario 50 Vendemmie, Montebaldo Bardolino DOC, 2020. 13%
Grape Varieties: Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone (proportions unknown)
Farming: Guyot training. Single Vineyard. Organic, with a part in organic conversion
Winemaking: maceration, then fermentation
Maturation: in large oak casks, then spends a further period in the bottle before release
Vigneti Villabella also celebrates its 50th anniversary with this new wine, awarded Tre Bicchieri by Gambero Rosso. That rating is fully justified. Raspberry and strawberry fruit mixed with clove and liquorice on the nose and palate. There’s an intriguing fennel note on a long length. Great drinking with an Italian-style traybake of Chicken strips, aubergine, tomato, olives, capers and anchovies.
N/A as yet in the UK. Italy €14.90 at the winery.
Le Fraghe, “Brol Grande”, Montebaldo Bardolino DOC, 2020. 12.5%
Grape Varieties: Corvina 90%, Rondinella 10%
Farming: Organic, Brol is a single-walled vineyard, 22 yo vines, 190 metres
Winemaking: 12 days maceration, spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts. Fermentation in concrete tanks. Low sulphur
Maturation: 10 months in concrete tanks plus 12 months in the bottle
Le Fraghe has a reputation for excellent wines, organic since 2009 and run by Mathilde Poggi and her daughters. Brol Grande is a light, bright, attractive ruby colour with strawberry aroma and flavour, cut with a caper-like taste and a saline streak on a long finish. A smidge of tannin, high acidity and a balsamic note develops as it opens up in the glass. This elegant and poised expression should fill out a little as it ages in the bottle. This gastronomic wine is better with food than without—served with Bresaola, Cumbrian salami with basil and fennel, and sourdough bread with extra-virgin olive oil.
N/A as yet in the UK. Italy €12.90. I hope this will become available at the Wine Society in Spring 2023, given they stock Le Fraghe Bardolino.
Cru La Rocca
Poggio delle Grazie, La Rocca Bardolino DOC, 2020. 13%
Grape Varieties: Corvina 95%, Rondinella 5%
Farming: Organic, 25 yo vines 130 metres on moraines
Winemaking: spontaneous fermentation of indigenous yeasts in stainless steel, gravity racking, no pumps, no filtering
Maturation: Stainless steel
Poggio delle Grazie has produced a stunning example of La Rocca. Light ruby, the floral nose is quieter than some, at least at this stage, but made up for by the subtle and nuanced raspberry-led palate. Those cinnamon notes are not auto-suggestion! Subtle and nuanced, again a wine that shows better with food. You might not expect a British classic (Toad in the Hole) to be a good pairing, but the acidity cuts through the Yorkshire pudding, leaving the fruit to complement the Cumberland sausage. Three thousand bottles only.
N/A as yet in the UK. Italy €16.00.
Villa Calicantus, “Soracuna”, La Rocca Bardolino DOC, 2021. 12%
Grape Varieties: Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and “a pinch” of Merlot (amounts unstated)
Farming: Biodynamic, pergola training, hand harvest. Three parcels of 56 yo vines, 165 metres on moraines
Winemaking: low sulphur, indigenous yeasts, fermentation in concrete tanks
Maturation: No filtering, no fining, ten months in concrete tanks, three months in the bottle
Bottle number 7,116 out of 8,397, and only in the bottle for one month. Chiara and Daniele Delaini have farmed their 8 ha of vines since 2011. They were organic at the outset and became biodynamic in 2014. Sora Cuna means “house of the newborn”, referring to their daughter and the first vintage of their Classico. So now this name applies to this Cru as well. Raspberry, strawberry and cherry aromas and flavours, with attractive cinnamon and a hint of clove, fennel and black pepper. A beautiful earthiness and softer texture – is that the pinch of Merlot? Excellent now, but probably better in a few months and will continue developing—a real treat with sliced Porchetta in sourdough rolls.
UK Availability: look out for it at Wanderlust wine. They offer the rest of the Villa Calicantus range, including a lovely Classico and Superiore. Italy: €14.00
Consorzio Tutela Vino Bardolino Doc
Bottagisio Riva Cornicello n. 3
37011 Bardolino (VR)
Those looking to take a holiday in the Lake Garda area should look out for these new Cru wines in shops, restaurants, and wineries. Likewise, those attending the VinItaly wine show in Verona should also check them out. Hopefully, these wines will soon be available in the UK.
Meanwhile, lighter, lower-alcohol red wines are returning to fashion, too, so the forecast for Bardolino is bright.
It’s early days, but there’s no doubt that the new Cru will raise the Bar-dolino!
Thanks to Angelo Peretti, Director of the Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino.