Custoza celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Part 1.
The Custoza DOC covers the white wines made on Lake Garda’s eastern Venetian shore. It’s centred on the small village of Custoza, which is just to the west of Verona.
This DOC overlaps and shares some boundaries with the Bardolino (red) and Chiaretto di Bardolino (rosé) DOC. It dates from 1971, renaming it Custoza rather than Bianco di Custoza in 2005. The production rules have also been modified to drive ever-higher quality, most recently in 2019.
However, the main thing about the Custoza white wines is that they are always a blend of several white grape varieties, as shown below.
The prevalent wine style is a wine that is dry, light, mineral-fresh, elegant and with moderate alcohol. Such qualities make them versatile food partners; the wines can often develop and age well. However, while they may share some stylistic similarities with the more famous Soave, they have a distinctive terroir and personality.
About Custoza DOC
This year, Custoza celebrates its 50th Anniversary as a DOC, a golden milestone.
Part 1 of this article covers the DOC and the factors influencing taste and quality.
Part 2 then features six Custoza dry white wines presented by the Consorzio.*
The Custoza DOC and the Consorzio have a history of improving wine quality. What was once a bulk wine on tap in the local bars has been completely transformed. For example, sustainable agriculture has been a priority here for over 20 years, so many producers are now sustainable or certified organic. A three-year zoning study also helps winegrowers match their vine varieties and rootstocks to local conditions.
Custoza is a small area of 1,400 hectares. However, it has the usual range of growers, artisans, small family wineries, larger businesses and co-operatives. Between them, they make 12 million bottles per year. However, with ready local markets on Lake Garda and Verona, only 20% of production is currently exported. Most go north to Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
Custoza wines are also available in the UK but are not as well-known as some of their peers.
The proximity of Custoza to Lake Garda ameliorates temperature extremes and brings freshening breezes. The area features pretty and gently undulating hills dotted with villas, villages and vineyards, with roads lined with cypress trees.
Those hills are concentric glacial moraines of no more than 150 meters in altitude. Each band of hills marks the retreating snout of the glacier that created Lake Garda. Their soils vary in composition but are typically full of alpine limestone and gravel.
There are three white grape mainstays. One is Bianca Fernanda, a local clone of Cortese, famous for Gavi in Piemonte. Second is Garganega, famous for Soave and Gambellara. Meanwhile, Trebbianello is a local biotype of Friulano from Friuli Venezia Giulia, aka the French Sauvignon Vert/Sauvignonasse.
Together with Trebbiano Toscana, these grapes must make up at least 70% of the final blend. To ensure inclusion, none can individually exceed 45% of the total. Since 2019, Bianca Fernanda has become mandatory rather than optional to encourage more powerful aromas and a more evident identity.
In addition, the blend can also include a further six optional varieties up to a 30% maximum. These are Riesling Italico and Riesling Renano, Malvasia, Manzoni, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay.
The ripening times of these varieties range widely, from early September to late October, exposing producers to the risks of changing weather conditions.
Why are there so many different grape varieties here? First, there was the usual planting of international varieties in recent times, but that’s only a partial explanation. In reality, this area has been an important centre for agricultural trade over centuries, as the location of Custoza puts it at a significant Italian crossroads. At the same time, the proximity to Verona and the development of tourism have undoubtedly played their part in creating a demand for diversity.
Anyone travelling across northern Italy by train or driving the A4 Torino-Trieste autoroute will pass through Custoza. As we’ll see, it’s well worth stopping!
The blenders skill
Custoza DOC is always a blend. Thus, it rather bucks the current fashion of single-varietal wines. But It demonstrates the advantages of employing the blender’s skill, meaning that a quality blended wine will be better than any of its constituent parts.
Using complementary grape varieties brings unique properties and makes up for any deficiencies. Hence, this can create extra complexity and subtlety while reducing vintage variation and improving consistency. In these days of climate change, blending is also one way that winegrowers can mitigate its effects.
Blending also offers scope for the winegrowers’ expression. For example, Bianca Fernanda contributes distinctive aromatics, while Trebbianello and Garganega bring acidity, colour, texture and fruit.
Dry white wine is the prevalent style, and there are three levels. First, the Bianco is a young wine put on the market as early as December 1st in the harvest year for commercial reasons. Second, the Superiore level offers a smidge more minimum alcohol, but the key difference is that a minimum of 5 months lees ageing provides more complexity and depth. Finally, Riserva requires even longer ageing, at least 12 months on the lees. However, this level is theoretical, as this is a new designation, so wines labelled as Riserva have yet to appear.
There’s also sparkling wine (spumante) made by Charmat and Metodo Classico, ranging from Brut Zero to Demi-sec. There is also a passito sweet dessert wine.
Custoza has no reds or rosé, given that Bardolino DOC specialises in those. Indeed, many producers make Custoza alongside Bardolino and Chiaretto (and more besides).
Now for Part 2
Part 2 now features six representative examples of the Custoza DOC style, demonstrating terrific quality and value. In addition, there are some food-matching suggestions, including The Knot of Love.
Consorzio di Tutela del Vino Custoza DOC
c/o Villa Venier
Via Bassa, 14
37066 Sommacampagna (VR)
*I’m indebted to the Consorzio for sharing up-to-date DOC maps, facts and figures in Part 1 and allowing me to try the wines featured in Part 2.