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Culture: Chiaretto di Bardolino: A True Terroir-Driven Italian Rosé

Culture: Chiaretto di Bardolino: A True Terroir-Driven Italian Rosé

On the eastern shores of Lake Garda between Venice and Milan in Northern Italy’s Veneto region, the seaside town of Bardolino is home to a special wine of the same name. Bardolino is known for red wines, but the appellation’s rosé, Chiaretto di Bardolino, has been making wine lovers blush for centuries.

The tradition of making pink wines around Lake Garda began in the Roman era, when grapes were simply pressed, producing fresh, easy-drinking wines. Chiaretto (key-are-et-toh) is dry and crisp and gets its name from a Latin adjective meaning “light in color” obtained from the gentle pressing of native dark-skinned varieties of the Veneto region, such as Corvina and Rondinella. These are the same important grapes blended to produce the more famous Amarone della Valpolicella.

Lake Garda has a long history of producing rosé wines and continues to make Chiaretto in the same traditional manner. In 1968, Bardolino DOC Chiaretto earned one of Italy’s first DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), and in 2018 the denomination’s name changed to Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC, strengthening the rosé’s unique identity. Chiaretto’s annual 10 million bottle production contributes to Veneto’s dominance in the rosé market in Italy.

“Chiaretto is a one-of-a-kind rosé, with slightly more acidity and freshness than Provençe rosés,” says Fabio Dei Micheli, president of the Chiaretto consortium, Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino. “The use of Corvina and other Veronese indigenous grapes makes it unique.”

Stainless steel is commonly used for vinification to preserve and showcase Chiaretto’s fresh and mineral characteristics. But cement, wood and clay are also used. Aromas and flavors are often suggestive of citrus notes, peach, wild berries, blood orange, occasional floral and a notable salty minerality—signature characteristics from glacial morainic soil.

Lake Garda and the surrounding hills were chiseled by glaciers from the last ice age, resulting in at least 66 different types of soils. Together with distinct microclimates, Chiaretto is a perfect example of a terroir-driven Italian rosé.

“You can taste the environment, the landscape, the lifestyle and the culture of an Italian region historically devoted to the production of rosé,” says Lake Garda-based wine writer, educator and author Angelo Peretti. According to Peretti, a Chiaretto made on the slopes of Monte Baldo is more fresh and minerally than a Chiaretto made closer to the shore, where higher temperatures produce more ripe, fruity wines.

Garda enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and is home to lemon, olive and cherry orchards that are just as abundant as Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara vineyards. The region is mountainous, as the growing area meets the alpine foothills. The lake is significant, tempering the hot summers and buffering the harsh winters. At the same time, the interplay of mountains and valleys provides predictable thermal winds, the “peler” from the north and “ora” from the south. Sailors often claim, “Every shore and place on the lake has its own wind.”

And as one would expect, Chiaretto is unmistakably fresh, thereby highly food friendly. But, it is more than a casual wine for the summer season. “It is one of the most ‘serious’ rosé wines in Italy,” says Peretti. “It can age in a lovely way for more than 10 years, maintaining its light color, its freshness and salinity while increasing and developing the complexity of its flavors.”

It is hard to ignore Chiaretto’s sense of place: a sparkling lake once carved by glaciers, surrounded by towns of flower-lined promenades, a nearby vintage lemon arboretum, and thermal pools fed by the mountain runoff. Lake Garda provides a style that is inescapably and distinctively Chiaretto di Bardolino.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

Image Courtesy of Conosorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino

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