With summer just around the bend, interest in rosato wines is again increasing with the 2014s arriving weekly. Two denominations that specialize in this refreshing style of wine are located near Lake Garda, which lies between Veneto and Lombardy. One, Bardolino, is well known, while the other, Valtènesi, deserves to be. In both of these areas, rosato wines go by the name chiaretto, the “little light one,” referring to the pleasing color and lighter body of these wines compared to nearby serious reds such as Valpolicella and especially Amarone.
There’s a revolution going on in Bardolino—a “Chiaretto Revolution.” This is the title of a new marketing campaign touting the pink wines of Bardolino, which are what the region sees as its future. Bardolino DOC in Veneto is probably still better known for its light red wines, but the consorzio is trying to turn consumer attention to Bardolino Chiaretto, according to Angelo Peretti, the consorzio’s communications director. From a base of 33,750 hectoliters (the equivalent of 375,000 cases) in 2007, Chiaretto production has jumped to 90,000 hl (1 million cases) in 2014, with a further 30% increase projected for the 2015 vintage.
This growth is not necessarily new production, but rather a shift in priorities in the winery. All the wines of Bardolino—the Rosso and Chiaretto, as well as a Novello and some Spumante—are made from 35–80% Corvina (Corvinone can substitute for up to 20% of this) and 10–40% Rondinella; other varieties can make up 20% of the blend, with a maximum of 15% Molinara or 10% of any other single variety. Thus, it’s not too difficult to change the emphasis from one style to another. The Novello, for example—a style similar to Beaujolais Nouveau—accounted for more than 40,000 hl (450,000 cases) in the 1990s, but is now down to around a tenth of that.
According to Peretti, Bardolino is going back to roots more than a century ago in focusing on lighter wines. After a boom in exports in the 1960s and ’70s, Bardolino’s fortunes and reputation suffered due to overproduction. This was followed by efforts to recover by making Bardolino more like its neighbor Valpolicella—keying on red wines and trying to make them more intense and weighty. One milestone in this endeavor was the creation of the Bardolino Superiore DOCG, which Peretti calls “a mistake.” It simply wasn’t Bardolino’s style, and the Superiore now amounts to less than 1% of Bardolino’s total production. Recently, the Bardolino consorzio and producers did some soul-searching and came to the realization that the area’s wines had lost the charm that their lighter character gave them. Add to that the growing popularity of rosé wines, and it seemed like time for a Chiaretto Revolution. Look for one of these strawberry/raspberry-flavored revolutionaries this summer.
Bardolino is not the sole producer of a Chiaretto. On the other side of Lake Garda in Lombardia is a little-known denomination called Valtènesi (vahl-tay-neh-zee). Like Bardolino, Valtènesi is a producer of red and rosato (Chiaretto) wine, but their lists of ingredients have little in common. Instead of the Venetian grape Corvina, Valtènesi is the land of Groppello, a variety that is indigenous to this area. Ian D’Agata, in Native Wine Grapes of Italy, describes Groppello as having “bright acidity, lively tannins, and intense aromas of red cherry, violet, tobacco, and plenty of spices (marjoram, olive wood, and especially black pepper).”
Valtènesi was established as a DOC in 2011, but it grew out of the existing Garda DOC. In essence, Valtènesi is the new name for (most of the) Groppello-based wines of the Garda DOC’s Classico subzone. A majority of the Groppello producers in the area decided that they wanted to have a denomination of their own, rather than being one among many styles made in Garda. They chose a traditional name of the area, Valtènesi, as the denomination name and wrote a disciplinare to create the DOC. However, not all the producers were ready to give up the recognizable Garda name, so Groppello-based wines still exist in Garda Classico as well as Riviera del Garda Bresciano DOC, both of which overlay and extend beyond Valtènesi.
The disciplinare requires only 50% Groppello in Valtènesi wines, leaving considerable room for experimentation and self-expression among winemakers. The usual accompaniments for Groppello include Sangiovese, Barbera, or Marzemino. On the other hand, Valtènesi can be 100% Groppello (specifically, Groppello Gentile or Groppello di Mocasina, two of the three main subvarieties that go by the name Groppello). Depending on the blend, the Valtènesi Chiarettos display the tart cherry and spicy characteristics of Groppello in a fresh style, often with added nuances of rose petal and herbs such as sage. Its refreshing qualities make Valtènesi a great aperitivo wine, but it can also hold its own with salmon and other grilled summer fish and vegetable dishes.
The Valtènesi DOC has about 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of vineyards and produces 28,000 hectoliters (310,000 cases) of wine annually. The wine is more or less evenly split between the denomination’s two styles: Rosso and Chiaretto, with the Chiarettos typically priced in the $12-20 range. As in Bardolino, the producers are high on the prospects for their Chiaretto.