Vinnie and I were driving along the edge of Lake Garda, the massive lake which acts as the northern border between Lombardy and the Veneto. At the southern end of the lake, we arrived at the town of Peschiera del Garda, which translates as the fishpond of Garda. This is a somewhat prosaic name for a place with so much history; inhabited certainly since Roman times, and probably much earlier, it sits by the river Mincio that drains the lake. The dominant feature of the town today is the massive fortification constructed when the city was at the western edge of the Venetian Republic. Built to withstand cannon fire, the series of moats, ditches, and earth barricades are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its military importance continued under the Hapsburg occupation; however, today, in more peaceful times, its position on the lake and the delightful buildings in the old town make it a tourist magnet, especially as it is easily accessible from Austria and Germany via the Brenner Pass.
Only a few kilometres away is the vineyard and winery of Giovanna Tantini. Giovanna is a remarkable lady – she graduated in law before deciding that what she really wanted to do was to make wine. So, in 1996, she returned to the estate that has been in her family since the early 20th century and, after studying oenology, made her first wine in 2002. Giovanna has approximately 11 hectares of vines on the estate of just under 20 hectares. She produces around 30,000 bottles per year.
The best known wine she produces is the local DOC, Bardolino. Around Lake Garda, the ground is made up of moraine, namely the debris that was deposited by a glacier during the last Ice Age; the drainage is good despite the land being relatively flat. This also means that careful attention has to be paid to pruning to ensure that just the right canopy of leaves is achieved so that the grapes are protected from the fierce summer sun.
Up until the 1990s around 90% of wine produced worldwide was consumed locally in the country of origin – today that figure has dropped below 60%. The globalisation of the wine trade was the result of the growth in living standards in the developed world and, while Italy had always produced wines like Barolo and Brunello for export, this growth in demand triggered interest in other Italian wines.
At that time Bardolino was passed over as a wine really just for local consumption but producers like Giovanna have been changing that. It starts with the vineyards; making quality wine means reducing the quantity of grapes produced by each vine to increase the quality. This is done by having a so-called ‘green harvest’ where a percentage of the nascent grape bunches are removed. Harvesting by hand prevents damage to the grapes and rigorous selection of only the best grapes is followed by temperature-controlled fermentation. The result is quality wine and this is what Giovanna produces.
The rules for the production of DOC Bardolino wines allow a considerable amount of freedom to the winemaker but Giovanna restricts herself to blending two local varieties, Corvina and Rondinella. The maceration for this wine is brief so as not to extract too many tannins, for this is a softer style of wine suitable for a relaxing lunch on the terrace. The wine is then matured for 15 months in steel and a further 3 months in bottle before being released. An intense ruby colour with raspberries and cherries on the nose on the palate it is soft and balanced with a good finish. Enjoy this good-natured wine with soft cheeses, pasta and perhaps a mushroom risotto.
The second DOC Bardolino that Giovanna makes is Chiaretto. Rosato wines have become fashionable of late but this is one that has been around for many years and Giovanna blends Corvina, Rondinelli, and Molinari grapes macerating at five degrees to extract just the right amount of colour from the skins. A cool fermentation at around 17 degrees follows, lasting 16 days. The wine then spends six months in stainless steel and a further two in bottle. The resulting wine is a light pink colour with a delicate bouquet which is fresh and lively on the palate – enjoy it as an aperitivo or with fish.
One of the many great joys of Italy are the regional variations and specialities that abound in art, architecture, music, food and indeed wine. Bardolino wines are very much in this tradition and Giovanna’s are great examples of this. Indeed, if the mood takes you, book a room at her agriturismo, meet her for yourself and let her explain her philosophy of excellence to you.