Bardolino, Custoza and Lugana: a guide of Lake Garda wines and wine producing regions. Light and crispy wines originated from the same terroir.
Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake. Natural beauty , mild climate, charming medioeval villages, local cousine and wines make it an appreciated travel destination all year round. Lake Garda is surrounded by three regions – Veneto on the east, Trentino-Alto Adige on the north and Lombardy on the south western part.
In the east Garda (Veneto area) vines coltivation has a long tradition and there are 3 wine producing regions : Bardolino, Custoza (which overlaps Bardolino southern area) and Lugana. Bardolino is the land of red and rose wines, Custoza and Lugana of white wines. Besides the different grape varieties used in each of them, all the Lake Garda wines share similar characteristics: freshness, lightness and easy-drinking. These organoleptic properties come from the common terroir (French term that identifies the environmental conditions, soil and land characteristics of a specific geographical area).
- Microclimate. The Lake water is colder than the air in summer and warmer in winter. This strongly contributes to mitigate the summer heat and harsh winter, thus making the Garda climate mild and temperate all year round. The grapes achieve the optimal ripeness quite easily and afternoon breezes help to concentrate grape aromas.
- Morainic soil left from the glaciers that carved the lake millions of years ago. The gradual retreat of the ice left behind a huge amounts of debris, shaping the morainic hills in concentric circles that appear today as a natural amphitheater. This soil is rich in mineral salts and humus (suitable for agriculture). Plus it’s extreme variable and stratified composed by pebbles, gravel, clay and sand.
- Gentle hills. Altitude beetwen 50 mt and 200 mt a.s. l.
- Born in: 1968 (Bardolino Doc), 2018 (Chiaretto Doc)
- Vineyards area: 2700 ha (=6670 Ac)
- N. wineries: 119
- N. bottles: 16 millions (Bardolino), 10 millions Chiaretto (year 2019)
- Soil: pebbles, gravel, clay and sand.
- Grapes: blend of indigenous red grape varieties. 35-80% Corvina+Corvinone; 10-40% Rondinella; 0-15% Molinara; 0-20% other red grape varieties (not mandatory).
It is by far the most famous among the Lake Garda wines. Bardolino is a light, pleasant wine, ideal for informal occasion and the daily meals. It takes the name from the homonymous village on the shores of the lake. The grape blend is the same of Valpolicella and Amarone but Bardolino is a much more lighter and easy-drinking wine.
Characteristics: light ruby red color, with a garnet hue after some years of bottle ageing. Crisp aromas of rose, violet and red fruits as fresh raspberry, red currant and cherry. If wooden aged it shows also some spicy notes. At the palate is light bodied, fresh, slightly salty with a pleasing bitter aftertaste.
Other versions: Bardolino Classico comes from the “Classic area”, the traditional subzone surrounding Garda, Bardolino, Lazise villages and their inland (Cavaion, Costermano, Affi). Bardolino Superiore is refined at least one year before the release on the market, it has minimum 12% Alc. Vol and it’s made with grapes coltivated at lower yeld. It’s a fuller bodied wine but at the same time, it preserves the refreshing floral-fruity aromas of the the entry-level-Bardolino.
Pairing: Bardolino is an extremely versatile wine, which goes well with every day dishes. Served lightly chilled in summer, it also matches with tasty lake fish dishes such as fried fish and sarde in saor (sardines seasoned with vinegar and onions). Superiore style pairs well with white and red meat (rabbit stew, roast beef) or aged cheeses.
It is the “rosè version” of Bardolino wine. The name “Chiaretto”derives from the Italian term “chiaro”, meaning “light” or “pale”. It is made with the same grapes of Bardolino but with a different tecnique: the short maceration on the skins: during the fermentation, the skin-must contact lasts only 10-36 hours. As a result, this method reduces the color extraction achieving the pinky shade.
In these years, Chiaretto is having a great success on the market, but in the past, it was a side product of the more renowned Bardolino wine. During Bardolino fermentation infact, a portion of its must was removed in order to increase the skin-must contact and to concentrate colors, body and tannins of Bardolino wine. The remaining must was used to make Chiaretto, which resulted in a pale, dull and low-quality wine. Today fortunately times have changed. Chiaretto grapes are harvested a couple of weeks earlier than Bardolino ones, undergoes a soft pressing and a low-temperature maceration to preserve the fresh primary aromas.
Characteristics: Light pink color. Delicate aromas of citrus fruit ( tangerine, cedar, grapefruit), red fruits( raspberry, redcurrant, strawberry). blossom with light hints of chlorophyll and spicy notes (cinnamon, vanilla). On the palate is dry, fresh with a slightly savory finish.
Other styles: Chiaretto Spumante (Sparkling) is usually produced with the Tank Method (or Charmat: second fermentation in steel-tanks) but some few winemakers choose the Traditional Method (second fermentaion in bottle) as well; Chiaretto frizzante (Ancestral Method-refermented in bottle) is a quite recent product and it still has a limited production.
Pairing: Chiaretto is nicknamed “swimming pool wine” as it’s the ideal wine for a summer aperitif, served fresh. It matches well with salami, cheeses and light dishes in general. A very good pairing is with Pizza, instead of beer, or also with sushi.
- Born in: 1971
- Vineyards area: 1200 ha (3000 Ac)
- N. of wineries: 70
- Bottles: 12 milioni (anno 2019)
- Soil: clay and sand.
- Grapes: blend of white varietals. 70-100% Bianca Fernanda + Garganega+ Trebbiano toscano+ Tocai Friulano; 0-30% Malvasia+ Riesling+ Pinot bianco+ Chardonnay+ Incrocio Manzoni (not mandatory grapes)
Custoza is a dry, light, delicate parfumed white wine. Compared to the other lake Garda wines, it is a wine mainly consumed locally and it is almost unknown abroad. It’ s a simple wine which pairs well with everyday food. The blend contains many different grape varieties making Custoza taste slightly different depending on the grapes used and their percentage. A small amount of aromatic grapes contribues to give the wine structure and persistance .
Characteristics: lemon yellow color, sometimes with greenish hue; at the nose it shows delicate floral aromas (elderflower, orange blossom), fruity aromas (pear, pineapple, banana, melon) with hints of herbs and spices. Flavour intensity can be more or less marked according to the percentage of aromatic grapes used in the blend (Bianca Fernanda, Riesling, Malvasia). On the palate is ligh bodied with a good balance between acidity and primary flavours and a clean aftertaste.
Styles: Custoza Superiore ages at least 5 months before the release and it is made from grapes cultivated al lower yelds. It’s the top quality wine of the region, made with selected grapes from the best vineyards. Custoza Riserva extends the minimum ageing requirement to 1 year. It’s a new sperimental wine, with a limited production. Custoza Spumante (Sparkling tank method) and Custoza Passito (sweet Custoza made from dried grapes) are other two small but interesting production as well.
Pairing: white fish, white meat dishes , fresh and medium aged cheeses. The local pairing is with tortellini di Valeggio, (filled pasta with meat seasoned with butter and sage). The sweet Custoza pairs well with desserts, biscuits or blue cheeses.
- Born in: 1967
- Vineyards area: 2500 Ha (6200 Ac)
- N. wineries: 115
- Bottles produced: 21,5 millions (year 2019)
- Soil: clay/calcaric clay
- Grapes: 90-100% Turbiana (Verdicchio clone); 0-10% other white no aromatic grape varieties
Lugana is a crisp, elegant and structured white wine produced in the southern shores of the Garda Lake.The biggest part of the growing area belongs to Lombardy and the smaller portion to Veneto region. “Standard Lugana” ,the young version, accounts for about 90% of total production. Despite most of the whites, Lugana is capable of ageing, evolving during the years. The dense- clay soil infact confers minerality, longevity and structure to the wines as well as a strong identity.
Characteristics: the color ranges from lemon yellow (young Lugana) to a bright gold (aged Lugana); floral aromas, with citrus and almonds notes (young wines) evolve into ripe fruit (apple and citrus), hazelnut, spice flavours up to flint and ginger with the aging. The taste remains fresh and mineral gaining complexity and structure over the years. The aftertaste is persistent and slightly savory.
Styles: Lugana Superiore (aged at least 1 year) and Lugana Riserva (maturation of minimum 24 months, 6 of which in bottle) are both long-lived wines, which can be kept in one’s cellar even for 10 years. A more experimental type of Lugana is the Vendemmia Tardiva (Late Harvested Lugana), made by over-ripening the grapes on the vine and then picking them later than usual, between the end of October and early November. It’s a soft, fuller bodied wine, with some residual sugar well balanced by the acidity in a similar way to an Alsace Vendange Tardive or a German Spätlese. Lugana Sparkling (Spumante) is produced both by the Charmat method (second fermentation in pressurized tanks) and the Traditional Method (refermentation in bottle)
Pairing: Young Lugana matchs well with fish dishes, such as Grilled Lavarello (white fish of Lake Garda). Aged or Late Harvest Lugana can be sip at the end of meal, paired with seasoned or blue cheese.