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Chiaretto eyes Provence's crown

Published:  24 February, 2023

Chiaretto for Christmas? Sadly, despite more and more people drinking pink all year round, Italy’s bestselling Rosado Chiaretto di Bardolino didn’t grace many British dinner tables last December and won’t at Easter. A quick Google suggests some retailers stock it – Fortnums has two – but most main supermarkets and even The Wine Society draw a blank, suggesting the limited inroads it has made here. Which is frankly rather surprising, given the history of this wine, and the increasing popularity of the rather similar Provence rosé.

“Chiaretto di Bardolino has the same historical origins and was conquered by the Romans at the same time as Provence, with this area around Lake Garda becoming a key part of Cisalpine Gaul,” says Angelo Peretti, director of the Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino, adding that the wine was produced in the luxury villas that surrounded the lake.

“It was made without any maceration and because it was extremely light in colour was called Vinum Clarum, words that eventually evolved into ‘Chiaretto’ in the early nineteenth century, with the drink becoming very popular with the expansion of tourism here in the twentieth century,” he says.

    • Read more: Friday read: The revival of Bardolino’s crus 

Like its red counterpart Bardolino – one of Veneto’s best known medium weight red wines – Chiaretto di Bardolino is made largely from the Corvina variety, with some Rondinella and Molinara (the same grapes used to make Valpolicella and Amarone) thrown into the blend. Its raison d’etre was always its almost ethereal lightness and accessibility. Made from grapes grown on the shores of Lake Garda, it was the ultimate holiday wine, refreshing and associated with good times.

Until 2014 that is, the year Peretti and Chiaretto producers call the Year of the Rose Revolution. Following one of Italy’s toughest vintages that year, producers decided to completely change the way in which Chiaretto was produced, along with the style. Maceration was cut from a typical 18 hours to just five to six hours of light pressing, to maintain the wine’s very light colour and emphasise its ethereal style and sapidity. This owes much to the sodium rich soils and to Lake Garda, Italy’s largest, with a Mediterranean climate cooled by the nearby Dolomites.

Peretti says the difference in the way a winemaker treats Corvina is fundamental.

“If Covina is fully macerated, as with the red wines, you get cherry and red fruit; if not, the flavours that come through are pink-red fruit, orange peel and kumquat. Our aim is to preserve these flavours through very light pressing and then allowing the wine to ferment like a white wine.”

But that wasn’t all. To create a better wine and more consistent style the requirement of how much Corvina must be used was raised to 95% – it used to be much lower – whilst wine-makers were required to separate their Chiaretto vines and vineyards from their red Bardolino ones, a massive undertaking which is only now seeing final realisation. But Peretti says it had to be done.

“To make good Chiaretto you need to treat the vines and the grapes very differently. For example, with Chiaretto it makes sense to keep the leaves on the vine to shield the grapes from the sun. This is something you don’t need to do with red Bardolino. Vines should be located in the right soils and for maximum freshness. If you want to make a high quality rosé wine with a consistent style amongst the producers, you first need to take the steps to make this possible.”

Consorzio president Franco Christoforetti – who runs Vigneti Villabella, a well-known Lake Garda producer – echoes this. He suggests the new rules have enabled winemakers to emphasise regionality, with wines grown on more inland sites slightly fuller bodied whilst those from another site, Montebaldo, overlooking the lake, have more salinity and freshness; they have also enabled winemakers to take full advantage of, and highlight, the Corvina variety. As a result, many producers now make a number of Chiaretto wines, using everything from stainless steel to oak and amphora to age. Christoforetti, for his part, makes a standard, easy drinking one, a spumante (a young but growing category), an organic one aged for one year, a riserva, aged for two and Heaven Sent, a mega light wine quite different in style. He says the wine has great ageability, with spicier, more peppery and complex flavours coming through after a few years.

“Consumers are really waking up to the potential of this wine and that is confirmed by the fact it is now drunk all year: more than one million bottles were sold this last November, which is unprecedented,” he says.

Altogether, the region is now producing 10 million bottles a year, with plans to increase this to 15 million. New markets targeted include the UK. In what the Conzorzio calls a “continuation of the Rose Revolution,” it plans to step up the association of Chiaretto with Lake Garda, alongside some media events still being planned. In the same way Provence rosé has become virtually synonymous with the south of France, a glass of Chiaretto di Bardolino would evoke soaking in the rays by the lake shore or wandering through Garda’s beautiful and atmospheric villages.

The unsaid thing of course is that with a price typically around £11-14, Bardolino di Chiaretto is also better value than Provence rosé, whose popularity in recent years has boosted the prices being asked, particularly for the better-known wines.

“The UK is a tricky market because there is so much pink wine there already – including from the New World and Spain. But there are increasing numbers of British visitors coming to Lake Garda, which has led to a pick-up in exports, whilst the fact a lot of producers are now organic has helped because like rosé itself, this is a strong category in the UK,” says Christoforetti.

“These are not easy times, so we are going step by step. But this is a great product so we are confident more and more UK consumers will taste its appeal.”