Saturday, 9 March 2013

What's happening to Bardolino?

This blog is mainly to do with individual grape varieties so blends don't get much of a look-in. However we have always had a soft spot for Bardolino. It just appeals as a light drinkable food wine. Its ups and downs have also tugged at our heart strings so we suffered with its reputation during the times when it got a bad name for over-production and general lowering of standards.

We looked on helplessly while its sister Valpollicella seemed to go from strength to strength, for a while almost to the exclusion of Bardolino. Then Bardolino made a come-back by getting rid of the worst kind of cheap and not so cheerful products and generally cleaning up its act. Nevertheless, it is Valpolicella that is more expensive and better regarded with Bardolino treated in a patroniising way if at all. Here is a particularly delicious econium from the Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia;

Bardolino DOC produces dry, sometimes frizzante, red and rose (chiaretto) wines from the southeast shores of Lake Garda. The reds, made from Corvina, Molinara and Negrara (sic) could be very interesting , but unfortunately most producers tend to make rather bland, lightweight wines.

Why should this be? We have various theories; Valpolicella is the base wine for others of considerable interest including Ripasso, Recioto and of course Amarone which has a claim as one of Italy's great wine styles. Or could it be that Valpolicella is in general more substantial than Bardolino with a greater percentage of Corvinone permitted - up to 50% as opposed to 10% for Bardolino. We think this might be significant because otherwise the constituents, Corvina, Rondinella and sometimes Molinara with small amounts (no more than 10% of any one and 20% of any combination) of Rossignola, Barbera, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Negrara Veronese, Cabernet Sauvignon are the same. As a footnote, Molinara is no longer obligatory for Valpolicella and has been dropped in the main.

Now Corvinone is a different grape from Corvina. Harding Robinson and Vouillermoz say it may be from the same family but it is indeed different. In our limited experience it is a bit of a brute of a grape. Could it be that the significantly higher percentage of Corvinone in Valpolicella makes the difference? We wish someone would tell us because we think there must be something more than terroir to explain the vivid distinction between Bardolino and Valpolicella.

So we always like to have a bottle of Bardolino on hand and we enjoy trying different makers. Old favourites include Recchia, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Monte del Fra, Bolla, Masi etc.

We even  "discovered" Bardolino Chiaretto - for some time it was the only mildly interesting wine at British airports. Now even that has disappeared from their shelves.

Recently however we have stumbled across some distinctly unattractive Bardolinos. They have one thing in common. They are all heavier, more alcoholic and concentrated. Maybe their producers have been reading the Wine Encyclopedia and have taken things too far the other way from bland. This doesn't suit the style at all. It results in a homogenised wine which could have come from anywhere. Guerrieri Rizzardi made a version with if we remember correctly had 10% Cabernet Sauvignon but it was done skilfully and didn't throw the baby out with the bath water.

It would be too sad if this is the future for Bardolino. More than that, it's a trend over several other wine styles including Valpolicella actually. We prefer also the lighter kind of Frappato and Rossese for example.

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