Can the colour of a wine start a revolution? It happened on the eastern shore of Lake Garda. Here, the rosé version of the local red wine, Bardolino, became in just a few years the most produced rosé wine in Italy, a ‘colossus’ of 10 million bottles a year that captured the hearts of thousands of fans – especially younger wine drinkers – with a captivating and fresh image. This is the unexpected story of Chiaretto di Bardolino.
Bardolino and its pink alter-ego, Chiaretto di Bardolino, are produced from the same grapes as the more famous Valpolicella and Amarone: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Techniques for making Chiaretto di Bardolino haven’t changed much since Roman times – the same pressing technique was used in Garda and in Provence, producing clarum, meaning ‘clear’ or ‘pale’. But while Provence has preserved its fame for rosé wines over the centuries, in the Bardolino district the red type took hold, even becoming one of the most plagiarised Italian wines in the mid-20th century.
The ‘Rosé Revolution’
In 2014, Franco Cristoforetti, co-owner of Vigneti Villabella winery and in his first year as president of the Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino*, launched the ‘Rosé Revolution’ in order to enhance the pink side of Bardolino. ‘The lack of anthocyanins in Corvina grapes, naturally lacking in colour, and its palette of citrus scents when it is softly pressed, could no longer be ignored,’ he says.
Almost overnight, 85% of Chiaretto production became pale pink in colour thanks to softer pressing and a brief period of skin contact. This was in contrast to the traditional darker hue derived from the saignée method, a by-product of red wine production where Chiaretto was obtained by bleeding off a portion of juice after a longer period of skin contact, thus concentrating the red wine and giving a darkly coloured, tannic rosé. Today, the work also begins long before the grapes arrive in the cellar. ‘The Chiaretto has now its own dedicated vineyards, real crus,’ reflects Cristoforetti.
Success was immediate, and after increasing year after year, today production of Chiaretto di Bardolino sits at 10 million bottles. A modification to the disciplinary in 2021 recognised its growing importance, and Bardolino Chiaretto, produced within the historic DOC since 1968, was changed to ‘Chiaretto di Bardolino,’ underlining its strong territorial identity, just as with Amarone della Valpolicella. The percentage of Corvina permitted was at the same time increased from 80% to 95%, with Rondinella being the only other compulsory grape.
‘For the modern Chiaretto, the soil, the microclimate and the vintages are important, just like for any ambitious wine,’ remarks Matilde Poggi, owner of Le Fraghe winery and president of the Confédération Européenne des Vignerons Indépendants.
The land of Chiaretto
The largest Italian lake, Lake Garda, benefits vines grown nearby, thanks to its mild climate and its mineral-rich soils. The ‘moraines’ – circles of hills spreading out for kilometres from the lake’s shores – are formed by the sediments raised by the ancient glacier, which formed the lake.
The result is a wine with a pale pink colour tending towards orange, with aromas of citrus fruits, apricots, wild berries and aromatic herbs. Bardolino di Chiaretto is mineral on the palate, actually salty, thanks to the tons of sodium dissolved in the soils.
Sapidity, combined with the typical tannins of Corvina, is the distinctive feature of Chiaretto compared to French or Spanish rosés. The 12-13% alcohol gives body and balance, making the wine very versatile at the table. The quality-price ratio is generally favourable.
Like every revolution, Chiaretto too has to overcome the challenge of time. ‘It is a wine that the market does not allow to age, even if it would give its best after a period of refinement,’ says Cristoforetti. He’s a believer in Chiaretto’s ability to age, and proposes a glass of his Villa Cordevigo Gaudenzia, Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2019. Now four years old, it’s an unsettling explosion of candied orange and smoky notes.
The winemakers of Bardolino, having created a territorial awareness based on the colour, are now looking far ahead. In the meantime, the market has expanded, like the morainic circles, from local to national, lastly international. The ‘pink revolution’ carries on…
*Franco Cristoforetti was succeeded as president by Fabio Dei Micheli in March 2023.