An Italian “Surprise” You Must Get To Know

Pratello Lake Garda ChiarettoNorthern Italy is full of (wine) surprises.

It’s not just about Milan and the Cinque Terre, and Venice or Tuscany. Lots of people don’t explore outside of these destinations. So for those folks wanting fewer than a zillion tourists and interesting wines made with grapes native to Italy, head to Bardolino on Lake Garda. This area is making some of Italy’s top rosato, Chiaretto.

Chiaretto Times Two

Pronounced key-a-ret-toh, this is northern Italy’s version of rosé. It’s made in two areas: Bardolino in the Veneto region and Riviera del Garda in Lombardy.

Bardolino is on the south-eastern shore of Lake Garda where rosato is made under the DOC Chiaretto di Bardolino. Valpolicella is its well-known neighbor across the Adige river and both areas grow the same grapes: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara.

What’s unique, the name of this area is “Riviera degli Ulivi”… or the coast of the olive trees. There’s no end to the amount of olive oil one can taste, often made by wineries from their own groves. Mark and I indulged there last year and brought a few bottles home.

Riviera del Garda is on the south-western side of Lake Garda in the Brescia province where the Groppello grape is used to make Chiaretto.

Similar to Italian food, rosato is made in other parts of Italy too where terroir – the physical elements of a place – can affect the wine’s character.

If your head is spinning right about now just remember, head to the southern end of Lake Garda and try Chiaretto!

What Makes Chiaretto Different?

This is a question I pondered while researching and tasting Chiaretto for my Italian Food, Wine, Travel group’s July theme.

One obvious difference is the grapes used but also how they’re farmed, winemaking choices and the style and quality standards of the producer. In addition, how grapes are farmed is important to understand the possible resulting flavors. I reached out to wine expert Elaine Chukan Brown knowing she spent time in Bardolino. She graciously indulged me in conversation sharing her feedback.

“”Chiaretto is made from a particular suite of grape varieties, and thus those varieties determine a good bit of the rosés character. Chiaretto can be made either as a Vin Gris style wine – farmed specifically for rosé – or a saignée style wine – made from taking a portion of the juice from the fruit farmed for red wines. Either method can turn into a delicious rosé, but the method chosen also impacts the flavor profile of the resulting wine. Generally speaking, when you farm specifically for rosé the resulting wine will have more of the flavors we associate with early spring – watermelon, early picked berries, some light aromatic green herbs. When the fruit is farmed for red wine, and then made partially into rosé we tend to find flavors we associate with the height of summer – fully ripened, darker berries and darker cherries, stone fruits, fuller flavors. The acidity level in either wine can be comparable. What distinguishes Chiaretto from other rosés though are the varieties used.”

It’s All About the Grapes

Chiaretto di Bardolino Lake Garda

Harvesting Corvina at Giovanna Tantini. Credit: Giovanna Tantini.

As with food items, there’s a strong association between region, and its grapes and styles of wine. Here are the primary Chiaretto grapes in Bardolino.

Corvina is thick skinned, has bright acidity, lite to moderate tannins, and medium acidity, but it sometimes has trouble reaching adequate sugar levels. It’s aromatic with red and black berries, violets, fresh herbs, and sometimes a bitter almond finish.

Rondinella is an easy to grow powerhouse resistant to cold, drought and disease. It’s adaptable to almost any terroir you throw at it but it’s lighter and not as elegant as Corvina. But it will give you notes of cherry and herbs along with low tannin and some color.

Molinara typically shares red berry, blood orange and herb hints, but it’s really all about acidity.

In Lombardy, Groppello is the Chiaretto star. It’s stand-out large berries exhibit a bright character with cherry, strawberry and spice aromas.

These are typical flavor profiles of the grapes. Winemaking practices and quality are also considered.

So let’s take these grapes to their prospective regions and see what Mark and I tasted. I ordered a few bottles of Chiaretto because you just don’t find them in Bordeaux. Here are my notes on two.

giovanna tantini bardolino chiaretto doc

You can find this wine in the US through Alberello Imports, Ethica Wines and F&F Fine Wines International.

Giovanna Tantini, Bardolino Chiaretto, 2017

The Tantini estate is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Garda. They produce red, white and rosato all from estate grapes. According to Giovanna via an email exchange, quality is their top consideration where a decision is only made after asking the question, will this make a better wine.

Her family’s Chiaretto is made from 80% Corvina, 15% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Grapes are picked by hand then crushed, macerated and fermented separately. The blend is then determined and the wine spends six months in stainless vats. Here Giovanna farms for rosé and sells this bottle for just $10 (€8 today).

This pale rose-orange wine was not shy. When first poured aromas of strawberry dreamsicle jumped out. After a few moments it displayed less ripe cherry, forest bramble and spice. A spunky palate was berry fruity with a hint of cinnamon. Dry with medium acidity and body it had a slight tannic feel on my front teeth and gums.

Mediterranean mezze plate with dolmas, humus, modified Greek salad. Credit: Lynn Gowdy

I paired this with a Mezze type plate containing humus, dolmas, avocado and a lemon-olive oil dressed tomato cucumber salad with feta and mint. While we enjoyed the wine on its own, it clashed with the salad making it taste bitter. The dolmas paired perfectly. Perhaps the slight bit of tannins and the feta’s saltiness were culprits.

Azienda Agricola Pratello

I visited this estate a few years ago on the south-western shore of Lake Garda (Brescia Shore area). They used to farm organically but felt more was needed and developed the “Pratello Method”. It’s essentially organic and more. They’ve since opened an Agriturismo and restaurant. A nice winery to visit if in the area with lush green vineyards surrounded by roses (see first photo above).

Pratello Sant’Emiliano Chiaretto, Riviera del Garda, Valtenesi 2016

Pratello Riveira del Garda DOC Lombardy Lombardia vino

Rosé is made in a range of colors, this Chiaretto from Azienda Agricola Pratello is deep pink.

Their Chiaretto is primarily Groppello with Marzemino, Barbera and Sangiovese as blending partners. Big strawberry and cherry aromas with herbal nuances. The palate has a refreshing wash of acidity with red berries. We detected lively black pepper hints on the finish. It’s available in the US for $10.

Funny thing, Mark and I got involved in tasting and enjoying it and the next thing we knew it was almost gone! A delightful before dinner sipper that will go with a variety of foods.

So what’s great about Chiaretto? It’s Italian! Seriously, with the extra focus on quality, winemakers are producing more Chiaretto with a sense of place versus quantities of simple rosé.

Chiaretto for Italian Food, Wine, Travel Group #ItalianFWT Articles and Twitter Chat

Li at The Winning Hour is our July host and selected to focus on Chiaretto. We convene for a Twitter chat Saturday July 7th at 11am EDT / 17:00 in Italy when we’ll share travel experiences, wines tasted, food pairings and more. There’s always a ton of information and many of us have traveled to the region thus share trip details and recipes. Here are the articles from this month’s participants:

If curious, here’s extra information about the Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC

  • This is a new, stand-alone DOC. It’s no longer a sub-zone of the Bardolino DOC. This change becomes effective with the 2018 harvest. The grape percentages changed too.
  • Wine styles made are dry still or dry spumante (sparkling) rose.
  • Grapes:
    • 35–95% Corvina Veronese (Corvinone can substitute up to 20% of this amount)
    • 5–40% Rondinella
    • 20% of the blend can be other varieties with a maximum of 15% Molinara or 10% of any other single variety

Riviera del Garda DOC – A recap of changes from Italian Wine Central:

Riviera del Garda Bresciano DOC, Valtènesi DOC, and the Classico subzone of Garda DOC were combined as Riviera del Garda Classico DOC in 2017. Technically, Riviera del Garda Bresciano DOC was renamed, and it absorbed the other two. Valtènesi DOC became a subzone of the new denomination. Garda DOC still exists, but without the Classico subzone and its Groppello-based wines.

Bardolino / Riviera del Garda map courtesy of Italian Wine Central.

Cheers to Chiaretto Pink!

16 thoughts on “An Italian “Surprise” You Must Get To Know

  1. john

    Holy moly – I need to travel to experience what you wrote! Thanks for such a visual essay about this unknown place. I had no idea…

    And the photos to match. I felt like I was a apart of your journey. Well done! Love learning about off-the-beat wine regions.

    Now if I could only get my hands on a Chiareto this weekend…

    1. Lynn Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it John. Looks like you’re in Florida? I’ll do some digging to ascertain where you might be able to find Chiaretto and let you know!

    1. Lynn Post author

      It was tasty! My take on pulling flavors from a few different areas. Quick, easy, refreshing and goes with most all wine.

    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Li! It is indeed, as well as learning about the region changes, Rosé Revolution, etc.

  2. Jane

    Great information on Chiaretto and as always so well written and explained. You were lucky to try two different styles of Chiaretto, I need to track down a few bottles from the Riviera del Garda region to compare. Interesting that the salad was not such a good pairing. Maybe tweaking the cheese or acidity in the dressing? More food and wine research is in your future!

    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Jane! Yes, comparing the two wines was interesting. I’ve heard, and in my experience, acid loves acid but not in this case. And according to Angelo Perreti on the chat, he said lemon juice in particular can be difficult. Next time I will tweak the cheese (feta is so tangy and salty).

  3. Lauren Walsh

    I’ve tried only a few wines from Bardolino but, after having read your post, I must find more! Such care taken in the vineyards and winery yet the prices are so reasonable. Definitely going to search for a few bottles here in Miami. Cheers Lynn!

    1. Lynn Post author

      I hope you’re able to find some from both sides of the lake Lauren. It’s so interesting to taste through them!

  4. Katarina

    True, the Chiaretto Valtenési is indeed a Chiaretto wine that disappears very quickly, a fresh and fruity wine that is very enjoyable.
    What makes both Chiaretto Valtenési and Bardolino special is also the soil and the terroir of Lake Garda. 🙂

    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for adding this bit of information Katarina. You being so close to this area and having visited it many times are a key source of information. Cheers!


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