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Today we’ll be sampling a selection of wines from the Lake Garda area of Italy, courtesy of a trio of estates. We’ll also be taking a look at a couple of Piave cheeses, which we’ll be talking about more in the pairing section below.
The Where – Lake Garda, Italy
In winemaking, ‘The Three Great Terroirs’ consist of – in order of prestige, value, and production – France, Italy, and Spain. Today’s bottle comes to us from Lake Garda, which is the name of Italy’s largest lake, and the DOC (Denominazione di Origin, or Designation of Origin) that covers the wineries that operate in the vicinity of that lake. Split west to east, both Lake Garda and its DOC are divided between the administrative regions of Lombardy and Veneto.
Naturally, Lake Garda is the defining feature of the Garda DOC, being some thirty-two miles long and ten miles wide. Chiefly, the lake – in conjunction with alpine foothills to the north – helps moderate local temperatures, further enhancing an already nearly-perfect local terroir. On the Lombardy side of the Garda DOC, wines are sold under the Riviera del Garda Classico DOC label. Meanwhile, wines produced on the Venetian side of the lake are sold under several DOC labels, including Valpolicella, Bardolino, and Soave.
This labeling difference is indicative of wildly different production focuses.
On the Lombardy side of the DOC, production is almost completely monopolized by “Rare Rosé Blends,” such that these wines constitute some 77% of the DOC’s total output. These include things like the area’s signature Chiaretto (rosé) and Spumante Rosé (sparkling rosé), though a variety of white wine varietals also do quite well here. Contrast this to the Venetian side of the DOC, where production is mixed, with chardonnay forming a plurality of production, clocking in at around 23% of the area’s total output. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and pinot grigio, have also met with success in this area.
The Bottles – A Showcase
First up, we’ll be taking a look at a Garda Pinot Grigio, from Cantina Soave:
Next, we’ll be sampling a Garda Chardonnay, from Villa Cordevigo:
Finally, we’ll be taking a look at a Spumante Extra Dray, from Cantina di Custoza:
Tasting and Aromatics – The Reviews
The Garda Pinot Grigio introduces itself with notes of mixed white stone fruit, white floral essences, and something vaguely reminiscent of either damp grass or forest floor after a light rainfall. It’s a pleasantly complex and nuanced bouquet. Deeper into the glass, the white flowers mature into herbal essences, with just a hint of sweetness. On the palate, the stone fruits carry over in the form of green apple, carried on a medium acidity, with an herbal finish. A very pleasant wine.
The Chardonnay introduces itself with a crisp bouquet of citrus. Think grated fresh ginger, lemon zest, and perhaps just a smattering of sliced green apple. In the background, there’s something ‘bright’ or ‘sweet’ trying to cut through the citrus. Deeper into the glass, tropic fruit notes perforate the citrus, but without ever overtaking it. On the palate, the words that come to mind are bright and crisp. The lemon zest and green apples dominate the flavor profile, with just a hint of citrus making itself known. The wine is medium bodied, and features a lasting and refreshing finish. This was a very enjoyable experience from beginning to end.
The Spumante opens with a bouquet that is instantly citrusy, think lemon zest and orange peel, and copious wild flowers. On the palate, the wine is quite refreshing, with a pleasant but faint acidity. The finish is lasting, leaving behind traces of the floral notes from the bouquet. An excellent example of the area’s spumante.
What to Eat – The Pairings
With the Pinot Grigio you want to think light and fresh. Pinot Grigio is often described as a ‘neutral wine,’ meaning it pairs best with things like grilled chicken or braised pork. Think Hellenic cuisine, such as pita pockets stuffed with marinated feta, a fresh salad made with leafy greens, sliced peppers, and olives, along with some lightly grilled chicken roasted with herbs and garlic. Similarly, lightly herbed fish, pasta tossed with garlic and oil, and other such fare are all ‘on the mark’ pairings. Conversely, you might also consider pairing this wine with a cheese board – which is perhaps the most common ‘by the book’ pairing for pinot grigio. Piave Vecchio cheese is a favorite for this purpose. Piave Vecchio, made from pasteurized cow’s milk, has a pleasantly sweet flavor that contrasts with bitter, almond-like undertones. We’re using a Piave Vecchio Selezione, which is aged for a year or more. This aging process intensifies and concentrates its flavor.
With the Chardonnay, the ‘cliché’ pairings are popular for a reason. They work. That means delicate white bodied fish, lightly pan grilled with olive oil and herbs. Light starters are also a way to go, and that means antipasto boards piled with things like marinated cheese, toasted nuts, and light seafood starters. For an example, see this antipasto board I set together.
With the Spumante think light starters, garden salads, cheese boards, or as an aperitif. A cheese such as Piave Mezzano, would also pair deliciously. Piave Mezzano is aged for up to six months, and has a notable sweetness and intense flavor, but without being overly sharp. Though softer than its Vecchio counterpart, I find that this cheese is also great for crumbling over salads.
So, with all of that said, if you haven’t sampled wines from the Lake Garda region of Italy, I can wholeheartedly recommend doing so, you won’t be disappointed, I promise.