The microclimate of Lake Garda, which since ancient times had allowed, in this area at the foot of the Alps, the farming of typically Mediterranean species such as the olive and lemon trees, has always allowed the cultivation of various types of grape varieties. So around the lake of Garda the peasant tradition was not constricted in the selection of single varietal cultivation, but in seeking, through the balanced combination of the different grapes, for a balanced product suitable for daily consumption. In the sixties of the last century, with the introduction in Italy of the disciplines for the Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC), the various production areas concentrated on their wines of higher quality.
Lake Garda is, therefore, an area where it is possible to spend a week of golf experimenting a different course every day and, during the same week, to visit every day not only a different winery but different production areas, all concentrated around this stretch of water.
Some wineries are a few hundred meters from the golf courses, others are a little further away, but still reachable in a few minutes drive, after finishing your 18 holes.
Below we list the DOC areas around the lake.
Garda Classico DOC
The hilly arch that encloses Lake Garda in the south-western area, from Desenzano to Salò, is part of the DOC Riviera del Garda Classico and the central part closest to the lake is also in the Valtenesi DOC. Here the representative wine is the Chiaretto Riviera del Garda Classico. This is a rosé wine with delicate colour, dry and savoury flavour given by the mineral richness of the morainic soils. Chiaretto, whose birth dates back to the Middle Ages, was one of the first wines of the lake to be marketed even outside its production area, especially in Milan. The typical colour of this wine is obtained from red grapes (Groppello from 30% to 100%, Marzemino, Barbera, Sangiovese, each for a maximum of 25% plus any other typical grapes of the region for a maximum of 25%) with a short cold maceration in steel vats so that the low temperature and the scarcity of air limit the oxidative phenomena.
Chiaretto is a young wine, usually bottled between late January and early February after about four months of ageing in steel. Lately, following the growing trend of the sparkling wine market, a sparkling version is spreading, both in the Classic and Charmant method. In this case, it is no longer called Chiaretto but Rosè.
With the same blend of Chiaretto, are also vinified two red wines, the Riviera del Garda Classico Rosso and the Riviera del Garda Classico Rosso Superiore. In the case of Rosso, after pressing, the must remains for about a week in maceration and then separated from the skins to end fermentation. Ageing of about six months, partly in steel and partly in oak barrels, leads to the bottling at the beginning of summer. As for Rosso Superiore, a longer maceration gives the wine more body and makes it suitable for long ageing.
Groppello grapes, a variety characterized by small compact bunches, has always given a delicate and light coloured must and for this reason, traditionally it had always been used either for Rosé wine or as a cut in combination with grapes with a more marked flavour and colour. During the last century was given greater prominence to this indigenous grape variety which, being grown only on the western shore of the lake, was a clear expression of local viticulture. Lately, some wineries have started to vinify Groppello grapes, especially in the Gentile variant, in purity obtaining a light wine low in tannins, delicate and elegant.
In this DOC area is vinified also a white wine with Riesling and Chardonnay vines, but the proximity to the DOC Lugana area, whose wine, in recent years, has become the white wine par excellence of Lake Garda, has led the winemakers to neglect a little the other white grapes while investing in the purchase of vineyards in the Lugana area.
Moving away from the lake in the direction of Brescia, along the steep and sunny slopes of the Prealps that form Valverde and enclose the inhabited areas of the municipality of Botticino, there is another DOC area where are produced exclusively red wines.
The shape of this valley, open to the south and protected on the other sides by the limestone slopes of the Prealps, is ideal for its good exposure to the sun and for the protection it offers from cold northern winds. Here the cultivation of the vine was already attested in the Roman period, also given the proximity to the city, and the tradition has continued to the present day. The smallness of the cultivable area, further reduced by the numerous white marble quarries, already in use during the Roman period, which make Botticino the second extraction site in Italy after Carrara, have relegated Botticino Rosso Doc to a purely local product. It is a robust wine rich in tannins, made from Barbera, Schiava, Marzemino and Sangiovese grapes, which thanks to its high alcohol content it is suitable for medium barrel ageing.
The Pusterla vineyard in Brescia
This vineyard deserves a mention as with its four hectares it is the largest urban vineyard in Europe with a long, albeit with mixed fortunes, production history.
This vineyard is on the northern slopes of the Cidneo hill, where the first Celtic settlement of the future Brescia was born. After the foundation of the Roman colony of Brixia, in the imperial era, a monumental temple was built on the top of this hill where now is the fortress built from medieval to modern times. We know from 11th-century documents that on the southeast slopes of the hill there were numerous vineyards. During the various construction phases of the fortress, the steep northern slopes were also deforested. Orchards and gardens also began to grow in this area, but it was the cultivation of the vine that took over. After a period of neglect, vineyards were replanted towards the end of the 19th century. Towards the 1940s the vineyard was inherited by Mario Capretti who thanks to his passion and the quality of the wines produced consolidated his farm in the panorama of wines in the province of Brescia. In 1973, for health reasons, the vineyard was transferred to sharecropping and continued to produce wine until 1990. In 2011, the Capretti family resumed direct management of the farm and came back to wine production.
The Lugana wine production area extends into the central and gentle area of the moraine amphitheatre which closes Lake Garda to the south, between the municipalities of Desenzano, Lonato, Sirmione, Pozzolengo and Peschiera. Here the soil, deposited during the last ice age, characterized by the high presence of minerals has a thick clay layer just below the surface. The presence of this layer led, during the prehistoric stages, to the formation of numerous marshes interspersed with dense forests. The name Lugana can be traced back to the Latin term locus which means woodland. The area has traces of pile-dwelling settlements dating back to the Bronze Age where the archaeologists discovered items testifying to the agricultural activities of the ancient inhabitants. To mention the discovery, at the pile-dwelling settlement of Lavagnone, of what is today the oldest plough that has come down to us, dating back to the beginning of the second millennium BC. and of Vitis Silvestris pips in a pile-dwelling site near Peschiera. Then from the twelfth century, the Benedictine monks, who founded three monasteries in the area, began to deforest the land and to reclaim the marshes, but it was towards the end of the fifteenth century that, thanks to the agricultural policies of the Republic of Venice, this area was completely converted to agriculture. In 1596 we have the first testimony of Trebulani white wines, that is made from Trebbiano di Lugana or Turbiana grapes, in the book De Naturali Vinorum Historia by the physician and naturalist Andre Bacci.
The Turbiana grape compared to the other Italian Trebbiani has a more limited production which finds its ideal cradle in this area characterized by slight temperature variations between day and night and by the constant presence of ventilation, guaranteed by the periodic winds that blow from north to south and vice versa along the lake, which helps to keep plants dry especially during the vegetative phase.
Lugana DOC wine has various varieties but all based on the predominance of the Turbiana grape whose presence must be at least 90% and to which other non-aromatic grapes can be combined for the remaining 10%, even if it is often vinified in purity.
Lugana DOC has a pale straw yellow colour that can have slight greenish reflections, the flavour is dry and mineral and has a delicate aroma.
Often the grapes are gently pressed in an oxygen-free environment, in some cases, the skins are immediately separated from the must, in other cases, they are left for a short maceration. After fermentation, ageing in steel often takes place by leaving the wine in contact with its yeasts instead of proceeding with filtration. After about six months, it is bottled.
With an ageing of at least one year partly in steel and partly in wooden barrels, we speak of Lugana Superiore DOC (introduced in the specification in 1998), if it ages at least 24 months of which at least 6 in the bottle can be called Lugana Riserva DOC ( introduced in the specification in 2018).
Already in 1975 Lugana Spumante DOC had been introduced, obtained both with the Classic method or Charmat, which, for many years, was a consolidated but fairly small production.
In recent years, given the growing demand for sparkling wines, many wineries have increased the number of bottles produced.
With a harvest between the end of October and the beginning of November, leaving the bunches on the plant for a light drying, grapes are richer in sugars the wineries produce the wine Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva DOC, softer and denser than a Classic Lugana but without the excessive sweetness of raisin wines.
San Martino della Battaglia DOC
More or less coinciding with the Lugana production area, the DOC San Martino della Battaglia was defined in 1970 with the name of Tocai di San Martino della Battaglia. It was a white wine made from Tocai Friulano grapes, a grape variety that historically had always been appreciated by local producers. In the 70s and 80s, this DOC reached its maximum expansion considering the number of cellars and the bottles produced. In 1990 a liqueur variant was added, obtained by adding up to a maximum of 20% alcohol to the must to allow the wine to reach an alcohol content of 15%. On the same occasion, it was decided to remove the name Tocai from the denomination to avoid confusion with the Hungarian sweet wine Tokaji, even if the latter was not produced with Friulian Tocai grapes. This decision was far-sighted, as years later the Hungarians obtained the protection of the name Tocai with great problems especially for the Friulian winemakers where the Tocai wine had to be renamed Friulano. With the increase in the production of Lugana, during the 1990s, the San Martino della Battaglia DOC went down in production, until it almost disappeared, having remained only one cellar vinifying the Tocai grapes. This drop was not due to poor wine quality, which has always been considered an excellent elegant and fine product. Having reduced to an almost heroic production, deaf to the sirens of the market, has brought the attention of some main wine guides to the rediscovery of this wine. However, it remains a niche wine with only eight producing cellars and 28 hectares of vineyards.
Garda Colli Mantovani DOC
The area of the morainic hills of Garda, included in the province of Mantua, which extends south of the Lugana production area and has the course of the Mincio as its natural boundary to the east, in 1976 it obtained the Garda Colli Mantovani DOC. In this area, given the happy geographical location, many varieties of grapes have been grown. From the local ones such as Rondinella and Garganega, in this case, the closeness to the wine tradition of the Veneto has been felt, to the typical Trebbianis of central Italy such as Trebbiano Giallo and Trebbiano Toscano, ending with the most famous international vines: Merlot, Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Included in this DOC there are light wines, to be drunk especially young, which perfectly agree with the traditions of the whole area of Lake Garda. With Rondinella, Merlot and Cabernet grapes it is vinified both a dry red wine and, with a short maceration, a rosé. While with Trebbiano Giallo and Toscano, Garganega and Chardonnay grapes is vinified a dry and harmonious white wine. The specification also includes wines obtained from international vines: Merlot and Cabernet for reds, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc for whites.
The Bardolino DOC area covers the municipalities of the southeastern Veronese coast of Lake Garda, northwards reaches the slopes of Monte Baldo, to the east the Adige separates it from Valpolicella area, while to the south it partially overlaps with the eastern areas of the DOC Lugana and with that of the Bianco di Custoza, without creating conflicts, since the disciplinary of the Bardolino DOC includes only red wines and rosé. Within the Bardolino DOC area, the wines produced in the central region refer to Bardolino Classico DOC.
Historically, the wines of this area follow the evolution of those of the west side of the lake, born mainly as table wines for the local market, to be consumed young, towards the end of the nineteenth century they began to have a market also in the major cities of Northern Italy, to then consolidating their reputation with the introduction of the Denominations of Controlled Origin (DOC) in the 60s of the 20th century.
These are wines obtained from the use of different traditional vines of the Veneto region and above all from nearby Valpolicella: Corvina 35-80%, Corvinone 10-40%, Rondinella 10-40%, Molinara 15% maximum and any other grapes not aromatics authorized for a maximum of 25%.
These vines are vinified in red (Bardolino DOC and Bardolino Novello DOC) or with short maceration in rosèas for the Chiaretto di Bardolino DOC which, if produced in the central area, add the term Classico to the name. Traditionally the best grapes underwent a greater maceration and ageing of at least a year to produce a red wine with more body and suitable for slight ageing (often intended for sale in the autumn and early winter of the year following the harvest, when the prices increased) and it was called Superior. This variant obtained the DOCG as Bardolino Rosso Superiore.
In closing, we remind you that the Chiaretto di Bardolino is also produced in the sparkling version.
The last DOC directly in contact with Lake Garda is the production area of Bianco di Custoza DOC. This area develops from the south-eastern shores of the lake, between Peschiera and Lazise, runs alongside the Mincio until it reaches the border between the provinces of Verona and Mantua in the south, includes the flood plain west of Verona and stops north along the Adige. The name derives from the town of Custoza, located in the centre of this area, on the southern slopes of the Garda moraine amphitheatre.
The specification provides for the use of Trebbiano Toscano 10-40%, Garganega 20-40%, Trebbianello 5-30%, Fernanda 0-30% plus other non-aromatic grapes allowed 0-30%. Unlike nearby Lugana, Custoza has a gentler, fruity and aromatic flavor.
This DOC area, where are produced some of the most renowned wines of northern Italy, stretches along the Prealpine amphitheatre that surrounds Verona from north-west to east. Within this area we have two geographical sub-areas, the Valpolicella Classico produced in the municipalities of Valpolicella valley and the Valpolicella Valpantena produced in the municipalities of Valpantena valley. The peculiarity of the wines produced in this area is that the combination of the geographical sub-areas and the different types of winemaking gives rise to a large number of different denominations starting from the same blend of grapes. It is clear that, while remaining within a single specification, in case of wines obtained from a blend of several grapes, the freedom of dosage and the different location and the different soil of the various vineyards can produce significant differences from a winemaker to another. But in this case, we also have diversified production procedures. The base blend of the red wines of Valpolicella is made by Corvina grapes 45-95%, Rondinella 5-30%, Corvinone up to 50% in place of Corvina, and other local grapes such as Molinara, Negrara, Oseleta and Forselina up to a total of 25% and not more of 10% for each single variety.
The “base” wine that is produced from these grapes is Valpolicella DOC, with various geographical variations. If it is aged at least 12 months from 1 January after the harvest it can be defined as Superiore.
From this base, the winemakers obtain the other Valpolicella wines, two of which obtained the DOCG.
The first of these is the Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG. It is a sweet red raisin wine obtained by pressing the healthiest grapes after having dried them in ventilated rooms, once on cane trellis and now, often, in low plastic baskets, for about 90/120 days to lose liquids and increase the sugar content of the grapes. The term Recioto derives from the Venetian recie, or ears, with this name the Venetians called the two upper lateral appendages of the bunch, which, thanks to their position, reach a greater degree of ripeness and a more sparse arrangement of the berries, making them more suitable for withering than the rest of the bunch.
From Recioto DOCG comes Amarone DOCG, one of the greatest meditation wines in Italy. It is a raisin wine that instead of being sweet is dry because the long fermentation leads to the change in alcohol of almost all sugars. It is, therefore, a wine with a high alcohol content of 14 ° / 15 ° which is ideal for ageing in barrel (at least two years) and then for long life in the bottle.
the name Amarone dates back to 1936 when in the headquarters of the Cantina Sociale Valpolicella, in those years at Villa Mosconi, the cellar manager Adelino Lucchese, finding an old barrel of Recioto hidden for a decade in the cellar and tasting the wine, exclaimed: “This is not an amaro is an Amarone” given the goodness of the wine. From 1938 the Cantina di Negrar began to sell the Recioto that had continued the fermentation under the name of Amarone. But it was in 1953 that the Bolla winery began marketing the Amarone made by choice and not accidentally obtained from the “wrong” ageing of Recioto.
The last wine we are talking about is Valpolicella Ripasso DOC, it is a Valpolicella DOC which, before being aged in cask, is poured into the vats where the Amarone has just macerated and is left to rest in contact with the skins for about 15/20 days. In this further maceration, the wine is enriched with the typical aromas of Amarone.
To conclude, without Recioto we would not have Amarone and without Amarone, there would be no Valpolicella Ripasso.
In 1996 the Garda DOC consortium was created overlapping the various pre-existing DOCs that surrounded the lake and was the first DOC in Italy to extend over two different regions. This project was born from various aims:
– give the possibility to the various producers to add to DOC wines, already disciplined, other wines obtained from the surplus of the various types of grapes used in the various blends but not included in the pre-existing disciplinary.
– being able to compare on the international market more compactly, promoting a large and varied wine area.
– create a unique brand for the promotion of white sparkling wines given the growth of the market for these wines.