Last week I was in beautiful Italy. In fact, I stayed on the glorious Lake Garda, up in the Veneto region, which is pretty idyllic and home to some incredibly popular and easy-drinking wines. I can only guess what made me choose that destination. The cool climate of North Italy produces some delicious vino — from the aromatic yet mineral delights of Alto Adige at the head of the lake to the juicy, ready-to-drink-straight-from-the-tank, young wines of Bardolino — not forgetting the fizzy and fruity offerings of Veneto’s Prosecco, and the give-us-a-bite seductive appeal of a Valpolicella Ripasso. There’s something for everyone in Italy, and the North did not disappoint.
Whenever I am away, I always try to support local growers by choosing their wines off of restaurant lists, having gained insight from the staff (some being sommeliers) on style and pairing etc. It somehow doesn’t feel right drinking something from another region, or indeed country, when you can live and breathe the terroir that the juice has come from. Context is everything — and also a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a romantic thought that we can bottle up a region and experience it anywhere in the world. The flip side is that it’s sometimes hard to replicate a magical moment that folk had with a glass of wine on holiday, when you don’t have the climate, local food, and lakeside view to accompany it! I digress…
In Garda, you are surrounded by amazing white, red and rosés from winemaking families with true heritage. Though, for very little, you can get quite typical styles of wine that reflect the region in average supermarkets for a handful of Euros. Is this a good thing? Yes, as it means that familiarity of regional styles is very accessible, but no because it means that there’s a lot of wines on the shelf that have been mass produced to meet demand. Because the area is so popular for tourists (we can understand why, it was our second visit and won’t be our last), there’s many wines available that reflect ‘the hits’ of the region. Drinking a Bardolino at a touristy lakeside restaurant is like buying a souvenir Big Ben keyring in Leicester Square — it’s symbolic of the area, but not unique or special.
What to do? As luck would have it, whilst we were there we stumbled upon a wine festival, organised by Visit Bardolino. It’s a four-day wine festival showcasing amazing producers of Bardolino wines. We met a fantastic winemaker Federica Zeni, who was very passionate about her Bardolino but insisted we should go and see her winery and try out the other wines she produces. She is a 5th generation winemaker wanting to continue with the quality and reputation her ancestors have carved out. She is could see that I was very excited with the wines that we sampled, but if we hadn’t have popped on the boat from Garda to Bardolino, we wouldn’t have met her over a glass of very nice vino.
The point I’m making is that you need to hunt down the stuff the locals drink. Find the local producers, head off the beaten track and resist the appeal of the easy-to-grab-whilst-picking-up-a-packet- of-salty-Lays-crisps-and-a-large-bottle-of-mineral-water wines that litter the tourist strip supermarkets.
Sampling Soave to Lugana or Valpolicella to Bardolino, it really made me appreciate the choice we have in the UK on our shelves and it also made me think about the value for money aspect. Talking to other holidaymakers, many didn’t know you could buy these small grower wines in the UK. Cantina del Garda Bardolino Chiarretto has been one of our biggest selling rosés this summer at Vineyards and it is always great to fly the flag for well made wines with character.
It’s hard to know when you’re getting into wine whether you are simply drinking a typical, average wine of a given region or an exemplary, special take on a style. That’s why making friends with your local wine merchant is always a good idea. Speak to folk who are passionate about wine and drink a lot of it. That’s the secret of the trade and it works at all levels. Hunt down those in the know — it’s what we do on our travels!