Friday, October 29, 2010

On Bardolino Superiore: Complicating the Complication

While today's post is certainly meant for everyone's reading pleasure, I'm going to start things out with a question for my fellow bloggers. Have you ever started a new post, saved it as a draft part way through and then never gone on to finish it? I'm guessing the answer will be a near-unanimous "yes." Now, how many of you have saved that partial draft, neglected it for over a year, but then returned to and completed it? Not so many of you, I'd guess. Nonetheless, that's exactly what I'm doing today, fourteen months and change after originally starting the piece.

Somehow I always knew I'd return to the topic at hand — Bardolino Superiore and its elevation to DOCG status — as it has been in my head ever since reading the post from Alfonso Cevola that originally inspired it. Be sure to check it out, as it's a great example of what makes On the Wine Trail in Italy one of the best things going in this here vinous corner of the blogosphere.

Ace, as I and others are wont to call him, has made it a serious sideline of his to catalog all of Italy's DOCG designations and to add any changes to this ever-growing list as soon as they come to his attention. As I was reading that inspirational commentary of his on DOCG additions (both recent and not so recent) that he deemed of questionable merit, I can remember thinking, "and Bardolino Superiore.... I'm going to hit the comments with my two cents on Bardolino Superiore." Yet there it was, at the end of his post... Ace's own inclusion of Bardolino Superiore on his not-so-worthy list.

Though I've never had "a hot date with with a cute blond in a mini" (again, Alfonso's inspiration, as is the above photo), I do really enjoy Bardolino, and I do mean *really* enjoy. The Bardolino "normale" from Corte Gardoni, called "Le Fontane," has been one of my everyday Italian go-to reds for many, many moons. I like it better — that is to say, I enjoy it more — than their Bardolino Superiore.

If you're thinking this is all just a long-winded lead-in to a trashing of Bardolino Superiore, then you're in for a disappointment. Another part of the inspiration for the genesis of this post, way back in the autumn of '09, was a bottle of the 2007 Bardolino Superiore from Corte Gardoni. A good bottle. Actually, two good bottles. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself....

Let's leap forward to earlier this week. Rooting around in my wine closet for something to drink with dinner, I unburied — and proceeded to uncork — a bottle of Corte Gardoni's 2005 Bardolino Superiore. Though Bardolino Superiore was granted DOCG status way back in February 2002, with retroactive application to wines as of the 2001 harvest, it was when this '05 arrived on the market that I first remember noticing the promotion, and first remember thinking it odd. At least that's how I recall it now.

However foggy that memory may be, my experience with this week's bottle of 2005 Bardolino Superiore is still very fresh in mind. Though I'd say the wine had reached full maturity, it was very much holding its own, not yet starting the inevitable slide into the less savory realms of decay. Aside from a deeply tea-like aromatic character, which to me is a hallmark of Bardolino, I might have been hard pressed to identify the wine if its identity hadn't been staring me in the face. Though delicate in body, it had developed aromatic characteristics not at all out of line with what one might expect from a good left bank Bordeaux, produced in an off vintage and now at its mid-life point. Tannic it was not; not at all. Still lively in acidity it was. Pleasing, too, in its own way; quite pretty wine, actually.

Was it a great wine, though? I think calling it great would be a stretch. But does that matter? Should DOCG wines be, by definition, great? Consider the following point made by Tom Hyland in a piece he wrote way back in 2002, just after Bardolino Superiore was granted its DOCG status.

"For Italians, DOCG does not necessarily mean the finest wines in the country; rather the designation is thought of as a statement that these wines are the best they can be, given the grapes and locales used. No one would argue that Bardolino is among the best red wines of Italy, but if DOCG means a better Bardolino, then why not?"
Tom's point is perfectly apropos and well stated. The twist comes (though I'm sure it was not his intention) along with that concept or image of a "better" Bardolino. I'm thinking here more along the lines of Colonel Steve Austin and the opening sequence of The Six Million Dollar Man. "We have the technology. We have the capability to [make him] better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster." Which brings me back to those two bottles of 2007 Bardolino Superiore from last year.

Take a look (above) at the back labels from those two bottles; aside from slightly different lot numbers, they're essentially identical. Turn those same bottles face first, though, as seen below, and it's a different story. The first is clearly Bardolino Superiore DOCG. The second makes no mention whatsoever of the wine's denominazione; only a knowing glance up at the bottle's neck (obviously not pictured) would reveal the wine's DOCG status.

What I know, only because I know the wines and the producer that makes them, is that they're actually the same wine (bottling lot aside). Corte Gardoni simply decided to change the name of the wine, and to do so smack in the middle of a vintage. Why? Well, as I understand it via a conversation between an old coworker of mine (who speaks fluent Italian) and Corte Gardoni patriarch Gianni Piccoli, it was the Piccoli family's direct response to the trend toward Six Million Dollar Bardolino that had occurred since the institution of DOCG elevation.

The discipline for the Bardolino Superiore DOCG requires that the wine's blend be based on 35-65% Corvina Veronese, the most distinctive and important variety of the area, 10% of which can be Corvinone (once thought to be genetically related to Corvina); 10-40% Rondinella; and up to 20% of other varieties, which can include no more than 10% each from any combination of vines such as Molinara, Rossignol, Barbera, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Merlot, and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. Granted, 20% might not sound like much but if you take 10% each of dark, bold varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera and add them to the inherently pale and delicate Corvina, then you've got some serious fortification in the works. Add to that the fact that some producers were apparently making ripasso-style Bardolino Superiore and the scene just gets wrinklier.

The family Piccoli wanted none of it, so they gave their wine what some might be tempted to call a nome di fantasia — "Pràdicà" essentially means "house meadow" or "meadow by the house." To them it's a statement that their wine is, well, their wine, not a wine that's following the "superiore" fashion trend. The problem, as I mentioned before, is that one needs to know that for it to be meaningful. Complicated, no?

My point, aside from wanting to tell the story of Corte Gardoni's wine, is actually quite simple. In the big picture, I'm inclined to agree with Alfonso, who said it much more plainly than have I, "Bardolino is fine as a DOC, but no 'G', no 'G'." Sometimes simpler really is better.


Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, David, I just landed and wasn't able to comment earlier. Wow, I love Bardolino too. I can't believe I wrote that post, I must have been out in the sun too long. Anyway, thanks for the shout-out. It made me laugh out loud to read that post and your post was a lot of fun getting me back to the center. Cheers, Amigo

David McDuff said...

Believe me, Ace, there are definitely a few posts scattered through my archives that might have been better left unwritten. Glad to have made you laugh!

Angelo Peretti said...

Very interesting post about Bardolino and Bardolino Superiore. I think it can be a good starting point for a reflection about the future of our appellations (Bardolino doc and Bardolino Superiore docg).
In my opinion, Bardolino Superiore could become a "terroir wine" when we will be completely able to "transalate" our recent studies about our territory into wines strictly related with the characters of each single area, essentially going back to the 19th century, when Giovanni Battista Perez wrote that there were at least three different Bardolinos (one for the area near to the village of Bardolino, one for the internal hills towards monte Baldo and one for the southern morainic hills).
Nowadays Bardolino Superiore totally accounts just for less than 300,000 bottles per year (1% of the wine bottled inside our Bardolino appellations, being the bottles of the red doc Bardolino 20 million, plus 12 million bottles of the rosé Bardolino Chiaretto): we certainly have to re-think the Superiore or to abandon it, but I think that our Corvina grape can be the perfect basis for some red wines that, without betraying the Bardolino spirit, coul be able to evolve at least for a four or a five years period, as you wrote about Gianni's Superiore.
(I apologize for my very bad English).
Angelo Peretti
Head of Bardolino Consortium communications

David McDuff said...


Fist of all, thank you very much for your thoughtful response. If my post about Bardolino can indeed provide a pathway to discussion of the future of your area's appellations, I would be quite honored.

Second, there's no need to apologize for your English; it's quite good and far, far superior to my minimal grasp of Italian.

In response to the points you've raised, I don't necessarily believe that the Bardolino Superiore denominazione doesn't have its place. I think a wine such as that I've focused on in my post points to the potential, as you say, for a wine of some complexity and age worthiness that still carries with it the character of Bardolino.

What I do see as the conflicting issue, as in so many other areas of Italy (and the world), is the current allowance for inclusion of non-typical vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, perhaps even Barbera, all of which can quite easily dominate and obscure the regional character of the truly local, historical vines — in this case, Corvina, as well as Corvinone and Rondinella.

I do certainly understand that Cabernet and Merlot are not newcomers to Northeastern Italy, but I also feel that they are interlopers when it comes to inclusion in Bardolino. Let them be used for IGT wines (such as the "Rosso di Corte" from Corte Gardoni, a very good Bordeaux-style blend), but leave them out of Bardolino and, yes, Bardolino Superiore.

That would be a great start.

I of course welcome your feedback, as well as that of any of your peers or Consortium members.

Josh George said...

Becco Rosso! There is a good terroir wine.

Angelo Peretti said...

David, I completely agree with you. Certainly we can't oblige vinegrowers to ripe their Cabernet vines off (they can grow them, after the changes of the "disciplinare" approved in 2001, and we can't cancel a right), but I think (I hope) that we can try to convince them through two ways.
The first one is teaching them that a "real" Bardolino tastes completely different from a Bardolino made with non-traditional grapes, and that the typical Bardolino is better than the other one and, moreover, that there is plenty of people looking for authenticity (they don't have to fear for "the market" when "the market" seems to prefer Cabernet-style wines, because there will always be a place for authenticity).
The second one is changing our "disciplinare" allowing our producrs to use more Corvina than the 65% actually allowed: the Consortium has still approved a change in the "disciplinare" that increases to 80% the percentage of Corvina that our producers can use and we hope that this new rule will be soon approved by the Italian Authoritues, in order to use it from the next year.
Angelo Peretti

Alfonso Cevola said...

I sincerely hope that Bardolino wont become Valpolicella-ized. One of the great qualities of Bardolino is the delicacy of the wine. In recent years, a score of Valpolicella producers have created wines that are brawny and musclebound. Ripasso has introduced people to a style of wine that isn't traditional Valpolicella.

I like Bardolino and hope for the best for the producers. The Chiaretto is unparalleled

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