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.