Chiaretto di Bardolino : 10 great summer sippers

The summer season is coming, so the Consorzio di Bardolino presented the new vintage of Chiaretto, the local rosé, as part of the Anteprima Campaign. In fact, I should say Chiaretto di Bardolino, as is it officially called now. Bardolino is perhaps most known for its light and fruity reds, very much in the style of its bigger neighbor Valpolicella. But Bardolino is also Italy’s biggest producer of rosé, with 12 million bottles of Chiaretto per year. That’s twice as much as that other known Italian rosé, the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Chiaretto has nothing to do with Cerasuolo, however. As the name suggests (Chiaretto comes from the Italian word chiaro = light) the color is pale pink. But it hasn’t always been like this. In fact, it’s only since 2014 that the decision was made to change the style of the rosé. Before the rosé was made with skin maceration (or “saignée”, the French word for “bleeding”), which gave a darker hue to the wine. Now the grapes are pressed with minimal skin contact, resulting in a fashionably pale pink. The reason for this is very simple : pale rosé sells better! Having said that, there still was quite a bit of variation in the color of the samples, as you can see below.

Pale rosé is nowadays inextricably linked to the Provence in France. But there where Provence rosé often has rather ripe, almost sweet fruit, Chiaretto di Bardolino tends to be crisp, fresh and bone dry. They are not the most fruit forward pinks, although there is mostly a bit of citrus fruit there. The main feature of the Chiaretto is its freshness! And that immediately explains what makes it so attractive for summer sipping. The acidity in these wines is very refreshing, which makes them great for aperitivo, or for an al fresco lunch. Chiaretto is a favorite drink of tourists around Lake Garda, and in fact the match with the fish of the lake is ideal, as it is sweet water fish, giving a rather delicate taste and structure.

The wines

I tasted 50 samples of Chiaretto, almost all 2020, with a few exceptions. In principle the main grapes are Corvina and, to a lesser extent, Rondinella. Other grapes are grapes allowed, such as Merlot, but despite the fact that some of the wines indeed had other grapes in the blend, the consistency of the taste profile was remarkable : fresh and crisp rosé. Not immensely aromatic and also no fruit bomb, Chiaretto is made to be refreshing and inviting.

In general the quality was consistently good. Below I recommend 10 wines, but I easily could have listed many more that would provide an enjoyable summer drink. The 10 wines I chose have more to offer, however, than the hallmark freshness of Chiaretto. I rewarded the wines that showed a little bit more interest, in the form of more pronounced fruit or fresh herbal aromas. I also payed attention to the balance, as the acidity in some was so pronounced that it became unenjoyable. But those were really the minority. In fact, I daresay that that the consistency of the wines is so high that you can be pretty safely buy a bottle and know what you’re going to get. This is my slection of those that had more to offer than the standard crispness and freshness :

Seiterre – El Salgar, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020 ❤️

I have a top 5, but if I had to pick one out as my favorite, it would be this one. Very attractive rasberry color, clearly a bit darker than most others. Attractive nose of redcurrant and green, minty freshness. Really nice on the palate with that redcurrant coming back and even a hint of blackcurrant. The balance is impeccable with well integrated acidity. There is more to this Chiaretto than the usual freshness. The red fruit and the green herbs give this wine an additional element that provides more interest. I thouroughly enjoyed this wine!

Guerrieri Rizzardi – Keya, Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

There is a lovely hint of minerality in the nose with a green fresh element, inviting you to take a sip. The palate is somewhat surprising as the aromas suggest a lean and tight rosé. In fact, there’s more volume here than in most others, which makes this rosé also a good companion for dishes with more character. A bouillabaisse springs to mind. The acidity is nicely integrated and overall the balance is really good. There is something distinguished about this wine.

Vigneti Villabella – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

The nose immediately attracts my attention, with red fruit and a bit of herbal freshness. Good balance with the green herbs giving more depth. Everything is fresh, but the acidity is mild, which makes for a very pleasant rosé.

Vitevis – Cà Vegar, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020

Probably one of the palest pinks in the line-up. The nose is appealing with citrus and a hint of smoky minerality. This is lovely on the palate with citrus fruit against a fresh and yet mild background. You will want more than just one glass.

Poggio delle Grazie – Chiaretto di Bardolino (organic) 2020

Subtle but attractive nose with a bit of smoky minerality. Very nice balance on the palate with the typical salivating acidity of Chiaretto, but also good volume, which makes it more than just refreshing. The mouthfeel is really pleasing. This rosé would feature nicely on a restaurant wine list to accompany mediterranean styled fish dishes.

I reserve a special mention for a maverick in the line-up that performed on the same level as the others in my top five, but that was just too different to include it there with the others :

Villa Calicantus – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico (biodynamic) 2019

The color is remarkable, as it has a very orange hue. The nose gives evolved aromas with dried fruit, brown apple and even a bit of honey, which is admittedly a bit awkward between all those fresh and crisp Chiarettos. On the palate, however, this is extremely fresh, with a nervous acidity that offsets the dried fruit. There are even tannins lingering in the background. Although this is definitely a bit of an oddball rosé, I cannot help liking it, as there is real complexity here. The contrast on the palate is challenging, but rewarding. During the Anteprima presentation there were questions about this wine, but Angelo Peretti of the Consorzio left no doubt about whether this wine should be accepted as Chiaretto : “yes, of course, this is also a typical Chiaretto. It has that typical freshness, just like the other Chiarettos”. I can only agree about the freshness. But it is obvious that this is not your typical summer sipper.

And the four runners up to complete my top 10 :

Bennati – I Gadi 2020, Chiaretto di Bardolino

One of the more darker colored rosés, almost raspberry color. Attractive nose, with a hint of florality, rose hip, and rather ripe redcurrant. The attack is fresh and the acidity is nicely integrated. A juicy and well-balanced rosé.

Lenotti – Decus, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020

Not very aromatic but rather subtle nose with an attractive hint of minerality. Very juicy and pleasant. Perfect for a hot summer evening while chattering away with friends.

Casaretti – Rosa dei Casaretti (organic), Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

Very pale, onion skin color. Fresh but not very aromatic nose. Quite elegant and balanced with a certain pine tree freshness that gives a nice touch to this wine. There’s even a subtle hint of cedar wood.

Le Morette – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

White peach and a hint of smoky minerality. This is very refreshing and juicy. Really pleasing on the palate with well integrated acidity. A no-brainer for a summery picnic.

To conclude : A few tips on the serving temperature. It is suggested to serve Chiaretto really cold if you have it as an aperitif. I found, however, that the wines showed more interest when served a bit warmer than served straight out of the fridge. These wines are already not the most aromatic, so letting them warm up a little bit will help to bring out the aromas. And the lively acidity helps alot to keep that freshness in there, even when the wine warms up a little. So there is really no reason to be afraid that your rosé will flat.

I wrote this piece in between the showers and hail storms, which is a little odd when the topic is rosé. But hopefully the weather gods will bring change soon. And when they do, make sure that bottle is well chilled. Salute!