6 March

Bardolino on the Lake & Abandoned at an Un-locatable Address

We get up early, take Stanley (the dog) to Peschiera where the dog sitter picks him up. Then we board a public bus to Lasize where we plan to taste Bardolino wines at the annual Banco d’Assaggio.

The bus leaves up off by the side of the highway. We check when the last return bus leaves – 7:30 p.m. We cross the road and enter the lakeside town.

“Lazize is the loveliest town on the lake,” says Michael. The sky is blue. The breeze is cool and the sun is brilliant.

I see Paola, one of the organizers, and ask if anyone from Verona will be going back to the city after tonight’s dinner.

“Oh, yes, probably,” she said eagerly, if abstractly. This should have been a clue.

I taste all of the Sparkling Chiarettos first. Chiaretto refers to a rose wine made in the Bardolino zone. Some of the labels for the Chiarettos remind me of Paris Hilton’s Bedroom (as seen on MTV). Their Hello Kitty Pink clashes with the actual color of the wine, which teeters between rose petal pink and orange.

The color is derived from the grape variety. The primary one in the Bardolino blend is Corvina. This grapes is also part of the blend of Valpolicellas and Amarones.

The Bardolino production zone, generally speaking, lies between Lake Garda (Italy’s largest lake) and the Valpolicella zone in the Veneto region. For those who may have trouble spotting the Veneto on a map of Italy – it’s the region that includes Venice.

Around Lake Garda, Sparkling Bardolino is often paired with grilled freshwater trout. It also, of course, makes a nice, fresh drink-party pour. Here are some of my notes for the sparkling Bardolinos:

Fulvio Benazzoli Chiaretto Spumante 2009 A vibrant rose-pink. Fresh. Floral nose. A crisp vibrant acidity lifts the wild berry fruit. Clean finish. After 10 minutes in the glass it is still firm and fresh.

Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda Chiaretto Spumante Orangey-rose. Very lively color. On the palate: soft, undefined (but not unpleasant) fruit. A nice vibration on the palate. A cream soda (in a good way) undertow on the finish.

Costadoro Chiaretto Spumante An attractive orangey-pink. Fresh. An idea of mustard bursts on the middle palate. This is a surprise – to say the least. But once I identify it – it is rather nice. It livens up the soft fruit flavors (mulberry, raspberry).Satisfying finish.

Monte Oliveto Chiaretto SpumanteOrange with a rose scrim – a soft wad of fresh berry fruit held in shape by a fine net of acidity.

Villabella Chiaretto Spumante Soft but firm fruit. Appealing. A touch of dry caramel on the finish, which is not unpleasant.

Monte Saline Chiaretto Spumante This is the only wine to be made with the Champagne Method. This means that the second fermentation – the one that creates the bubbles – occurs in bottle rather than in a tank. A lovely vibrant pale orange dominates the rose petal-pink color. It is the color of a wine that could be served on the Starship Enterprise. A firm, appealing fragrance of strawberries. Very silky entry. Nice texture. Clean flavorful finish.

I then taste through the still Bardolino Chiarettos. Here are a few of my notes:

Natale Castellani 2009 Bardolino Chiaretto Nice saturation of rose. Very pleasing, nicely balanced – an elegant wine. The fruit flavors – an amalgam of raspberry, mulberry and wild berries – merge seamlessly.

F.lli Zeni Bardolino Chiaretto Vibrant pink to clear rim. A fresh yet soft nose. Round yet firm fruit. The words “a workman-like job” come to mind. This is not a bad thing. A client ordering this in a restaurant would be satisfied.

Guerrieri Rizzardi Bardolino Chiaretto Soft nose. On the palate, the firm yet easy fruit indicates that the wine can be served on its own. I can see this as a popular “drinks party” wine.

Le Fraghe Bardolino Chiaretto. Pale scrim of rose petal pink with a touch of orange. A nice mouthful of soft fruit that is surrounded by a firm, fine net of acidity. This very elegant wine has a screw cap. I hope more producers make the decision to switch to this type of closure with wines that are not intended for decades of cellaring.

Le Tende Bardolino Chiaretto A fine, elegant mouthful. An appealing wine.

Monte del Fra Bardolino Chiaretto Pale. An obvious softness on the nose. Soft, round, easy. I really need not say more.

Michael and I take a break from tasting and stroll along the promenade by the lake. I conclude that every tasting should have an intermission like this.

We return and taste some 2009 Bardolinos. I will be tasting some of these wines again in April and prefer to wait until then to describe them.

Lunch at Taverna da Oreste, right by the harbor. We sit at a table with Maria Grazia (a blogger who turns up frequently in these diaries. She says to find her blog you must type in soavamente wine blog in Google Search.) and her beau Mario. The food is well prepared – lake fish and polenta. We finish with a crisp lemon sorbet.

Since I have been up since 6 a.m. and have finished the my tasting assignments – I ask Angelo, the main organizer of the event, if I can go directly to the venue for the reception-dinner planned for the evening – a health center cum luxury hotel- Principe di Lazise. Swimming pool, steam bath, meditation rooms, tisans, all of these sound good to me. He agrees.

Mario kindly volunteers to take us there. He sets the GPS for the address of the Spa and is told that it does not exist. He punches in a more general request for the road and off we go. The massive hotel spa is set in the middle of a beautiful but isolated (by my city criteria) area. Very relaxing. The staff is friendly and just attentive enough. Excellent facilities.

7:30 p.m. – the departure time of the last bus ticks away. The aperitif hour (that lasts for nearly 2 and a half hours) begins. It is all very jolly – journalists and consorzio members all stripped to their swimsuits and padding around in bathrobes and flip flops.

The president of the consortium, holding a glass of wine and flanked by two girls in bikinis, sits on a ledge in the swimming pool. Bubbles from the hydro-massage froth around him. A journalist in swim trunks stands in the water, points a video camera at the president and conducts an interview. A genuine You-Tube moment. Very nice.

A tip for party organizers: Once 50 journalists have removed their clothes they become very difficult to herd.

Paola breezes in after 8 p.m.. “Who are we going home with,” I ask.

“Oh, no one,” she replies blythely. “You will just have to stay here.”

I stand rooted to the spot. Inside I am shrieking: Why didn’t she tell us this two hours ago when we still had a chance to organize another way out of this, according to the GPS, un-locatable place?

She senses my dismay and says: “Lucia (of the Soave Consortium) is coming later. See if you can go back with her. Otherwise, I just don’t know.” With that she wanders away.

We see Lucia. I ask her if she will take us to Verona (she lives in the city). “No.” she says. I feel like I have been hit in the stomach. “There is not much room in the car,” she explains.

Her friend (and owner of the car) says: “Do you have any baggage?”

“No,” I wail. “We only wanted to come for the day.”

“Well, in that case, you can squeeze in the back. It’ll be tight but we can manage.”

Hip Hip Hip Hooray Oh Frabjous Day Calloo Calai

We go up to dinner. The chef has reconstructed one of the local Veronese specialties: Bollito Misto. This dish consists of various boiled meats – tongue, beef, chicken, sausage, etc. In restaurants the meat is wheeled to the table on a serving trolley so that the client can select from among them.

“The problem with this,” says Leandro Lupi, the chef. “Is that the meat is cooked to perfection when the trolley is first prepared but as the evening wears on the meat loses its succulence and flavor.” His solution is to layer thin slices of the various meats in a timbale and boil them. The meat indeed is indeed superb. He serves it with a tiny dollop of mustard ice cream on the side.