Trends in the wine world such as international grape varieties and heavy use of new oak have threatened the Veneto’s rich history of viticulture, but luckily steadfast producers like Corte Gardoni have firmly stood up for and sought to preserve their local traditions. Founder Gianni Piccoli not only pioneered sustainable viticulture in the Bardolino zone but also championed its native grapes like Corvina and Garganega when many producers turned to Chardonnay and Cabernet. Gianni’s three sons carry on his work, crafting deliciously refreshing wines from their stony vineyards south of Lake Garda. This red is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Sangiovese from their top parcels. Aged for a year in oak botti before bottling, it is their most structured wine, yet it has a silky elegance and bright, spicy aromas that beckon. Don’t be afraid to age it for a few years, though: with some bottle age, certain Bardolinos have been known to mimic fine red Burgundy.
Gianni Piccoli grew up surrounded by orchards, but he had wine in his blood so when an estate with extensive vineyards came up for sale in 1971 he jumped at the opportunity. For years the grapes of Corte Gardoni were sold to cooperatives, but Gianni felt that their wines lacked soul. In 1980 he broke those ties and began crafting his own wine, focusing on the character of the grapes and terroir. Today Gianni is a highly respected figure in the region as well as a leader in the fight against homogenization of local wines. Gianni still keeps a close eye on production, but has turned over the daily work to his sons: Mattia, the winemaker; Stefano, the vineyard manager; and Andrea, who handles the commercialization of the wines.
Italy’s most prolific wine region by volume, the Veneto is the source of some of the country’s most notorious plonk: you’ll find oceans of insipid Pinot Grigo, thin Bardolino, and, of course, the ubiquitous Prosecco. And yet, the Veneto produces the highest proportion of DOC wine of any Italian region: home to prestigious appellations like Valpolicella, Amarone, and Soave, it is capable of excelling in all three colors, with equally great potential in the bubbly and dessert departments.
With almost 200,000 acres planted, the Veneto has a wealth of terroirs split between the Po Valley and the foothills of the Alps. While the rich soils of the flatlands are conducive to mechanization, high yields, and mass production of bulk wine, the areas to the north offer a fresher climate and a diversity of poor soil types, ideal for food-friendly wines that show a sense of place. Whether it’s a charming Prosecco Superiore from the Glera grape, a stony Soave or Gambellara from Garganega, or a Corvina-based red in any style, the Veneto’s indigenous grape varieties show real character when worked via traditional production methods.
Since his first visit in 1979, Kermit has regularly returned to the Veneto to enjoy its richness of fine wines and local cuisine. Our collaboration with Corte Gardoni, our longest-running Italian import, is a testament to this. The proximity of beautiful cities like Verona and Venice, with their deep culinary heritage, certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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