When on the hunt for crisp everyday whites, it is natural to turn to appellations like Chablis, Mâcon, or Sancerre—the tried and true old reliables. But with yields down in Burgundy and prices for good Sancerre slowly creeping up, why not branch out and travel off the beaten path to find real value and experience new flavors? That road leads right to Corte Gardoni, the Veneto farm run by the Piccoli family just south of Lake Garda. Founder Gianni Piccoli, who is all but retired and has handed the keys to the kingdom to his three sons, is something of a local legend. Having resisted the wave of globalization that saw native grape varieties uprooted in favor of international ones, this man is a hero to like-minded peers. And Gianni is an outlier in more ways than one: he has also proudly refused to raise his prices over the years, allowing us to continue offering his wines at bargain cost. “Mael” is the more refined of Corte Gardoni’s two whites, and the value it provides is stupendous. A masterful blend of Garganega, Trebbiano, Trebbianello, and Riesling, this perfumed charmer punches far above its weight, delivering aromatic complexity in spades, pinpoint precision on the palate, and a stony finish that exudes pure class.
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.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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