Chiaretto – Italian rose from the shores of Lake Garda
Let’s go to Italy today. I feel like writing about a lunch I had on the shores of Lake Garda back in September when I visited the Lugano wine region. Perhaps it’s because spring is just round the corner that I got to thinking of rosès. I took a look at some photos I took last September when I was in Italy and thought the wines were just too pretty to ignore. Not only that but they are also very under-rated. The rosès come from the vineyards on the slopes of hills that surround Lake Garda and are some of the best and lightest that Italy produces.
The DOC benefits greatly from the microclimate that surrounds the lake with a mild microclimate, we saw palm trees, olive trees and lemon trees, which considering we were almost at the foot of the Alps was quite a surprise. Chiaretto is the wine that is made from the first pressing of the gropello grape of the Garda Classico DOC region. Gropello is a red grape that gives light and spicy wines. Sangiovese, barbera and marimeno are also allowed in the blend but gropello is the main grape. There are only 300 hectares of gropello in the world and like pinot noir, it can be a fussy grape, needing much care and attention.
In order to produce chiaretto, the producer can only use the first press and he has to be careful that the must has only brief contact with the skins in order to get not only the lovely pink hue but also to obtain the optimum fruit without unbalancing the wine. It is a delicate balancing act and one that has been perfected over the centuries. The local vintners call it the “wine of one night” because vinification takes place over one day and one night and it remains in contact with the must for not more then 6-8 hours.
Chiaretto is a wine that should be drunk young and because it is so fresh and clean, it is a fantastic wine to have by the lakeshore in summertime. The predominate flavours are cherry, strawberry and rosehips. The wine also often times has a whisper of mineral saltiness due to the soil in which it grows. Usually a rather delicate wine, some producers do let it spend time in oak which produces slightly more robust wines but the oak never dominates and if anything gives a bit of backbone to the wine.
Our lunch was an all fish course extravaganza, everything being caught from Lake Garda, even the fresh water crabs were from the lake. Sitting on the shaded veranda with the sun glinting off the water, that is what chiaretto is made for, a lazy afternoon on the lake shore. We had plenty of them to get through and despite the relatively high alcohol content, around 13.5% none of it was apparent. For dessert we finished off with a sweet chiaretto, made in only very limited quantities. An ethereal sweet wine, not too sweet with notes of roses and turkish delight as well as young strawberries, it was delicious with our dessert of meringue and strawberries.
Funnily enough, I went to Ireland and few weeks later after having returned from Lake Garda and a restaurant I was in had a chiaretto as it’s house wine. I had to order it to see if it tasted just as good outside of it’s region. Happily, the wine had lost none of it fresh, clean, pure fruit qualities and went down well with my Irish fish and chips. Luckily, I had found a wine that tastes good not only when you’re in the country but also travels well.