Valentina on Wine | Valténesi—On the Shores of Lake Garda / by Valentina Zanella

It’s just another rainy Sunday afternoon. No, I don’t mean the lyrics of the Fool’s Garden’s song “Lemon Tree.” June tickled us with a super sunny weekend last week when we thought finally summer had arrived. And it was just perfect, especially when I meant to write an article about those gorgeous rosè wines that would flood our glasses as soon as the first rays of spring weather showed up!

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I know what you’re thinking right now: “oh no, not another wines-to-drink list please!”

Not at all…

Today you will travel with me to Lake Garda—a place I love and one that holds some of my most precious memories. It is the largest fresh water lake in Italy. It is 50 kilometers (31 miles) long and in some places over 300 meters (1000 feet) deep. Its influence on this region’s climate conditions should be evident. The water temperature is colder than the summer air and warmer in the winter. This helps moderate both the summer heat and the harsh winter days. There are two main winds that blow here. The “Peler” blows from north to south in the morning and the “Ora” blows in the afternoon. As you can easily imagine, these create very good conditions for viticulture. That is why I want to introduce you to this region. Please meet Valténesi. This off-the-beaten-path wine region is very slowly emerging and, in my humble opinion, it’s about time Valténesi gets the attention it deserves.

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Valténesi is a hilly territory on the western side of Lake Garda where viticulture has been practiced since pre-Romans times. The indigenous grape variety is Groppello—a thin-skinned grape with a bluish-purple color. Groppello is to Valténesi what Sangiovese is in the Chianti. It represents is a true reflection of its terroir. The DOC permits the production of a red wine (Valtenesi DOC). It also allows a rosé (Valténesi Chiaretto DOC), which is made with a very special method called “Molmenti”.

Using the “Molmenti” method, skin contact is very short. In some cases, skin contact is less than an hour and then the wine is racked off during the night to help maintain the typical freshness of this rosé. That why this wine is also called “the one night wine.” Thanks to the very short maceration, the color of the wine is very pale, similar to the Provence fashion that is now so highly regarded by the wine-drinking public.

Valténesi Chiaretto also has its own unique style. It is refreshing, fragrant and vibrant. Thanks to the maritime climate and a well-timed harvest, the wine retains high acidity, richness and minerality. It is an elegant wine that shows the strength of this region through aromas of roses and red wild fruits with a round and balanced mouth feel.

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There is a constellation of producers in this area and some of them are getting a pretty good reputation. Two of the most famous are Ca’ dei Frati and Ca’ Maiol. The chief oenologist at Bellavista, Mattia Vezzola, runs “Costaripa.” This is the family winery in which they also produce some very good traditional method sparklers sold under his name.

I was lucky enough to visit a few weeks ago. At the time, one of my favorites in the area was Cascina Belmonte. It is a small sustainable winery with a modern approach to viticulture and agriculture. At Belmonte, biodiversity reigns supreme. Every detail is studied and a reasoned approach is applied to have as little environmental impact as possible. This is accomplished without compromising the quality of the wines. What more can you ask for?

Can you picture yourself sipping rosé on the shore of Lake Garda at sunset? I totally can!

Planning Your Trip

Here are a few “insider” tips to help you plan your visit:

Vittoriale degli Italiani is definitely the place I love the most and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been there. This Villa was once the retreat of the poet D’Annunzio’s on the shores of Lake Garda—near the Gardone Riviera. You will find it just a little north of Salò. You will discover art deco and eclectic tastes like Bedouin tents, fountains, waterfalls and even a complete, authentic naval vessel rests on a hillside. You certainly don’t want to miss this during your visit.

Riva del Garda is the largest town in the northern part of the lake and the ideal base for a GardaTrek, which consists of three loop trails between lake and mountains. You will also find some mountain biking trails nearby. It is also possible to do some pretty cool lake dives.

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Salò is the second-largest town on the Lombardi side. It is historically famous as the headquarters of the Repubblica di Salò, which was the seat of the Fascist government at the end of World War II. This charming town has the longest lakeside promenade

Sirmione is an ancient town that sits on a peninsula. It is home to Grotte di Catullo—the ruins of a vast Roman villa. You will also find the Scaligero Castle, known for its thermal baths, stretching into the lake. Summer brings swarms of tourists to Sirmione, so the best time to enjoy the town is during the off-season.