There’s nothing more charming than a glass of well-made Italian bubbles and a warm summer afternoon. In a market dominated by Prosecco from the Veneto region, the Garda DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) aims to find a recognizable place in Italy’s expanding sparkling wine market. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the area, and I can see why it’s no surprise Wine Enthusiast Magazine would name this region as part of the top 10 wine regions of 2019.
The Lake Garda Wine Region
The Lake Garda area is one of the Northernmost Mediterranean climates in Italy. Cypress, olive, cherry and lemon trees dot the area, but above all vineyards dominate the landscape. As I observed my surroundings, the topography itself is mostly flat with gently rolling hills where the best vineyards grow. I felt as if I had stepped back in time. There are still many rustic Mediterranean-style homes and businesses. The medieval towns of Soave and Verona are also part of this DOC.
Consolidating The Region’s Sparkling Wines Under One DOC
Established in 1996, the Garda DOC will soon seek to consolidate ten appellations and how Sparkling Wine is labeled: Valentèsi, San Martino Della Battaglia, Lugana, Colli Mantovani, Custoza, Bardolino, Valpolicella, Valdadige, Durello and Soave. Any Sparkling Wine made within these appellations will be designated Gardadoc (one word). Additionally, mono-varietal still wine such as Chardonnay, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon will be labeled with the grape variety and Garda DOC on the label. However, the notable white wine of Soave will still be called Soave and Amarone will still be recognized as Amarone.
Sparkling Wine Production Practices in Garda DOC
On my first day of the trip, I had the opportunity to meet with Garda DOC president Luciano Piona who explained the association’s mission and the history of the area. Luciano is from the region, and prior to winemaking he led a pretty interesting life. He worked on charter yachts in the Caribbean as a young man and is well educated. After completing that portion of his professional life, he returned home Lago di Garda to make wine. His father couldn’t have been happier. Flash forward to present day times, Luciano has a beautiful vineyard, production facility and tasting area on a private piece of land in Custoza. We tasted 12 different wines together.
Interestingly enough, I learned that Gardadoc wines can be either tank-fermented or done in the classic method (metodo classico). These wines are predominantly made with Garganega and Chardonnay, as well as Corvina. However, other varieties may be permitted. Basically, Spumante is the core type of wine of the DOC and is the common denominator that ties the ten appellations together.
How To Visit the Garda DOC
Discovering Soave – The Rocco Sveva Tasting Room
In the beautiful and historic town of Soave lies the Rocco Sveva Tasting Room which opened its doors in 2003 and hosts over 20,000 visitors per year. Last year the label celebrated its 120th anniversary. This place is an absolute must-visit for all the history buffs out there. Our host Milena provided us with a fantastic tour of not only the grounds, but also their museum. Here, you can find old pictures of winemaking throughout the years, a soil exhibit, a tasting cellar with wines dating back to 1987 and beautiful botanical gardens and experimental vineyards which overlook the Soave Castle. While we were there the primary focus was Garda DOC wines. However, they produce a profound assortment of not only wines, but other types of local foods such as olive oil and dried pasta.
To the east of Lake Garda located at the heart of the medieval village of Pratello, lies a groundbreaking family-run winery called Pratello. The winery is built completely underground, with one newly-built section for fermentation and bottling operations while the other older section is used for wooden cask aging of older vintages.
Pratello offers a wide variety of wines, foods and services on the property. During my visit I sampled food from their kitchen which featured incredibly fragrant oregano grown right on their property. Their Chiaretto Rosé also won best Rosé in a recent French competition. The vineyards and surrounding properties are all family-owned and operated.
To the south of Lake Garda lies Cantina Ricchi in Monzambo. Ricchi In Italian means ‘rich’ and is the perfect all-encompassing adjective to describe their property: it’s rich in land, history, diversity and hospitality. During the tour we explored the property, and it quickly became apparent that no expense was spared. Only top-of-the-line winemaking equipment is used in their newly renovated cellar.
A few miles down the road lies Relias La Casina. This old cascina has been fully renovated and includes 12 rooms for you to stay in along with a full spa experience on the property. There’s even a salt room and an indoor saltwater pool. In the restaurant down below, only local food and wine are served. It’s a beautiful property overlooking vineyards atop rolling hills and a medieval castle in the distance. This is truly an escape fit for the princesses and princes within all of us.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring Lake Garda, Verona and the surrounding area. Put this area on your list and you too can enjoy the Garda DOC Sparkling Wine, right at the source. ????
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