I first met Giovanna Tantini when she came to Gainesville, Florida for a Wine Tasting event at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits. This month I was fortunate enough to spend a whole day with her at her home and winery in Northern Italy. Until I visited Bardolino, I didn’t really understand how different from Valpolicella it is. Bardolino borders Lake Garda, creating a very distinctive microclimate. The lake mitigates some of the extremes of temperature giving the wines a softer character. This distinctive locale makes Bardolinos quite distinctive, though they are made from the same three grapes as Valpolicella: Corvina Nero, Molinara and Rondinella. The same grapes do not make the same wine.
Giovanna’s Bardolino is a great value (under $15) and has no oak (the same with her similar varietal blend rosé wine, Bardolino Chiaretto). Think violets and black pepper on the nose for the red with wild strawberries and tart cherries on the palate yet framed with real minerality. I get more of the wild strawberries and hints of limestone with the Chiaretto. This rosé is the perfect beach wine, and each vintage we sampled had different characteristics but the current release of 2011 is my favorite and paired so well with her “light lunch” of cured meats (Proscuitto, Pancetta and Salami, all local) and cheese (Italian Fontina, Mountain Gorgonzola, Burrata and some local goat cheese). The red paired best with her home-made Luganega, a pork sausage and fresh tomato stew (that became a sauce for pasta at dinner that evening).
Giovanna is a mom, as well as a winemaker, and this becomes clear when you realize that two of her “Super-Veneto” wines are named for her two children, Ettore and Greta. The Ettore is available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits (for $24 a bottle) and it’s a blend of 80% Corvina Nero, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. She lets the grapes get over-ripe on the vine (not quite the complete passito method used in Amarone since the grapes are left dangling but similar), which gives a rich softness to the wine and abundant ripe fruit flavors. Structure comes from the Cabernet Sauvignon and some extra acidity comes from the Merlot.
Therefore the Ettore paired perfectly for dinner with the fresh-grilled Florentine steaks prepared by her grill-master husband, Marco. She served it with the pasta mentioned above and an array of cured Salamis, and three vegetable sides using fresh local produce. One featured zucchini, one featured roasted sweet peppers and the last was roasted eggplant, all very simple, just olive oil and vegetables and some of the mushrooms, which were in season and everywhere we went. The steaks were rare and so flavorful I now understand the love Italians have for Florentine beef. We were treated to multiple vintages of the Ettore, including her personal favorite: the 2005. Though the 2007 vintage stands as a close second, and it is the vintage currently available in the U.S.
Sharing an amazing meal, paired with incredible wines, really gave us a sense of locale and the special conditions of the Bardolino D.O.C. All three of these wines are available locally in Gainesville at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, but similar wines from Bardolino can be found at most wine shops. If you’ve never tried them, you should. Finding the local cheese and cured meats might be a little tricky, but The Wine and Cheese Gallery, downtown, is a good place to start in Gainesville, Florida.