A postcard from Italy

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A trip to Italy has wine merchant Sadie Wilkins thinking about avoiding the tourist traps and searching out the genuine local offerings

Vineyards in Bardolino near Lake Garda

Last week I was staying on the beautiful Lake Garda in northern Italy, home to some incredibly popular and easy-drinking wines. The region’s cool climate produces some delicious vino – from the aromatic yet mineral delights of Alto Adige at the head of the lake to the juicy, ready-to-drink young wines of Bardolino, not forgetting the fizzy and fruity Prosecco of Veneto, and the seductive appeal of a Valpolicella Ripasso. There’s something for everyone in Italy, and the North did not disappoint.
Whenever I am away, I try to support local growers by choosing their wines in restaurants, usually having asked the staff (some being sommeliers) on style and pairing etc. Why not live and breathe the terroir by drinking the local wine?
Context is everything – but it is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s romantic to think we can bottle up a region and experience it anywhere in the world. But it is hard to replicate a magical holiday moment, when you don’t have the climate, the food or the lakeside view …

Typical wine
In Garda, you are surrounded by amazing whites, reds and rosés from winemaking families with true heritage. For a handful of Euros, in a local supermarket, you can buy a typical wine of the region. Because the area is so popular for tourists (we can understand why, it was our second visit and won’t be our last), there are many wines available that reflect ‘the hits’ of the region. Drinking a Bardolino at a touristy lakeside restaurant is like buying a souvenir Big Ben keyring in Leicester Square – it’s symbolic of the area, but not unique or special.

Happy accidents
We stumbled on a wine festival organised by Visit Bardolino – a four-day event showcasing amazing Bardolino producers. We met the fantastic Fererica Zeni, who was passionate about her Bardolino but insisted we should go and see her winery and try out the other wines she produces. She is a fifth generation winemaker wanting to continue with the quality and reputation her ancestors have carved out.
The point I’m making is that you need to hunt down the stuff the locals drink. Find the local producers, head off the beaten track and resist the appeal of the easy-to-grab-while-picking-up-a-packet-of-Lays-and-a-bottle-of-water wines from a supermarket.

Ask them that know
Sampling Soave, Lugana, Valpolicella … Bardolino … made me really appreciate the choice we have in the UK. It also made me think about value for money.
Many of the holidaymakers we talked to didn’t know that you can find these small-grower wines in the UK. Cantina del Garda Bardolino Chiarretto has in fact been one of our biggest selling rosés this summer at Vineyards and we always promote well-made wines with character.
It is hard to know, when you are first getting into wine, whether you are drinking an average wine of a region or a special one. That’s why making friends with your local wine merchant is always a good idea. Speak to folk who are passionate about wine and who drink a lot of it. That’s the secret of the trade and it works at all levels. Hunt down those in the know – it’s what we do on our travels!

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