Bardolino is a light red wine made on the eastern shores of Lake Garda, in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy. Its DOC title was granted in 1968.
Like its more famous neighbor, Valpolicella, Bardolino is made from a blend of Corvina and Rondinella. The former constitutes 35–65% of any Bardolino or Bardolino Classico wine, contributing structure, weight and a sour-cherry aroma; Rondinella is responsible for the wine's characteristic and appealingly fresh, herby flavor. Also permitted is an addition of up to 20% Molinara. Changes to the DOC restrictions of Bardolino, and its superior DOCG wine Bardolino Superiore, have meant that Barbera, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon may also be used in the blend (limited to a combined maximum of 20%).
Although Corvina is widely recognized as the superior grape in Bardolino, and western Veneto more widely, its supremacy was challenged in the 1970s and 1980s by the high yields of Molinara. Thankfully Corvina's potential was never forgotten, and it continues to provide body and color to Bardolino wines.
Bardolino (and indeed Valpolicella) wines have been subject to many comparisons with Beaujolais over the years, particularly when fresh, youthful Bardolino Novello was introduced in 1987 as an answer to Beaujolais' nouveau wines. Many other Italian DOCs had also begun to produce novello wines by that point.
The Bardolino vineyards are located on the eastern shores of Lake Garda, below the alpine foothills which continue up into Trentino-Alto Adige. The climate here is understandably fresh, with lake breezes and cool mountain air blowing across the area from the west and north respectively. The lake also slightly moderates temperature variations, and reflects the bright northern Italian sunlight back onto the more elevated vineyards, helping them to reach full phenolic ripeness over the course of the growing season. This combination of cool temperatures and bright sunshine is responsible for emphasizing the bright, fruity qualities of Bardolino wines.
As in Chianti and Valpolicella, the viticultural zone previously sanctioned for Bardolino wines was dramatically expanded in the 1960s and 1970s. The impact of this was less obvious than in Valpolicella, where the terrain is more homogenous and vineyard siting is more important. The key trend observable in Bardolino is that the soils are richer in the south than the north, leading to higher yields and a corresponding drop in quality.
Wines made in the original, traditional vineyard areas, close to the lakeside town of Bardolino itself, are labeled as Bardolino Classico. The slightly more robust, stronger Bardolino Superiore wines were granted independent DOCG status in 2001 and are now sold as Bardolino Superiore.