Chiaretto is exclusively an Italian wine phenomenon.
The word refers to a dry Italian rosé made in the beautiful Lake Garda region that straddles the provinces of Lombardia and Veneto.
The chiaretto process dates back to 1896, when lawyer Pompeo Molmenti used knowledge gained in France to delicately press red grapes at his Lake Garda vineyard and quickly vinify the free-run juice in cement vats. The pink-colored wines were light and fresh.
Through the years, area winemakers refined the method with the historic Bardolino red blend (Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara as primary grapes, with up to 15 percent of other local varietals). Their work paid off in 1968, when Bardolino Chiaretto became the first Italian rosatto to earn DOC quality recognition.
Chiaretto winemakers continue to innovate, and are now moving toward enriching flavors and floral scents to go along with the delicate balance of a dry, crisp and refreshing rosé. How? They are setting aside a brief amount of time for the fresh juice to mingle with crushed grape skins, thereby absorbing more color and flavor. Reaching the perfect balance is the key here. And it is this close monitoring that makes chiaretto so distinctive, equal to -- if not exceeding -- the fine rosés of Provence in southern France.
One of the best I've tasted is Zenato's Bardolino Chiaretto DOC ($12.99 at the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover). It pushes the envelope on the traditional blend by using 10 percent Merlot alongside the dominant pairing of Corvina and Rondinella. Merlot helps deliver slightly more structure and color (a beautiful coral pink) and deeper floral scents and flavors of strawberry, raspberry and even a bit of lemon. Corvina's bright acidity remains true, leading to refreshing smoothness on the palate and dryness on the finish. You can drink this with many light food dishes and summer salads and sandwiches.
I've never been to Lake Garda, but this chiaretto gets me there in spirit. I can imagine gentle breezes, lakeside lunches, walks to tiny communes ringing the shore, and the smell of lemon groves sitting side by side the vineyards. Then I'd buy a bottle of Zenato's Bardolino Chiaretto and sip it on the short boat ride to Isola de Garda where I'd visit the monastery founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1220.
It's on my bucket list -- but for now this chiaretto will do just fine.
If you read this column regularly, you can stay ahead of the game on good wines and bargains. Since last fall, the Wine Novice has written on more than two dozen releases in this space, and now some of these same wines are receiving official rating by Wine Enthusiast experts in the July edition. Here's a sampling.
* Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel 2015, Lodi, $20: WE magazine gave it 91 points, saying it is a "generous, complex and interesting wine." The Wine Novice reviewed it on May 25.
* Dr. Konstanin Frank Chardonnay 2015, Finger Lakes, $15: WE gave it 90 points, calling it a "Best Buy." The Wine Novice reviewed it April 27, along with the Dr. K's Gruner Veltiner.
* Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New Zealand, $22: WE gave it 89 points. The Wine Novice reviewed it April 27.
* Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo, Italy, $20: WE gave it 89 points, saying, "Mediterranean brush aromas float out of the glass". Reviewed by the Wine Novice on April 20.