FOOD & DRINK: Lake Garda and north east Italy

LAKE Garda is a magical place for a holiday and a great area for Italian wines.

September is probably a good time to visit as the crowds are some what less and the winter sports villages in the upper valleys alongside are almost deserted.

If you’ve got a car there are several fine and popular vineyard areas to visit.

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Garda is surrounded by three regions - Lombardy to the west and south, Veneto to the east and Trentino-Alto Adige to the north.

Starting with whites, probably the best white near the lake is Lugana made from Trebbiano di Lugana grown just in Lombardy to the south of Garda:

Lugana Cà del Frati 2018, Sirmione, Del Cero Family 13.5pc (The Wine Society £13.95) Has a fresh perfume of white flowers, peaches and ripe lemons. On the palate, it has excellent depth and balance, with lovely richness and a crisp, lively finish.

Zenato Villa Flora Lugana 2018, Veneto 13pc (Waitrose £11.99) Delicately floral nose with an appley, creamy palate, good length.

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Further east in the hilly area around Verona is Soave made from the Garganega grape. In the past we have had some poor Soave which gave it a bad reputation but made well Soave Classico produces a slightly oily, nutty, honeyed wine. Scrumptious.

Soave Classico Castel Cerino, Coffele 2017 12.5pc (The Wine Society £9.75) A nice nutty, scented wine.

Foscarina Soave Classico 2017, Allessandro Donà 13pc (M&S £11.50). Elderflower and honeysuckle nose, and a little oak ageing adds some honeyed notes.

Soave 2018 Società Agricola Fattori, Terrosse di Ronca 12.5pc (Majestic £11.99, £9.99 mixed 6)

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Tesco Finest Soave Superiore Classico DOCG 13pc (£7.50 Cantine di Monteforte) Partially aged in oak for 10 months, its mineral character is balanced with layers of ripe citrus and stone fruit flavours.

Morrisons The Best Soave Classico 2016 13pc (£6.50) Cheap and refreshing with flavours of peach, apple and citrus. Almond blossom nose.

Now for some reds. Bardolino, on the eastern edge of Garda in the Veneto is known for its light reds using the same grape varieties as Valpolicella, but some are now a little more serious. Often drunk slightly chilled. Lovely with any Mediterranean-style dish or on its own:

Bardolino 2017, Allegrini, Tenuta di Naiano 12.5pc (Majestic £11.99 £9.99 mixed 6) One of my favourites. Made from Corvina and Rondinella this wine is light with a hint of cherry.

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Recchia Bardolino 2018 Veneto 12.5pc (£7.99 Waitrose) Very soft. This refreshingly unoaked, light red is best served a little chilled and is all red cherry fruit, fresh acidity and gentle tannins.

Wine correspondent DAVID CLAY takes a look at the wines of Lake Garda and north east Italy.

Bardolino Le Fraghe 2018, Matilde Poggi 12.5pc (The Wine Society £11.50) Lovely, fragrant, refreshing, certified organic.

Cavalchina Bardolino 2017, Podere La Prendina Estate 12.5pc (M&S £9) Deliciously fruity with sweet berry aromas and fresh notes of pepper and spice. A blend of 65pc Corvina, 35pc Rondinella.

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Botter Bardolino 2017, Fossalto Di Piave 12pc (Mitchells, Sheffield £8.69) This wine has a bright red colour and an elegant soft bouquet, fresh on the palate with plum and cherry notes.

Heading further east we have Valpollicella. Valpolicella ranges from light cherry reds to big, serious Amarone. The grape varieties are Corvina, Molinari, and Rondinella.

There is basic Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, made by refermenting the wine on the skins and lees of Amarone, and Amarone itself, a dry, rich, almost port like wine made from grapes dried on mats or in lofts to reduce the water and increase the sugar content.

There is also a fine sweet wine, Recioto.

In the past there have been some dire basic Valpolicellas but these two from the Wine Society are certainly good value: Coffele 2017 12.5pc (£10.50) and Allegrini 2018 13pc (£11.50).

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Cantina Valpentana Valpolicella 12.5pc (Coop and M&S £7) Has sweet red fruit and bright acidity with a lovely cherry finish. Probably the most popular is the Ripasso style of Valpolicella:

W Morrison Valpolicella Ripasso 2015, Cantine di Soave 13.5pc (£9.50) Has lovely rich red berry flavours.

Cantina Valpentana Valpolicella Ripasso 2016 (M&S £10.50) A rich and complex full-bodied red bursting with deliciously concentrated sweet, juicy and sour cherry characteristics.

Waitrose Ripasso di Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Fratelli Recchia 2016, Veneto 14.5pc (£12.99) A rich, smooth and full wine for something like roast beef.

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Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2016, La Casetta Domini Veneti 14pc (Majestic £16.99, £14.99 mixed 6) A classic example of Valpolicella Ripasso. Concentrated redberry- and-vanilla. “A baby Amarone”.

There is not enough space to go into the virtues of Amarone but another style in the Veneto is Appassimento.

Appassimento, an ancient Italian winemaking technique, is similar to Ripasso. This is made from grapes left to dry in the sun, producing concentrated fruit:

Appassimento 2018, Rosso Veneto, Pasqua 14pc (Majestic £11.99, £7.99 mixed 6) A heady red, full of concentrated black fruits and sweet spices.

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Finally driving north, past Riva at the top of Lake Garda and then Trento, you come to Trentino-Alto Adige.

There is a multitude of white varieties grown on these mountainsides but also three good indigenous red grape varieties - Marzimeno, Lagrein and Teroldego. Try: Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Marzimeno 2018, Cantine Viticoltori, Trentino Anselmo Martial has produced a light, dry, red full of ripe cherry and red berries.

The Teroldego vine has found its ideal environment in the Piana Rotaliana, a gravelly plain north of the city of Trento. I once made a special journey by car from Sirmione up the west side of Garda, past Riva and Trento to the Foradori Vineyards, who I believe produce the best Toroldego. It is now quite expensive and not readily available locally:

Castel Firmian Teroldego Rotaliana Riserva 2011, Mezzacorona 13pc (Lightfoots, Wentworth £11.95) Wild berries and savoury spice, velvety in the mouth, with a juicy freshness, this is both delicious and distinctive.

It’s well worth exploring and tasting these wines from north east Italy.

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