We often throw out terms like “hand-made,” “family-owned” or “small batch production” but when you meet Giovanna Tantini and try her wines, you truly understand the meaning of those words as her hands touch every step of the process and most of the grapes. She is the family that owns her wines, and has named two of her Super Veneto wines after her children, Ettore and Greta, making very limited quantities of these impeccable wines. Luckily she also makes very fine Bardolino and Chiaretto, with more open availability. Recently she visited Florida, hosted a few free tastings at Florida ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, and held seminars for many of us interested parties. For me it was like a revisit, since I was fortunate enough to visit her vineyard, winery and B&B a couple of years ago.
When you first meet Giovanna, you can’t help but think this beautiful Italian woman must be a sales rep, but no, she is winemaker, vineyard manager and head of marketing. Giovanna is “hands on” with her wines from start to finish, and once you talk with her you know she knows her business and can drive the forklift and tractor too. The Bardolino D.O.C. is just off of Lake Garda, and though they use the same grapes as Valpolicella (Corvina Nero, Rondinella and Molinara), the particular lake-affected microclimate differentiates these wines from your typical Valpolicella. Her Bardolino is 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella from glacial and alluvial soils. I love the floral notes to her wine and there is a richer palate with more minerality than other Corvinas. All of this for under $20 per bottle. She also produces a dry and ageable rosé wine, Chiaretto, which is the perfect wine to pair with Florida seafood on a hot spring or summer afternoon.
My two favorites are her IGT wines named after her children, which we affectionately call “Super Veneto” an allusion to the Super Tuscan wines created in the 1980s using classic Italian varietals blended with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The Ettore, named for her son, is available in Florida and is 80% Corvina, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. She harvests the grapes late, letting them prune up slightly on the vine to give them a ripe richness similar to Amarone della Valpolicella, but with the classic tannic structure of Cabernet and the softer fruit acids of Merlot. She further dries the grapes in perforated trays for 15 to 20 days at a low temperature to intensify the flavors. She does not produce this wine every vintage, only during the best years, hence its limited availability. Ripe blackberry on the nose mingles with balsamic notes and hints of Asian spices and anise. In the mouth it is full and juicy with excellent structure and velvety tannins without being as overripe as Amarone (and at a much better price, under $25 per bottle). Ageing 18 months in small oak barriques finishes this wine and gives it more complexity.
The Greta, named for her daughter, is 100% Corvina, has softer tannins and riper fruit but you’ll have to visit her winery to get some of that. Giovanna’s Tasting Room is right on Lake Garda, in the town of Lazise. Walking through the ramparts takes you to a different century and it’s the perfect size village to leisurely stroll, to enjoy the lake and to sample some outstanding wines. On my visit she paired her wines with an incredible charcuterie selection with local cheese and bread and her homemade tomato stew.
If you get a chance to visit Lake Garda, do. You will be happy that you did and with enough notice you can even stay at the winery, as we did, treated to the incredible local cuisine. If you can’t make it over to Italy anytime soon, you can at least visit your local ABC and try some of her wines to get a taste of Northern Italy. If you’ve never had a Super Veneto, then give the Ettore a try and you’ll see what I mean when I say it’s hand-made. Drinking the Ettore makes you feel like one of the family.