Roughly twenty minutes from Vicenza and sitting on the same area as the wine-making machine that is Soave, Gambellara’s entry into the DOCG group of Italian wines (DOCG being the superstars of Italian wines) surprised many wine aficionados due to its relative anonymity (it’s a hard knock life for a little-known to compete in a region known for Soave and prosecco) and the suspicious motives behind the designation (i.e., to please the region’s very influential wine producers). Some even attacked, stating that the wine is mediocre at best (speaking about the region’s sparkling sweet wine: “the intellectual level is somewhere near kindergarten,” probably one of the classic lines of pretentious wine criticism.) Curious, I visited Gambellara during its Festa dell’Uva, a festival crowned by a wine-tasting at the Piazza Cerra by the town’s main producers.
My friend who owns a vineyard in Gambellara even admits that there is room for improvement; he himself continuously improves, and the next year’s wine is always better than this year’s, but the wines I adjudged were not bad. The wines I sampled may have been better than the wines tasted by those curious about Gambellara’s wines produced before the DOCG designation, especially in a region where the techniques for manipulating the preferred but difficult grape are still being refined. Given I don’t have a refined palette for tasting wines and largely incapable of what is pleasing me about a wine (which could be read as simply not having been inculcated into the system of words used to describe notes and flavors, largely designed around expediency rather than sincerity...I mean really, what does it mean tasting of wood and dirt?), My reaction to the wines were not unfavorable. Although the whites were not on the level of Soave—too strong and bitter for my taste, while Soave’s was light and has a hint of citrus—the sweet wine recioto was a surprise, perfect for dunking brasadelo, Gambellara’s local sweet bread. It could be a little heavy, but the lightness of the sparkling version perfectly balances its potentially competing sweet and bitter flavors.
Gambellara itself is not a bad place to start a low-key drive around an excellent wine-producing region. The small unassuming town is surrounded by hills covered with grape vines which glimmer in the setting sun. If the surrounding countryside is not enough to give a hint of the region’s typical industry, the lingering scent of fruit and wine really makes it quite obvious. As I drove into the village center, the smell of fermenting wine and rotting fruit goes through even the most tightly shut windows. Driving futher, the town is guarded by the almost industrial-looking Cantina Sociale de Gambellara. Within the town are a number of wineries offering tours and samples of their product. Driving afield, one can pass through the rest of the region, heading towards Soave’s famed white wine and walled town and Bardolino’s red wine. It's a pity that I live so close yet have always drove past the region on the A4, but maybe come spring I will take a more extensive tour of the area and report on my findings.