Toblino: lakes, legends, castles and wines

A small lake of Alpine waters, and an environment so unique that it is classed as a biotope, in need of protection at all costs. A medieval castle, built on a promontory that lurches out into the chilly clear waters of the lake. Legends of tragic love stories between beautiful young noblewomen and their hot-blooded (not to say bloodstained) lovers and suiters. A winemaking tradition like no other, and there we have all the ingredients for an unmissable cocktail, one to pencil into your diary for the coming summer.

The Lake of Toblino represents something unique in the subalpine landscape, and much more besides. It lies within a valley, mountains rising on either side, roughly halfway between Trento and Lake Garda: breezes waft down from the latter, fostering a more Mediterranean microclimate than you might expect. The edges of the lake are stippled with rushes, which play host to countless species of flowers and birds. The area is strictly protected, for the habitat is fragile, despite being manmade: recent decades have seen a progressive process of sedimentation, for the sake of the hydroelectric power station at nearby Santa Massenza. Gradually, the lake has become shallower.

The castle, a rare example of a lacustrine fortress, flaunts its medieval origins in its heavy square profile; but over time its function has become more and more residential. It is a private property, but occasionally opens to the public – should you find yourself there on an open day, it’s well worth a visit. It offers a glimpse of just how hard life was back in the centuries of yore, even for the nobility, and especially in a region that is not blessed with the most clement weather.

Equally interesting, though, is the area’s viticultural activity. The dominate grape variety here is the white cultivar Nosiola, a grape characterized by a delicate, expressive elegance; in times gone by, it typically went into Vino Santo, a sweet wine that ranks among Trentino’s, and indeed Italy’s, most precious oenological nectars. The Nosiola grapes are picked fairly late, before being dried out in special rooms called fruttai. Traditionally, this drying process comes to an end in Holy Week (hence the name of the resulting wine). The must ferments in open barrels, expressly not full to the brim; it matures over a long period of time, somewhere between four and ten years.

The wine that eventually comes forth is a true elixir, to be savoured drop by drop. It plumbs extraordinary depths, covers extraordinary sensory ground, and offers a complexity hard to find elsewhere.