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Wines: Lombardy’s lakeside advantage

From the October 2016 issue.
Wines: Lombardy’s lakeside advantage

In the Lugana area of Lombardy, the proximity to Lake Garda, and resulting mountain breezes and moderate climate, lends itself well to grape growing. The result? Some wonderful varieties of wine of exceptional quality.

By Enoteca Sileno Wine Educator, Avery Affholter

In the early 1990s, a well-intentioned rail project was proposed by the European Union to connect the cities of Kiev and Lisbon with a high-speed train. Over the years, the project has been more of a roller coaster than a railway; and, as is to be expected for any project of such magnitude, its detractors and opponents would not go down without a fight. Specifically in Lugana, a relatively small area of vineyard land adjacent to the southern shores of Lake Garda, the wine-grower consortium generated a petition for a small detour of the train path in order to protect about 300 hectares (out of a total 1100) of vineyards that, according to the plan, would be bisected by the rail line.

The web of Italian bureaucracy notwithstanding, the local winemakers are determined to save their land and their grapes, which produce some of the most valuable wine in Italy today. Lugana is a beautifully rich, age-worthy white wine made from the grape variety Turbiana, which is also known as Trebbiano di Lugana (one of the many incarnations of ‘Trebbiano’). However, DNA analysis performed by the University of Milan in 2008 revealed that the grape variety is actually Verdicchio and is not related to any Trebbiano. Be that as it may, Verdicchio from Lugana is definitely Turbiana, and as any wine nerd will attest, a grape’s surroundings ultimately determine its personality.

Stratified clay rich in minerals lends the Turbiana complexity and a robust quality that some believe mimics some styles of red wine. Proximity to the lake allows the vineyards to be aerated with cooling breezes that blow from the mountains in the north, making Lake Garda a veritable wind tunnel pointing directly at Lugana. Healthy grapes are paramount for producing wines of excellent quality, and the breezes coupled with the moderate climate, regulated by the lake’s influence, keep the extreme heat and cold in check (up until the most recent vintages).

Besides Turbiana, other varieties commonly found in the Riviera del Garda are Sangiovese, Marzemino, Groppello, Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon. Expressions of these varieties – depending on oak ageing and blending percentages – tend to be intense, herbaceous and sometimes savoury. Wine lovers who typically enjoy full-bodied, deeply fruity red wine should seek out reds from the southern shores of Lake Garda. Ca dei Frati’s ‘Ronchedone’ is a blend of Marzemino, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon which ages for 14 months in 225 litre oak barrels. The resulting wine is deeply intense with dark fruits such as cassis and blueberry, hints of dried herbs and a touch of balsamic figs on the finish.

It’s a magical place, Sirmione, a slender peninsula jutting out into the lake just beyond the vineyards. An ideal setting for sipping Lugana, or perhaps a rosato made from Groppello, watching the boats and water skiers glide around the gentle rolling waves. You can fall asleep to the sound of the tide lapping at the shoreline from an open balcony door, then wake up and walk to the pasticceria for espresso, fresh juice, cornetto and other bite-sized, expertly made pastries. Lugana is a small place in the grand wine world, but its impact is large and it is worth bending the rails to keep it chugging along.

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