By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 30 July 2016
Thousands of tourists head to this wine region every year, but it remains one of Italy’s least known wines. That is because most visitors to the southern shores of Lake Garda only see the ‘touristy’ side of Lugana, happily quaffing the undemanding dry whites served in the local bars.
Lugana is a tiny region straddling Lombardy’s eastern border with Veneto, with just 100 producers covering 1000 hectares. Whilst it churns out a lot of tourist bar plonk, Lugana DOC (one of Italy’s first in 1967) does have a serious side to it. Search the shelves of UK-based Italian wine specialists and you will find Lugana from dedicated producers like Ca’ dei Frati or Ancilla, who make deliciously minerally rich dry whites with potential for ageing.
The local grape is Turbiana. No, you probably have never heard of it, but recent DNA studies at Milan University have shown it to be the same as Verdicchio Bianco, according to grape geneticist Jose Voumailloz. Verdicchio is best known in the Marche region further south, but it originated from Veneto before growers took the grape south when they repopulated the plague-devastated areas on Italy’s east coast.
The vast majority of Lugana DOC is all about crisp dry unoaked white wine – to claim the DOC the wine must be made from 90% Turbiana. Producers also experiment with longer ageing (Superiore with one year maturation and Riserva with two year maturation), a tiny proportion of barrique-fermented whites, single vineyard wines – and surprisingly they also make late harvest sweet wine and traditional method fizz. Some producers like Ca’dei Frati are also now experimenting with Marzemino-based reds.
Overcropping and high training is as much a problem here as it is in neighbouring Soave. So what differentiates the serious producers from the tourist-focused wineries?
Anna Maria Dal Cero now runs the excellent 100 hectare Ca dei Frati estate with her siblings Igino and Gian Franco. “We focus on careful clonal selection of the Turbiana grape and try to preserve a fruity sensation in our wines”, says Dal Cero. She focuses on high density planting, low trellising and low yields in the vineyards and experiments with extended lees ageing (and oak ageing in her Brolettino wine) to add complexity.
Another woman at the helm in Lugana is Luisella Benedetti (pictured right). Third generation, finance-trained Luisella has returned home to work the land at her family’s 6 hectare estate in Lugana di Sirmonia, which she named after her grandmother Ancilla. Her Lugana Ella and Lugana 1909 are classic examples of the depth of fruit concentration and intensity achievable from this terroir.
Other reputable producers to look for – who focus on getting the best out of Lugana region are Pablo Pisini, Selva Capuzza, Tiraboschi and Feliciana.
Tastewise, how does Lugana compare with better known Italian whites?
“Lugana is fuller bodied, fruitier and more structured than delicate Soave”, says Gianpaolo Giacobbo of Ca’dei Frati. This is due to Lugana’s combination of the warmer Mediterranean-style climate on the shores of Lake Garda.
According to Philip Contini of Valvona & Crolla. “The area has a higher climate than the more easterly Soave so the grapes are warmer during the day and are cooled by the breeze off Lake Garda at night increasing the aromatic profile “, he says. The cool breezes blowing in from the Dolomites combined with their mineral-rich limestone clay glacial soils – giving rich ripe fruits whilst retaining acidity levels.
“Lugana has not been promoted or had the same PR thrown at it as Soave because it has a far smaller number of key producers – and as its redeeming qualities come from its temperature difference there is only a limited area of vineyard space around Lake Garda, so no growth potential. Well that’s my theory”, says Contini.
So that is why you may not have heard of it before – but if you normally drink Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or Albarino – give lovely Lugana a try this summer:
STAR BUYS FROM LUGANA:
Lugana I Frati 2015 Dal Cero
(£11.50-£14.95 Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh; The Wine Society; Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; The Cave, Glasgow; Eusebi Deli, Glasgow)
White blossom and lemon aromas, initially zippy and fresh with a deliciously full bodied creamy leesy texture on the mid-palate; unoaked; beautifully judged pinpoint acidity, high quality & very popular with our tasters: 13%
Food suggestion: Prawn salad, asparagus or grilled fish
Lugana Villa Flora 2015 Zenato
Floral, appley, creamy palate, good length – certainly good value – but it lacked the ripe fruit intensity of the higher priced Lugana in our tasting: 13%
Food suggestion: Aperitif, prawn salad, risotto, seafood pasta – also versatile as an aperitif
Lugana ‘Ella’ 2015 Ancilla Lugana
(£16.59 Noel Young Wines, Cambridge; Wimbledon Wine Cellars; The Sampler)
Grapefruit and citric aromas, very zesty very minerally dry white, fresh linear and vivid with a lingering finish – shows potential for ageing. Very good: 13%
Food suggestion: Scallops, monkfish or grilled trout
Lugana Selva 2014 Selva Capuzza
Very appley with nutty almond hints, some minerality – a vibrant crisp freshness rather than rich creaminess here: 13%
Food suggestion: Shellfish or barbequed fish
Join Rose’s Hidden Gems of Italy wine & charcuterie tasting in Glasgow on Friday 30 September £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com
The perfect gift for the wine enthusiast in the family. Rose does In-person tastings too.
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