Lugana: A White Wine Worth Discovering

Even for lovers of Italian wines, Lugana remains fairly unknown. If consumers recognize the name at all, they usually think of it as a kind of poor relative of Soave. That may be about to change, however: The Consorzio of Lugana has begun actively promoting the wines of the zone as a distinct and distinctive entity well worth attention in its own right.

I heartily agree. The recent Consorzio-sponsored tasting of Lugana wines I attended just a few weeks ago here in New York City confirmed the serious introduction to Lugana I’d had a year or so ago, when I visited wineries – primarily in the Veneto – on the southern and eastern shores of Lake Garda. The Lugana zone straddles the Lombardy-Veneto border on the southern end of that beautiful lake, more or less around the fascinating historical town Sirmione, which every poetry freak knows as the birthplace of the great Catullus.

It’s a relatively small zone, but it profits mightily from the beneficent influence of the lake, which creates a sort of Mediterranean microclimate despite the zone’s inland location. Palm trees grow in Sirmione and other sheltered spots along the lake’s southern shore. The soils tend to be sandy and morainic, and the hills are gentle and undulating, with an abundance of fine exposures for the vines that for the past 500 years have covered them.
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Those vines bear the Turbiana grape, a variety unknown elsewhere in Italy. For a long while it was thought to be yet one more of Italy’s endless assortment of regional Trebbianos, but that now seems not to be so, though the situation is still far from clear. The most recent DNA studies show that Turbiana does have some connection – precisely what connection remains unknown – with the prized Soave clone of Trebbiano, but it also has some connection – precisely what is equally unresolved – with the prestigious Verdicchio of the Marche.

Whatever the specifics of the matter may turn out to be, those are two good relatives for a grape to have. Both varieties produce white wines of great distinction and terrific ability to age – and Lugana rivals them in both respects.

To demonstrate the aging ability of the variety, the Consorzio tasting offered a few older samples (almost all the wines on display were from the 2017 vintage), all of which I found quite impressive – very fresh, with lovely floral aromas and generous, strongly mineral palates. Consumers new to Italian white wines would probably think of very good Chablis, which is a valid comparison. I tasted three – Marangona Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva Rabbiosa 2015, Montonale Lugana Orestilla 2012, and Perla del Garda Lugana Riserva Madre Perla 2011 – and liked them all, especially the 2012 Montonale, a beautiful wine that seemed to have enormous cellar potential.

Here are a few notes (with all my usual caveats about the intensely subjective nature of all tasting notes) on the wines presented in the main part of the tasting.

 

Ca’ Maiol

  • Lugana 2017: this first wine up set the bar with its fine typicity – pleasing floral aroma, delicious minerality on the palate, long-persisting finish.
  • Lugana Molin 2017: an old-vine selection; quite nice indeed – bigger and a tad fatter than the basic wine.

 

 

Cantina Bulgarini

  • Lugana 2017: Vinified entirely in stainless steel; very fresh and fine, with great aromatics.
  • Lugana 2017 “010”: From older vines than the wine above, with a touch of wood aging; bigger in the mouth, and firmer.
  • Lugana Superiore Ca’ Vaibo: crisp, fruity, mineral; very enjoyable, and structured for at least a few years’ aging.

 

Le Morette

  •  Lugana Mandolara 2017: A very classic – you could call it textbook – floral and mineral Lugana from a vineyard very near the shores of Lake Garda. I visited this estate on my earlier trip to the lake area. I was impressed with its wines at that time, and I still am.
  • Lugana Riserva 2015: Bigger and softer than the basic wine, and still quite fresh; will go for years yet.
  • Lugana 2017 Benedictus: A selection from the estate’s sunniest exposures, vinified with long (for a white wine) skin contact. The result is a fine, big wine that will take – and in my opinion needs – lots of time.

 

Monte Cicogna

  • Lugana Santa Caterina 2017: A lovely, biggish, very mineral wine from 35-year-old vines: quite nice.
  • Lugana Imperiale 2017: This one is from young vines, and tastes lighter and brisker than the Santa Caterina. Very enjoyable.

 

Pilandro

  • Lugana 2017: A touch closed in the mouth, but with a lovely, long finish that promises very well for its development.
  • Lugana Terecrea 2017: A completely characteristic Lugana of great elegance.
  • Lugana Arilica 2016: This wine has seen some oak aging, of which there is a slight hint on the palate; slightly rounder in the mouth than the two 2017s, and very fine.

 

Sgreva

  • Lugana 2017 Eufrasia: This wine stays on its lees for three months before bottling. Very nice indeed, and quite typical, with a very long finish.
  • Lugana 2017 Sirmio: This wine originates in sandier soil than the preceding, and it gets five months on its lees before bottling. A bigger, almost fatter wine, of slightly more intense character: quite enjoyable.

 

So there you have it: a very good set of tastings, of high quality and excellent typicity across the board. Lugana seems to me to have a great future in the American market, where the crisp freshness of the young wines should make them very appealing as aperitifs, and the round, mouth-filling appeal of the older ones ought to make them very popular as dinner wines. I don’t think there is much more you can ask of a white wine, especially an essentially inexpensive one like Lugana.

6 Responses to “Lugana: A White Wine Worth Discovering”

  1. fromthefamilytable Says:

    Thanks for the tip. I shall look for them in the wine shop, although it’s likely they haven’t yet made it to my part of California.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      You’re welcome, Darryl. I really think they’re worth taking the trouble to find. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  2. Christensen, Philip Says:

    I received today a lovely first edition of La Tavola Italiana by Tom Maresca and Diane Darrow. This classic is not easy to find, but it is well worth the effort. Over the years, I have learned so much from Tom’s blog, but this book is an indispensable prolegomenon to the wide ranging and erudite compendium that this blog has built. I strongly recommend it.

  3. Jonathan Levine Says:

    Thanks for reminding me of these wines. Always liked them but, like too many others, they dropped off of my radar. Interesting assessment.

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