Lugana is hardly the name of a wine region that is on the lips on every enthusiast of Italian wines and yet over the past year or so it has become increasingly clear to The Independent Wine Review that Lugana is a wine region that deserves far greater recognition than it currently has. With some degree of renown in Italy, Lugana nonetheless remains almost completely unknown outside of specialist wine merchants abroad.
This column is intended to act a brief introduction to the region and some of the excellent wines currently being produced there. You never know, the next bottle of Italian white wine you seek out may just be from Lugana!
Located between the towns of Verona (in Veneto) and Brescia (in Lombardy) the Lugana region of wine production is divided by the A4 Autostrada running from east to west and the dividing line between the regions of Veneto and Lombardy, which runs north to south. Wines labelled under the Lugana DOC name are permitted to be produced in five municipalities (Sirmione, Desenzano, Lonato, Pozzolengo and Peschiera) with Sirmione, Desenzano, Lonato and Pozzolengo falling within the region of Lombardy and the municipality of Peschiera falling within the region of Veneto.
Winemaking in this area dates back to the Roman times where the poet Catullus wrote of “1000 hectares of precious earth, clearly of glacial origins, which are now covered in vineyards skilfully cultivated by a group of passionate, committed and proud growers”.
The soils within the production zone of Lugana are primarily hard clays which are rich in minerals and in some instances fossils (thanks to a time when this area of Italy was under the sea) and the climate encourages a long ripening season for the Turbiana grapes which are used to produced Lugana DOC classified wines, thanks to the moderating effect of Lake Garda on the climate.
|Vineyards in Lugana (Image courtesy of the Avanzi winery)|
In 1967 Lugana was the first wine in Lombardy (and indeed one of the first wines in Italy) to be awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) status. A recognition of the history and present fact of quality wine production in this region, the DOC accreditation for Lugana formalised the winemaking practises of many generations and put in place legally enforceable rules with regards to how a wine must be made in order for it to be labelled with the Lugana DOC name.
Required to be at least 90% composed of a grape variety known as both Turbiana and Trebbiano di Lugana (referred to as Turbiana from here on in), wines labelled under the Lugana DOC classification may be produced in dry and still, sparkling, or sweet styles. Whilst historically up to 10% of much Lugana was composed of international or other local white grape varieties, today the vast majority of wine produced under the Lugana DOC is composed of 100% Turbiana.
Whilst the origins of the Turbiana grape are still not clear, it is now widely believed that the grape variety is highly genetically similar to that of both the Verdicchio grape and to the grape known as Trebbiano di Soave. However, the Turbiana vine differs from these other varieties in that it tends to produce lower numbers of grapes per vine (something which can contribute to a more intense flavour to the resultant wines) and it is suggested that the Turbiana grape offers aromatic characteristics different to those found in Verdicchio and Trebbiano di Soave. Although how much of this aromatic difference is caused by the difference in “terrior” between where these grape varieties are grown and the small genetic differences between the grape varieties seems to be unclear.
Three categories of dry and still styles of Lugana are accounted for under the DOC classification rules, with the primary difference being how long a bottle of Lugana is aged before release. Wines bottled under the “basic” Lugana DOC classification carry no maturation requirement; wines bottled under the Lugana “Superiore” DOC classification must be matured for at least one year before commercial release; and wines bottled under the Lugana “Riserva” DOC classification must mature for at least 24 months prior to release.
It should be noted that these additional tags for dry and still bottles of Lugana do not necessarily represent a hierarchy of quality – the difference between wines made under these classifications is largely stylistic (i.e. wines that have been matured for longer will tend to develop richer flavours and greater complexity, with some producers applying oak to these wines too). That said, many producers will only use their best grapes for their “Superiore” or “Riserva” offerings as these grapes typically will offer the best chance of a wine having an extended life in bottle.
Traditionally dry Lugana was a wine with very prominent acidity, however today the majority of producers manage to obtain a better sense of balance by leaving a slightly elevated level of residual sugar in their wines (typically 6-10g/l).
Production volumes of sparkling Lugana are low and this wine is almost never seen outside of Italy. Different producers favour different styles of production, with both Charmat and Methodo Classico techniques used to offer a variety of different styles of wine.
Considered an “experimental” form of Lugana by the Lugana Conzorzio, Lugana “Vendemmia Tardiva” is the named applied to the sweet forms of Lugana produced in the DOC region. As the name suggests, these are wines made used late-harvested Turbiana grapes with elevated sugar concentrations. Very small amounts of sweet Lugana is produced and what is produced tends to stay within the region.
The Tasting Notes
A good number of the wines made under the Lugana DOC classification listed below were sampled at a recent tasting with Carlo Veronese (Direttore of the Lugana Corzorzio). Further samples were tasted with their respective winery representatives and some of the notes have been drawn from The Independent Wine Review’s library of tasting notes (indicated where applicable).
The majority of the wines sampled are from the 2012 vintage and are bottled simply under the “basic” Lugana DOC classification. Most of these wines were vinified using stainless steel tanks only and many producers expressed that this was the classification and style of Lugana for which they felt the greatest affinity - as they felt the pure flavours exhibited showed the characteristics of the Turbiana grape and the environment in Lugana at its best.
Carlo did though note that a number of producers opt to produce wines matured in oak as they found these wines easier to sell on the international market and because they believe that they can charge more for Lugana made in this style.
The wine reviews are ordered by winery name, in alphabetical order.
Whilst the scores awarded and tasting notes speak for themselves, the quality of the wine sampled from across the region was impressively high and consistent and a clear regional identity was evident. By comparison to some international critics of Italian wine, The Independent Wine Review tends to score quite conservatively and so to see such a concentration of high scores is particularly unusual and it was this that motivated the compilation of this column.
|Nicola Avanzi opening his sparkling Lugana|
Avanzi “Sirmione” Lugana DOC (2012)
Produced using Turbiana fruit from the historic “Vigna Bragagna” single vineyard in Sirmione, this Avanzi Lugana (thanks to the vagaries of the Italian DOC system) is the only wine made in the Lugana DOC that has the right to feature the additional “Sirmione” name on its label and this right is protected by law. This “Sirmione” Lugana is the “flagship” wine for the Avanzi winery.
With subtle apple and lemon notes on the nose, this “Sirmione” Lugana from the Avanzi family is wonderfully expressive and well balanced on the palate. Flavours of waxed lemons, apple flesh and a very well integrated saline minerality define this wine, along with a slightly rounded mouthfeel, engendered by the merest hint of residual sugar. 89 points.
Avanzi “Brut” Lugana DOC (NV)
A rare sparkling Lugana, it was very unusual to be able to taste this Avanzi “Brut” in the UK. Produced using the Charmat method for sparkling wine production, this Avanzi “Brut” was produced using the fruit of 5 hectares of nearly 40 year old Turbiana vines. 20,000 bottles a year are produced and they are released around 9 months after the original harvest.
A pale lemon colour in the glass (with some greenish tinges also evident), this Avanzi “Brut” offers simple but attractive aromas of pear and apple on the nose. A fully sparkling “Spumante” style of sparkling wine, this Avanzi “Brut” offers a bright mousse that serves to highlight the green fruit flavours and a hint of lemon zest very nicely indeed. Perfect as an aperitif. 84 points.
The Bulgarini family have been tending vines on the shores of Lake Garda since the 1930s, originally in order to produce wine for consumption by friends and family only and more recently for commercial purposes too. Success has seen the Bulgarini family’s vineyard holdings expand to 20 hectares and vine yields are intentionally managed by Bruno Bulgarini so that they are lower than those of many producers in the Lugana zone of production.
Bulgarini Lugana DOC (2012)
One of only two Lugana produced at the Bulgarini winery (the other is an oak-aged example named “Ca Vaibo”) this Bulgarini Lugnana saw fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks and is typically released around a year after the harvest. Designed as a “pure” expression of the Lugana zone of production, the Bulgarini family also suggest that this wine would pair perfectly with the fish caught from Lake Garda.
Stylistically the leanest and most mineral Lugana sampled here, this 2012 Bulgarini Lugana offers a relatively subtle nose of pear and lemon zest, before revealing a significant and driven sense of saline minerality. Hints of gooseberry join flavours of pear and a hint of almond in the mouth. This has serious potential for bottle maturation too (5 years+). 88 points.
Ca dei Frati
Unfortunately the wines of the Ca dei Frati winery (which can be considered as some of the most complete in the region of Lugana) were not available for tasting alongside the other wines listed as part of this article, however a couple of prior tasting notes have been included for the purposes of information. Based in Sirmione, a wide range of Ca dei Frati labelled wines are now produced, although Lugana remains the cornerstone of this winery’s range.
Ca dei Frati “Brolettino” Lugana DOC (2010) Tasted January 2013
The use of oak for the maturation of Lugana has been contentious for some time now in Lugana and the team at Ca dei Frati have made a bold statement by producing this “Brolettino” Lugana with 14 months spent in oak barrels. Partial malolactic fermentation was also allowed to occur.
Medium-to-full bodied in the mouth, the oak influence upon this “Brolettino” Lugana is prominent, yet not overpowering. A beguilingly smooth mouth-feel is structured and nuanced and whether you view this as a “true” representation of the Lugana “terrior” or not, there can be no denying that this is a very accomplished wine. (Full review here). 90 points.
Ca dei Frati “I Frati” Lugana DOC (2011) Tasted October 2012
No oak or malolactic fermentation, plus six months maturation on the lees in stainless steel tanks make this “I Frati” a far more traditional style of Lugana than the “Brolettino” however quality is just as high.
Whilst the full review for this “I Frati” can be found here, this 2011 “I Frati” Lugana was aromatically quite restrained before bursting into life on the palate. Extended lees maturation has added a wonderful complexity and the saline minerality, which so many producers will tell you defines the wines of the Lugana DOC, is wonderfully prominent. 90 points.
One of a number of wineries from nearby Valpolicella who have decided to invest in producing wine in Lugana in recent years, Cesari is better known for its Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella than the single wine classified under the Lugana DOC in its range. Owning 11 hectares of vineyards in Lugana, Cesari do not own a cellar in the region, it’s “Cento Filari” Lugana is instead vinified in the main company cellars at Cavaion Veronese in Valpolicella.
Cesari “Cento Filari” Lugana DOC (2012)
Produced as a single vineyard wine, this “Cento Filari” Lugana is a rare wine in the region these days as it is one of only a few wines bottled under the Lugana DOC to still feature a small proportion of Chardonnay, rather than being 100% Turbiana. Extensive “green harvesting” (i.e. the removal of bunches of grapes from the vines before they get the chance to ripen) is used to lower yields in the vineyards and to increase the intensity of flavour in the resultant wines.
More intensely coloured and slightly more richly textured as a result of the inclusion of the 5% Chardonnay in this 2012 “Cent Filari” Lugana, this is a medium bodied example of Lugana that offers typical apple flesh and lemon flavours, alongside hints of white peach. The Turbiana grape’s prevalent minerality seems to have been somewhat tempered in this wine. 86 points.
Founded in 1975 by Francesco Gettuli, the Citari winery is today run by his daughter Giovanna. With the family winery situated on San Martino Hill, the Citari vineyards stretch over 25 hectares and the winery’s total production sits at around 100,000 bottles. One of a number of mid-sized and quality orientated producers in the Lugana DOC, the team at Citari seem to be rightly proud of their past successes, but also always looking to improve.
Citari “Conchiglia” Lugana DOC (2012)
Several passes through the Citari estate vineyards in late September and early October yielded the fruit for this Citari “Conchiglia” Lugana, which was then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Left on the lees of that fermentation for six months, this wine was then bottled. One of two flagship Lugana produced by the Citari winery, the team at refuse to mature either in oak.
One of the more richly coloured (non-oak-aged) wines in this list, this 2012 Citari “Conchiglia” Lugana also offers a slightly richer mouthfeel than some, thanks to the extended lees aging applied. Fragrant aromas of ripe apples and pears waft from the glass of this “Conchiglia” Lugana, with pithy and pear nuanced flavours accompanied by the Turbiana grapes omnipresent minerality. Thoroughly well balanced and with good length, this is impressive overall. 90 points.
Located in Pozzolengo, a few kilometres from Sirmione, Feliciana is a smaller producer within the Lugana DOC zone of production. Around 7 hectares of vines are tended, with five small batch examples of Lugana (including two sparkling wines) currently produced.
Feliciana “Felugan” Lugana DOC (2012)
Grapes which were hand harvested at the end of September 2012 were used to produce this “Felugan” Lugana, with it being fermented in stainless steel tanks and released for sale quickly to preserve its youthful flavours. One of two “premium” Lugana produced at the Feliciana winery, the other (the “Serce”) is matured in oak and released later than this “Felugan”.
A notably pale colour (even for Lugana), this Feliciana “Felugan” Lugana offers less of a lemon coloured intensity and more greenish tinges in the glass than many of the wines tasted here. Similarly the nose offers more apple and pear notes than some. Leaner in style than a good number of the wines tasted (although not the leanest), this Feliciana “Felugan” Lugana offers a significant level of mineral salinity on the palate, with hints of lemon zest, pear and almond balancing things up. Intense and expressive overall, this is an excellent wine indeed. 89 points.
With more than 130 years of winemaking history, Cantina Marsadri is now one of the older winemaking ventures in Lugana. Run by Pietro and Livia Leali the wines of Cantina Marsadri are divided in to the Linea Garda and Linea Brolo classifications, with an additional red that goes under the name of “Rosso del Pioppo” (a name inspired by the many poplar trees located around Lake Garda and the family vineyards).
Cantina Marsadri “Linea Garda” Lugana DOC (2012)
High quality grapes are the key to all of the wines in Cantina Marsadri’s “Linea Garda” as they are simply vinified before being released in their youth. In the case of this “Linea Garda” Lugana from the 2012 vintage this means fermentation and a brief maturation in stainless steel tanks before bottling and commercial release.
Weighing in at just 12.5% abv (a good number of wines on this list are declared at a more weighty 13.5% abv) this “Linea Garda” Lugana from Cantina Marsadri is a pale lemon in the glass with beautifully expressive aromas of white flowers, lemon and a hint of almond emerging as it is swirled. Perfectly balanced in the mouth, there is a lovely sense of nuance and subtlety to this pure and classy wine. (Given a cellar price of just 3 Euros a bottle, this looks like a bargain too). 87 points.
Cantina Marsadri “Brolo” Lugana DOC (2012)
Produced from a selection of the finest Turbiana grapes produced on the Cantina Marsdari vineyards, this “Brolo” Lugana from Catina Marsadri is intended as the finest expression of a wine produced under the Lugana DOC that Cantina Marsadri can produce.
Exhibiting a clear family resemblance to the “Linea Garda” Lugana, this “Brolo” Lugana from Cantina Marsadri offers a similar pale colour and low alcoholic content to its cousin, but with a more intense set of aromas. Pure and pithy in the mouth, this “Brolo” Lugana shows hints of grapefruit alongside flavours of lemon, almond and a subtle nod to the minerality which is typical in wines made under this classification. Very well balanced and appreciably long. 89 points.
With a history of winemaking running back several centuries and across several countries the Montresor family now represents something of a viticultural dynasty. Having gone through a period of self examination, reorganisation and reinvention in the last ten years or so, some of the Montresor range of wines have been refreshed in style and philosophy and one of the wines to have benefited from this is the “Campo Valentino” Lugana listed below.
Montresor “Campo Valentino” Lugana DOC (2012) Tasted March 2013
100% Turbiana, this “Campo Valentino” Lugana underwent a fairly typical vinification in stainless steel tanks, prior to experiencing a couple of months of lees aging ahead of bottling. Released around 6 months after the original harvest, this wine is new to the UK market this year.
Whilst a full review of this wine can be found using the following link (here) it is fair to summarise this “Campo Valentino” Lugana by describing it as regionally typical with a good level of flavoural intensity and balance. 86 points.
Founded in 1970, the Famiglia Olivini winery is approaching its 50th birthday in fine form. The most modern technology and oenological techniques are used to craft a range of wines which are designed to reflect both the pure flavours of Lake Garda, but also the Olivini family’s passion for innovation and advancement.
Famiglia Olivini Lugana DOC (2012)
Stylishly labelled (in keeping with the rest of the Famiglia Olivini range of wines) this “basic” Familiglia Olivini Lugana makes use of a period of cold maceration (prior to fermentation in stainless steel tanks) to lend structure and partial malolactic fermentation to lend balance to this wine. This Famiglia Olivini Lugana was then bottled with less residual sugar than some of the Lugana tasted here (5g/l).
A notably pale lemon colour with a clear greenish tinge in the glass, this 2012 Famiglia Olivini Lugana offers delicate aromas of white flowers and a hint of sea breeze on the nose. Long and maintaining the subtle personality of the nose, this wine offers flavours of lemon zest and grapefruit on the tongue. 85 points.
Famiglia Olivini “Demesse Vecchie” Lugana DOC (2010)
Produced as a single vineyard wine from slightly over-ripe Turbiana grapes, this “Demesse Vecchie” Lugana from Famiglia Olivini sees 12 months of maturation on its lees, before bottling and further six months in the Olivini cellars before release.
Quite a ripe lemon colour, this “Demesse Vecchie” Lugana is complex and quite unique on the nose, with aromas of white peach, hints of almond and gun flint all in evidence. Offering a clear development of flavour over the younger wines tasted, this “Demesse Vecchie” is more richly textured that the majority of other Lugana featured in this report, but nonetheless remains a wine of subtlety and sophistication. Pear, peach and lemon zest flavours are accompanied by a good level of acidity and impressive length. 91 points.
Az. Agr. Provenza
|Fabio Contato and his 93 point scoring "Ca Maiol"|
Fabio and Patricia Contato have worked tirelessly to cement their family-run winery as one of the most impressive in the Lugana zone of production. Since foundation in 1967, the winery has grown from owning 12 hectares to owning 120 hectares and five wines made under the Lugana DOC classification really underpin the entire Provenza range of wines.
Provenza “Ca Maiol” Lugana DOC (2012)
The least expensive Provenza Lugana tasted, this “Ca Maiol” also is also the most mass produced - with around 400,000 bottles made each year (around 30% of the Provenza winery’s entire production). Named after the Cascina Maiol manor house on one of the Provenza winery’s four estates, this wine was vinified in stainless steel only.
A pale lemon colour in the glass, this 2012 “Ca Maiol” Lugana makes up for an anaemic appearance with crisp aromas of apple and lemon bursting from the glass. Clean, crisp and zesty on the palate, this “Ca Maiol” Lugana offers a good purity of flavour and mineral salinity into the finish. 87 points.
Provenza “Ca Maiol” PRESTIGE Lugana DOC (2012)
A relatively new addition to the Provenza winery’s range of Lugana, this 2012 “Ca Maiol” PRESTIGE Lugana is made using the Turbiana grapes from the oldest vines in the Provenza winery’s vineyards. Production began once Fabio Contato realised that these vines had begun to offer a wine with a flavour profile significantly different to that offered by the young vines.
Very similar in colour to the “basic” “Ca Maiol” listed above, this 2012 “Ca Maiol” PRESTIGE offers the same lemon zest and apple aromas, but with further complexities of blossom, almond and a clear salinity on the nose. Slightly more richly textured and with a greater depth of flavour than the non-PRESTIGE “Ca Maiol”, this wine is sophisticated and beguiling on the palate with notes of lemon, meringue, apple and almond beautifully combined with Lugana’s signature minerality. This is a fantastic wine. 93 points.
Provenza “Ca Maiol” MOLIN Lugana DOC (2012)
Produced from a different selection of Turbiana grapes to the “Ca Maiol” PRESTIGE listed above, this MOLIN Lugana is named after Az. Agr. Provenza’s old cellar and is intended to evoke the history of winemaking in Lugana through its taste. 48 hours of cryomaceration is used to encourage a structured and perfume styled of wine to emerge.
Despite sharing a clearly family identity with the other Provenza wines tasted here, the aromatic profile of this MOLIN Lugana is slightly more languid, with aromas of white peach, wild flowers and lemon zest emerging slowly and with good density from the glass. On the palate hints of grapefruit join the lemon zest and saline minerality of the Provenza winery’s other wines. More than accomplished. 90 points.
Az. Agr. Valerio Zenato “Le Morette”
With three generations of winemaking experience gathered on the southern shores of Lake Garda Az. Ag. Valerio Zenato’s “Le Morette” winery focuses on producing wines that reflect the pure “terrior” of Lake Garda and the team believe that this aim is best served by making wine in the most sustainable fashion possible. The work in the vineyards follows organic practises and the family behind the winery are directly involved in every aspect of the production.
Valerio Zenato “Le Morette” MANDOLARA Lugana DOC (2012)
Produced from Turbiana grapes sourced from the “Mandolara” single vineyard, this Madolara Lugana features grapes that are harvested slightly earlier than is typical for the region (the harvest is in mid rather than late September). Fermentation is in steel tanks and this wine is released after just a month in bottle at the “Le Morette” winery.
That this wine scores the lowest of any in this list is not reflective of the poor quality of this particular wine, but is more a reflection of the very high level of quality exhibited across the region of Lugana at the moment. Technically accomplished, this “Mandolara” Lugana is clean, crisp and offers simple and well defined lemon and apple flavours. 83 points.
Founded in 1960 by Sergio Zenato, this winery is today better known for the wines that it produces outside of Lugana than within it (particularly their Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella), although the Zenato family state that their “original heart” still lies within Lugana and several different wines are released under the Lugana DOC by the Zenato family each year.
Zenato “Villa Flora” Lugana DOC (2011) Tasted March 2013
A “simple” vinification in stainless steel tanks meant that the 55,000 bottles of this “Villa Flora” Lugana that were produced in the 2011 vintage were released on to the market quite quickly, where they were snapped up by a major UK supermarket.
Offering primarily green fruit notes on the nose and in the mouth, this Zenato “Villa Flora” Lugana also exhibits the signature minerality of this region. Full review here. 85 points.