Where? What? Why? Interrogating Lugana DOC

The Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC launched a major effort this fall to raise their region’s profile among consumers here in the United States. It’s a big job — Lugana’s name is not familiar to many fans of Italian white wines here in America.

Some consumers may think first of Logano not Lugana  — as in NASCAR star Joey Logano! And the market for both Italian wines and wines in general is crowded. It’s a tough market to break into.

But Lugana’s initiative is worthwhile. The wines that we have tasted so far are excellent quality, well-priced for today’s market, and have much to offer curious wine enthusiasts. Lots to talk about. But first we need to address some questions: Where? What? Why?

Where is Lugana DOC?

The Lugana DOC zone is anchored by beautiful Lake Garda in north-central Italy — a very good thing since grape vines are known to like to look at water and the lake influence is beneficial in many ways.

The eastern part of the zone is in the Veneto region, which is one reason Lugana wines are easy to find in Verona’s cafes and restaurants. If you had a nice glass of white wine at a bar in Verona it was probably Lugana, I’m told. The larger western part is in Lombardy. The DOC is diverse not just in terms of local political borders but also in terms of geography and micro-climates. Lugana has a whole lot going on!

What are the wines’ grape varieties?

Lugana DOC wines are made from the Turbiana grape variety, which is a name you might not have seen before. Turbiana, according to Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy, is a variant of Trebbiano di Soave, which is the source of Verdicchio, the famous white grape of Marche and — again according to D’Agata — Italy’s finest native white grape variety. Noble heritage indeed!

The thing about Turbiana/Trebbiano/Verdicchio, D’Agata says, is that it adapts so well to its specific growing conditions and, while the grape vine DNA suggests a strong linkage, the wines themselves can take on many different profiles.

Why are the wines special?

All of which helps explain why the Lugana DOC wines are worth a second look. Depending upon where the vines are planted in terms of soil types and especially elevation and distance from the lake, the resulting wines can take on many different personalities although, as Sue notes, they share a strong family resemblance.

We learned a lot about the factors that shape Lugana DOC from an unusually well-organized and informative webinar for the U.S. market, which was hosted by Alessandro Torcoli, direttore of the Italian wine journal Civiltà del bere. Each producer was given a few minutes to explain what made their wine special — what gave it the specific character found in the glass. It was sort of a pointilist experience because, taken all together, the different specific elements painted an attractive picture of the whole — of Lugana DOC.

What makes Lugana interesting to us, having learned a bit about it and tasted several wines, are its many faces. The wines are different depending upon distance from the lake, for example, and elevation, both of which are associated with differences in soil profile among other things. Some Lugana wines are made from a single vineyard, but many are blends that seek a balance of opposing forces. The Lugana Riserva wines are aged, some in tanks others in wood of various sorts, often with extended time on the lees.

Variations on a Theme

We enlisted Wine Economist Research Assistants Bonnie and Richard to help us understand the Lugana wines tasted on their own and with food (Italian meats and cheeses along with Sue’s famous minestrone soup) and the results were quite interesting. We tasted three wines and each told part of the story.

The Pilandro, which was Sue’s favorite, is a classic representation of Lugana DOC, blending wine made from grapes from two distinctly different vineyard sitess. The wine spent 6 months ofnthe lees in steel tanks. It was complex with nice minerality — a great start to our tasting program

The Pasini San Giovani is also a two-vineyard blend — one very close to the lake and the other about 7 km away. It was a balance of power and freshness that we really enjoyed.

The Selva Sapuzzo is a different idea of Lugana — a Riserva from the 2018 vintage, it is built to age, the grapes were sourced from the oldest vines on the estate. The wine spent three years on lees in stainless tanks. This wine gives real meaning to the idea of a riserva.

We had another Lugana Riserva last night — a 2018 from Tenuta Roveglia — and were struck by its refinement and the subtle notes of hazelnut on the finish. So interesting … and great with the dinner we prepared. Lugana wasn’t on our radar at all before we started this project and now we can’t wait to pull each new cork. It makes we wonder — what else are we missing? Wine in general and Italian wine in particular has so much to discover.

We are still working our way through our selection of Lugana wines. They remind me of a vinous version of Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini.   There is a lot here to explore. I hope the Lugana DOC producers are successful in their quest to introduce American consumers to these delightful wines.

5 responses

  1. Glad to read about this wine – we had it at Wine Warehouse in California but it was always a challenge to sell – but that was back in the days when the only Italian white wine that had any momentum was the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio (in our case, Santa Margherita!)

    • I think that’s still a problem, George. One of the Lugana wines we enjoyed a lot — Ca Maiol — is actually owned by Santa Margherita, so clearly they see an opportunity.

      • Will be interesting to see how they do with it – since they parted ways with Paterno they have their feet in several different appellations…

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