The Hedgehog & the Fox: Discovering the Wines of Lugana DOC & Garda DOC

Today’s Wine Economist is inspired by Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The fox knows many things, Berlin wrote, drawing on an ancient Greek parable, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

People are like that, don’t you think? And there are wine regions like that too. The Lugana DOC on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy, for example, reminds me of the hedgehog, with its clear focus on one important wine. The Garda DOC, on the other hand, is home to many different ideas of wine. It is the fox.

Please read our report below and see if you agree — and which wine critter you find more appealing.


Lake Garda in the Italian north is one of Europe’s great summer playgrounds. No wonder visitors flock there from all over Italy and from Germany and Switzerland too. There is something for everyone. The lake itself for watersports, of course, along with beaches and campgrounds, theme parks, and more. The local economy benefits from the region’s understandable popularity and so does the local wine industry. I’ll bet both were hit hard when covid restrictions put a lid on tourism. They seem to be booming now.

The Lake Effect is Strong

Wine, not theme parks, was the focus when Sue and I joined a group of journalists from Germany and Denmark for a tour co-hosted by the Lugana DOC and Garda DOC consortia. The fact that the program embraced two overlapping but very different wine regions made this an unusual adventure.

Burton Anderson acknowledged the impact of Garda tourism on the Lugana wine industry in his classic 1990 guide The Wine Atlas of Italy,

Its success has been attributed to the fact that it is white and comes from the well-frequented Garda resort of Sirmione, but the real point in its favor is its graceful personality that appeals to both novices and to people who take wine seriously.

The wines are shaped by the combination of the Turbiana grape variety, also known as Trebbiano di Lugana, plus the beneficial lake effects, and the subtle variations in vineyard geology that result from glacial activity that made this region fairly flat but far from homogeneous. The Lugana DOC wines, as I wrote a few weeks ago, balance salinity against minerality in ways that please and provoke further investigation.

A Visit to Cantina Ottella

Although restricted to just one grape variety, we found tremendous variety in the Lugana DOC wines. A memorable visit to Cantina Ottella opened our eyes to the possibilities. Ottella is a project of the Montresor family, who have been making wine here for four generations. Michele Montresor showed us the winery with its fantastic modern art collection and then we began with the wines. Picked early, the Turbiana grape variety makes sparkling wines that are justifiably popular. Picked a little later, in September, the Lugana DOC wine showed the salinity and minerality that defines it so clearly.

The next wine caught our attention. Le Creete is harvested later, in October, from old vines from a single vineyard. It was complex and even more interesting than the wine before. The Riserva was elegant, with well-integrated oak. An amphora wine dedicated to Michele’s father Ludovico came next. Stunning in its complexity. Then, finally, a Lugana DOC from the 2007 vintage, to show that Lugana can age elegantly and develop gracefully. Quite an experience. And proof, if we needed it, that Anderson was right when he said that these Lugana wines have what it takes to interest experienced wine enthusiasts even as they delight beginners.

Foxy, but in a Good Way

Cantina Ottella is famous for its Lugana wines, but they also produce wines with grapes from their vineyards in other local appellations. The evening before our visit, for example, we ordered one of their Garda DOC red wines called Campo Sireso with dinner. It was a blend of Corvina Veronese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Garda wine zone. The wine was fantastic and caught our attention.

The “fox” Garda wine zone is very different from Lugana’s “hedgehog.” Approved grape varieties for Garda include both native grapes (Cortese, Trebbiano, and Garganega whites and Corvina and Marzemino reds, for example) and international varieties, too (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc whites and Cabernet and Merlot among others on the red side).

This means, of course, that Garda has something for everyone who comes to visit Lake Garda in the summer months and the existence of red wines is perhaps especially appealing to visitors from Northern Europe who might have a particular preference for red wines.

But Garda’s fox-like character also means that it has more trouble defining its identity in export markets, which is a shame since the wines can be very good indeed.

Sue and I were fortunate to be able to visit several wine producers who have adopted different market strategies. Come back in two weeks for these “hedgehog” and “fox” case studies. In the meantime, next week’s Wine Economist will feature a special “Independence Day” flashback column.


Many thanks to the Lugana DOC and Garda DOC consortia for hosting us for this visit. Thanks, as well, to the wineries on our brief tour who generously gave us their time, knowledge, and very good wines! The winery list includes La Moretti, Ottella, Azienda Zenato, Cascina Maddalena, Ca” Maiol, Borgo la Cuccio, Colli Morenici, Bulgarini, and Perla del Garda. If you see wines from any of these producers on a shop shelf or wine list, please give them a try. You won’t regret it.

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