Posted by: tomciocco | July 11, 2008

LUGANA – ANOTHER UNDERVALUED ITALIAN WHITE

I, and wine writers more gray of head, and more famous of name than I, have been extolling the virtues of Italian whites since the heyday of the “buttered bat” Chardonnay. And now that Pinot Grigio is EVERYWHERE (“slice and a soda” pizzerias, gas station mini marts, etc.) and wines made from grapes like Verdicchio, Fiano, and  Tocai (now officially called “Friulano” due to law suits from Hungarian Tokaji producers [same pronunciation despite the spelling difference]) have really made a nice circle of friends, it seems that the Italian (and not just Italian) philosophy of whites (fresh, un-oaked, lower in alcohol) has really taken hold.

So to the long and ever-lengthening list of exciting Italian wines, you can officially add Lugana – go ahead, I’ll wait…

Lugana is the name of the zone as well as the wine emanating therefrom. This verdant appellation slopes down to, and embraces Lake Garda, and the growing zone, like the whole lake itself, straddles the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Lombardia. This region so embodies the archetypically stunning image of pre-Alpine scenery, it almost seems cliched or fake…Like this for example…

Though not a physically large zone, there are well over 50 producers of Lugana, some of whom also make red wines under the name of Garda Rosso  which is made from a blend of Gropello, Marzemino, Sangiovese, and Barbera. But back to Lugana…

So what the heck is it? Well, the Lugana disciplinare requires the use of 90%-100% of a grape variety that is officially, and somewhat unfortunately named Trebbiano di Lugana (the other possible 10% is a kitchen sink of highly obscure local as well as “international” grape varieties). I say “unfortunately” for a couple of reasons…First, the word “Trebbiano” refers to no less than 3 COMPLETELY UNRELATED GROUPS of grape varieties, so right out of the box, Lugana has an identity problem. Second, what drinkers DO know about “Trebbiano”, if they know anything at all, is more negative than positive. One “branch” of vines that carry the name Trebbiano are none other than a vine that the French call Ugni Blanc. In France the variety is only deemed suitable to make Cognac. Similarly in Italy, Trebbiano (Bianco, Giallo, di Chianti, etc.) is used  to bring some acidity, and to be completely honest, to “pad” the blends of wines like Orvieto.

After the requisite DNA testing, it turns out that what Trebbiano di Lugana REALLY is is a cousin of none other than…(drumroll) Marche’s Verdicchio (as is Soave’s “Trebbiano di Soave” variety by the way)! And indeed if one holds this relationship in mind while sipping a glass of Lugana, it’s fairly easy to note. In my experience, Luganas tend to be a bit “brighter” or “sunnier” than most Verdicchios, especially when compared with those from the Castello di Jesi sub-zone.

Lugana is most classically and correctly paired with fresh water critters, especially trout, a fish for which Garda is well known. So, I decided not to rock the boat (sorry) and I served the Azienda Agricola Pilandro Lugana 2007 with  a couple of dried herb and corn meal-crusted, pan-fried Rainbow Trout (if the boat were floating on Lake Garda they would have been Brown Trout) with a side of EXCELLENT steamed and sauteed swiss chard with toasted pine nuts from the Hoboken farmer’s market (the greens not the seeds). The appetizer were crostini topped with a compund butter of sauteed porcini mushrooms, garlic, onion and parsley with lemon juice and zest, capped with a slice of hard-boiled egg…

This was one of those meals that came out just right – so much so that I said to my wife Jen that I enjoyed it as much as if someone else had cooked it…Add to this the fact that the wine was very nice, and that it also made fast friends with the food, and you’ve got all of the elements that went on to make for a memorable meal, and the promise of a repeat performance of it…The notes:

Azienda Agricola Pilandro Lugana 2007  

Pale-ish, bright, “white gold” color. Very fresh nose of citrus zest, grass, mineral, honeydew melon and a splash of fresh cream. The medium body shows whistle-clean and focused flavors of pear juice, powdered ginger, and marzipan, and a broad, deep, and well-tuned acidity. The length and clarity of the finish is remarkable. 

TOM CIOCCO

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Responses

  1. Tom,

    I very glad I ran into you last week, and also to see that you are back on the web. I look forward to reading your new blogs — if you keep writing, I’ll keep reading!

    Best of luck and regards,
    Kevin

  2. Thanks very much for the boost Kevin – and tell your enologically inclined friends too!

    Tom

  3. I just try a FolioDoulolo Lugana 08 which i can recall the similiarity of Meursalt. It can be drunk by its own


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