Man at His Best

A Unhidden Gem In Italy: The Lugana Wine

Our columnist heads to Italy to uncover their best unkept secret.

BY Kurt Ganapathy | Jan 21, 2017 | Food & Drink

Photographs by Kurt Ganapathy.

 

The world of wine seems somewhat more resilient to the threats posed by a growing population of people who demand more. For the sake of familiarity—or to avoid the risk of mispronouncing a name in front of a judgmental sommelier—we stick with what we know. But in this new age of exploration, I say remove the tether and drift off into the unknown. Eventually, you might find yourself on the southern shore of Lake Garda in Italy, where a wine called Lugana reigns supreme.

Lugana is a white wine known for its “double character”: it’s produced in an area that straddles two provinces (Brescia and Verona) located in two different regions (Lombardy and Veneto respectively). Made with distinct Trebbiano di Lugana grapes, also known as Turbiana, Lugana is defined by its simple but bold profile with notes of almonds, apples, citrus and minerals. These traits haven’t wavered with time: Lugana has been recognised in its current form for more than 300 years, but its cultivation goes back to Roman times.

From one grape comes five different styles of wine. There is the “basic” Lugana, the standard bearer that accounts for 90 percent of all Lugana produced; Superiore, with flashes of herbs and spices from a year of maturation; Riserva, which develops smoky and balsamic flavours after 24 months of maturation (at least six of which must be in bottles); Vendemmia Tardiva, a late harvest that’s not overly sweet or viscous; and Spumante, a sparkling wine. In contrast to many other white wines, still Lugana can be aged for up to 15 years.

 

Three generations of the Formentini family.

 

That’s all agreeable, but what really drives me to get to know more wines like Lugana are the footnotes that come with it. With Lugana, you are transported to a land with virtues extolled by poets from Catullus to Ezra Pound, a land that the great soprano Maria Callas once called home.

With Lugana, you walk through serene vineyards around the Tower of San Martino della Battaglia, while reminding yourself that it was the site of a bloody battle during the Second Italian War of Independence. So brutal was the fighting that the aftermath motivated Jean Henri Dunant to found the International Committee of the Red Cross.

With Lugana, you meet people working to preserve the region’s heritage and traditions, including the Formentini family of Podere Selva Capuzza. Three generations welcome visitors to a farm (owned by the family since 1917) that dates back to the 14th century. Thirteen wines are made from handpicked grapes here, among them some of the finest incarnations of Lugana. They match the seasonal selection at the in-house restaurant, but quickly inspire ideas for possible pairings back home.

If you want to make a New Year’s resolution that you can actually keep, this is it. The next time you find yourself standing before a wall of wine or thumbing through an encyclopaedic wine list, take a leap of faith and seek out an unknown name; otherwise, you’ll never know what you’re missing.


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