Lugana: the Best Italian White Wine You’re Not Drinking

I first encountered the wonderful white wines of Lugana DOC, Italy in 2018, at the Wine Media Conference in Walla Walla, WA, of all places. One sip and I was hooked on these bright, sunny white wines that burst with bright, citrusy acidity (think lime zest, lemon zest) and a subtle, appealing briny or salty note underneath. If you like higher-acid whites, like Sauvignon Blanc, like some Pinot Grigios or Alsatian Pinot Blancs – find a bottle of Lugana! I swear to Bacchus you’ll love it.

When I found out there would be a full-day excursion to Lugana DOC during the Wine Media Conference at Lake Garda, Italy in September, I could not sign up fast enough. I would finally get to see the place and meet the people – because there is nothing like being there to get to know a place.

Before I start gushing about where we went and what we did, let’s cover a few basics:

What’s the grape? It’s Turbiana. Sure, plenty of people think it is Trebbiano or even Verdicchio, but Turbiana has its own genetic identify. It’s got thick skin, high acidity and ages well – and bubbles bonus! – it’s great for making sparkling wines as well as still wines!

Where is Lugana? It’s at the base of Lake Garda, in the Lombardy region. (I love this brochur-map piece – it’s got all the key info.) You can see how the chilly north winds come zooming down the 30-mile stretch of Lake Garda from the Dolomites, which helps the grapes retain that zesty acidity.

How much of it comes to the U.S.? Currently only about 5% of Lugana’s 27.5 million bottles come to the U.S. I often find it at Eataly and has a good selection but the more people ask for it at wine stores and restaurants, the greater the likelihood that more will come into the U.S. So don’t be shy – ask your local wine store if they have any Lugana wines and try them out.

How much do these wines cost? Friends, these are some of the most affordalicious wines in all of Italy. It is rare to find one over $50 and you can always find a great one for $20 or less.

Ready for the excursion? Come with me!

Ca’ dei Frati is Lugana’s largest producer, turning out 4 million bottles a year, and this is where we began our day. I recognized these wines from Eataly and couldn’t believe I was actually there. The name translates to “house of the brothers,” as in, Monks, which is why the place looks like a monastery.

The session was kicked off by the head of the the Consorzio Tutela di Lugana DOC Fabio Zenato, who leads operations and winemaking at his own family’s 60-year-old winery, La Morette. Fabio gave us an excellent orientation of the Lugana region.

Perla del Garda was our next stop just 15 minutes away, where we met Giovanna Prandini, owner of this newish winery (2006). She was instrumental in bringing the Wine Media Conference to Europe for the first time and has an important leadership role with Ascovilo, the association of wineries across Lombardy. Giovanna also has an interesting background, having started her career in finance after university in Milano. After starting her own successful finance company, she realized her heart wasn’t in it for the long term, so she decided to change her life. She began converting her family’s vineyards to organic farming and she and her winemaking team are turning out a glorious array of wines. She is maintaining quality and tradition while also experimenting and innovating (check out her gorgeous bottles below).

We had lunch at the long table above (catered by Osteria da Pietro – so delicious), accompanied by eight of her wines, each more delicious than the next! As we chatted, I learned that her brother has a dairy farm across the road that produces milk for Grana Padano DOP cheese. I mean – wine and cheese in the same family? That’s Italian genius.

Perla del Garda’s 2017 Madonna della Scoperta Lugana received the coveted Tre Bicchieri, Italy’s most prestigious top ranking for a wine, and I am already looking forward to seeing Giovanna in Chicago at the Tre Bicchieri tasting next March. Looking back at my notes from that lunch, next to this wine, I wrote, “Gasp of pleasure! Floral, fruit, smoke, butterscotch, subtle oak.” I loved it (and brought a bottle back home). It would’ve been easy to linger at that table all afternoon, but we had a third winery waiting for us.

Tenuta Roveglia dates back to the 1400s. As Babettli Azzone, co-owner with her two sisters, explained, the property is named for the Roveglia family who purchased the land and properties from a monastery in the 1400s. Fast forward about 500 years, to 1900 or so, when Babettli’s great-great grandfather left Switzerland, seeking a better life and work in Italy, and began buying the land to plant grape vines for wine. Her grandfather and then her father followed suit (while also pursuing a career in medicine; these people are over-achievers!) and today Tenuta Roveglio is known for its old vines (some are 60 or more years old), its historic property and its beautiful Lugana wines.

Winemaker Paulo Fabiani and Babettli hosted a tasting of three wines, including the Catullo, which spends 24 months on its lees, developing a magical, toasty flavor accented with the signature lime zest and mouthwatering acidity of Lugana wines. We also tasted their Vendemmia Tardive (late-harvest wine, so grapes contain more sugar). While it was 14g/liter of residual sugar, it was rich but the acid of the Turbiana grape keeps that sugar in check. This would be a dream with Asian food or anything spicy.

After a nearby culture stop to see the Vittoria Emmanuele Tower, we ended our day with an amazing dinner party at Selva Capuzza. Selva Capuzza is not only a top winery in Lugana, it’s an amazing destination for visitors, with its own restaurant and apartments on the property which can be booked for holidays. As owner Luca Formentini greeted us with a glass of Lugana, I knew he looked familiar and then – bingo – I realized that he was the person I’d met in Walla Walla back in 2018 (when he was heading up the Lugana Consorzio), who first introduced me to Lugana wines. I love small world moments like this.

Where there is excellent food – and winemakers at every table – there is going to be a memorable night, and this was no exception. From the bresaola (dried, cured beef) to risotto to a pasta course and then local beef on a bed of polenta, this was an extravaganza of local food and wine and winemakers that no one will forget!

I have to thank Fabio Zenato, Giovanna Prandini, all of our our winery hosts and all of the winemakers who attended dinner for a magical experience. I hope this wasn’t my last visit to the region, and I hope you’ll let me know if you get a chance to try Lugana wines. Cin cin!

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