Lugana wines tied to the soil, culture and heritage
DECENZANO DEL GARDA, BS, Italy – The grand expanse of Lake Garda, all 51.6 kilometers (about 32 miles) of it, laps gently at its southern end where it surrounds on three sides the peninsula of Sirmione, a finger of land just east of Decenzano del Garda.
Formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age, the lake not only moderates the Mediterranean climate of the region but also provides a near-constant breeze, warming in winter and cooling in summer, which makes a key difference if you’re one of the 120 or so members of the Consorzio of Lugana winemakers.
“Look around and see, we are 110 meters above the lake,” said Luca Formentini, whose father bought the farm that now is Podere Selva Capuzza 40 kilometers south of the lake. “”We get the benefit of the wind, which is good when it’s warm and rainy and not so good when it is hot and rainy.
“But last year, when it was so rainy, we spent only seven days (fighting mold and mildew) in the vineyards while my neighbors spent 14.”
The Lugana white wine, by DOC rules made of 100 percent Terbiana (an “invented” name to differentiate Trebbiano of Lugana from Trebbiano of Soave, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and the other 78 Italian DOCs in which Trebbiano is vinified) is mild and pleasant, with lemon and traipical fruit and a bit of bitter almond on the finish. It also had good acidity and a surprising ability to improve with age.
I recently had the 2002 from Podere Selva and found it rich, with layers of white peach and apricot and that almond-like finish, bright acidity and the wine’s characteristic minerality and what they call sapidity and we’d call salinity.
The distinctive salinity and minerality comes from the earth, Luca said, formed when the glacial seas retreated and left the Lugana area layered in clay-rich soils.
“Look at this, he said, kneeling along one of the rows in the 50 hectares (123 acres) of vines the family grows. “When it’s dry, it’s almost unbreakable and when it’s wet, you can’t walk on it. But there are many minerals here, left by the sea and the vineyards take them up.”
Later that night, while sitting at dinner next to Cesare Materossi, the fourth generation winemaker at Az. Agr. Monte Cocigna, he told me the minerality, which usually signifies a stony soil, comes from ancient salts dissolved by the glacial seas.
“Those give the wine a bright edge and it’s ability to age,” he said. “Lugana is tied to the place it comes from. It’s more than the winery, it’s a sign of the culture and the heritage.”