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By John Salvi


Lugana is for ladies, San Martino for men!

I always enjoy anything to do with wine in Italy, or anything else in Italy for that matter! It takes me back to my roots and to my grandfather, Umberto Salvi, who was a professional opera singer, a tenore lirico.

This particular adventure was to the Lugana wine region on the shores of Lake Garda. Organised by the energetic and delightful Kerin O’Keefe in conjunction with the Consorzio Volontario Tutela a Lugana D.O.C., in Sirmione. However, to be up to date we have to remember that what were both D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. are now both D.O.P. (an unfortunate leveller for D.O.C.G.). The wines of Lugana were praised by the poet Catullo some 2,000 years ago

We were flown to Verona, driven to Sirmione and lodged in the small but functional Hotel Aurora with a jetty and a magnificent view over the lake from our bed. There were 7 of us, including Kerin, from 5 countries.

It was an extremely intensive trip, although informative, invigorating and highly instructive. Long day finishing well after midnight after generous and gastronomic dinners, especially the evening at the magnificent Hotel Villa Cortina, which we went to by boat from the jetty of our hotel. Hospitality was lavish and we saw clearly the immense expansion and progress of AGRITURISMO, which Italy does so well and France so badly. Agriturismo is people with agricultural properties, usually vineyards, who have houses, villas, cottages or apartments to rent on the property, often with swimming pools and with meals provided in their own delightful restaurants, which use their own wines and produce.

The Consorzio is fortunate in having one of the finest Presidents that I have ever come across – Francesco Montresor – the owner of OTELLA ESTATE and of CASCINA GIROLDA AGRITURISMO. At this latter we had the most marvellous lunch with his finest wines. Here he explained Lugana wine clearly, concisely, informatively and with an endearing and quirky sense of humour. Would that more Syndicats, Consejos and Consorzios had such a President!

Trebbiano di Lugana, now Turbiano, is a white grape of both fragrance and delicacy. It is not classified as aromatic. The rules and regulations allow the addition of no more than 10% of other white, non-aromatic grape varieties. It is a grape that does not easily support oak and the wines we tasted that had been made with any quantity of it were not successful. One wine, surely excellent originally, had been kept in acacia and was catastrophic. However, in spite of being delicate, the growers in Lugana proved to me beyond a shadow of doubt, what I was originally reluctant to believe, that the wine can age gracefully and elegantly if, and only if, it is originally conceived and structured to do so. A 1982 and a 1978 both tasted maturely harmonious and elegant.

The soil that produces these wines is largely stratified clay on the slopes, mainly calcareous, interspersed on the plains with micro-organic sedimentation, rich in oxides and mineral salts, of the last post-glacial geological era.

There are only 1,004 hectares of the D.O.C. (D.O.P.) Lugana, some lying in Lombardy and some in Veneto, so it is hardly surprising that it has not so far flooded the world markets or become a household name. The best of them certainly deserve a place on the fine wine lists of wine merchants and great restaurants. A tiny D.O.C., SAN MARTINO, only 65 hectares, lies adjacent. They used to call their grape variety TOKAI, but this was then forbidden by law. As the grape has never been given another legal name it is something of a conundrum and one grower, with a sense of humour, calls it “innominato” – “un-named”. Such are the impossible to follow intricacies of the Italian appellation system and agricultural laws in Italy are regional to boot and vary from Lombardy to Veneto!

Something that surprised me immensely, for such a small and relatively unknown appellation, was the extensive use of state-of-the-art, modern and highly sophisticated vinification and wine making equipment. Everything from tangential membrane filters to grape cleaning and sanitizing machines and from cold storage, filtration and fining to the highly technical use of cultured yeasts and enzymes. This knowledge of technical wine making skills was highly impressive and very far from rustic or countrified.

I cannot finish this brief review without mentioning their wonderful local olive oil, cheeses and salame with which we were regaled. Both the meats (scottona beef) and the cheeses accompany perfectly the more structured and matured wines, whilst the young, crisp and fragrant Lugana are perfect with the lake fish (tench) and as an aperitif.

The Consorzio, together with their indefatigable Carlo, are to be profoundly thanked for their generous and gracious hospitality and time, as are the numerous delightful and informative proprietors that received and entertained us.

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