Lugana: six names to watch
Cà dei Frati The Dal Cero family is a major player in Lugana, and not only here: it also produces red and sparkling wines from a total of more than 200ha. The basic Lugana here is the fruit-driven I Frati. The single-vineyard Brolettino bottling has a strong following and is made in substantial quantities – it’s a barrique-aged style and the oak is evident on the palate yet rarely dominates it. However, there is an occasional riserva from I Frati, which is unoaked and often shows a greater vibrancy than Brolettino. But it’s question of style rather than quality, which has always been very consistent. Cà Maiol Driving past this large property at Desenzano, you can’t miss the large structure boldly identified as ‘ Showroom’. Cà Maiol produces one million bottles annually, and eagerly reaches out to visitors keen to purchase this very reliable wine. The somewhat misleadingly labelled Prestige is the basic bottling, while Molin comes from older vines, receives some skin contact, and is aged longer on the lees. The oaked Lugana Fabio Contato spends six months in barriques and is probably the best of the barrique-aged wines from Lugana. The winery was acquired by the large Santa Margherita group in 2017, but for the moment the Contato family remains in place. Citari Founded in 1975 by Francesco Gettuli and passed on to his daughter Giovanna, Citari is today run primarily by her son Francesco Mascini with the help of his father Ugo. It’s a moderate-sized estate, with 25ha of vineyards planted. Unlike most properties in Lugana, Citari employs a relatively high density of 3,800 vines per hectare. Some red wines are made here too, but the main focus is on Lugana. Sorgente is the basic wine and sees no oak, and neither does the Conchiglia bottling, which is made from riper fruit. The top Lugana is Torre, which is partly aged in tonneaux, but contains some late-harvested grapes, giving the wine a
‘A growing recognition of the quality of Lugana wines is why the area under vine has expanded considerably’ Luca Formentini
softer and broader profile at the expense of the raciness that marks the outstanding Conchiglia.
Le Morette Two brothers, Fabio and Paolo Zenato, run this 35ha property, which also produces some Bardolino in the Veneto region. Fabio Zenato wrote his university dissertation on Turbiana, and the property is still involved in viticultural research. Decades ago Le Morette began its existence as a vine nursery. An immense new winery was built in 2013, featuring solar panels for heating and other technological innovations. As well as a basic Lugana for drinking young there is a bottling called Benedictus, part of which is fermented in small oak barrels. There’s a touch of oak too on the excellent riserva, which is made from late-harvested grapes and limited to around 5,000 bottles.
Montonale Although the Girelli family has been farming in the Lake Garda area for more than a century, it was only in 2010 that Roberto Girelli and his two brothers established this winery to vinify white and red wines from their 25ha. Their top Lugana, Orestilla, comes from a 2ha vineyard, from which only the free-run juice is vinified, and the wine receives extended ageing on the lees and in bottle. It’s a wine that has won a Platinum in the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards. Even the basic Lugana bottling Montunal is of very good quality, if without the richness and texture of the Orestilla.
Nunzio Ghiraldi Motorcycling enthusiast Ghiraldi bears the same name as his grandfather, who acquired the estate in the 1950s. Today it extends over 32ha, with an average vine age of 30 years. The wines are not that well known, but are of consistently high quality. Il Gruccione, which takes its name from the bee-eating bird that visits each summer from North Africa, is the basic wine, but is made only from free-run juice and has exemplary clarity of fruit. Sant’Onorata comes from 60-year vines that are picked late, giving a wine of greater viscosity and power.
enjoyed young, although they can age surprisingly well. Many wines do have some residual sugar, but it is rarely detectable; its role, as in German Rieslings, is to balance the wine’s natural acidity that might otherwise seem too strident. And in some cases, there is a simple preference for a rounder style of wine that won’t challenge the palate.
There are also some single-vineyard wines, which tend to be based on yields lower than the generous maximum for Lugana, and may be given longer ageing before release. Then there are superiore wines from lower yields that require at least 12 months of ageing, and the more ambitious riservas, which are aged for two years, of which at least six months must be in bottle.
Some producers shun oak barrels; others treat their superiores or riservas to a spell in large or small oak for part of the production. There are no rules. A judicious use of oak can accentuate the nuttiness of flavour and add
some structure, as with the Fabio Contato from Cà Maiol, although there are some wines, such as the barrique-aged riserva Sergio Zenato from Zenato, in which the palate, in my view, is flattened and thickened by the oak.
To complete the offering there are a few vendemmia tardiva (late-harvest) wines at the low end of the sweetness spectrum, and some metodo classico sparkling wines. Some of the latter are routine, but there are some superb examples, such as Perla del Garda’s Brut 2011.
Average quality is high, but there is a lot of stylistic variation. There are assertive, bracing styles with pungent acidity, and softer styles that can often verge on flabbiness. It does appear that in the southern part of the appellation, away from the lakeside, the morainic deposits in the clay-dominated soils can result in a broader, fleshier style, exemplified in the range from Perla del Garda, wines with ample fruit but little bite or cut. But they clearly have a following.
What’s impressive about Lugana is its capacity to age. The young wines quaffed in the lakeside bars are zesty and often delicious, but they have little aroma and can lack complexity. My tasting of more than 100 Luganas included a few wines that were about 20 years old. They were fully ready to drink, but only a few were flagging. It’s entirely understandable that most Lugana is drunk within a year of release, but I find it’s a wine often at its best at around four or five years, when a range of aromas begins to develop, and more complexity on the palate.
I don’t think excessive claims should be made for Lugana. It doesn’t rise to the greatest heights, nor claims to do so. It’s a wine for the terrace or the dinner table, rather than for competitions. Think of it as a sensibly priced alternative to good-quality Soave Classico, but with a mineral character of its own.
Stephen Brook is an awarded author and has been a Decanter contributing editor since 1996
Le Morette cellars