Defining the Region
Lombardia (or Lombardy), is one of the largest, richest and most populous regions in all of Italy. Home to Milano (Milan), the Alps, massive lakes, and Italy’s largest National Park (Stelvio), it is a region that abounds in culture and natural beauty, as well as delicious wine.
Where is Lombardia?
Lombardia is dead in the center of Northern Italy, with Switzerland to the North, the Tre Venezie to the East, Emilia-Romagna to the South, and Piedmont to the West.
Like most northern Italian regions, Lombardy can be split into three terrains– mountains, hills, and plains. Unique to Lombardia, however, are massive glacial lakes such as Como, Maggiore, Lugano, and Garda (to name a few), which make their home at the base of the Italian and Swiss Alps. These lakes help moderate cold weather from the Alps, giving Lombardia an overall cool-to-continental climate capable of growing citrus and other Mediterranean produce– and of course, wine grapes. The southern portions of Lombardia are the most consistently continental, but never reach too high temperatures thanks to the Po River and its many tributaries.
What Kind of Wines are Made?
Lombardia is credited with several DOCG-level wines, including sparkling, red and even apassimento sweet reds, and there are many uniquely delicious DOC wines as well.
DOCG Wines of Note
Franciacorta is perhaps Italy’s best sparkling wine. With respect to Prosecco and Moscato d’asti, and the countless other bubbly wines made in Italy, the Champagne-styled wines of Franciacorta DOCG are stunners. Like the Champagnes of France, only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco (instead of Pinot Mineure) are used, and Franciacorta wines are fermented a second time in-bottle and not released for several years, depending on the designation.
Additionally, labeling of words like “Brut” follow the same g/L of residual sugar requirements of Champagne. The terroir of Franciacorta is limestone bedrock covered with mineral-rich calcareous gravel and sandy morainal soils, which lend local character to the otherwise French-wines-in-disguise.
Valtellina Superiore is another important DOCG wine. Valtellina comes from high-altitude vines in the (relatively) remote Italian Alps in the north of Lombardy. Like Barolo and Barbaresco, it is made from 100% Nebbiolo, which is locally known as Chiavennasca (the DOC “Valtellina” only requires 90%). These wines are aged for a minimum of 24 months (half in oak) and 36 months for “riserva” status, and like Barolo and Barbaresco they feature the “tar and roses” character of Nebbiolo, as well as notes of dried cherry and pencil shavings. Also like Piedmontese Nebbiolo, the grapes in Lombardy are given as much clear sunshine as possible, though the terraced mountainside vineyards cool quickly in the evening, leaving Valtellina Superiore a lighter-bodied cousin to Barolo and Barbaresco.
Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico is another DOCG sparkling wine of southwestern Lombardy, though it doesn’t get as much attention as Franciacorta. It is another Champagne-styled wine that comes from a minimum of 70% Pinot Noir, with the rest of the blend coming from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Grigio (a grape outlawed in Franciacorta in 1990). There are many different “Oltrepo Pavese” wines of white, red, rose and so on, but keep in mind that only “Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico” has earned the DOCG title.
Lake Garda Wines- Lugana and Garda DOCs
Vines have been cultivated around the lakes of Lombardy since before Roman times. One of these important lakes for winemaking is Garda, Italy’s largest lake and home to Lugana and Garda DOCs.
Lugana is a white wine DOC made from 90-100% Trebbiano di Lugana, the local variety of the ridiculously-widely planted Trebbiano grape. It is grown on the southern side of Lake Garda and can vary depending on the other included local grape(s) and the producer. The wines are pale straw colored with green reflections and range from light, crisp and delicate to significantly more complex, as seen with Provenza’s “Fabio Contato” Lugana that received a “3 Glasses” award from the Gambero Rosso (available from Beviamo).
Garda wine on the other hand, can be anything from Sparkling to White, Rose, and Red and covers a large number of grapes. Whites can come from Riesling (Garda Bianco Classico), Chardonnay, Garganega, and Pinot Grigio, to name a few. It also straddles a large area and even crosses into Veneto, making it one of the few Italian wines to cross regional borders
Garda Classico Rosso is a noteworthy style that comes from a blend of local Groppello and Marzemino with less-local Barbera and Sangiovese. It produces a red wine of mature red fruit with herbs and spices, silky tannins not without good acidity. The Groppello grape which usually takes the largest part of the blend (minimum of 30%, though often closer to 60) creates a medium-bodied wine with a slightly bitter, nutty aroma. It makes sense that it would be blended with fruity and acidic Barbera, and ever-prevalent (read: profitable) sangiovese. Like the Lugana whites, these wines can be taken to a bold, elite level, and the “Negresco” and “Fabio Contato” wines of Provenza are great examples of that as well.