Lugana wines: Worth their Salt

The wines of Lugana around Italy’s Verona are well known in Europe, but now producers are on a mission to take them to the rest of the world. Jaq Bayles reports

SHAKESPEARE'S JULIET, while lamenting the tragedy of Romeo’s heritage on her famous balcony, could at least have taken comfort from the beauty of her surroundings – and maybe drown her sorrows in the unique wines they produce.

The balcony in question is (allegedly) in Italy’s Verona, which is one of two provinces – the other being Brescia – encompassed by the Lugana wine region.

With its groves of olives, lemons, limes, almonds and palms, the mild climate and the stunning ancient towns that dot Lake Garda’s periphery, it’s no wonder the area is a magnet for tourists – or that its wines have become popular with those tourists, particularly the many Germans who visit every year.

But, like the Pelér wind that blows down from Riva del Garda and is integral to the character of the wines, a wind of change is blowing through the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC, which promotes and protects the area’s wines.

In terms of exports some 60% of the wines go into Germany, and producers have woken up to the danger of such heavy reliance on one outlet. The consorzio, which was founded in 1990, is now taking an active role in trying to promote Lugana wines outside its traditional export areas.

Lugana wines are unique in that they are characterised by a salty tang, the result of the terroir on which the Turbiana variety of the Trebbiano grape is grown – layers of morainic and sedimentary clay soil, mostly calcareous, and rich in mineral salts.

Because clay soil holds so much water, furrows are dug throughout the vineyards to allow the water to drain off and the vines are trained upwards in an arch.

Only white wine is encompassed by the Lugana DOC and this in itself is proving problematic in broadening the wine’s appeal to the currently attractive Asian markets, which largely favour reds.

Producers believe education about Italian culture and cuisine is integral to introducing new markets to Lugana wines – but that is easier said than done.

Fabio Zenato, of the 1,200ha La Marette winery, says: “It’s not easy to sell white wine  in the new open market – China is more than 90% red.”

But he is optimistic that Lugana wines offer the sort of approach he found distributors looking for when he attended a fair in Tokyo last year. “They are looking for quality wines and wines with mystery in a world where so many wines are just a drink.

“Lugana could be described as an easily approachable wine because it’s very fresh. It’s quite difficult to explain to young drinkers but easy to explain to wine lovers who have more understanding.

“In Japan there’s a better unerstanding of high quality wine. In China there’s a lot of money but no culture of understanding. The future market is combining wine with food.”