Over 50 years ago, the Lugana region, about 90 miles west of Venice, Italy, was barely on the winemakers’ map. At the time, local winemakers never dreamed their homegrown Turbiana grape, also known as Trebbiano di Lugana, could capture the world’s attention. After all, Italy already had winemaking renown for its many other classic varieties.
Enter Sergio Zenato who, in 1960, believed in Turbiana’s potential. Zenato was so passionate about the underrated vine that he began harvesting it for wine production, cultivating what eventually became Lugana white wines. He reached a major milestone within the decade. In 1967, his Lugana wines received DOC status, deeming them unique enough to have their own designation, and ensuring their quality and authenticity with 90 to 100 percent Turbiana grapes.
Today, his wines have endured, transforming the Lugana region into one of Italy’s great wine regions. In fact, Zenato himself was honored with a square named after him in San Benedetto, a town on the shore of nearby Lake Garda.
A Dramatic Landscape
Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, straddles Veneto and Lombardia and is the focal point of the Lugana region. It’s sourced by the melting snows of the Dolomites in the north that trickle down the Po Valley.
With mountains in close view and its crystal-clear waters, Lake Garda has become a vacation destination not just for tourists on the wine trail, but for outdoor enthusiasts interested in hiking, climbing, or water sports. There are also medieval castles, Venetian-style architecture, Roman ruins, and even amusement parks.
No matter how you plan to spend your trip to this northeastern Italian region, you will certainly need (and want) to indulge in the local cuisine. Along the lakeshore, restaurants, bars, and cafés serve fresh lake trout, pastas, pizzas, and hearty bean stews with meat and sauerkraut, evidence of the Austrian influence on the Italian north. These destinations all proudly serve local Lugana white wines, which pair with practically every meal.
Understanding the Microclimate
Lake Garda and its surrounding mountains aren’t just pretty; they are the driving force behind Lugana wines. Microclimates and lake effects influence the terroir and growing conditions of all the agriculture in the region, from the olive trees to the rows of Turbiana-producing vines.
Vineyards cultivating Trebbiano di Lugana are just south of the lake, where the unique climate nurtures a relatively small wine- growing region, with several vineyards encompassing under 2,000 acres. In the case of riservas, like the Zenato Lugana Riserva DOC, the growing region is even smaller: The DOC requires 100 percent of the grapes to be Gurbiana from a single vineyard. This gives it truly unique aromas and flavors that express its single origin.
Getting to Know Trebbiano
There are several strains of the Trebbiano grape, accounting for about a third of all Italian white wine production. The Turbiana variety, Trebbiano di Lugana, along with its nearby cousin Trebbiano di Soave — also from Lombardia and Veneto — were believed to be unlike the others in the Trebbiano family. Looking deeper, these two grape varieties are, in fact, unique from the other Trebbianos because, after genetic research, it’s been discovered that they are actually the Verdicchio grape of the Marche region.
However, genetics aside, it’s all about where the grape is grown; soil and microclimates are key to developing a grape’s characteristics. Lake Garda’s weather and terroir bring forth depth and balance to Trebbiano di Lugana, with a firm acidity and a steely texture. Above all, the grapes of Lake Garda produce wines with excellent ageability — from the sparkling Lugana Metodo Classico Brut DOC, to the full-bodied Lugana San Benedetto DOC.
Drinking in a White Wine World
As global palates shift toward lighter flavors and healthier, farm-to-table fare, white wines are on every table. Modern drinkers pair them with fish and chicken, of course, but they are also ideal with many vegetarian and vegan dishes.
In 1980, Zenato became the first wine producer to bring Lugana wine to America. Today, the Lugana wines of Zenato, along with the other winemakers of the Lake Garda region, are poured around the world.
This article is sponsored by Zenato.