This episode of “Wine 101” features Maze Row Wine Merchant’s esteemed partner Allegrini, which is located in northern Italy, in the Veneto region. The Allegrini family dates back to six generations of making wine in the Valpolicella region, which means “land of many cellars.” Valpolicella is also the name of one of Allegrini’s most famous red wines, made from the historic grape called Corvina that imparts signature notes of almond. To try Allegrini, follow the link in the episode description, to TheBarrelRoom.com.
On this episode of “Wine 101,” VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers explores the Lugana region and the wines created there with the Trebbiano grape. Tune in to learn more.
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Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers, and I remember the time someone told me about what a haberdashery was — it’s a hat store. What does haberdashery mean?
What’s going on, wine lovers? From the VinePair podcasting network, this is “Wine 101” and my name is Keith Beavers, I am the tastings director of VinePair. And what is going on? What’s up? How are you?
Okay, we’re going to have a little bit of fun today. We’re going to talk about something you probably don’t know about, but you should know about. It’s called Lugana. What’s Lugana? It’s a fun little region that straddles two regions. What? We’ll talk about it.
Okay, so, this is going to be fun. In the last couple episodes, no, the last episode, I talked about the tale of two Montepulcianos, and I briefly talked about Abruzzo, and I mentioned Montepulciano the grape, but I also mentioned its white wine they do there called Trebbiano. And, thinking about Trebbiano, hmm, I should probably talk about Lugana. How did I get there? Well, this is how I got there. How do I say this? In northern Italy, at the southern edge of the Dolomite mountain range, is the largest lake in the country of Italy. It’s called Lake Garda. And this lake is so big, that its shorelines are shared by three provinces: Trentino of Trento in the north, Brescia of Lombardia to the west, and to the east, Verona of the Veneto. And the way this lake looks is crazy. It has a long, narrow, channel from the top, all the way towards the bottom, then it fans out like a lazy axe being laid down on its side. Lazy, what is it? I think I meant lazy, because if you were to draw an axe, it doesn’t really look like an axe, but it’s a lazy drawing of an axe leaning on its side. Okay, whatever.
What’s important is how it was formed, in that, in the Ice Age, the great Alpine glaciers — this is a moment in the Ice Age — started forcing their way south from the Alps. And this lake was formed by some of that glacial push. This is very similar to what you see in the Finger Lakes, but on a much, much larger scale. And what’s interesting is, as we get to the end of that lake where it fans out and bubbles out a little bit like a lazy axe, is the shoreline of the southern part of the lake. And then going south into the land mass is ancient glacier hills, they’re called moraine hills (little call to “The Wheel of Time” there) or morainic hills, M-O-R-A-I-N-I-C. And those hills basically hug the lower curved shore of Lake Garda. And if you were to stand on one of those hills and look north to Lake Garda, all the land you would see between the hills and the shore is what’s called Lugana DOC.
And the people in this region will tell you that wine has been made here since ancient times. And that absolutely pans out because, my gosh, this area was traveled by so many humans throughout history, it’s ridiculous. But what’s very interesting in modern day, is that this is a DOC that actually straddles two regions, just like the lake straddles or kind of shares three provinces of regions. The Lugana DOC is primarily in Lombardia outside of Brescia, which we talked about earlier. And half of it is in the Veneto in the province of Verona. The majority of the wine is made, actually, 90 percent of it is made on the Lombardia side. And this is the thing, what you have here is a very unique little terroir deal, little sense of place, a little microclimate situation going on here where, this lake is huge. So it has a bunch of wind coming down from the Dolomites through, across the lake down to the bottom of the lake in the south.
And then as the wind gets into the land mass, it gets moved around by these hills. So it’s almost like a block. So you get all this lake effect air that is just trapped in these hills, and then no matter wherever you are in the hills, there are like little pockets of microclimates there. And what’s interesting, and also a testament to the amount of humans that have passed through this place over time is that there’s a major autostrada or a highway running through this DOC. And it just so happens that north of this highway or autostrada is a narrow band of a specific kind of soil composition. And they actually have a name for it locally, they call it minerale. And it’s limestone and limestone’s very good for wine, but it also has some clay. But it’s just a very, very bright white kind of soil that is great for one variety. Because there’s only one grape that has grown in this DOC and used. It is a grape called Turbiana.
And this is how I got to here. In the white wine category of Italian wine, there is a grape called Trebbiano. And I know I talked about it in the beginning of this episode, and in Abruzzo, but the thing is, there’s about five or more different Trebbiano grapes in Italy. But the thing is, they’re not a family of grapes. They’re not very related. The only relation they have is they have morphological similarities, meaning the vines and the way they grow are very similar, and the grapes look very similar. They’re big, they’re very whiteish, the vines, they ripen later, all these similarities that happen. But because of DNA profiling, we know that they are not related. So Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is its own variety, and actually, it’s a mystery as to really where that grape is from. That’s going to be for another time when we do the Abruzzo episode.
But here in Lugana, for a long time, the white wine grape that I’ve been talking about that they use was called Trebbiano di Lugana. And that was because of its morphological similarities with other Trebbiano in the area. At some point, DNA profiling comes around, and it is proven that Trebbiano di Lugana is actually the same grape as Verdicchio, which is a white wine grape that is grown in Le Marche, which is the region north of Abruzzo I talked about in the last episode, and absolutely we need to get a Le Marche episode because there’s some really great wine being made there. But Verdicchio is a Le Marche grape. So in Lugana they’re like, “Look, we need to change the name of this. It’s not a Trebbiano grape, it’s not Trebbiano de Lugana, it’s actually Verdicchio. But we don’t want to insult Le Marche with their long history of this variety.”
They had multiple regions with that variety. So the people of Lugana did something very smart. Through research, it shows that the earliest mention of the Trebbiano grape was in the 14th century and it was referred to as Trebbiana. And this is around northern central Italy, kind of where Lugana is. And the word Trebbiana, or Trebbiano, is thought to be from the medieval Franconian word draibio, which means “vigorous shoot,” which is exactly what one of these morphological similarities is about this vine. So it’s kind of cool. Trebbiana instead of Trebbiano. So the people of Lugana were like, “You know what? We are not going to call this grape Verdicchio. We are not going to call this grape Trebbiano di Lugana. Our grape is called Trebbiana, and it is a callback and an honor to the past.” So we have a DOC called Lugana that straddles two regions and has this lake effect of the largest lake in Italy.
And it deals with one variety that they would end up naming Trebbiana. And the thing about Lugana is they have different styles. They make different styles of wines from this one grape. They have a regular still white wine. They do a reserva, which they hold a little bit longer before they release it. They do sparkling wine as of recently with this wine. And they also, because Trebbiana is a high-acid white, it does very well with skin contact, or amber or orange wine hues. They even do a late-harvest dessert wine. I love wines from Lugana. I’ve had every single style except for the sweet wine. The thing is, what you’re going to experience out there on the American market is, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to find wines from Lugana. So you go to a wine shop that does a little bit of work and has a little bit of fun with exploration and with wines.
If you do see Lugana out there, it’s going to be pretty affordable. It’s going to range from 10 to 20 bucks. There are a little bit more expensive wines out there. The reservas can be a little bit more expensive; you’re not going to see a lot of the reservas. The thing is, this DOC is smack dab in the middle of one of the most touristy places in Italy. It’s between Verona and Brescia. It’s between Venice and Milan. I mean this is like, vacation crazy. There are places I’ve been on Lake Garda and when you’re sitting on Lake Garda and you’re looking around, you’re like, “My God.” It is an absolutely stunning place with beautiful hotels and all this stuff. So I’m saying that because there is a large amount of Lugana that makes it for the tourists, the tourism. The most basic Lugana whites you’re going to have are just very clean, somewhat little bit lemony, but not really, just easy to drink, high-acid whites that are great with lunch, and if you’re sitting on the lake it just works.
Or, if you’re going to have the reservas, there’s a little more depth in the wines. Sparkling wines obviously are great because of the high acids, good for a base wine for sparkling, so that works. But I just wanted to talk about Lugana ’cause I mentioned Trebbiano, and I was like, “Wait. There’s something fun.” And this is just one of those wines, where not a lot of people know about the Lugana DOC. It’s a fun wine to have just because it’s delicious, they’re great wines. In addition to that, here are some fun little facts for it you got on “Wine 101” to tell your friends. And have a great little evening with a white wine that people may not know and now know, it’s kind of cool. So, just wanted to throw down, this is kind of a short episode, but I wanted to throw down on some Lugana DOC because it deserves to be talked about and enjoyed. Okay, I’ll see you next week.
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And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.