Wines of Lugana: The Art of Exquisite

lugana-consorzioA few items on my short list of things exquisite:

Sunset off Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard
Michelangelo’s “Pieta”
Musical counterpoint of JS Bach

But, I am inspired to make an addition 😉

Attending an event at Eataly’s La Scuola Grande (NYC) celebrating the wines of Italy’s Lugana territory allowed me to taste broadly through a select group of the region’s wines. It was a great tasting experience in that I was able to better appreciate the finely etched detail and exquisite expression which Lugana’s wines have to offer.

I mean, yes, Lugana’s white wines from around Italy’s Lake Garda do sip well in summer. But, they offer so much more than good summer quaffing, expressing a certain beauty and charm composed of delicate, fine distinctions.

You will find it written that Lugana wines are produced with Trebbiano di Lugana, but the best practice, I think, is to know the varietal by its local name, Turbiana, as it is now generally becoming recognized uniquely by that name, distinct from other Trebbiano vines.

lugana-creeteLocated between Lombardia and Veneto, Italy’s Lugana wine region is a smallish area with a big terroir advantage. The rare, hard clay found in the Lake Garda area coupled with the mild, breezy micro-climate influences of the lake, create rather ideal conditions for Turbiana.

I do believe appellation regulations require Lugana wines be produced from at least 90% Turbiana, allowing for 10% other non-aromatic white varietal. The production fact of the matter, I understand, is that producers routinely opt to use 100% Turbiana.

Lugana wines are produced at five different levels, those being normale or basic, superiore, riserva, late harvest, and spumante. It’s a great model, actually, as the levels allow wine lovers to appreciate and enjoy the longevity of Turbiana – ah, yes, Turbiana can age well – up to 3-4 years for basic, 10 years for superior and riserva. While basic level wines will highlight energy and freshness, superior and riserva wines can reveal more structure, complexity, notes of herb, nut, wood, etc.

lugana-wines1All in all, as a group, the Lugana wines I tasted were vibrant, many showing a distinctive minerality, subtlety salty in a way. Delicate, refined fragrances…fruity, floral, citrus, grace notes of herb and almond. Medium acidity that impressed with delicious crispness. Suppleness in the mouth, yet maintaining an elegant intensity on the palate.

Slam-dunk food pairings include freshwater fish, shell fish, grilled chicken / pork, cured meat, young cheeses, summer vegetables, risotto, appetizers, melon / prosciutto.

Coincidentally, during the month of July 2015 Eataly NYC is celebrating Lugana’s wines with a “Lugana: The Wine, The Land” theme, a wonderful idea! You can taste Lugana wines and learn about the territory without ever leaving the city 🙂

Event coordinated by Vigneto Communications.

Wines of Crete

Every once and a while the wine winds seem to blow the right way. Having been recently lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend an educational master class featuring the wines of Crete, it was my pleasure to spend a few pleasant hours of learning and tasting.

wines-of-crete-2015Crete’s wines are actually … shockingly good.

In fact, the word ‘delicious’ would not be inappropriate here.

I do anticipate, though, a slight challenge for those who are perhaps interested in checking out Crete wines for themselves: the varietal names are not exactly familiar ones, even among tradespeople.

So, rather than try to convince you that I am a bright fellow by, say, walking you through an historical timeline of Cretan wine making – which, by the way, extends impressively back to 4,000 B.C. when systematic winemaking began in Crete – I will provide a bit of varietal guidance that should get you closer to a memorable glass of Cretan wine posthaste.

Here’s what you need to know when inquiring about Crete’s wines at your wine shop:

White Grapes

Still somewhat rare, wines made from Dafni grapes have an herbaceousness about them, most notably the scent of bay leaves, as well as notes of citrus and honey.

Malvasia di Candida
Sub-variety of Malvasia with an arousing, fragrant bouquet, sophisticated personality, good acidity.

Muscat di Spina
This varietal produces hugely scented, fresh, vivid dry wines.

Plyto produces well-balanced wines with a pleasantly fruity nose and medium acidity.

Undisputed star white varietal of Crete, Vilana wines are enchantingly aromatic, soft on the palate, with lemony acidity, medium alcohol, and Granny Smith freshness.

Grown all over Crete, Thrapsathiri is uniquely aromatic with a rich, soft palate underscored with gentle acidity.

Aromas of apricots and peaches, herbs, mouth-watering acidity, with a subtle, creamy richness on the palate and good minerality.

Red Grapes

Scented of plums, fleshy on the palate and only softly tannic, Kotsifali is often referred to as the “Merlot” of Crete.

Pale in color, with good intensity, Liatiko produces sweet and dry wines of unique character, perfumed of herbs, dried fruit, flowers. Softly tannic.

Considered to be king of Crete’s native red varietals, Mandilari makes wines of rich, red color and typically firm tannins. Often blended with Kotsifali.

Romeiko grapes produce vivacious, high alcohol wines with good acidity.

wines-of-crete-stilianou-2015Throughout the tasting segment, I found the wines of Crete brought good consistency, quality and value. And although international varietals are indeed part of the Cretan wine scene, it is very clear to me that Crete’s wine producers are pursuing their own unique identity and there seems no indication whatever to create, say, another internationally-styled wine that could be from “anywhere”.

Since the focus of this post is really the Crete varietals and the intention to familiarize readers with them, individual tasting notes seem less important here. That said, here are some producers / wines which totally stood out for me and deserve mention:

Dourakis Kudos 2014 – Malvazia Aromatica 100%
Gavalas Fragospito 2014 – Malvazia Aromatica 50%, Muscat di Spina 50%
Strataridakis Muscat di Spina 2014 – Muscat di Spina 100%
Diamantakis Vidiano 2014 – Vidiano 100%
Idaia “Ocean” 2014 – Thrapsathiri 100%
Efrosini “Lumincino” 2014 – Chardonnay 60%, Thrapsathiri 40%
Mediterra “Mirambelo” 2011 – Kotsifali 80%, Mandilari 20%
Stilianou “Theon” 2007 – Kotsifali 75%, Mandilari 25%
Domaine Paterianakis 2012 – Kotsifali / Mandilari, % unknown

The master class format allowed for tasting all the wines with food. With such a great Cretan food tradition, the wines of Crete were, as you’d expect, absolutely killer at table. So sensational was a bite of grilled octopus paired with Vidiano that I nearly wept 😉

To learn more about the wines of Crete please visit Wines of Crete