While you may have heard of this region in Northern Italy (it is the home to Milan and Lake Como), you may not be as familiar with its wines. I mean, I’ve been studying wine, and it is not a region heavily covered by the wine texts (my CSW text gave it part of a column, and my WSET 3 text didn’t mention the region at all!)
If you have heard of wine from the region, it is likely to be Franciacorta. Everyone loves bubbles, and being relatively close to Milan (about 80 km East of Milan), you can find Franciacorta in every restaurant and bar.
Beyond that, I knew little about the wines of this region, which made our trip to the 2022 Wine Media Conference, held in the region, all the more exciting.
Ascovilo is the overarching organization for most of the DOCG, DOC & IGT wines in Lombardia. Franciacorta is the one exception, but they hope they will join them soon.
I attended the Wine Media Conference held in Desenzano del Garda in October. As a Conference attendee, I am required to write 3 articles on the Conference and/or its sponsors.
All opinions are my own. (Quite honestly, I am thrilled to get to tell you about the regions that Ascovilo represents)
The Province of Lombardia is located in North Central Italy. Switzerland at its Northern edge, Veneto to the East, Emilia Romagna to the South, and Piemonte to the West. (You can see it in the dusky blue color on the map above).
Lombardia’s capital, Milano, is the 2nd most populated city in Italy and one of the richest in Europe. It is famous for high end fashion and hosts Milan Fashion Week, which we caught a bit of during our recent stay.
Ascovilo stands for the Associazion Consorzio Vini Lombardi. They represent 13 associations in the region, from Valtellina in the North to Vini Mantovani in the south. As a primary sponsor for the Wine Media Conference, they helped us to discover the wines, regions, and people of this area.
While we could not visit all of the wine regions in Lombardia, we got a pretty good overview and want to share our discoveries with you!
The conference offered several pre and post-conference excursions. These experiences allow the regions to get us out into the vineyards and wineries to see the landscape and taste the wines. The landscape and the wines are intrinsically connected. Our first excursion showed us that immediately.
Moscato di Scanzo
Moscato di Scanzo
Just North East of Milan is Bergamo, a medieval city in the hills filled with ancient stairways and beautiful views. Beyond that, you find Scazorosciate, where on the slopes of the Orobic Pre-Alps, you find the Moscato di Scanzo DOCG.
You are probably familiar with Moscato, so that you will be expecting a sweet wine, and so it is. But unexpectedly, it is red.
This rare grape is believed to have first been found in the region in the mid-fourteenth century. There are but 31 hectares of this grape planted. Our first stop was to the far eastern end of the region to Martini col di Paste, where we could look out at all 31 hectares, the second smallest DOCG in Italy.
The hills roll, and there are flatter sections and steeper sections. On the eastern edge is Tribulina, the flatter area. Moving west from Tibulina, the Rosciate area has steeper hills. Finally, you reach the Scanzo area, where the slopes are quite steep.
The wine is made in the passito method, where the grapes are dried and then pressed, and while this is a sweet wine, it is not just for dessert! It pairs beautifully with rich risottos and savory dishes.
We visited Moscato Martinelli for a delicious lunch and tasting of the wines, then continued on to visit the 17th century Villa Pagnoncelli Folcieri with Consorzio President Francesca Pagnoncelli Folcieri. She welcomed us into her historic home so graciously and from the back courtyard we could see the steep hill here in Scanzo where she grows the Pagnoncelli Folcieri grapes, as her father and grandfather did before her.
This region is stunning, the wine delicious and fascinating, and the people? Well, the people were amazing (this is a neighborhood I would love to live in!).
(Watch for a Discovering Wine Country Episode this Spring for an in-depth dive into this region!)
The Consorzio Tutela Valcalepio is also near Bergamo. It covers the IGT Bergamasca and 3 DOCs Bergamasca, Valalepio, and Terre del Colleioni.
While most regions in Italy are filled with indigenous grapes, when the Valcalepio DOC was formed in 1976, they found that most of the grapes planted in the area were International grapes. The vineyards here had been abandoned, and when interest in winegrowing started up again in the mid-1970s, producers planted the international grapes that were most popular, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Bianco.
Consorzio President Emanuele Medolago Albani welcomed us at the Villa Redona, where we enjoyed stunning views. The Villa is in the hills of Redona in Trescore Balneario. The Villa dates back to the 18th century.
Their hospitality was incredible, and the light supper of tasty bites was never-ending!
Don’t try to go too Italian on this pronunciation. It is actually ‘Val – Tennesee,’ just like the state.
Here we have come further east to the ‘Lago di Garda,’ or Lake Garda, which is the dividing line between Lombardia and Veneto.
We visited the Consorizio Valtènesi Riviera del Garda. “Riviera” is telling in their title. The Valtenesi region spans Lake Garda’s western side, known as “Gardesana Occidentale” or “Riviera dei Limoni.” There is another tell, “Limoni.” While we are in Northern Italy, close to the Swiss border, this region is known for its lemons. The lake produces a Mediterranean climate that allows these fruits to grow. This beautiful region has another thing in common with another Riviera that you might be familiar with in Southern France: their rosé.
The Consorzio Valtènesi Riviera del Garda Classico is a region for rosé, which here is often referred to as Chiaretto.
Juri Pagani, who handles Promotional events and communications for the Consorzio, took us into the region. The feeling of the area is definitely “Riviera,” and he tells us that during the summer, the two-lane road that skirts the edge of the lake is packed with tourists from Italy and Germany. I am reminded of West Palm Beach with the colors and the palm trees.
The drive took us North to Vittoriale degli Italiani, home of the poet and free thinker Gabriele d’Annunzio. The Consorzio maintains a small vineyard, with vines are planted in a star formation in honor of Gabriele d’Annunzio, who often used an asterisk ‘*’ as his signature.
They made a wine in 2019 from these grapes, ‘Rosa del Vittoriale.’ This wine had only 1000 bottles that were on sale at the home of Gabriele d’Annunzio. We were lucky enough to leave with a bottle of this rare wine. I will post a pairing with this wine in the future.
We moved on to visit “The Wine House,” which houses the Consorzio offices and a tasting room. In this room, lined with bottles, they had set up for us to taste about 50 rosés of the region as well as some red wines. A light lunch our tasting on the patio with views of the lake with the Consorzio President Alessandro Luzzago.
The grape that dominates here is Groppello (grohp-PEH-loh), a grape native to the region. The grape has thin skin and is violet-blue. Many of the wines here are made in the Molmenti method, called the “wine of one night.” This rosé method gently presses the grapes leaving them on the skins for just a few hours.
I find that I really enjoy these wines. They are light but with a depth of flavor and character. They are not Provençe. They are another beautiful interpretation of a grape in a rosé style. Rosé, after all, is just a style and color of wine. Why would we lump all rosé together without speaking of terroir and variety? Would we do that with red wine or white wine?
They have been working with Provençe to promote European rosés from regions with a PDO (protected designation of origin).
After our tasting, we moved on to visit three additional wineries. First, to Pasini San Giovanni to meet the winemaker Paolo Pasini. After touring the vineyard, winery, and cellar, we tasted their rosés, including the Lettera C, which just won the Tre Bicchieri 2023 and Rosé of the Year 2023 from Gambero Rosso. At Costaripa (winner of a 2022 Tre Bicchieri), where we met with the charismatic and energetic Nicole Vezzola, who speaks eloquently and passionately about the rosé of Valtenèsi. They were finishing harvest at Ca Maiol, where they make both Lugana and Valtènesi in a vast facility. Busy as they were, they gave us a tour of the immense winery. We ended the evening at Cobue Winery, enjoying dinner with Valtènesi wines as we chatted with winemakers from the region.
This was an exquisite day, and you can expect a Discovering Wine Country episode devoted to this region.
Garda DOC & Piave DOP
The Garda DOC was our location for the conference. The Conference Hotel was in Desenzano del Garda, the resort area at the base of Lake Garda that includes the island of Sirmione.
This DOC was created in 1996. It includes multiple DOCs spanning Lombardia and Veneto. These include Valtènesi, Lugana, San Martino Della Battaglia, Bardolino, Valdadige, Valpollicella, Soave, Lessini Durello, Custoza and Colli Mantovani. What ties all these regions together is the influence this expansive lake has on the climate of these surrounding regions.
I was familiar with Lugana and its wines. We tasted their wines at the Wine Media Conference ( then called the Wine Bloggers Conference) in Walla Walla, Washington, a few years ago. These wines, made of the white grape Turbiana, come in a variety of styles. You begin with the fresh young “Lugana,” the “Lugana Superiore,” a wine aged for one year after harvest, which adds to the complexity of the wine. “Lugana Riserva” adds to that aging, with two years, of which at least six months in bottle. These three are dry white wines.
There are two more styles the “Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva,” a late harvest wine that is richer and sweeter, and “Lugana Spumante,” the sparkling version that you will find made in both the Charmat and Classic Methods.
There are lots of discussions out there about Turbiana. Turbiana has been called Trebbiano del Garda, this grape is a relative of Trebbiano, but it is different. Like genetically different. It is also related to Verdicchio. This wine can age to beautiful nuttiness, as I can attest to from my tasting.
This region sits directly south of Lake Garda, in an area that was once a swamp (like Bordeaux).
We had an opportunity to do an experiential tasting at the conference with these wines. This beautiful box arrived in front of us.
The idea was to tie these wines to all of your senses. The box included a blindfold so that we could intensify our other senses. Three were pieces of fabric, one silky, one with more texture. There were jars with aromas of yeast and field herbs and, finally, a Montasio DOP Stagionati aged cheese to pair with the wine. It sounds simple, but after days of tasting wines in the traditional method, this allowed us to experience the wine in a new way. The wines we tasted spanned styles and wineries.
In addition to this tasting and other Lugana wines we tasted at our final event at the Castle of Desenzano, we also drove through the region, stopping to visit Cantina Zamichele. Allesandro Zamichele took us to his vineyards which are scattered throughout the region. Zamichele is focused on the land. The joy in Alessandro’s eyes as he pointed out the songbirds in the trees and showed us the beehives on their properties spanned our language difficulties. The winery and cantina are solar-powered, and they don’t use pesticides. The vineyard by their winery is next to a preschool. They have to keep the chemicals away to keep the children safe. Alessandro believes all vineyards should be safe like this.
Our post-conference trip was to Valtellina. This region is on the Northern side of the Orobic Alps. You might remember we mentioned these Alps while we were in Bergamo. Valtellina is sandwiched between these alps, sometimes called the Bergamasque Alps, and the Bernina Alps, which cross into Switzerland. This region is known for its Chiavennasca, the name for Nebbiolo here.
Yes, Nebbiolo, you know, the wine of fame in Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo was found here in the 17th century, and as they tell it, it then moved to the Piemonte.
Here, in this steep valley, Nebbiolo grows on the steep south-facing slopes. The vines grow on terraces with 2500 km of dry stone walls that are hand-tended and UNESCO-protected. Biodiversity is necessary, the plant life helping to contain erosion and keep the terraces from washing away. The climate here on the terraces can be more Mediterranean. You even find types of high desert plants growing here.
They call this heroic viticulture. Climbing the vineyards, I can attest to that. During the harvest, when we were there, we saw helicopters flying in. Some larger wineries find this an easier and quicker method for getting the grapes from the vineyard plots on the mountain to the winery.
The styles of Nebbiolo here include: Rosso di Valtellina DOC, the youngest and freshest, must be aged for at least 6 months before release. Valtellina Superiore DOCG is more complex, with a minimum of 24 months of aging, with at least one of those years in wood. There is a Riserva version of Valtellina Superiore, which requires a minimum of 36 months of aging. Finally there is the Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG. This wine is harvested later than the others and is dried in the passito method to concentrate the flavor. The grapes dry in special trays in traditional drying rooms, drying until the beginning of December and then pressed. These wines must age for a minimum of 20 months with at least 1 year of that in wood.
We look forward to giving you a deep dive into the region in a Discovering Wine Country Episode, where we spent a day with two winemakers from the region at Marcel Zanolari & La Perla Marco Triacca in their vineyards.
We stopped in Mantova after our all-too-short visit to Lugana. It was the last of our stops in Lombardia.
Mantova (Mantua) is in a flat fertile section of land south of Lugana. The city is surrounded by three artificial lakes, like a giant moat. The Palazzo Ducal dominates the skyline as you reach the city.
We drove south of the city for about a half hour to visit Bugno Martino, a Lambrusco producer whose wines we had tasted before. Rafaella took us through the vineyards and winery, then pulled out cheese and her husband’s homemade sausage to try as we tasted their delicious wines.
Lambrusco is mainly known from the Emilia Romagno region just south of Lombardia. The Lambruscos of Mantova are rarely thought of as high quality, and Bugno Martino is out to change this. Taste their wines, and you will understand. While most Lambrusco is made in the Charmant or tank method, they also make Lambrusco in the traditional method with second fermentation in the bottle.
We spent a good part of an afternoon with Rafaella, and yes, there will be an episode of Discovering Wine Country devoted to our visit with her.
We spent the night in the city of Mantova, built by the Gonzaga rulers in the Renaissance. We stayed in a top-floor room with beams and skylights just off the Piazza Sordello. In the morning, we wandered the city, walking along the lake and then back through the city, listening to the church bells, then taking coffee on the Piazza.
We have just skimmed the surface of Lombardia here and its wines. Visit the Ascovilo site for more information and links to all the Consortia regions. Then watch for more in-depth articles on each of these regions here on Crushed Grape Chronicles!
More on Italy from Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Bertani – Finding a way through innovation and tradition to maintain quality amidst climate change.
- Le Marche Italy – Verdicchio and beyond #ItalianFWT
- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG My Style (Extra Brut) with Cicchetti
- Wines of Family with Chianti Classico from Famiglia Cecchi and a Tuscan Style Ragu #ItalianFWT
- Pallotte Cac e Ove – Orecchiette with 2 Brilliant Cherry Red Rosatos from Southeast Italy #ItalianFWT
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
Check out our book “Tempting Spoonfuls” available through Amazon!
Inspired by the flavors and aromas in wines, this book creates “tempting spoonfuls” of flavors to pair with wines.
Robin has always had a love for spoons, with a drawer full of them in all different shapes and sizes. There is comfort in eating something from a spoon and something very sensual also.
Creating a spoon filled with flavors and aromas that will be eaten in a single bite, allowing the flavors to meld and pop in your mouth, is a joyful endeavor, and you are encouraged to make these your own.
The spoons range from savory to sweet, with something for everyone, and while they are paired with wines, they are delicious on their own.
These recipes are wonderful for appetizers and hors d’oeuvres or simple to create something delicious to spoil yourself, much like a pint of ice cream.
Each of these spoons is paired with a specific wine, and you get a bit of background on the wine, its flavors, aromas, and a bit of its story. She also includes other suggestions for wines to pair with the spoon.
The book is a feast for your eyes, with photos of each layered spoonful.
There are also photos of the wines with the elements of their flavor profile surrounding them. Those elements often inspire the pairing.
The goal is to make your mouth water and encourage you to create your own “Tempting Spoonfuls.”