Lugana wines tied to the soil, culture and heritage


Nice piece Dave. Interesting comment about the salts dissolved by the glacial seas.

Originally posted on Wine Openers:

DECENZANO DEL GARDA, BS, Italy – The grand expanse of Lake Garda , all 51.6 kilometers (about 32 miles) of it, laps gently at its southern end where it surrounds on three sides the peninsula of Sirmione, a finger of land just east of Decenzano del Garda.

Luca Formentini of Podere Selva Capuzze in Brescia shows a visitor how difficult to work are the clay-rich soils in the region at the south end of Lake Garda.

Formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age, the lake not only moderates the Mediterranean climate of the region but also provides a near-constant breeze, warming in winter and cooling in summer, which makes a key difference if you’re one of the 120 or so members of the Consorzio of Lugana winemakers.

“Look around and see, we are 110 meters above the lake,” said Luca Formentini, whose father bought the farm that now is

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Winery of the Week: Mannucci Droandi, An Organic Winery From Tuscany

Mannucci Droandi is a winery in the Valdarno area of Tuscany near the town of Montevarchi. The Valdarno is an ancient wine making region and is part of the province of Arezzo. Wine has been part of Arezzo’s history for centuries. The people living in this part of the peninsula were the mysterious Etruscans. An official registry from the 15th Century indicates that wines from the Valdarno di Sopra (on the hills) were considered to be of superior quality while the wines from around the piano di Arezzo (in the valley) sold for a lesser price. In fact, in 1716 Cosimo III de ’Medici announced ‘ a “Bando” designating four areas dedicated to the production of quality wine, – Chianti, Pomino, Carmigmano and Vald’Arno di Sopra.

The Mannucci Droandi family has been farming their land for many years, but used to sell their grapes until the 1990s, when they began making their own wines. The owner Roberto Giulio Droandi and his wife Maria Grazia Mammuccini run the estate They have two properties: the first is the Campolucci that has 6.5 hectares and is located on the eastern slopes of the Chianti Mountains at about 250 meters above sea level. The family has owned this property since 1929 and its alluvial, sandy and silt soils are organically certified.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Dindarella Nero from the Veneto


This week’s grape variety is from the Veneto and is called Dindarella Nero. It is generally used in blends but can also be made into a mono-varietal wine. It has a very thick skin so is quite good for drying and for the making of Recioto.. It is often used in the D.O.C. wines of Garda Orientale, Valdadige, and Valpolicella.

I found one winery, Azienda Agricola Brigaldara, which makes a 100% Dindarella. Apparently it is a low-alcohol, high acidity variety that is good for both light reds and rose. I have never tasted it. They will be at Vinitaly though and I hope to have the chance to do just that.

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Memorable Events: Wine in More – A Vinitaly Seminar – Part 2

Alessandro Torcoli

The seminar entitled “Wine is More – Message in the Bottle,” continues with five more producers who I will discuss in this companion piece to my first blog post. There were so many people and projects to talk about that I thought I would split it into two days.

The sixth producer to speak at the seminar was Albiera Antinori from the Antinori family. She showed us a film about the construction of their new headquaters in Bargino (San Casciano Val di Pesa) The work lasted six years and is a testament both to the family and the protection of the environment. The building is almost completely underground, built into a hill but is so large inside that it contains an auditorium that seats 250 people, as well as a restaurant, the winery, the tasting room, a store, a library and a museum.

The Antinoris are one of the most historic winemaking families in Italy. Albiera is the oldest of three sisters. The family had been in San Casciano for 200 years but the winery they wanted to build was too big for the town and for the population so they came up with an innovative project that only created two long cuts into the earth.


The wine we tasted was a Chianti Classico Riserva D.O.C.G. 2007 from Badia a Passignano. It is 100% Sangiovese. The wine is macerates and ferments in stainless steel and then ages in barriques of Hungarian and French wood where it undergoes malolactic fermentation for 14 months. It then spends 12 months in the bottle prior to release.

The wine was deep ruby red in color with intense and persistent dusty cherry notes of Sangiovese. It was dry and full-bodied with nice acidity and minerality, a bright version of Sangiovese with sweet tannins.


The next winery was San Patrignano from Emilia-Romagna. I have written about this winery in the recent past.

Riccardo Cotarella, the famed oenologist, spoke about the winery where he consults. He introduced us to two young men who had been part of the program and gone on to work in the industry. The winery is part of a larger institution which works with drug addiction. They have helped over 20,000 people since it was founded in 1978. Some of the programs they offer are tied to agriculture and viticulture in particular.

The wine we tasted is the same one that I had written about in my post, dedicated to the founder of San Patrignano, Vincenzo Muccioli, Avi stands for for “A Vincenzo.”

Lungarotti museum

The eighth producer was Lungarotti. Teresa Severini who runs the winery together with her sister Chiara was the speaker. She spoke about the wonderful oenological museum that they have created called the Museo del Vino di Torgiano (MUVIT) and the Museo dell’Olivo e dell’Olio (MOO). Giorgio Lungarotti and his wife Maria Grazia Marchetti were ahead of their time and opened the museum in 1974.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Lungarotti family in 2005, to visit the MUVIT and to stay at their hotel, le Tre Vaselle. It was one of my most memorable wine-related visits in my years in Italy.

We tasted their signature wine Rubesco Vigna Monticchio, Torgiano Rosso Riserva D.O.C.G. 2006. The wine is made from Sangiovese (70%) and Canaiolo (30%). The grapes are vinified in stainless steel and ferment on their skins for 15-20 days. The wine is then put into barrels of different sizes for 12 months. It then ages in the bottle for a further four years.

The wine was ruby red in color with intense and persistent aromas of earth and fruit. On the palate the wine was dry, full-bodied, with cherries, berries and ripe tannins. It was harmonious and balanced on the palate.

Lungarotti Museum 2

The ninth producer was Marilisa Allegrini. Marilisa spoke about her dream which was to purchase and restore the Villa Della Torre, a jewel of the Italian renaissance, created by famed architect Giulio Romano. The villa is used as the symbol of the winery and for wine tastings and wine tourism visits but it also hosts a series of initiatives for the Associazione Arcobaleno, part of the Oxfam Italia network that works with handicapped children.

We tasted her Palazzo della Torre, IgT Veronese 1998, a wine made with Corvina Veronese (70%), Rondinella (25%), and Sangiovese (5%). The grapes are harvested in September but they 30% are left to raisin until the first two weeks of January when they are added to the fermented wine and undergo a second fermentation. Malolactic fermentation takes place in April in barriques, The wine then ages in barriques for 15 months and finally spends 7 months in the bottles.

The wine was quite herbaceous and earthy on the nose with sweet cherry and berry fruit as well. On the palate it was similar, rich and luscious, it called for a hefty pasta or meat dish.

The tenth producer was Masi Agricola. Masi gives out a series of prizes every year, and 2014 is their 33rd edition. They give out prizes in three areas: the first is given to someone from the Veneto of distinction, the second someone in the wine world from outside of Italy and the third to a global figure who has contributed to spreading culture. Sandro Boscaini, the President of Masi Agricola wants the prize to be a symbol of his links to his land and its traditions, of which wine is one essential component. Since 2001, the group has promoted its cultural activities through the Masi Foundation,

We tasted the Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera. The wine is made from Corvina (70%), Rondinella (15%), Oseleta (10%), and Molinara (5%). The wine ages in oak barrel from Slavonia and France of 600 liters for 24 months. Oseleta is a very ancient variety that was brought back to life by Masi.

The wine was opaque in color and very powerful with intense and persistent notes of chocolate, red and black fruit and oak.

Another long seminar that ended with a bang. It was also held on the last day of the fair and was a spectacular way to close out the experience. Thank you Civilta del Bere.

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Memorable Events: Wine Is More – A Vinitaly Seminar – Part 1

Vinitaly Seminar

As Vinitaly approaches again, I have been going through my notes to see which producers I want to visit this year and what I have tasted and written about in the past. Of course, as happens to the best of us, numerous articles that I promised I would write last year didn’t get written. Not for lack of trying but for lack of time. Evidently I haven’t broken the habit of needing a deadline, formed when I was a young and further developed when I was a newswire journalist in Milan. Something about the pressure to write on deadline makes me get things done. I wish this weren’t the case and I guess that is why I am taking forever to write the book I have in mind. Musings about why things don’t get done are even less interesting to someone else than they are to me so enough of that…

“Wine is more – Message in the bottle” was the theme of the tasting I attended which showcased ten top producers and the socially-minded activities that their wineries fund or support in one way or another. I often work with non-for-profits and was particularly touched by the content of this seminar.

The first winery was Villa Russiz from Capriva del Friuli. The winery was created in 1869. The Villa Russiz has a foundation which manages their 90+ hectares and is a home for children in difficulty. Children from the age of 3 to 14 live in the home when they have been removed from their family homes which allows them support and a safe and loving environment.

The winery is also very active in the arts and signed an agreement with the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg to study the theme of wine landscapes in painting. The wine that we tasted was one made for the Hermitage with a special label to celebrate the museum’s 250th anniversary.

This white wine is the official wine of the Hermitage for the coming years thanks to the agreement they signed. The wine is from 2011 and was a 100% Tocai Friulano, Friuli per l’Ermitage, Collio D.O.C.

The next winery was Argiolas from Sardinia. Valentina who I have interviewed in the past, showed a beautiful film about the institutions her family has helped to create in the Democratic Republic of Congo together with the non-for-profits Africadegna and L’Associazione Alerte Solidariete Sante. The Argiolas family has helped to build a medical center and has helped to make sure that it can be self-sufficient even in terms of energy. The project is called Iselis and two wines were made to support and symbolize this initiative – Isola dei Nuraghi Igt Bianco e Rosso.

The wine we tasted was the Iselis Rosso made from 85% Monica, 10% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo. The wine spends time both in concrete where it undergoes malolactic fermentation and then spends another 12 months in barrique and six months in the bottle before being released into the market. According to Valentina, Monica is a great grape for aging while Bovale Sarda adds structure and backbone to the wine.

The wine was deep ruby red in color with an intense and persistent bouquet of herbs, earth, spice and pepper. On the palate it was dry, full-bodied, with ripe juicy tannins.

Civilta del Bere

Michele Chiarlo from Piedmont was the third winery in the line-up. The Chiarlo family has created a one of kind artistic park using works by Emanuele Luzzati. Works of art dedicated to the themes of the elements – air, water, fire and earth, are interspersed between the vines. Every year the family hosts a festival of art, theater and film in the Orme su La Court park.

The wine we tasted was the La Court “Nizza” Barbera d’Asti Superiore D.O.C.G. 2010. The wine spends 12 months in French oak, half of it spends time in barriques for 12 months. The wine then spends a second year in the bottle before release. Chiarlo was particularly pleased as he described how his father wanted to make a great Barbera in Piedmont, up to the task of competing with Barolo and Barbaresco.

The wine was a deep ruby red with intense and persistent black fruit aromas. On the palate it was dry, full-bodied with good acidity, rich cedar and oak flavors as well as chocolate notes. The tannins were ripe and welcoming, the wine velvety and enveloping.

Wine Is More

The fourth winery was Tasca d’Almerita from Sicily. In its 8th generation, Tasca is at the head of a group of wineries working on a project called SOStain that is involved in protecting the environment. The mission of the project is to promote sustainable agriculture. Tasca is convinced that the responsibility of each producer is to make great wine and to protect the land and the local flora and fauna while doing so. They have also created a mini-agricultural group called Naturaintasca that involves a group of local farmers who work with typical Sicilian products. Alberto Tasca d’Almerita showed a film I just loved about his family but I can no longer find it on the website. At a certain point in his speech, Alberto said the following line which I really appreciated as well, “We didn’t receive the gift of our lands from our fathers but as a loan from our children/Non abbiamo ricevuto la terra in eredita dei nostri padri ma in prestito dai nostri figli.” So much more to say about this project but I will write about that at another point.

The wine we tried was the Riserva del Conte, Contea di Sclafani D.O.C. 2010 made from 67% Perricone and 33% Nero d’Avola. The grapes are vinified together with ambient yeast, maceration lasts for 25 days during which time malolactic fermentation takes place. The wine then ages in 500 liter wooden barrels made from Chestnut wood for 26 months.

Ruby red in color with developing aromas of earth, fruit, animal skin and bacon, the wine was dry and full-bodied on the palate with flavors of oak, chocolate, and vanilla. It had sweet ripe tannins and a velvety mouthfeel.

The fifth winery was Casa Vinicola Zonin from Gambellara (Vicenza). Originally, they had only property in the Veneto but now are among the largest wine companies in Italy and in Europe with 1,800 hectares under vine. They are working on a project called Tergeo together with Unione Italiana Vini and other research institutions. At the core of the project is the concept that there are ethics to sustainability in terms of protecting the landscape, energy, education and of course, viticulture. In terms of the landscape, they look to protect biodiversity, in terms of energy to be self-sufficient, in terms of education they look to promote more of it and in terms of viticulture, they are moving towards biodynamic viticulture, already in place in Sicily at their winery Feudo Principi di Butera. In the Maremma, they are practicing organic composting at Rocca di Montemassi.

The wine we tried was their Rocca di Montemassim Igt Maremma Toscana 2010 made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 15% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Each grape variety is harvested and vinified separately in stainless steel and then aged in 350 tonneaux of first and second use for one year. The wine was a deep ruby red in color with persistent aromas and flavors of oak, bacon, fruit, and earth. The tannins were refined and ripe and the finish was long. I also found minerality in the wine which Francesco Zonin said came from the soil composition in this part of the Maremma.

I’m going to split this post into two parts like I did last weekend otherwise it will be too long for anyone to want to read. The experience though was very memorable and the stories and the wines powerful.

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Women In Wine Fridays: Tema Agricola From Sardinia


I first met Francesca, one of the women who runs Tema during a Vinitaly tour in New York in 2010. She was very charismatic and interesting and so I took the occasion to see her again and tasted her wines at Vinitaly in Verona where these photos were taken two yers ago. Together with her mother, Silvia, she started Tema in 2006 at an old farm on the coast of Sardinia near the city of Oristano. A river runs through this area called the Salighe. She described the area as having both mountains and sea. Additionally, the winery is close to the Capo Nieddu waterfalls. The farm used to be a stud farm for Anglo-Arab Sardinian horses and was then converted for use in the production of extra virgin olive oil. Francesca and her mother though wanted to plant grapes and make wines using Sardinia’s signature varieties: Vermentino and Cannonau.


The vineyards have somewhat sandy soils with layers of basalt. They use organic composting as fertilizer and do bunch thinning to control vigor. They also harvest all the grapes by hand. Their Vermentino grapes undergoe soft crushing and pressing and partial malolactic fermentation. The red grapes used for their Cannonau are macerated and are kept at a controlled temperature of 25-28 °C before fermenting and aging. The winery uses consulting oenologist Angelo Angioi. They make two wines, Silbanis and Orassale.


Silbanis was a nice expression of Vermentino with fresh flowers and white fruit aromas. It had considerable minerality and sapidity which I always get from wines that are produced near the sea. It is a perfect seafood wine while Orassale is a full-bodied, layered Cannonau with black and red fruit aromas and some earthy undertones, according to my notes.


When I first heard of the winery, I had no idea that it was linked to a gorgeous resort, Capo Nieddu. Their property is part of the “Costa di Cuglieri”, a specially protection area designated by the European Union. This region has a long historical tradition and many of the famed nuraghe that dot the Sardinian landscape. The nuraghe are megalithic structures developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900-730 BC. At that time, villages were made of huts of local stone and in the center they would have a large nuraghe. Everything about the resort looked interesting to me and it was clear that much attention is paid to details, just like with the labels of their wines. The labels were designed with ancient symbols of Sardinia in mind.

I confess I have had a long love affair with Sardinia since I first visited in 1993. I also had a marvelous three week stay there in 2001 sailing around the islands of the Maddalena. I have never visited the area around Oristano but meeting Francesca and tasting the wines certainly makes me want to go back and explore.

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Wine of the Week: Colline di Sopra from Montescudaio (Tuscany)

This post is as much about the winery Colline di Sopra as it is about their lovely labels. Unfortunately they are not yet distributed in the U.S. but they should be.


Everyone interested in wine, whichever side you are on (producer, customer, importer, retailer, wine bar owner, restaurateur, journalist, media spokeperson, etc) cares about the labels of the wines that they own, represent or write about. Producers tend to be attached to their labels for a variety of reasons including tradition, history, family or design.

Customers care about labels too especially ones that they can remember – think of the numerous apps that allow us to take pictures of labels and save them. Importers, retailers, wine bar owners and restaurateurs care about labels too because they want them to be easily recognizable by their customers.


Journalists and media spokespeople have a different take – they want labels that tell a story and are easy to photograph. I love looking at labels and finding out why people choose various patterns, icons, or set-ups. I find that I tend to like labels that are relatively simple, kind of like a Milanese kitchen, clean lines and uniform color schemes.

I came upon labels just like this last year at Vinitaly. Each year Vinitaly holds a packaging contest. This year, the 18th such contest saw a “Bardolino doc Classico 2013″ from Azienda Agricola Bigagnoli, win the special prize for best label of the year in the wine category, the “Premio speciale packaging 2014.”


I rarely mention labels here and always cringe when someone tells a producer what to do with their label but I understand the logic of it all and occasionally see the real need for it with some wines. The labels of the Colline di Sopra wines were quite simple and clean as were the wines inside those lovely bottles.

The winery was founded in 2006 and the vines were planted in 2007. The winery is located in the Montescudaio area in Tuscany with vineyards planted at 120-200 meters above sea level. The winery is only 10 kilometers from the sea and is subject to strong winds. They use organic viticulture practices, renewable energy and water maintenance. They also use gravity instead of pressing for the grapes. The soils are a mix with clay and marine fossils as one would expect in this location.


They make five wines, including Sopra which is 100% Sangiovese – aged in second use French oak barrels for 18 months and then in the bottle for another six monts; Eola IGT- a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese vinified and aged in stainless steel; Lara IGT- a blend of Merlot and Syrah also made in stainless steel; Ramanto IGT- Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot aged in French oak for 12 months and then 6 months in the bottle; and finally Luis IGT – a Moscato Bianco from raisined fruit that dries on wooden flats before being pressed into this .


Looking through my notes I had the word clean over and over again when describing these wines. I found them to be focused and have good acidity on the whole, derived I am sure from their particular micro-climate and soils. Definitely not a traditional winery, the labels were a great example of branding and conveying the message of what is in the bottle: clean, harmonious, modern wines, just like the labels.

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