In mid-November I was invited by Susannah Gold, brand ambassador for the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC, to join a small group of New York oenophiles for a intimate dinner featuring the white wines of Lugana, paired with authentic Mexican dishes at La Palapa. The restaurant is owned by Barbara Sibley, a chef and artist born in Mexico City who was influenced by the likes of Julia Child, James Beard and Sarah Moulton. She is a past President of the Board of the NY Women’s Culinary Alliance, on the Board of Directors of Les Dames D’Escoffier New York Chapter and is a member of the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. 

Lugana DOC

Lugana is a rather small, diamond shaped, DOC that is located partially in both Lombardy and Veneto and sits along Lago di Garda, Italy’s largest lake. The DOC is one of only a few that actually crosses a regional border.  Bounded on the north by Lake Garda and by low hills consisting of boulders and stones that were formed by the Alpine glaciers from the Ice Age on its other borders. The lake basin has an extreme effect on the climate within Lugana. It allows for mild winters and moderately hot summers; somewhat Mediterranean. Between the matrix of sand  and clay, the lake’s ability to control the temperature and the surrounding hills, the Lugana DOC has a very distinct terroir. 

Wine regions of Lake Garda map

Focus on Liquid Gold

The saying “A jack of all trades is a master of none,” is taken to heart by the Lugana wineries. They focus on one grape variety; Trebbiano di Soave. Trebbiano di Soave is genetically the same as the respected Verdicchio grape of Marche, but neither of these names are used. Instead, the local variety is better known as Trebbiano di Lugana or more often by the historic name Turbiana.

Over 95% of Lugana DOC wines are dry, still white wines.  The remaining five percent are sparkling and late-harvest.  There is a strict regulation that all styles of Lugana must have a minimum of 90% Turbiana, although the majority are actually 100%. 

Turbiana’s characteristics include high acidity and pronounced aromas of white flowers, citrus and almond. In those rare instances that the wine is blended, you can typically expect to see Friulano as its mate. The category must have an ABV of at least 10.5%.  Lugana still wines can be further divided into Superiore and Riserva categories. Superiore requires lower yields, an alcohol ABV of at least 12% and a minimum aging of 1 year. Riserva follows all the rules of the Superiore, but requires a minimum aging of two years. 

Turbiana grapes
Turbiana Grapes used for Lugana   photo credit: Li Valentine

The Tasting

In order to demonstrate the diversity of the Lugana wines, Susannah had previously hosted a dinner at Jing Fong in Chinatown. Both the wines and food were highly relished by all who attended. To continue the affirmation of Turbiana’s distinctiveness, we were able to sample the wines with some of the best Mexican food in NYC. (I apologize for the lack of photos. The restaurant was extremely dark and none of my photos came out worthy of the wines or food)

Guacamole and 2016 Famiglia Olivini Lugana DOC Brut Metodo Classico

Holy cow is all that I can say about this pairing. First off, the guacamole was out of this world and the homemade tortilla chips were incredible. It was the best I have ever tasted. There was just a hint of heat that was soothed by the sparkling wine. I would have been content with this pairing the entire evening. The wine was pale straw in color with aromas of tropical fruit and white flowers. Creamy on the palate with crisp acidity and more tropical fruit on the palate.

Spumante exclusively obtained from Trebbiano di Lugana grapes, made with the traditional classic method. After an early harvest, the wine is fermented in the bottle, resting on the yeasts for least 48 months, thus acquiring its typical characteristics. The perlage is fine and persistent, the scents are definitely fruity, accompanied by a fresh, savoury but at the same time creamy and defined taste with light bubbles.

2018 Cà Maiol Lugana Molin (in between course wine)

The carefully selected grapes come from the oldest vines of the Molino vineyard. Vinification following cryomaceration (leaving the grape must in contact with the skins at a low temperature) enables us to obtain a Lugana that has greater structure and more refined aromas.

Pale straw in color with a beautiful almond nose. Light and crisp with flavors of herbs, mint and stone fruit. 

Chalupas con Chorizo and 2017 Ottella Le Creete

The only Chalupa I had ever heard of before was from Taco Bell. Let me just say that Taco Bell should no longer be allowed to call what they serve Chalupa after having had these! The bite size corn massa boat was filled with homemade chorizo, crema and salsa verde and were heavenly. 

Delicate, soft pressing of the whole bunch for most of the production, the rest with gentle destemming by oscillation. Thereafter, a strict protocol of vinification: racking for natural sedimentation, slow, temperature-controlled fermentation (14°/18°); fining for 6/8 months on fine lees.

The wine was pale golden in the glass. Aromas of pineapple and guava with flavors of pineapple, passionfruit and minerality. 

Crepas de Huitlacoche and 2015 Bosco del Gal Lugana Superiore

The dish is made with special mushrooms that grow on the corn itself and is a traditional dish in Mexico. The smut, from a fungus called Ustilago maydis, transforms the kernels into a bulbous, bulging bluish-grey gall and considered a delicacy. Traditionally, families would walk for mile to find infected cornstalks and gather a single basket. “It may have been ambrosia of the Aztec gods with an inky, mushroomy flavor that is almost impossible to describe,” wrote Diana Kennedy, the “Julia Child of Mexico,” in her 1986 book The Cuisines of Mexico.

The wine is made from Trebbiano di Lugana vines that are 10-25 years. ABV is 13% and spent four months in barrels. Another exceptional pairing as the full bodied wine cut through the rich cream of the dish. 

Tacos de Pescado a la Guacasalsa AND Camarones y Mole Negro con Platanos with 2015 Selva Capuzza Menasso Riserva

The food kept coming and although my stomach was saying enough, my brain and palate were saying give me more. They were kind enough to modify this dish, as I do not eat seafood. The tacos had an achiote, chile andd citrus rub along with two salsas: an avocado and tomatillo and a chipotle crema. The sweet plaintains were covered in a Oaxacan black mole sauce. 

Produced from a selected plot within the Selva Cru, the Menasasso grapes, that make up this rich and refined white wine, are harvested few days after the regular vintage to explore the full potential of the this wonderful vineyard.

The wine, to me, was the quintessential expression of Turbiana. Full bodied and full of that almond and citrus aromas that are expected. On the palate the acidity and citrus were ideal for the mixture of foods.

Crepas con Cajeta and 2015 Marangona Rabbiosa Vendemmia Tardiva

Just when I didn’t think I could put another bite in my mouth, out came the dessert. There was no way I wasn’t finding room! Tender crepes folded with goat’s milk caramel and toasted pecans sounded way too good to pass up, and after tasting, well worth the calories! 
Produced solely with Turbiana native grapes. in the oldest vineyard of the farm the grape is left in the plant with greater exposure to air currents. This, in favorable years, allows the cluster to alternate the nocturnal humidity of late October with the dry climate of the day. This allows the development of botrytis on the skin of the berries, with consequent concentration of all the components of the must. The harvest is carried out in November, to allow the fungus to interact with the grape so as to develop new aromatic precursors and provide for a natural concentration of the juice.
The first thing that was so incredible to me was that this wine has 26g/L of residual sugar but did not taste overly sweet at all. The second surprising thing was that the dessert was not sweet either. This was truly an ideal pairing and a perfect one to finish off the evening.

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