Lombardy calls many things to mind, from Milan’s fashionisti to Cremona’s liutaii or instrument-makers—Stradivarius, Guarneri and company—from magnificent lakes to the winding river Po and the Alps without end. Not wine, though. Not yet.
Italy’s most populous (nearly 9,000,000) and fourth largest (9000-odd square miles) region ranks 11th with only 54,000 acres under vine. That’s largely because Lombardy is so close to Europe’s industrial centers. Even its agriculture is almost industrialized: the vast Paduan Plain in its broad eastern reaches north of the Po became the Breadbasket of Italy. And there’s the plain fact that many sophisticated urbanites have skanced local wines in favor of imports.
That was yesterday. Now Lombardy’s three DOCG wines (Franciacorta, Valtellina Superiore and Sforzato della Valtellina) have become five with the addition of Oltrepò Pavese and Moscato di Scanzo, and the region ranks fourth in DOC production (56 percent of its total).
Franciacorta’s DOCG sparkling wines, all bottle-fermented, can stand beside the best of all Europe. The zone, which also produces Terre di Franciacorta DOC still reds and whites, lies between Brescia and Lago Iseo. The Milanese have taken notice, and pride, at last. In the Valtellina, a zone under the Alps and east of Lake Como, they hardly get a chance to. The wily and thirsty Swiss nip over the border to snap up Valtellina’s wines up lickety-split. Valtellina Superiore DOCG’s (Valgella, Sassella, Grumello and Inferno, and Sforzato della Valtellina, an Amarone-style wine from dried grapes). The grape is Nebbiolo, here called Chiavennasca, which isn’t Italian for hair-raising but should be. Valtellina’s viticoltura eroica or ‘heroic viticulture’ rears vines on impossibly high terraces on vertiginously steep slopes. The visitor who climbs up will soon need new knees; climbing down will require new nerves.
South of Milan, Pavia and even the Po, lies a grape-cluster-shaped zone called the Oltrepò Pavese, or “beyond the Po.” It’s a leader in Pinot Nero, which once was mostly sold to Piedmont. Now? Not so much. More is bottled at home these days, and some is made into sparkling wine. Barbera and Bonarda do well here, as do Rieslings and Moscatos.
As the region becomes more wine-oriented—something that’s bound to happen as the prestige of Italian wines continue to grow—we can expect to hear more of the wines from the lake country, where Lombardy’s Alpine climate is moderated by the waters of Garda, Iseo, Como and Maggiore.
Regional Wine Appellations:
Capriano del Colle
Garda Colli Mantovani
Moscato di Scanzo
Riviera del Garda Bresciano
San Colombano al Lambro
San Martino della Battaglia
Terre di Franciacorta
Valtellina Rosso or Rosso di Valtellina
Collina del Milanese
Montenetto di Brescia
Provincia di Mantova or Mantova
Provincia di Pavia or Pavia
Ronchi di Brescia
Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio