In quiet fields and rolling countryside, mixed with daily living in the villages around and East of the Southernmost tip of Lake Garda, you will find a growing association of farmers utilizing the local varieties of Earth and transforming the landscape into lush fields of wine grapes. Officially titled the Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valipolicella along with Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC, with the cooperation of farmers, distributors, and representatives, plus the help of logistically minded salespeople; this brand is sure to grow in the United States but in a very traditional way.
I was invited to attend the 50th Anniversary Trade & Media Tasting on Monday, October 15, 2018 at the historic Chicago Cultural Center, organized by Balzac Communications. During the first 90 minutes, local vendors and wine distributors listened to a wine presentation put on by Valpolicella & Lugana, along with other guest speakers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation while I used the time to chat with the reps who were setting up their tables for the trade tasting that followed.
During my time there, I learned a fascinating amount of information about the culture of the Lake Garda region and why their association is much different than any other. Roughly 3 dozen wines were being sampled at the trade show and no two were similar to the next table because of the unique geography of the region.
Like the Great Lakes, Lake Garda was formed during the last Ice Age and the glaciers that were left behind formed the region that these grapes originate. Unlike Chicago with it’s winters, Northern Italy does have a cold season but it consists mostly of damp, rainy weather. Also, the glaciers in Italy were less destructive to the landscape and left many rolling hills and valleys, allowing for each homestead farmer to create a unique variety in each bottle.
There were roughly 12 different vendor tables, all representing a different farm and their bottles of wine. Most were proud to only have 16 or 38 hectares dedicated to wine production, knowing that their production is special to their wine. The limited nature of these wines will confuse the traditional American consumer who wishes to have the same go-to bottles of wine on hand for guests. That is not the intention of this association nor is it something they will choose to produce in the future.
What makes wines like these so special is the expiration of knowing, “I enjoyed this bottle of wine and I may never taste it again”.
When I called around to some of the bigger selection wine stores and smaller, owner/proprietors in Chicago, I had no luck in finding a bottle in stock, but all asked for a link to this article upon completion.
I personally tried the Ca Maiol Lugana DOP 2017 and Lugana DOP Molin 2017 white wines and found the sweetness close to that of fresh-squeezed apple juice and left a delectable aftertaste that needed no palate cleansing and may have even wasted the remnants of the smoothness across your tongue.
Next, I sampled the Domenico Fraccaroli). This was an excellent representation of how one field can produce the same grape each year, but each vintage a different experience. I personally sampled the 2012, 2014, and 2017. The representative and I agreed on his assessment that one is meant as an everyday wine and another would be well represented at a business or important lunch. This wine would cut through any heavily spiced dish or rich cheese easily. One of the wines I did find that I tasted the alcohol content too heavily but that’s one for the record books.
Then, I revisited the white wine selection with Sgreva(. When I drink white wine, it is a chore for me and I rarely enjoy it. This selection is one of the few examples of white wine I would actually consider buying for myself. The 2017 “Eufrasia” and 2017 “Sirmio” differ in that one is grown in clay soil and the other in a more sandy environment, giving a different body to each variety. What made this wine so unique was the natural mineral content found in the grapes themselves which honestly had me confusing the wine for mineral water in a fantastic way. Your palate, however, will not be confused, but rather satisfied by the light aftertaste of a citrus that never existed.
Finally, I was treated to Villa San Carlo. They had four wine samplings which I found bold for a small 22 hectare (roughly 54 acres) farm. I must admit, I think I tried them all, the problem is I enjoyed the conversations with the vendor at this table and the wine so much that all I can say is this red collection was the standout winner of the day.
The reason why I had such a hard time remembering what I actually tasted with this selection was the representative was so eager to share the weather conditions of each year off the top of her head, that’s how knowledgeable these representatives were about their wines. They are passionate about what they produce and give to the world, that they continually revisit the region each year to learn and absorb what is coming next.
I found the entire group full of new friends who were more than welcoming and excited to be in Chicago for the night before their next event. According to one representative, if you wanted to smell and taste the grapes directly from the source, the best time to visit the Lake Garda region is between April and October. Hopefully, I won’t have to go there myself and will find these wines in stock here in Chicago shortly.
Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valipolicella
Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC
Photos: Samantha Miller