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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Chaplin

Never heard of white wine from Lugana? You're missing out!

Updated: May 21


oak wine barrels and golden chain art installation
Ottella winery barrel room with Julia Bornefield art installation

Calling all visitors to Lake Garda!! And anyone serious about the premium potential for Trebbiano di Soave grapes and Lugana wines. Ottella is blowing up the old perceptions of these native white wines that flourish in the morainic soils and microclimate of the lake’s southern shores.  I met 5th generation brothers Lamberto and Ludovico in Venice in January, when their Lugana was my favourite of 6 presented by the Consortium.  Finally it was time to visit.


The sunniest day of the week was a perfect time to arrive at the uber modern cantina, dreamt up by father and uncle Francesco and Michele, not far from the original home of their grandfather in Cappuccini.  In fact, the Lugana denomination starts at the family’s Villa Montresor.  The vision for the new winery was one that brings together modern art, architecture, sustainability, biodiversity, nature and the elements of fire, water, earth and wind. Gorgeous installations and pieces by artist Julia Bornefeld, the use of scorched wood, creative interior and exterior spaces all point to the care and attention the family devotes to making Ottella a winery of excellence.


I took my trusting homegrown test market (i.e. 2 of my daughters, aged 24 and 31) so we could tour, taste together and discuss all the aspects of current wine consumer trends, packaging, and the future of premium wines in this northern part of Italy.


My full tasting notes are here, along with more information about the winery.  Ottella was the first Lugana producer in Veneto, with the DOC spanning Lombardy to the east as well.  The history of the family is truly special, with the boys’ grandfather having fallen in love with “arte povera” – the use of poor materials to create modern art.  The new cantina came from this concept, using reclaimed and simple materials to create a unique and modern space that honors what was available locally.  The new cantina was built in 2010 and Lamberto told me, “We didn’t want a ‘fake history’ so our cantina is not trying to be an old villa.” Instead, the building speaks of the Montresor family, their wines and their values.


At a show in a Veronese art gallery just before COVID struck, the family discovered the work of Julia Bornefield and, when her image of smoke won the competition, they bought the piece for the new Ottella cantina and framed it in burnt wood to emphasize the image.  Art and nature collide everywhere in the winery, from outdoor terraces creating natural spaces to indoor barrel rooms hung with an incredible installation of golden chains that swoop and sway from the ceiling, allowing water to fall from the installation, recalling the colour of the grapes as they ripen, the colour of the wines as they age and the deep connection between the forces of nature and what we receive in our glass.  In the room housing amphoras from TAVA and geometrically shaped charcoal grey cement tanks, there is another enormous work by Bornefield, created from a photograph image of a family dinner held outside at night, in the style of The Last Supper, with all the members of the family present at the table, including the women because, as Ludovico mentioned, no one can be sure who attended the Biblical last supper! Flames light the faces and the piece is again framed in burnt wood, providing another evocative piece of art that brings to mind so many elemental things about wine, family, art, gathering, nature and creating.  In this room Ludovico and Domenico are experimenting with the potential for native white grape Trebbiano di Lugana (known as Turbiana locally) to age.  Ludovico is utterly passionate about the amphora project, started in 2021, where he matures his grapes for 6 months with spontaneous fermentation and a bit of gentle batonnage, minimal intervention, no sulfites, moving the wine off the skins whenever they feel the moment is right – each vintage is different.


clay wine amphora and modern "Last Supper" art
Amphora project and Bornefield "Last Supper" image of Montresor family

The Lugana consortium started in 1990 and the boys’ father is the longest standing member, having been President twice.  He refers to the soils as “la madrona” – super skinny, lacking nutrients, nothing would grow here except the vines, whose roots become incredibly deep over time.  Having begun in 1969 with 12 hectares, the winery has QUALITAS certification for sustainability and we talked about the time and money that has to be invested to achieve this mark.  Lamberto confirmed my thoughts that sustainability does not stop in the vineyard, it has to be part of the winery, part of the social responsibility of the producers to their staff and their location.  Ottella is fermenting much of its wine in steel, parcel by parcel, vineyard by vineyard, in a concerted effort to express their territory and their varieties in the best way possible.  In 2021-2022 the winery began to experiment with cement eggs and Lamberto says, “ This is where we discover what path the wine is taking.”   The unlined cement creates a micro-oxidation that adds elegance, tones down the acidity and exalts the particularly saline characteristic of the wines. 


Such is their devotion to Turbiana that Ludovico’s thesis for his oenology degree was based on aged Lugana wines, the Le Creete label that Ottella produces.  Le Creete is made with grapes from vines over 80 years old Ludovico studies 7 vintages using chronograph technology to study terpenes, rotundones, TDN and other compounds, as well as pH and acidity over time.  This was the first ever study of aged Lugana, which he published in 2020.  Happily, the conclusion backed up the aspiration for Lugana and its potential to evolve, age, mature and become a candidate for premium white wine status in Italy.


wine amphoras and geometric cement wine tanks
Ottella's experimentation room

Our tasting was intense, so hold onto your seats.  Fourteen wines, along with boxes of old family photos, discussion of which corks are best (Ottella uses cane sugar based Nomacorc) and the story behind the embossed crest of 8 faces  on some of the bottles turned us all into very enthusiastic “Luganisti” as Lamberto proclaimed.


  1. Lugana 2023, Turbiana 100%, made in steel and only bottled a few weeks ago.  We commiserate on the horrible year that was 2023, with hail in April and more hail in July – this time causing €100,000 damage at Ottella in 10 minutes, we saw the photos and teared up at the smashed solar panels, smashed cars, flooding and collapsed roof.  The wine is thankfully excellent, much needed considering almost 50% of the overall production was lost.  The nose is full of sea salt and sage, with sharp citrus fruits like white grapefruit and cedro peel. On the palate the wine is fresh, elegant and zesty, saline bath salt character returning, along with hints of iodine and fresh green almond. This was a massive crowd pleaser with my daughters both remarking they could “drink it all day.”


  1. Le Creete 2023 is also 100% Turbiana, fermented in steel, after a cold maceration and followed by 8 months on lees in cement  This wine is so phenolic, with a fantastic chalky grip on the palate, intense notes of ripe grapefruit and herbal salts, with a long and seductive slightly bitter citrus finish.


  1. Le Creete 2021 was made after a cold spring and cool summer.  The nose is restrained with less fruit intensity and more floral elements.  On the palate it is smooth and balanced with vibrant acidity, less phenolics and less ripe citrus, an elegant wine indeed.


  1. Le Creete 2016 had a slightly deeper color, heading to a pale gold, and filled with notes of acacia, cedro peel again, balsamic herbs and a palate that revelled in softer phenolics and the recurring saline sea salts on the lips and the tongue.


All four of these wines showed a clear thread of relationship through the varietal, the soil, the less ripe and whiter, greener citrus notes.  Above all, the saline tang and vertical acidity clearly defined them and their producers.


7 different wine bottles
Ottella's embossed crest bottles

  1. Molceo 2020 is  Riserva wine, made partially in steel, some in oak and a bit in cement. After assemblage, the wine matures for 6 months in the bottle.  Once again, the signature notes of iodine and bitter herbal bath salts were present, joined by a quinine character that brought to mind the best gin and tonic and offered a refreshing, bitter twist wine experience.


  1. Molceo 2016 was the most beautiful color, a gorgeous golden green, with an intensely fruited nose bursting with notes of exotic star fruit and dried pineapple.  The palate was softer and rounder with a more gentle nod to the saline characteristics and a lovely lingering dried sage note in the finish.


  1. Molceo 2015 was clearly the elder statesman in this group, intentionally gently oxidised and very smooth, retaining a zingy acidic spine, but tamed by notes of camomille, nutmeg, beeswax, chestnut honey and acacia.  The alcohol level felt slightly elevated and warming, completely integrated and balanced.


Lamberto and Ludovico talked about their father and their grandfather, how much they love art and history and how they made many changes in the bottle shapes and the labels over the years, not just for marketing, but really to feed their own creative hunger.  The oldest Molceo bottle was too tall to stand up in most fridges, so that had to go!  Despite having a bit of a laugh at their elders’ expense, the boys were sentimental about the 2015 and 2016 vintages of Molceo, calling them “the wines our father gave us for the future.”

 

  1. Back to Silence 2021 was the wine made with their first amphoras.  Fermented and matured in amphora with no sulfites, the wine has a fabulous label with a striking modern graffiti-esque font and a QR code taking the consumer directly to a video showing the wine’s production.  I absolutely love young winemakers in Italy, we need about 10,000 more!  The wine feels relaxed, not forced, not manipulated.  It has an enticing nose full of bitter orange peel, tea tree oil, dried camomille and camomille tea, dried thyme and olive leaf infused bath salt.  It’s bone dry but scented like the candied peel from the very best panettone at Christmastime.  My notes say “SO GOOD” and that is the truth!


  1. Blanc de Blanc sparkling Chardonnay grown at 100 meters above sea level also has a cool label which looks like the words have been spelled out using a piece of white string, like a line drawing.  Two years on lees, this wine is a great classic method spumante in an unexpected place – Italy is so good at this.  The wine is full of yellow apple, white peach and fresh crunchy green vegetal notes, with just the merest whisper of wheaty cracker on the finish.


  1. Rosé Extra Brut made with Pinot Noir had the same compelling and fun string font. The wine was one of my favourite of Italy’s rosé colours, a very pale rosey gold with an orangey hue and a nose full of fresh red rose petals, sunflowers, ripe oranges and apricots, and just a little touch of pomegranate and cherry to round it all off.


  1. Roses Roses 2023 is a rosé blend of local grape Corvina and slightly more northern grape Lagrein.  Made in steel, the wine is a true salmon pink colour and looks gorgeous in its clear bottle with a fabulous label made from a cut of a swirling pink painted photo.  Scrumptious and elevated, the wine is flinty and chalky, very gastronomic in nature and ready to sit on a fine dining table.  Lovely notes of Himalayan pink sea salts, ripe rosey apricots, sour cherry and sage.


  1. Gemei 2021 is an unusual blend of corvina, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, made in a combination of steel and large oak botte.  Beautiful ruby colour with a violet hue, the wine is balanced and fresh with soft powdery tannins, flavours of black cherries and cassis, a hit of black pepper and mint, a lovely light mouthfeel, this one could be served chilled.

  2. Camposireso 2019, the name means a field of cherries.  The same blend as Gemei, but this wine spends a year in oak barrique.  The wood is used simply to create a softness on the palate and the wine remains very fruited, with notes of black cherry, blue plums and nutmeg.   Luscious and crying out for food.


  1. Prima Luce 2018 is a sweet wine made of Turbiana, Chardonnay, Garganega and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  The grapes have undergone botrytis before fermenting in steel.  Not at all sticky sweet, this delicious dessert wine has gorgeous notes of saffron, orange blossom, calendula, balsamic herbs and lanolin.  Un-put-down-able!


A perfect tasting as tastings go, with two of the most knowledgeable and dedicated young winemakers I have met in a long time.  They mentioned that they have a new project afoot, a new property purchase, exciting times ahead.  I’m not at liberty to say where this new venture will be, but I can’t wait to see what they achieve.   


group of people giving a toast at a lunch table
Post-tasting lunch with my team, Lamberto and Ludovico






  

   





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