Were it not for the impressive commercial success of Franciacorta over recent years, Lombardy could be deemed one of the least exciting wine regions in Italy. Of course, such a simplistic view doesn’t hold much weight once the wine lover starts to scratch beneath the surface. Lombardy is a region of incredible diversity and there is undoubtedly a litany of strong producers making good quality wine. Although many are labelled with highly localised appellations, they can be well worth seeking out.
Located in the centre of Northern Italy, the region is completley landlocked, bordered to the west by Piedmont, Veneto to the east and the warmer Emilia Romagna to the south. Further north, over the Alps, is Switzerland and Ticino. Lombardy, or Lombardia in Italian, is a large region that extends some considerable way south into the flat plains of the Po Valley. Temperatures are typically hot here but are moderated by the large bodies of water that are collectively known as the Italian lakes.
The Oltrepo Pavese DOC is responsible for plenty of easy drinking wines, although to confuse matters there have been some breakaway appellations formed in a bid to highlight the charms of both the Croatina and the Barbera variety. To compound international confusion these go by the names Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese and Buttafuoco dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC. Growers in this area tend to utilise the benefits and facilities of local cooperatives - which means quality can vary.
One of the main issues for Lombardy is that the grapes it cultivates are seriously out of fashion. Barbera is the most dispersed, but somehow lacks the appeal it does when grown around Asti and Alba to the north west. Even so, there are plenty of good value everyday wines to be found. Croatina also represents the region, and is capable of making interesting wines. Sadly, it is known locally as Bonarda, which is then wrongly confused with Bonarda Piemontese, an altogether distinct grape.
Although not particularly well known outside of serious wine circles, the red wines of Valtellina offer some of the finest expressions of Nebbiolo in the world. Known locally as Chiavennasca, the grape has found an affinity with the steep, high-altitude slopes that characterise the terrain to the very north of the region. There are three appellations here, but the very best wines tend to be labelled under the DOCG Sfursat di Valtellina.
The Italian Lakes offer incredible scenery and the wines produced around Lake Garda offer some of Lombardy’s most fashionable. Lugana is generally considered to be an appellation of Veneto as this is where the majority of the bottlers are found. Nevertheless, a high proportion of the Turbiana vineyards are located across the border in Lombardy. The same can be said of the Garda DOC.
Franciacorta is Italy’s spotlight sparkling wine. Produced using the traditional Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero, this traditional method fizz puts Lombardy on the wine map. These wines seem to get better and more refined with each year that passes.
The Oltrepò Pavese is a relatively large area of the Province of Pavia, in the north-west Italian region of Lombardy producing a range of different wine styles. The red Barbera grape dominates but the area is also home to some outstanding sparkling wines from Pinot Nero.
Located close to the Swiss border, the Alpi Retiche IGP is by producers in the north of Lombardy, particularly in the appellation of Valtellina Superiore DOCG to produce wines from varieties not otherwise permitted. Often this means white wines, but also wines that seek to complement Chiavennasca with other red varieties.
Curtefranca is a DOC wine in Lombardy producing red and white wine from international varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. It was initially created as the Terre di Franciacorta DOC in 1995 but a few years later in 1998 its name changed to Curtefranca.
The traditional method sparkling wines of Oltrepò Pavese are amongst Lombardy’s most elegant wines. Although highly regarded for their ability to capture both finesse and flavour, they remain frequently overshadowed by Franciacorta, the region’s other premium sparkling wine territory. Blended wines must be made with at least 70% Pinot Nero with a maximum of 30% Chardonnay.