The path one travels in the hopes of experiencing organoleptic bliss is a long and varied one. As the year comes to an end, and I recount the wines we’ve selected for our wine club, it makes me appreciate how wonderful it is to be able to travel using our sense of taste and smell. Offering wines from the arid desert regions of Spain, or from the volcanic soils on the slopes of Mount Etna in Italy, or wines from the hillsides of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, or the Central coast of California, is just a small sample of what the world has to offer. When opening wines made from grapes or regions that are less familiar, it’s with the same anticipation as a little child waiting to open presents on Christmas morning. And what a gift it can be! So, as we continue on our oenolgical trek, all of us at PlumpJack hope you drink well, eat well, and have very happy holidays!
For years, the Lugana region has been a secret shared among the thousands of tourists who flock annually to the delightful villages in northern Italy that surround Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. But thanks to a continuous rise in quality, notoriety of Lugana’s wines has finally spread beyond the region. (More than 70% of Lugana DOC wines are exported mainly to Germany, USA, Belgium, Northern Europe, China, Japan and UK.) With borders that span the Veneto and Lombardy regions, Lugana’s growing zone spans 1,800 hectares and encompasses five towns: Peschiera del Garda in the Veneto, and Desenzano, Sirmione, Pozzolengo and Lonato in Lombardy.
Lugana DOC is defined by a fairly flat basin bounded on the north by Lake Garda and on the west, south, and east by low morainic hills that were formed by the southern push of the great Alpine glaciers of the Ice Age. The Lugana denomination can essentially be divided up into two zones. The first – and larger – area is that with firmer clay soils. It is fairly flat and stretches along the hinterland of the lake, including Desenzano, Sirmione, part of the commune of Pozzolengo, and Peschiera. This is the heart of the denomination which produces the most “lacustrine” and mineral style of Lugana. In the Veneto part of Lugana, there is just one commune, Peschiera del Garda. This includes one of the most interesting subzones, that of San Benedetto di Lugana, one of the denomination’s real “crus”. The second, hillier zone stretches from the famous Monumental Tower of San Martino della Battaglia in two different directions: towards Pozzolengo and towards Lonato. Here the clays contain more sand and the undulating hills are gentle with altitudes of no more than 130 meters. The soils are more morainic (an accumulation of boulders, stones, or other debris carried and deposited by glaciers) especially towards Lonato.
Lake Garda creates special mesoclimates. The area is noted as the ‘gate to the Mediterranean’ within Italy. Up north the climate is continental, but from south of the lake it is Mediterranean. Lugana’s microclimate is influenced positively by the temperate breezes from the lake and its temperatures are mild and fairly constant, with little difference between day- and night-time temperatures. This is a “climatic cradle” that is perfect for highlighting the peculiarities of a special grape like Turbiana, also known as Trebbiano di Lugana or, Verdicchio.
Although their address is Sirmione, in the region of Lombardy, Ambra and Franco Tiraboschi and their Azienda “Ca’ Lojera” are physically closer to Peschiera del Garda, another town on the south end of the lake. Ca' Lojera literally means "wolve's house”. In 1992, Ambra and Franco Tiraboschi established Ca' Lojera along the southern shore of Lake Garda, and named their winery Ca' Lojera (or House of the Wolf) after a local legend that wolves protected the houses of smugglers along the coast of channels that used to connect Lake Garda and Lake Frassine. Today, Ambra and Franco own 18 hectares of vines on rich, white clay soils, where they grow Turbiana on the flat land around the lake and Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the hills. Their 40-year-old vines are still trained to the traditional pergola system and all grapes are harvested by hand. Their cellars are built down under the lake, allowing their wines to maintain consistent temperatures all year round.
Although the DOC laws allow for 10% of other varieties in Lugana DOC wines, Ca’ Lojera’s Lugano is made from 100% Turbiana. The wine is fermented and aged in temperature-controlled stainless-steel to preserve aromatic intensity and freshness. Closely related to Trebbiano di Soave, the Turbiana grape was considered for a long time to be related (if not actually confused) with the Verdicchio from the Castelli di Jesi in the Marche Region. Countless generations of adaption mean that while Turbiana may be genetically similar to Verdicchio, it is a distinct local varietal. Less high-yielding than most of the other Trebbianos of Italy, when vinified on its own, it shows great versatility both in the classic still versions and in sparkling ones.
For crisp, clean, fruity, tangy, dry Italian white, Ca’ Lojera’s Lugana is about as good as it gets. In the glass, the wine offers enticing aromas of Golden Delicious apples, melons, tarragon and a salty sea-spray minerality. On the palate, the wine is textured with a complex mix of savory herbal and orchard fruit flavors wrapped in a saline minerality. Rounded out by a light creaminess, the wine is still very crisp and refreshing on the palate. Enjoy this wine with regional specialties such as: Bigoli con le sarde—the main ingredient is agoni, a type of freshwater sardine, browned with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic, chilli pepper and parsley combined with a traditional Venetian home-made egg pasta, or Risotto con la tinca—the meat of the tench is simmered with a finely chopped mirepoix of carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, parsley, pepper and herbs, previously sautéed with extra-virgin olive oil, and then added to the rice.
Ca’ Lojera Lugana is $18.00/bottle, $194.40/case.
Navarra (the Comunidad Foral de Navarra), is situated in the North of Spain, at the western end of the Pyrenees, where it shares a 163-kilometre stretch of frontier with France. The vast range of terrains, climates and peoples in Navarra is traditionally grouped into three regions arranged from North to South: The Mountains (Montaña), the Middle Area (Zona Media) and the Ribera, on the banks of the Ebro River.
Navarra was declared a D.O. in 1933, and the Navarra wine district stretches across the southern half of the Navarra region where the climate is continental with hot, dry summers and cold winters. The vineyards are located at the foot of the Pyrenees, down towards the Eros valley.
You have to wonder what was going on in their minds when a couple of talented oenologists began to make wine in the middle of a desert. According to the winemaking team at Azul y Garanza, you don’t need to look far for the answer—it’s in the glass. The name of the winery, Azul y Garanza, means blue and crimson. When these two colors are mixed you get the characteristic color of their deep and intense red wines. With the extreme natural conditions that this desert area has, Dani Sanches Nogue, Maria Barrena, and Fernando Barrena make certified organic wines without the use of chemicals either in the vineyards or wine cellars. The distinctive quality of their wines comes from not only the unique conditions of their vineyards, but also from the uncompromising attention to quality, Barrena’s family’s old vineyards, and Dani’s experience working in the renowned Priorat properties of Mas d’en Gil and Clos Mogador. Helping Maria and Dani out is Maria’s brother Fernando Barrena.
Azul y Garanza makes wine from a total of 40 hectares of ecologically-grown vineyards scattered on various parcels located next to the desert area and the nature reserve Bardenas Reales. The merciless climate of the desert is challenging for the wines. The great differences between night and day temperatures make the skins of the grapes thick, and annual yields are small, only a few hundred liters per hectare. The results are grapes with lots of pigments in the must, and wines with a strong, tannic structure.
Azul y Garanza’s 2017 Naturaleza Salvaje Garnacha is 100% Garnacha from certified organic, hand-picked grapes grown just north of the Bardenas Reales. (Naturaleza Salvaje translates as wild nature.) The vines are an average age of 40 years-old and are grown on clay-calcareous soils at 550 meters. Non-interventional and natural winemaking are guiding philosophies. The grapes undergo wild yeast fermentation in concrete tanks followed by six months aging in amphora and six months in neutral 300L barrels. The amphoras come from the region of Extremadura in Spain and they have various sizes (900L, 750L, 500L).
Azul y Garanza’s 2017 Naturaleza Salvaje Garnacha is so pure, fresh, and clean, you may not believe this fits the natural wine category. Totally drinkable, it is bursting with red fruit, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. There are some earthy notes of cinnamon and cloves that follow the full and fruity attack, with berries in the middle pallet. The wine coats the tongue ending with a juicy, spicy finish and bright acidity. Robust butifarra sausages (a plump white sausage made from pork, garlic, and spices), fricandó (a hearty veal and mushroom dish), roasted vegetables served with a tangy Romesco sauce, roast duck or cassoulet, roasted chicken, or couscous with chorizo and fennel would be delicious and perfect dishes to accompany this “natural” Garnacha.
Azulu yu Garanza Naturaleza Salvaje Garnacha is $26.00/bottle, $280.80/case.