The citizens of Lombardia are better noted as consumers than producers of wine. Still, even though output is much less than that of neighboring Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont, Lombardians do make some fine wine, a growing share of which is truly excellent. Regional wines are often upstaged on restaurant lists by the reds of Tuscany and Piedmont and the whites of the Venezie (Veneto, Trentino and Friuli). Many of the 6 million bottles of Nebbiolo reds produced annually in the Alpine Valtellina are spirited away by the neighboring Swiss before Italians have a chance at them. On the other hand, Lombardians do show growing signs of pride in their preferences for the metodo classico sparkling wines of Franciacorta, which have attained the status of DOCG (while the red and white wines of the zone come under the Terre di Franciacorta DOC).
Lombardy boasts some highly favorable places for vines in a region where the Alpine climate is tempered by the lakes of Garda, Iseo, Como and Maggiore in the north, and the Apennines to the south. The region’s most productive zone, Oltrepò Pavese, also ranks as the most anonymous, since much of its wine is sold in bulk to restaurants. Oltrepò Pavese is also Italy’s leading source of Pinot Nero grapes. However, recent acknowledgement given to some local producers is bringing more attention to the area.
Only a fraction of the wine produced annually in Oltrepò Pavese is sold as DOC, and then often at low prices. Unjustifiably, for some very good wines are made there, not only Pinots but robust Barbera, Bonarda and Oltrepò Pavese Rosso, plus fruity white Rieslings and Moscatos. Signs of a revival have been noted in local sparkling wines. The Valtellina earns more respect abroad. DOCG has been granted to Valtellina Superiore and its four subdistricts: Grumello, Inferno, Sassella and Valgella.
The Superiore reds of Valtellina are among the most austere of Nebbiolos. But the apparent lightness is deceptive, for some have the strength and stamina to improve for well over a decade. The province of Brescia boasts a majority of the region’s DOC/DOCGs: Botticino, Capriano del Colle, Cellatica, Franciacorta, Terre di Franciacorta, Garda Bresciano, San Martino della Battaglia and two zones that share territory with Veneto: Garda and Lugana. Under Garda DOC are four wines from the Garda Classico area in the province of Brescia. The white Lugana, which can compare with fine Soave Classico in class, has been growing in stature.
Lombardy’s most admired wines of the moment are from Franciacorta. Terre di Franciacorta DOC applies to a sturdy red from Cabernet, Barbera and Nebbiolo, as well as to white wines from Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. But Franciacorta’s reputation has been built on the outstanding bottle-fermented sparkling wines. Nearly a third of Italy’s bottle-fermented sparkling wine is produced in the Brescia area, but only wines from select vineyards in the zone qualify as Franciacorta DOCG.