If you are unfamiliar with the white wines of Laguna, then I’d highly recommend that you acquaint yourself with them sharpish, especially if your palate leans towards esoteric aromatic whites with texture, body, and a fair amount of salinity.

Lugana is located in both the Lombardy and Veneto regions of northern Italy, straddling the two around 50/50, right on the southern shore of Lake Garda, just west of the city of Verona. It’s quite the curiosity seeing as it’s viewed as a nonpolitical DOC, focused solely upon the unique soils of the area it covers.

Just north of Lake Garda lie the snow-topped Alps, rising up steeply from the northern shore, meaning that for the most part the lake is fed by Alpine water. Indeed, it is the the overspill of these mineral-enriched waters that is responsible for the sui generis calcium-rich clay soils of Lugana. These well-draining, rich calcareous marls, sedimentary rock formed from the sedimentation of ancient shells and other organic matter, certainly leave their mark on the resultant wines, as in a blind line-up I find that the wines of Lugana really stand out. I’d be hard pressed to think of another region that produces wines which combine such abundantly rich tropical fruit aromatics, flavours, and textures with such lip-smacking salinity and mineral elements; I was an immediate convert upon my very first sip many a year ago.

Lugana is famed for producing white wines made from Verdicchio Bianco, a grape I’ve always thought to be Italy’s finest native white grape variety (and the great Ian d’Agata is in agreement with me on this one). Saying that, nobody would dare call it by that name up in these parts, where it is known locally as Trebbiano di Lugana, and perhaps more often as Turbiana, as well as a whole swathe of other synonyms. In conversation with winemakers from the region I have found that if pressed they’ll admit that their beloved Turbiano shows “great similarity” to Verdicchio, but will steadfastly deny as to it being the self same thing. Fair play to them!

In relation to other regions, Lugana isn’t that big, perhaps 2,200 hectares producing around 25 million bottles in an average year, which may seem a lot, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t. The largest market for the wines is by far Germany, but this makes some sense historically as the area has been a favoured spot for holiday homes of many Germans for almost a century.

My most recent foray into the often spellbinding wines of Lugana was late last year, just before Xmas, when I was invited to a small virtual tasting featuring four wines from Ottella hosted by United Stars, a company I still thank for my trip to Georgia back in 2013. What a trip that was…

Ottella were one of the original estates of the appellation, with the father of the current owners being one of the founding fathers of the DOC, focusing upon the potential for the production of premium white wines back in the late 80s/early 90s, when most were still thinking of reds; thank goodness they persevered.

The family’s interest in the world of wine actually goes way back further than that, with records showing that the family were working with a grape known as Laguna as far back as 1900 – 1905, although there is no way of discerning if this was the same clone of Turbiano used by Ottella now. Today, the greater majority of Ottella’s holdings are on the Lombardy side of the appellation.

We were served up four very different expressions of Lugana, and they were, for the most part, absolutely excellent examples of the region, and it is obvious to me why they are viewed as one of the very best producers there. The wines, in order, ranged from a focus upon the variety, through a focus upon the terroir, to a focus upon the winecrafting, and ending in a more “natural” bottling.


2021 Ottella Lugana DOC, Veneto, Italy (Alcohol 12.5%, Residual Sugar 4 g/l) United Stars Website $28.95 (750ml bottle)
This first wine was certainly the most varietally expressive, being exclusively fermented and raised in stainless steel tanks with three to four months spent on its fine lees to add some texture. The nose was a combination of pineapple, ripe pear, candied fruit, with a pretty little floral twist. It was surprisingly broad on the palate with crisp acidity and pronounced salinity. This was a sheer delight to drink as an aperitif, but I feel it would work wonders with some contemporary Thai food. A superb introduction to the wines of Lugana, and less of an entry-level wine, more of a gateway drug; I’m hooked.
2021 Ottella “Le Creete” Lugana DOC, Veneto, Italy (Alcohol 13%, Residual Sugar 4.8 g/l) United Stars Website $32.95 (750ml bottle)
The second wine was laser-focused upon the Lugana terroir, being sourced from a select parcel designated as Cru back in 1985 due to its unique white clay soils particularly rich in calcium. It made for a fascinating tasting experience as it juxtaposed the tight acidity and nuanced mineral/saline elements with that typical-of-the-region broad, generous tropical fruit palate, pineapple once again. The equilibrium achieved within this wine was quite remarkable, and long the long mineral finish memorable. Apparently this one drinks best after five or so years, but I very much enjoyed it as is. Would be interesting to taste again in a few years though.
5 apples out of 5
2020 Ottella “Riserva” Molceo Lugana DOC, Veneto, Italy (Alcohol 13%, Residual Sugar 5 g/l) United Stars Website $45.95 (750ml bottle)
This third wine was unashamedly a winemaker’s wine, something I have no issue with, as I’ve been known to find great pleasure in a bit of winemaker’s artifice. Molceo means “chewing” or “savoury” depending on who one talks to, and this wine did have a fair bit of chewiness to it. The texture was quite something, but that’s pretty much par for the course with a long hangtime on the vine, a fair bit of skin-contact, partial malolactic fermentation, some micro-oxygenation in barrels/barriques, and bâtonnage. The amazing thing is, even after all of that judicious crafting, the varietal typicity still shone through. Outstanding work here from a decidedly deft-handed winemaker. Like the wine before, this one is built to last too. A cellar dweller, for sure.
2021 Ottella “Back To Silence” Lugana DOC, Veneto, Italy (Alcohol 13%, Residual Sugar 5 g/l) United Stars Website approx $38 (750ml bottle)
Despite being guilty of such in my past, I’m now inherently suspicious of any wine described as being one that has to be explained by a sommelier. This “natural” take on Turbiano was certainly ticking all of the boxes: Funky label? Check. 30 day maceration? Check. Fermentation in amphorae? Check. Orange tinge? Check. A errant petulant pétillance? Roger that. Aromas of autolytics and bruised fruit masking all trace of the grape variety? Affirmative. Now this may have been something to do with the bottle in question having been recently air-shipped, but the jury is out for me on this particular wine. Not for me, although I’m sure they’ll lap it up at Dundas/Ossington and similar environs.
(All ratings are out of a possible five apples)