Zenato, Lugana (Veneto, Italy) “San Benedetto” 2009 (Winebow, $15): This is an inexpensive white wine that you can taste without context and enjoy thoroughly for its rich flavor, its refreshing acidity, and its ability to suit a wide range of foods. Having recently visited the Lugana zone, however, I find that I cannot separate my experience of the wine from its context -- its grape variety and region -- and I enjoy the wine all the more in relation to its setting.
Here are the vital statistics. The Lugana territory is a DOC zone in northern Italy that transverses the neighboring regions of Veneto on the east, and Lombardy on the west. (This dual citizenship is a promotional handicap that’s probably the reason that Lugana is less known than the wines of the neighboring Veneto DOC zones, Bardolino, Soave and Valpolicella.) The production zone extends south and southwest from Lake Garda, in glacial soils of clay and limestone in the best areas close to the lake, and in a climate cooled by the significant lake influence. The grape variety is Trebbiano di Lugana. This is not the lackluster Trebbiano of central Italy; it is a variety that reportedly shares the DNA of Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio, and Turbiana. Turbiana, in fact, is the local name of the variety in the Lugana area, and it may soon become the official name of the grape there.
Although Lugana wine is not well known here, the production zone is very prosperous these days. Producers told me that they sell as much wine as they make. Certainly much of their sales feed the tourist trade, and increasingly the wines have some sweetness and are sold very young -- trends that some producers decry, because they recognize that Lugana can be much more than a lakeside summer wine. (Incidentally, some sparkling Lugana wines are quite good.)
Zenato is one of the zone’s larger producers. Although the company is known for its Valpolicella and Amarone, its home is in the locality of San Benedetto di Lugana. In 1993, Zenato pioneered barrel-fermentation and barrel-aging for reserve Lugana, but it continues to use stainless steel fermentation and aging for most of its Lugana wines, including the “San Benedetto.”
The 2009 Zenato “San Benedetto” Lugana is much richer than your typical Italian Pinot Grigio -- to use a familiar frame of reference -- both in terms of its flavors and its weight. Although it is unoaked, I find the wine to be full-bodied. (For the record, its alcohol is 13 percent.) The aromas and flavors suggest peaches and lemon with a floral, honeyed note and, in the mouth, a broad mineral earthiness. The wine is dry, but with ripe fruitiness, body weight and softness that take it in the direction of rich-and-luscious rather than that of crisp-and-austere. The texture suggests oiliness, which to me is a link to Verdicchio. Like Verdicchio, it also has high acidity, but here the richness conceals the acidity.
This is a wine that tastes delicious even without food. With food: grilled sausages and veggies; creamy- or buttery-sauced chicken, fish or pasta dishes; fresh vegetables, even asparagus or bell peppers; soft cheeses; etc. Its combination of richness and high acidity is a recipe for success on the table.