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Lombardia - Food and Wines - Wines

Among Lombardy's numerous industries wine does not rank high on the list. The citizens of this most populous and well-to-do region seem increasingly disposed towards industrialised versions of agriculture rather than to the more taxing and less profitable hand crafting of fine wines. Also, in a territory that is about half fertile plains and more than a third mountains and lakes, those gentle hills of the sort suited to vines do not abound.

Still, the alpine climate tempered by the lakes of Garda, Iseo, Como and Maggiore in the north and the Apennines which influence the weather to the south have created some highly favourable spots for vines. And, even though output is much less than that of neighbouring Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont, Lombardy does make some fine wine, a too-often neglected share of which is truly excellent.

Wine in Lombardia

Just why Lombardians - the eclectic Milanese, in particular - downplay them is hard to explain, but regional bottlings are almost invariably upstaged by the reds of Tuscany and Piedmont and the whites of the Tre Venezie. Most of the 6 million bottles of Nebbiolo reds produced annually in the alpine Valtellina are spirited away by the neighbouring Swiss before Italians have a chance at them. The main exception seems to be the "metodo classico" sparkling wines of Franciacorta in the lake district, a zone whose "spumante" is decidedly in vogue.

Lombady's most productive zone, the Oltrepo` Pavese, also ranks as the most abused. Much of its still red and white wines are taken away in bulk or anonymous bottles to restaurants in Milan, Genoa and other cities. Although the Oltrepo` is Italy's leading source of Pinot Nero, growers let much of it slip away to Piedmontese and other manufacturers of "brut spumante," who issue the wines with little regard for origins. Only about 15 percent of the more than 100 million litres produced annually in the Oltrepo` is sold as DOC - and then often at bargain prices. Unjustifiably, for some very good wines are made there, not only Pinots, but robust Barbera, Bonarda and Oltrepo` Pavese Rosso, plus fruity white Rieslings and Moscatos. A revival in local spumante has been heralded with the trademark of Classese for metodo classico of notable quality.

The Valtellina earns more respect abroad. Bottles of the four "Superiore" ap- pellations - Grumello, Inferno, Sassella and Valgella, each of which represents a small subdistrict - can be found in the United States and United Kingdom, a- long with a bit of the rich and mellow Sfursat or Sforzato. The Valtellina reds are among the most austere of Nebbiolos, due to the coolness of the terra- ced mountain vineyards, so steep in places that grapes are hauled in with ba- skets on cables. But the apparent lightness is deceptive, for some have the strength and stamina to improve for well over a decade.

Wine in Lombardia

Good wines are made in the provinces of Bergamo, Mantova and even Milano, but the prize for quality and variety goes to Brescia, which boasts 7 of the re- gion's 13 DOCs: Botticino, Capriano del Colle, Cellatica, Franciacorta, Luga- na, Riviera del Garda Bresciano and San Martino della Battaglia. From the sho- res of Lake Garda come Lugana (which can compare with fine Soave Classico) and the distinctive "rosso" and "chiaretto" of Riviera del Garda that can match the best of Valpolicella and Bardolino. The sturdy reds of Botticino and Cellatica and the smooth Tocai of San Martino have admirers as well.

But by all odds the most admired Lombardian wines of the moment are the "spumanti" of Franciacorta. The zone has a good red from Cabernet, Barbera and Nebbiolo and a good still white from Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. But the reputation has been built on the outstanding bottle-fermented sparkling wines fashioned by small estates. Also in the area is Italy's largest producer of "metodo classico" Guido Berlucchi, though the "cuve'es" for nearly 5 million bottles a year include wines from Trentino-Alto Adige, Oltrepo` and Piedmont along with the local. In all, Franciacorta produces about a third of Italy's classical spumante, though most of that is not DOC.

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