Although Lombardy is developing a reputation for its sparkling wines from Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese, the wine industry has less importance here than the region’s other industries.
That is not to say that the local population does not enjoy wine – far from it. Yet the affluent Milanese people tend to shun the local wines in favor of Tuscany and Piedmont’s reds and the whites of the Veneto. It is not entirely clear why this is the case – Lombardy offers some outstanding conditions for vine growth with influences from the Alps to the North, the lakes of Garda, Iseo, Como and Maggiore and the Apennines in the south. Its wines offer great variety and character, with a mixture of modern and traditional, as well as native and foreign grape varieties.
The region’s sparkling wine industry is buoyant with some fine bottle fermented Pinot Nero based wines coming from the productive Oltrepò Pavese area. These are produced according to what is known as metodo classico classese and there is now a Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG. The tank method is also commonly used although it is the metodo classico wines of which the Lombardians are most proud. Most wines from Oltrepò Pavese are not sold as DOC though its wines are diverse and interesting, including reds from Pinot Nero and Barbera and sleek modern whites from Riesling and Moscato.
Franciacorta DOCG is the best known of the sparkling wines, made with grapes grown on the slopes around Lake Iseo. Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco are permitted and the best examples have much in common with Champagne. Only wines from the best vineyards are eligible for the DOCG, which is for sparkling wines only. Curtefranca DOC, formerly known as Terre di Franciacorta, applies to the still reds and whites of the area – some fine reds and whites are produced under this appellation. Many producers are experimenting with Bordeaux-style blends and oak-aged Chardonnays. Some of the Pinot Nero grapes are reserved for a Burgundian-style red wine.
Valtellina is the most esteemed area for red wine production and its wines are especially popular with the Swiss, particularly those made with Nebbiolo. Valtellina has a DOC and a DOCG for its Superiore wines which must contain 90% Chiavennasca grapes (the local name for Nebbiolo) in the four sub-districts of Grumello, Inferno, Sassella and Valgella. The Nebbiolos from Valtellina are far removed from their counterparts in wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, as the climate and soil is vastly different, with some grapes from the most precarious parts of the mountain hauled in during the harvest using baskets on cables. The resultant wines have a distinct character of their own, much lighter than their Piedmontese counterparts yet still capable of improving for over a decade.
Also gaining praise abroad is the unusual Sforzato di Valtellina or Sfursat, a strong wine made with Nebbiolo grapes using the passito method of semi-drying the grapes on straw mats for extra concentration. Progress is being made in Bergamo, Mantova and Milano although Brescia is considerably more prolific in terms of the concentration of classified wines, including DOCs and DOCGs in Botticino, Capriano del Colle, Cellatica, Franciacorta, Curtefranca, Garda Bresciano, and San Martino della Battaglia. Lugana DOC, shared with Veneto, is an excellent area for white wines comparable to Soave Classico.
Although Lombardy’s wines are unlikely to reach the peak of success of those of their neighbours in Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, and Veneto, there is a growing interest in their eclectic wines abroad, and with the quality of Franciacorta DOCG sparkling wines improving constantly it is likely the wines of Lombardy will gain more presence on the international market in the future.