Home to idyllic lakeside towns, gothic architecture, neoclassical cathedrals, and to one of the planet’s greatest fashion capitals, Lombardy (Lombardia in Italian) is located in north-central Italy. Lombardia is neighbors with Piedmont to the west, Emilia-Romagna to the south and Veneto to the east. In addition to Milan's iconic style, Lombardy is famous for its spectacular lakes. Lake Como, Lake Iseo, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda all offer breathtaking landscapes and their coasts are punctuated by a myriad of tiny villages with colorful buildings, delicious cuisine, and excellent wine.
The region is composed of a whopping 12 provinces making Lombardy the most populated and prosperous region in all of Italy. Its provinces include Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Mantova, Milan (the capital), Monza e Brianza, Pavia, Sondrio, Varese. The wine region has 15 DOCs, 3 DOCGs, and 13 IGTs.
THE TERROIR OF LOMBARDIA
Lombardia shares its northern border with Switzerland, where the Italian border intersects with the Alps. The sweeping hillside vineyards found near the Alps coupled with the tempering effect of the lakes and Po River Basin are crucial topographic characteristics that have helped shape the viticulture of the region. The three main winemaking regions in Lombardia are Valtellina, Oltrepo Pavese, and Franciacorta.
Valtellina is positioned so close to the Swiss Alps, one could nearly take a ski lift to St. Moritz. Valtellina is deeply cut by the Adda River, which is where grapes were first harvested in the 5th century B.C. Here, the grapes grow at high altitudes and face intense diurnal variations. Valtellina's steep slopes bask in the sun during the day, and quickly cool down at night while the dramatic mountain peaks help protect the vineyards from the wind. Because of their steep position, winemakers work the vineyards by hand, using ancient techniques and minimal intervention. The varying macroclimate along with Valtellina’s stony mineral-heavy soil helps produce beautifully balanced Nebbiolos and Sforzato - an "appassimento" style red wine.
Oltrepo' Pavese occupies the southeast of Lombardia and houses half of all of the wine produced in the region. Oltrepo' Pavese extends along the low-lying Po Valley with vineyards spread between the foothills of the Apennines and the river Po. The nutrient-dense, well-drained clay soils and lime-rich mudstone provide great growing conditions and microclimates for vines to flourish in. The area is sometimes referred to as the “Pinot Noir” capital of Italy and it produces non-traditional wines that are rarely exported abroad.
Lombardia would not be what it is today without Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne. Franciacorta, a region within the province of Brescia, is home to one of the most esteemed sparkling wines in all of Italy - and Europe - also called Franciacorta. The sparkling wine sanctuary lies along Lake Iseo, surrounded by Morainic hills, where rows of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir form a stunning landscape. Franciacorta’s huge success is largely owed to its soil and diurnal fluctuations. The area is full of properly drained stone and gravel heavy soil from the Alps' glacial activity. The rolling hills protect the vineyards mitigating the climate in the summertime. In Franciacorta, mild to warm days are followed by crisp, cool nights, which help the grapes produce excellent sparkling wine with gripping acidity.
THE WHITE WINES OF LOMBARDIA
Franciacorta - Lombardia’s famous sparkling wine region is found in Franciacorta. This beloved Italian wine is made in the Méthode Traditionnelle (traditional method, or Champagne method, used to produce sparkling wines). Franciacorta wines can be made by using Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco to make a rose'. There are Franciacorta made from 100% Chardonnay - blanc de blanc - and 100% from Pinot Noir - blanc de noir. Franciacorta wines reflect the bright mineral-driven terroir of the region.
THE RED WINES OF LOMBARDIA
Nebbiolo (locally known as Chiavennasca) - Nebbiolo is grown in the area of Valtellina, which is famous for producing Rosso di Valtellina DOC, Valtellina Superiore DOCG, and Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG. Sforzato is an Amarone-style wine made from dried Nebbiolo grapes, characterized by complex aromas of cinnamon, licorice as well as plums, prunes, tar, and roses. Rosso di Valtellina and its bigger sibling Valtellina Superiore display notes of dark berries, spices, dark roses and violets with moderate tannins.
Pinot Nero - Pinot Nero is widely planted in Oltrepo Pavese where it's often vinified into sparkling wines made with the Champagne method. Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico is a ruby red sparkling wine, with a bouquet of currants, blackberries, and raspberries. Pinot Nero is also used to make Franciacorta - a white sparkling Champagne-like wine.
Croatina - This is a red wine grape variety found mainly in the Oltrepo Pavese area of Lombardia. Croatina is made into simple everyday drinking wines.
THE CUISINE OF LOMBARDIA
Lombardy's mild climate paired with its geographic diversity has helped to shape the region's traditional dishes. Polenta, risotto with saffron, gorgonzola, and cured meats are all part of the region's rich history and are paired perfectly with its beloved Franciacorta, Valtellina Superiore, or Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico Pinot Noir.
Saffron is a treasured gold-hued spice found in Milan’s signature dish, Risotto alla Milanese (risotto allo zafferano). This dish, as well as other risotto in northern Italy, are made with butter, beef or chicken stock, Parmigiano Reggiano, and local vegetables. Pizzoccheri is another beloved dish, common in Valtellina. Pizzoccheri are rough-cut buckwheat tagliatelle-type pasta served with stewed vegetables, Bitto (local cow), and sheep’s milk cheese.
Beef is a staple in Lombardy's cuisine. When the Lombards inhabited the land raising cattle was one of their main activities. Lombardy's regional cheeses and dairy products are some of the best and most diverse in Italy. Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Mascarpone, and Lodigiano are all beloved cheeses from the region that are enjoyed in various dishes or eaten plain with rustic bread and cured meat. Bresaola is a specialty aged beef from Valtellina. Pork sausage is also a staple, specifically in Varzi and Milano.
Dessert is important in Lombardia due to its historical and religious significance. Panettone is Lombardia’s beloved sweet bread mixed with raisins and candied fruit, traditionally enjoyed around Christmas. Colomba - dove in Italian - is a dove-shaped sweet bread sprinkled with almonds and eaten around Easter.
Author: Melissa Norton ©