Exploring Lombardia, Italy

Dispatches from the Road, Food & Wine, Italy — By on May 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Silvia Menini

Lombardia is certainly not the first destination for foreigners who have just a few weeks to get a rough idea of Italy. It is the industrial heart of Northern Italy and is indeed the richest and the most populated region. The capital is Milan, which is the economic and financial center of Lombardia.  Also making up Lombardia are the provinces of Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Mantova, Pavia, Sondrio and Varese.

Lakes Region

In the south of Lombardia is located the longest Italian river, the Po, meanwhile in the Alps area there are many lakes that are an excellent destination during the warmer season. Lake Garda, the largest in Italy, is between Lombardia and Veneto.

If you are looking for thermal springs, first on the list is Sirmione; some other places suitable for this purpose (that is relaxation!) are Boario, not far from Lake Iseo, Trescore Balneareo in the province of Bergamo and Salice Terme in the province of Pavia. For the lovers of relaxation and wellness, Peschiera and Desenzano are two other options that should be included in the list of places to visit. Both on Lake Garda, they offer suggestive glimpses of landscape and excellent ice creams. Restaurants here offer fresh fish in the menu to eat with Lugana wine, typical of this area. Moving from East to West, we have some other interesting lakes: Iseo Lake in the wine region named Franciacorta – famous for its sparkling wines often compared to French Champagne, Como Lake where, if you are lucky, you have a chance to meet George Clooney and Maggiore Lake with the beautiful Borremean Islands. If you are looking for more thermal springs, first on the list is Sirmione; some other places suitable for this purpose (that is relaxation!) are Boario, not far from Lake Iseo, Trescore Balneareo in the province of Bergamo and Salice Terme in the province of Pavia.

Lombardia offers also many opportunities for history and art lovers. Mantova, Milan, Como, Pavia, are just a few of the cities that an enthusiast shouldn’t miss.

Monza, is perfect for the sport fanatics: it has a beautiful old town and an imposing Royal Palace facing the Royal Park and its famous racetrack. If the timing is right maybe you can also arrange to see a Formula 1 race.

If you’re an outdoor type you can visit the Stelvio Park in Valtellina. In its relaxing atmosphere you can admire deer, roe deer, chamois and ibex in their natural habitat.

Food

Turning to food, Lombardia has been under the influence of the near regions. Don’t miss the risotto alla Milanese – made with saffron and broth followed by the cotoletta alla Milanese – breaded veal cutlet. Please make sure you have a few hours to take a nap afterwards so you can digest properly!

In Mantova, the taste is more delicate and the best expression is in the pumpkin ravioli and sbrisolona cake, made with almonds. In Valtellina you can eat the caloric, but too good not to try them, pizzoccheri and bresaola – air-dried, salted beef aged 2 or 3 months.

Wine

Lombardia is very rich also from the wine point of view and 70% of wine production is red. Typical of the area is the cultivation of grapes at mountain altitudes that give scents and very concentrated colors. The area above Sondrio, the Valtellina, close to Switzerland, is famous because of the position of the vineyards, which are worked mostly by hand. The Valtellina is divided in 5 subareas and each gives wines with their own peculiarities. The most important grape is the well known Nebbiolo, considered one of the most valuable variety, suitable for aging wines of high quality, with pale color and a wide and developed aroma.

In Mantova, the characteristic wine is the Lambrusco  (red, young and lightly sparkling – perfect with a plate of lasagna with meat sauce), while, moving to Lake Garda, you will have the chance to try white wines with a marked mineral scent, such as S. Martino della Battaglia and Lugana.

Located between Bergamo and Brescia, the Franciacorta this area is mostly dedicated to wine production and is famous for its sparkling Metodo Classico, which is often compared to French Champagne. The grapes that are mostly used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc.

Passing by Bergamo, I suggest to stop in Scanzo Rosciate: an small village dedicated to the Moscato di Scanzo DOCG. It is an extremely good red dessert wine, made with native grapes. This is the smallest area of Italy with only 39 producers but I can assure you that this is, even if not cheap, something you should try.

Oltrepò Pavese, close to Pavia, is the perfect way to end our enological tour. This area is dedicated to grapes as Barbera, Croatina (that gives sparkling wines), Moscato Giallo, Riesling Italico and Riesling Renano and of course the international Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Even in here you can find excellent sparkling white wines (Spumanti) made from Pinot Noir that are excellent rivals of the Franciacorta variety. While some time ago this area was more dedicated to quantity over quality, now things have been reversed and there are wines of great value.

Typical Grapes

Red grape: Pinot Nero, Barbera, Bonarda, Croatina, Nebbiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Uva Rara, Cabernet Franc, Lambrusco Viadanese, Lambrusco Maestri, Marzemino, Sangiovese e Groppello Gentile.

Grey grape: Moscato Rosa, Pinot Grigio e Traminer Aromatico

White grape: Riesling Italico, Chardonnay, Moscato Bianco, Pinot Bianco, Trebbiano di Soave, Cortese

Enological Dictionary:

DOC & DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). These 2 abbreviations refer to specific areas and the winery must follow specific rules to produce the wine. The overall goal of the system is to encourage producers to focus on quality.

Metodo Classico: Sparkling wine obtained by the second fermentation in the bottle (instead of stainless steel tanks).

Vitigno autoctono: Native grape variety.

Superiore: the word superiore after the name of the wine usually means that the wine has a higher alcohol content. Concerning the “Valtellina Superiore” the word “Superiore” refers to the northern location.

Photo credit: Luca Pradella, spencer77/flickr

Silvia is a certified sommelier located in Milan.

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