Above: Barrels of wine in the Ottella cellar, Lugana - MARIO PIAVOLI

Top Wineries of the Italian Lakes

Barrels of wine in the Ottella cellar, Lugana - Mario Piavoli

Notable wine regions can be found in the vicinity of two northern Italian Lakes in particular — Iseo and Garda — both of which foster vineyard-friendly microclimates.

The tall ridges flanking Lake Iseo funnel cool winds from the north, and perpendicular Mount Orphan blocks warm air masses from the south. These geographic features (among others) result in terroir ideal for making sparkling wine, and nowadays, Franciacorta makes some of the world’s best, competing with Champagne.

Aerial view of Franciacorta vineyards, Lake Iseo - Michele Rossetti / Getty Images

Much larger Lake Garda moderates the temperatures to its south and east. A number of small wineries cluster in the region, but most notable are Lugana, which produces refined whites, and Valpolicella, responsible for the lively red of the same name, as well as rich Amarone. Valpolicella got something of a bad reputation in the mid-to-late 20th century, as vineyards expanded too far out of their classic boundaries and one or two giant wineries flooded the export market with plonk. Even expensive Amarone became associated with heavy, raisin-forward wines. But I’m pleased to say that, in general, Valpolicella has deepened and Amarone has freshened. I encountered numerous examples of each that were absolutely delightful.

We toured four wineries in the three regions, all of which proved warmly welcoming to visitors.


Sculptures outside the winery's entrance, Bellavista, Franciacorta - Andrew Harper editor
View of Franciacorta from the Bellavista grounds – Andrew Harper editor

The Bellavista winery adjacent to L’Albereta is well worth a tour, especially if you’re a guest of the hotel. It ranks among Franciacorta’s best, which means it produces some of the top sparkling wines in Italy. The charming guest relations manager, Roberta, took us and two other guests from the hotel via golf cart to the winery’s entrance. Impressive sculptures and a fountain stand outside the door, which leads to a spacious and airy lounge. On the winery tour, we learned that Franciacorta received DOC status only in 1967 and DOCG status in 1995, making it one of Italy’s youngest wine regions. After exploring some of the aging tunnels beneath the winery, we sat down in a quiet tasting room. Unfortunately, we were able to taste just two wines, the round and citrusy 2017 Satèn (akin to blanc de blancs) and the winery’s signature bottling, the 2017 Bellavista Brut Teatro Alla Scala, a classic blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that was a bit richer and darker than the Satèn.