My new obsession: Roberto Girelli’s Montonale Lugana

To be totally honest, Roberto Girelli’s extraordinary white wines had not come to my attention until Decanter called his 2015 single-vineyard Lugana Orestilla a “best white single varietal” in its 2017 world wine awards (I don’t know why they still use the passé varietal but that’s another story). The magazine’s tasting panel gave it a whopping 95 points.

Consternation filled my mind: how could this wine not be on my radar? After all, neighborhing Brescia and Desenzano (where the wine is raised) and Lake Garda have become my stomping ground over the last 10 years (thanks to my great friends in Franciacorta).

It took a lot of cajoling and even some name dropping to get the opportunity to taste the wine last year at Vinitaly, where it is kept — literally — under lock and key. But Do Bianchi always get his wine…

Was it as great as Decanter claimed? After three days of hardcore tasting and schmoozing at Vinitaly, it’s always hard to wrap your mind around anything. In that context, it wasn’t clear to me whether it lived up to the hype, honestly. But despite the haze of the wine fair experience, it left my curiosity tickled, my palate seduced.

The true test came when our family headed to California for summer vacation last year. Six bottles were ordered from a celebrated Costa Mesa wine shop where they were languishing apparently unnoticed. It was the only place in the U.S. where the wine was still available.

And here’s the thing, as our older daughter Georgia likes to say, it landed at my mom’s doorstep in La Jolla at less than $40 a bottle!

The wine was powerful yet lithe, laser-focused yet elegant in its white flower and fruit flavors and intense minerality. Its flavors literally wrapped themselves around your tongue and left you pining for more as you swallowed. This is one hell of a white wine, folks. It didn’t take but a few delicious days for us — mom, Tracie, and our San Diego friends — to drink it all up.

What can I say? I’m now obsessed with this wine and only wish I had the dough to put down cases and cases in my wine cellar.

I finally visited Montonale and tasted with grower and winemaker Roberto Girelli in early December.

That’s a shot of vineyards looking north toward Lake Garda (just on the other side of the camera’s horizon).

As you’ll note, there are grasses growing wild between the rows in the clay- and limestone-rich rocky soils. The vineyards are all planted within a stone’s through of the winery and Roberto’s house.

Like so many northern grape farmers I’ve spoken to over the last five years or so, they have opted for a lutte raisonée approach to viticulture. In other words, they intervene with synthetic products only when absolutely necessary. With such intensely concentrated rainfall and often violent weather events in recent years, Montonale — like so many of its peers — believes it does less harm to the environment and makes better wines by using a rational struggle protocol (excuse the slavish translation; see the link above for the best post on this emerging trend I’ve found so far).

And like a lot of Italian white wine producers I’ve interacted with over the last ten years, they vinify in an entirely reductive environment, using the first pressing of their hand-picked and sorted grapes for their estate wines. Working in the absence of oxygen allows them to retain the fruit’s natural aromas and flavors.

Roberto and his brothers are among an expanding generation of homegrown winemakers who have revived their parents and grandparents viticultural enterprise. It’s a story often told these days: in 1998 the farm was abandoned only to be replanted by Roberto’s generation in the 2000s. Wine lovers — and white wine lovers in particular — are the better for it.

Drink and cellar these wines if you’re fortunate enough find them. You won’t regret it. My only critique, as I told Roberto, is that he should charge more for them!

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