We’ve just come back from a short break in Lugano and our visit coincided with ‘La Bacchica’, the local wine festival organised to celebrate the grape harvest. Funnily enough, last year we were in Saumur for a few days at around the same time of year and the same thing happened! My wife is starting to think that I’m getting inside information! But, honestly, the first I knew of either festival was when we arrived at our destination – although, of course, it’s quite natural for any wine growing community to want to mark the end of a year’s hard work.
Lugano may not be that well-known as a place for wine but this is the heart of Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region and wine is as much a part of the culture here as it is over the border in Italy. Even so, I’ve rarely tasted anything from the region – or, indeed from any part of Switzerland (very little is exported) – so some careful research was needed: what to look out for, the names of the best producers – and no less important: what to avoid!
The first thing I discovered was that 80% of the plantings in the Ticino are of the same grape variety. And not, as I might have guessed, one of the Italian natives such as Sangiovese or Nebbiolo; instead, to my surprise, it was Merlot. Made in all styles from light and fruity for easy quaffing through to more serious with oak-ageing and suitable for laying down, occasionally blended with other varieties but more commonly, just on its own. And, if you were looking for something different, there was Merlot Rosé, even some white – about which more next time.
And how about the quality? Generally high, although, sadly, with prices to match – inevitable, perhaps, when growing grapes in such a mountainous (but beautiful) area.