Sirmione is a very small and very Italian town that sits on the south of the enormous Lake Garda. In fact, the whole area around the lake is the most Italian in character compared to Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. I found that the name Sirmione derives from ‘syrma’ or ‘train’ or ‘tail’. Which of course make sense just by looking at the map. The town of Sirmione stretches into the lake in the shape of the tail and becomes the border line between Lombardia and Veneto.


Because of its size, there are no vineyards in Sirmione itself. The closest DOC is Lugana, which makes a beautiful white wine that goes well with pretty much any local fish from Lake Garda and lots of other Veronese dishes. In fact, it is a perfect pairing with our dish of the month Polenta with Monte Veronese Cheese and a Ramp and Walnut Gremolata. Lugana is not only one of the most scenic wine regions; it boasts a great history dating back to the first century or earlier. The wines of Lake Garda, which the ancients called “Rhetic” wines, were mentioned in the writings of Pliny and Virgil. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gothic King Deodatus purportedly had large quantities of it delivered to Rome for royal banquets. All Lugana is white, and a small amount is sparkling. The grape is Trebbiano, a variety that in most of the rest of Italy (and in France, where it’s known as Ugni Blanc) is lightly regarded at best. In Lugana, as in Soave, however, Trebbiano is different, a serious grape making a serious wine. Whether it’s a variant clone of standard Trebbiano or, as some producers in the region insist, an entirely different varietal, will only be determined by future DNA testing. The simple answer, though, lies in the tasting: luscious and “transparent,” exceptional for showing minerality and “terroir,” Lugana has become one of my favorite white wines.


Another DOC worth mentioning is Bianco di Custoza. Located in the southern district of the Riviera del Garda, prevalently white-grape vines are cultivated, the principal varieties being Garganega, the most typical varietal of the Vicenza area, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia, Trebbiano, Riesling Italico and Cortese. Those grapes, intelligently combined, constitute the mixture used in making Bianco di Custoza, a dry wine with a soft, dry and lightly bitter flavor and an intense and vinous nose. The wine has been appreciated since at least the 16th century by popes, generals and literary figures. It is greatly appreciated here at Babbo as well. It is makes a perfect glass to celebrate spring in NY with all just in season local peas, asparagus, favas and ramps…Yumm…


You would think that Lake Garda is only a white wine region. In the mood for a light red? The answer would be Bardolino. In the Bardolino production zone, the vine has been cultivated since the Bronze Age, as has been established by the discovery of fossilized grape seeds in the remains of lake dwellings built on piles at Peschiera, Lazise, Cisano, Pacengo and Bor. The name, which is clearly of Germanic origin, could be derived, as legend has it, from Bardala, daughter of King Axuletus and grand-daughter of Mantus, founder of Mantua. The tale was originally told by the Latin poet Virgil and later included in the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. In the Middle Ages, when there was a general decline in agricultural production, the cultivation and making of Bardolino was continued by the monks of the Church of San Colombano, who thereby saved the wine from extinction. Until the beginning of the 19th century, it was the practice to produce Bardolino by fermenting the must in holes in impermeable rock strata, which were covered by slabs of stone. Bardolino is made from a mixture of grapes, each of which has a precise role to fill. Corvina provides body and color. Rondinella is responsible for the wine’s characteristic and appealing grassy flavor. Molinara gives the wine fragrance, while Negrara assures softness and freshness.


All I can add is that I wish I could be sitting down in one of the lake front terraces sipping my glass and having dinner…