The Garfagnana, located north of the city of Lucca in northwest Tuscany, is a valley formed by the Serchio River nestled between the Apuan Alps and the beginning of the Appenine mountain chain that runs the length of the peninsula. The geographical situation of the valley gives it among the most rainfall of anywhere in Italy. As a result, lush forest typifies the landscape more so than vineyard.
Chestnut, pine and oak forest prevail and in these forest grow among the finest porcini mushrooms to be found anywhere in Italy. Another important staple most closely associated with the Garfagnana is the grain called Farro, known to us as emmer wheat. While the Garfagnana proper is too rainy of an area to grow wines of note, immediately to the north and south lay DOCs which, from the right hands, are capable of producing an interesting array of whites and reds, using both Italian and French varietals.
To the south lie the Colline Lucchesi and the region around Montecarlo. To the north is the Colli di Luni, a region straddling the border between Liguria and Tuscany, as well as the DOC of Candia dei Colli Apuani. The Colline Lucchesi and Montecarlo wines of note owe more to the efforts of a select few individuals than to any natural geographical attribute. Soil tends to be stonier on the Apuan side of the Serchio, while the eastern side of the river is predominantly calcareous clay. Altitudes are never extreme here, ranging from around 50 to 350 meters above sea level and slopes are gentle and easily worked.
In the Colline Lucchesi most vineyards are planted to red grapes while Montecarlo favors white varietals. French varietals had an estblished history in these dating back to when Napolean granted his sister the city of Lucca (Now there is a generous brother). In the 1960’s the government launched an initiative encouraging growers to replant vineyards to replant their vineyards with wider spaces between rows to accommodate tractors and recommended planting the vineyards with the varietals used in the Chianti region. Today the Frenchies have returned alongside the Italian varietals and as vine yield decreases and vineyard density increases, quality is returning.
In the north, Candia dei Colli Apuani is composed mostly of the white Vermentino, which gets a boost in acidity from a small amount of the Albarola grape, to produce refreshing and delicately perfumed whites. The Colli di Luni DOC makes whites of a similar blend and reds from the Sangiovese with lesser amounts of Ciliegiolo permitted to enhance the aroma. The resulting wines are typically bright and fresh and an ideal accompaniment with the woodsy flavors of the local porcini dishes.
There are not many producers in our markets for these wines, yet there are some savvy importers working to bring them in. From the Colline Lucchese, Fubbiano has long been the standard bearer, but Sardi-Giustiniani and La Vigna di Gragnano are two younger wineries worth keeping an eye out for. Mazzini, from the Montecarlo DOC, is not as present in the market as it once was, but has always been reliable for steely Chablis-like wines. Producers in the north are harder yet to find. From the Colli di Luni DOC the only producer we’ve come across through the years is Auxo, with their Lunae bottling, while the Cima winery does well in representing the Candia dei Colli Apuani. I repeat that finding obscure little appellations like can seem an exercise in futility. That is, of course, unless you find yourself at Babbo, where we do the searching for you.