The Liquid Gold Wines of Lugana, Italy, Meet Mexican Cuisine at NYC’s La Palapa

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of joining a small group of Manhattan wine lovers for a cross-cultural pairing dinner featuring the white wines of Lugana, in northern Italy, and authentic Mexican dishes.

Ghoulish Decor (2)
Ghoulish decor at La Palapa – probably a remnant of Día de los Muertos!

Susannah Gold, east coast brand ambassador for Lugana wines, loves to add a spin to traditional pairing menus by pouring her wines with an assortment of spices, flavors, and cooking styles. At one of her recent events, she served Lugana wines alongside traditional Chinese food – a great success, according to all who attended.

When I received the invitation to taste-test the liquid gold wines of Lugana with Barbara Sibley’s highly-rated fare at La Palapa, I responded “yes” right away!

About the Lugana DOC

Might as well go straight to the expert: here is some info on the DOC, from one of Susannah’s posts:

Lugana comes from an area that is on the border between the two Provinces of Brescia and Verona. It is an inter-regional DOC and stretches along an area of morainic origin south of Lake Garda. The word Lugana appears to derive from the early-medieval word “lucus” or wood. In fact, the area was covered in the past by the Selva Lucana, a dense, marshy forest. Today it is an area that is characterized by very particular soil, made up predominantly of white clays and limestone, which are difficult to till but capable of giving the grapes cultivated here extraordinary elegance and tanginess. Lugana is made with the Turbiana grape also know as Trebbiano di Lugana.

Turbiana is closely related to Trebbiano di Soave–a variety that is quite close geographically speaking, but whose vineyards are on a different type of soil, of volcanic rather than morainic origin. The Turbiana grape was considered for a long time to be related (if not actually confused) with the Verdicchio grape from the Castelli di Jesi in the Marche Region. However, recent studies have shown that it is different from that cultivar in its aromatic characteristics, as well as from a phenological, agronomical and oenological point of view.

About La Palapa

La Palapa Logo

From their website:

La Palapa Cocina Mexicana  and La Palapa Taco Bar are owned by Barbara Sibley, a chef and artist with extensive New York City restaurant experience. Barbara was born and raised in Mexico City. She co-authored the La Palapa cookbook  Antojitos: Festive and Flavorful Mexican Small Plates. For many years she has collected traditional, rare and ancient Mexican recipes, including 17th Century recipes from Mexico’s convent kitchens, and traditional ingredients. Her interest in indigenous cuisines was deepened by her studies in Anthropology at Barnard College. Her New York restaurant career began at La Tulipe, a New York Times Three Star French Restaurant, where she was influenced by Sally Darr, Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, James Beard, Mimi Sheraton and Sarah Moulton. Since 1997, she has served, with Jennifer Clement, as co-director and founder of the San Miguel Poetry Week, an annual poetry conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

La Palapa focuses on Mexico City tacos and authentic regional Mexican cuisine featuring Tacos al Pastor, Mole Negro Oaxaqueno, Salsa Pibil and many other specialties from different regions of Mexico. Salsas and sauces are rich and spicy and fresh ingredients are used. A palapa is a palm-thatched shelter on a Mexican beach where you can relax with your feet in the sand looking at the ocean while you sip an ice cold cerveza flavored with lime and salt, and eat a spicy shrimp taco with salsa guajillo.

St. Marks Wine and Liquor
St. Mark’s Place, where La Palapa is located, retains a real neighborhood feel, including this mosaic which decorates a light post.
More St Marks Place
Mosaics on the street lights promote local businesses.
Local St Marks Place Vibe
And another one. Just behind this pole is a placard spray-painted with the words “RIP St, Mark’s Place,” a nod to how quickly the area is changing.

The Menu and Wine Pairings

Course #1: La Palapa Guacamole and 2016 Famiglia Olivini Lugana DOC Brut Metodo Classico

This might have been the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted: super fresh, with a healthy pepper kick on the finish. And it was served with a basket of homemade tortilla chips and a lovely selection of crudités, making for a stunning presentation (which my photo fails to capture.)

Guacamole and Veggie Basket (2)
Amazing guac; crappy photo. Trust me, go and order this – it’s spectacular!

Kicking the meal off with a sparkling wine set the right tone: this one, made via the same method as Champagne, was crisp and refreshing, with notes of stone and tropical fruit. Not much is made, so we felt extra-special to have a glass.

Lugana Sparkling Wine
Loved the look of this bottle almost as much as what was in it. Not much traditional method sparkling wine is made here, so this was a real treat.

Bonus Wine: 2018 Cà Maiol Lugana Molin

This was a light, white wine with aromas of peach, pear, and apple; it reminded me a bit of Chardonnay. On the finish I tasted notes of peach-pit, almond, and herbs, making this quite complex and enjoyable.

Ca Maiol Molin
Fresh and green, just like the label promises . . .

Course #2: Chalupas con Chorizo and 2017 Ottella Le Creete

Chalupas with Chorizo (2)
Perfect portion, lots of flavor 

These little chalupas were so cute – and tasty! Corn masa boats filled with housemade chorizo, crema, and salsa verde, they were savory, spicy, and just enough for a first course. The wine, with its tropical flavors of passionfruit and guava, accented by aromatic apricot and citrus cream, were a nice complement to the dish.

Le Creete from Cellar Tracker
Exotic tropical aromas and flavors tempt you to take a sip.

Course #3: Crepas de Huitlacoche and 2015 Bosco del Gal Lugana Superiore

Vigneto Prandell
I’m still pondering this wine: saline, fresh olives, citrus. So complex!

This is a traditional dish featuring special mushrooms that grow on the corn plant, folded into crepes and baked with queso chihuahua and poblano crema. It was very rich and flavorful and made an exquisite match with the wine. My favorite wine of the tasting (which is saying something!) the Bosco del Gal was a deep gold color and redolent of fresh green olives. I found myself going back for a bite of the crepas, followed by a sip of the wine, over and over. Decadent and delicious!

Course #4: Tacos de Pescado a la Guacasalsa AND Camarones y Mole Negro con Platanos with 2015 Selva Capuzza Menasso Riserva

Seafood Course
Fish tacos and shrimp in mole sauce – 100% fresh!

This course offered two dishes in one – a seafood extravaganza featuring fish tacos in a citrus and chili rub, sauced with two different salsas; and grilled shrimp topped with Oaxacan black mole and sweet plantains. Holy moly!

Bigger body stands up to heartier food – another winner.

And the wine was up to the job: it was full-bodied, with a creamy mouthfeel, high acidity, and complex aromas of almonds, lemon peel, and herbs. It complemented both the mild seasoning of the fish tacos and the more intense flavors of the shrimp mole. With all those flavors in the mix I almost expected something to kick out, to not quite fit in; it all worked. Really well!

Course #5: Crepas con Cajeta and 2015 Marangona Rabbiosa Vendemmia Tardiva

Marangona Vendemmia Tardiva Rabbiosa
Not too sweet, this late harvest wine would be nice as an aperitif.

As if we had any room for dessert! That said, we kept to our task, enjoying the simple crepes coated with a thin layer of goat’s milk caramel and toasted pecans with this late-harvest wine. Neither the dish nor the wine was particularly sweet on the palate, and they worked together quite well. I’d be curious to try this wine with a savory dish; I bet it would be outstanding with tacos al pastor.

Say Yes to Lugana Wines and Mexican Food

Wall Decoration
A couple of the locals at La Palapa

I loved this food and wine pairing experiment: it reminded me that sometimes we need to go beyond the obvious combos and try something unexpected. Mix up the flavors and see what happens. We all love wine and we all have to eat – why not make it as fun and adventurous as possible?

Big thanks to Susannah Gold, the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC, and the good folks at La Palapa for a thoroughly delicious evening.

I’m already looking forward to the next off-the-charts pairing!


  1. I too loved the sparkling wine label. What an evening! Next time Mark and I make Mexican dishes Lugana wines will be the first I think about for pairing. I’ll reach out to Susannah for recommendations on who can ship to France.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you’ll share your pairings! My big take-away from the dinner was the wide variety of flavors and spices, and how the Lugana wines kept pace with them all. Of course some pairings were better than others but, across the board, they worked!


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