#Giro2021 Stage 18: A Rare Break from the Mountains, Gliding through Lugana DOC

Before we delve into Thursday’s race, let’s recap what happened on Wednesday, when one of my favorite riders in the peloton claimed victory atop the Sega di Ala:

Dan Martin, the Irishman who can be picked out of the crowd by his bobbing-up-and-down style on the bike, broke away from the leaders’ group before the final climb. As he suffered through the rough patches (some at more than 20% gradient) Martin seemed to tap into an invisible energy source: one that fortified his legs and allowed him to keep challengers Joao Almeida and Simon Yates at bay.

I watched nervously as the last few kilometers clicked by, hoping that Martin could fend off the climbers racing toward him. He did, with just 13 seconds to spare! It was a great day for Irish fans and for all of us who cheered this veteran on to victory.

Egan Bernal faltered for the first time, unable to stay on his teammate’s wheel. It was shocking but reassuring as well: I loved how he summoned his strength and set his mind to continue on, ultimately keeping the maglia rosa at the end of the day. Other GC contenders were not so lucky: Aleksandr Vlasov, Hugh Carthy, and Giulio Ciccone all slipped in the overall rankings. Romain Bardet moved up to sixth, Caruso moved from third to second, and Simon Yates jumped into second place. Two more mountain stages remain (Friday and Saturday) followed by a time trial on Sunday, and the race really is up for grabs. So exciting!

About Stage 18: Long and Flat, It’s a Day for the Breakaway

Stage 18 Profile Map (www.giroditalia.it.en)

With just a few bumps toward the end, Thursday’s race will be on the flats, probably favoring an early breakaway. But, at 231 kms, it’s hard to imagine many teams wanting to work all day for the victory. Not even Bora-Hansgrohe will want to expend that much energy for a Sagan stage win. Look for the usual suspects (De Gendt, Marengo, Albanese, et.al.) to separate themselves early, probably with the tacit permission of the peloton enforcers.

Traveling through Lugana DOC

Lugana DOC lies at the southern edge of Lake Garda and has vineyards in both Lombardia and the Veneto. Parcels close to the lake lie on a flatter plain, with rolling hills forming a semi-circle to the east, south, and west. It all adds up to a cozy little microclimate, with winter temperatures modified by the lake’s influence.

Grapes have been grown here since Roman times; indeed, it may have been these early settlers who gave the region its name. Lugana comes from the word lucus, which means forest. Most of today’s vineyards lie on what was once called Selva Lucana, an area of dense marshlands and forest. Not a place one imagines grapes would be grown.

As unlikely as it seems, that inhospitable terrain lay atop some very special soil, a mixture of white clay and limestone. Difficult to cultivate, perhaps, but also capable of imparting rich texture and pronounced aromas to the grapes grown upon it.

Vineyards with a view of Lake Garda (photo: Cà Maiol)

Formed during the Ice Age, these soils are the product of moraines: mass deposits of dirt, rocks, and other matter forced together by the movement of glaciers. In the Lugana DOC, the morainic soils are characterized by a layer of clay near the top, a factor in the richness noticeable in many of the wines made here.

Despite proximity to the lake, the risk of disease and frost is low. Any lingering humidity is blown away by the gentle but constant breezes coming off the lake. Temperatures don’t fluctuate much, providing a comfortable place not just for vines but for the olive groves that dot the landscape. Local growers refer to these idyllic conditions as a “climatic cradle.” Doesn’t that sound lovely? I wonder if I can volunteer in those vineyards indefinitely!

Turbiana: The Source of Lugana’s Liquid Gold

Turbiana belongs to the large Trebbiano family of grapes. But that’s like saying John Smith is part of the Smith clan – not so helpful. There does appear to be a relationship with Trebbiano di Soave from the Veneto, as well as Verdicchio from Le Marche. While there are similarities to both, Turbiana has distinct aromatic and flavor characteristics, and it is slightly less productive. Turbiana grapes also have a unique thin, white patina as they ripen, which some compare to a light dusting of flour.

Unless you’re with the Italian wine authorities, Turbiana’s family tree matters little. It’s more about what’s in the glass. What the wines have in common is exquisite balance: ripe citrus and orchard/tropical fruit complemented by tart acidity. The wines are decidedly ripe, suggesting sweetness on the nose but dry on the palate. Lugana wines are medium+ to full-bodied, with a tantalizingly rich texture kept in-bounds by that crisp, fresh acid. Imagine a ballerina en pointe, an acrobat on the high-wire. In a glass.

Here are a few to try:

Founded in 1967, Cà Maiol also helped establish the Producers’ Consortium of Lugana.
Four months on the lees gives a creamy texture to this wine from Colli Vai Bo.
Cobue Monte Lupo has aromas of peach, apricot, and mandarin orange.
Pratello offers wine tourism and a host of agricultural products in addition to wine.
Podere Selva Capuzza‘s single vineyard wine was one of the first in the Lugana DOC.

For more detailed information on Lugana, please refer to the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC. It’s an excellent resource on the history and grape growing traditions of the region around Lake Garda.

Friday and Saturday promise to be the most exciting – and decisive – stages of this year’s Giro. Both are designated mountain stages and, as we’ve seen this week, all of the GC contenders seem to be in the same boat. While they all boast a high level of fitness, each of them has shown the wear-and-tear of a three-week grand tour. A few days ago I’d have put my money on Bernal to win it all; today I’m hedging my bets. Can’t wait to see what happens!

Stay tuned for wine recommendations for the final stages . . .


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