HomeAway travel expert on Umbria
When thinking of Italian wine, it is most often the central and southern regions of Italy that come to mind. The crowd-pleasing super-Tuscans, the bold Sicilian Nero d’Avola, and the mouth-tingling tannic Sagrantino from Umbria all seem to dominate the collective wine consciousness (and worldwide menus), encapsulating in their deep red hues the Italy of long, languishing afternoon meals warmed by the Mediterranean sun and serenaded by sweet sounds of mandolins.
The reality is that the lion’s share of Italy’s excellent wines hail from the craggily mountainous northern regions of the country, primarily the belt that stretches across Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto. The fertile shores of this area’s glacial lakes—including Maggiore, Como, Iseo, Garda, and Orta—produce some of Italy’s most prestigious wines, and a visit to the Italian “Lake District” is an occasion to combine gorgeous landscapes (though more Alpine than Mediterranean) with equally breathtaking wines.
These northern wines tend to be lighter than their southern cousins, but no less complex; Nebbiolo and Amarone di Valpolicella, in fact, are considered two of the most layered wines in all of Italy. A number of distinct microclimates, dictated by steep mountains slopes ringing secluded valleys and glacial basins, produce an incredible range and diversity between wines hailing from this relatively small geographical area, so there is a wine to suit almost every taste.
Rebecca's verdict on wineries near the Italian Lakes
Though any restaurant or trattoria in the Italian “Lake District” will feature the excellent local vintages on their menus, surely the best (and most fun) way to sample wines from the shores of Italy’s northern lakes is at the source: one of the beautiful family wineries that dot these terraced hillsides.
Lake Maggior: A David in the Goliath wine world, Cascina Piano was one of the first wineries to redevelop and market the historical local Ronchi Varesini wines, long produced along the shores of Lake Maggiore but almost completely forgotten in the 20th century. In 2003, this family began their battle to revive these wines, and two years later gained Igt recognition.
Lake Orta: The Colline Novaresi wine country is thick with cantine—more than 90 at last count—so this is an interesting area to make a wine day trip rather than a single visit. That said, if you have time for just one stop, try the Castello Conti. Run by three sisters (daughter of the founder, who began producing wine in the 1960s), this winery has a hip feel, with an art exhibition space and the Rosso delle Donne label, celebrating the all-women ownership.
Lake Como: In the Alpine lodge-like Angelinetta winery—with a wide view over the town of Domaso, the placid lake, and the craggy mountain peaks on the opposite shore—visitors can sample both this cantina’s Terre Lariane Igt wines and their excellent honey and grappa.
Lake Garda: The shores and area surrounding Lake Garda is thick with wineries producing an incredible array of different wines. To try some of Italy’s most prestigious, head to Corte Adami, where you can sample both the Soave and Amarone di Valpolicella of this award-winning vintner.
Lake Iseo: For something a bit different, the gorgeous Bellavista winery turns out sparkling Franciacorta. On a hilltop with views over the surrounding rolling vineyards, this winery is the perfect spot to sip a glass of bubbly. If you like industrial archaeology, the Contadi Castaldi cellar is housed in the renovated former brickyard, a perfect place for ageing Franciacorta.
Top places to visit for wonderful wines and wineries
Along the shores of majestic Lake Maggiore, picturesque terraced hillside vineyards produce Angera wines (known as the Ronchi Varesini), which—after a decline over the past century—are returning to the prestige and popularity they have enjoyed since the 1500s. Further afield, the Novara hills to the south (also near the tiny neighboring Lake Orta) are home to some of Lombardy’s most popular red DOC wines, including Nebbiolo, Ghemme, and Vespolina. The Alpine Valdossola to the north instead turns out Prünent, Neuv Bruschett, and Cà d’ Matè from its dramatic terraced mountain slopes.
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Postcard-perfect Lake Orta, with its village-island San Giulio, is often considered the most romantic of the Italian Lakes. To the south, the Novara hills are home to some of Lombardy’s most popular red DOC wines, including Nebbiolo, Ghemme, and Vespolina. Put the two together, and you are almost guaranteed a heady weekend of intimate toasts.
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Like Lake Maggiore, Como has her own Cinderella story: the Domaso wines. These local reds and whites were revived in the late 1990s with the replanting of the heirloom Verdes grape and the recultivation of the steep terraces surrounding the lakeside town of Domaso, which had produced wine since Roman times. To the north of Lake Como, the Valtellina valley has also been in the wine business since the Romans ruled Italy, and the local Nebbiolo grape is used to produce the excellent Sforzato and Superiore DOCG wines.
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Both the largest and the most productive of lakes, wine-wise, is Lake Garda. Here the microclimate is especially conducive to excellent local varietals, including the Nosiola, Schiava, and Lagrein grapes which turn out light reds and rosès. The nearby Valtenesi is home to a number of Garda Classicos—including Chiaretto, Rosso, Groppollo, and Bianco—and the Colline Moreniche hills produce the DOC Luganas and San Martino della Battaglia. On the Veneto side of Garda to the east, wine enthusiasts should search out Amarone di Valpolicella, a rich red made from passito (dried) grapes and Soave, a dry white which can be both still or sparkling.
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Speaking of sparkling, just to the south of tiny Lake Iseo the Franciacorta wine country produces Lombardy’s best bubbly, a DOCG wine since 1995. This area produces still whites and reds, but by far its most popular wine is the sparkling white followed by its sparkling rosè. Similar to Champagne in technique and taste, these wines are excellent as an aperitivo or at the end of a sumptuous Italian meal.
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Lake Como Holiday Homes
La Macciaschina is an independent house set in a beautiful traditional country setting recently restored. The house is on two levels and it is tastefully and comfortably decorated. It is located right in the middle of a peaceful, wooded conservati...
A brand new renovated apartment boasting the most wonderful lake views. Sleeps four guests. Conveniently situated in the heart of sought after Menaggio, the principal village on the lake, the property directly overlooks the lake. Lake Como living ...
Romantic and well-kept in the attic a rustic stone situated in a small mountain village overlooking the lake. In about twenty minutes you can be in Bellano and Varenna (where there is the ferry to Menaggio and Bellagio).
In the northern part of th...
Spacious and neat linked house ( on the 2nd level) at the Como lake on the side of Lecco, where the lake is the purest. The accommodation (with a view over the lake) belongs to a residential complex of high standards. Various facilities available,...
Tourist village located in the "best-preserved area of" high Lake Como, a short coastline to the south. The "building is modern but given the location, it is ideal for lovers of the lake, nature and panorami.Partendo from the reside...