A major reason for Lombardy's lofty standard of living is that the region is simultaneously an industrial powerhouse and part of the agricultural heartland of northern Italy. It is the second-most productive region of the country, following its neighbor to the south, Emilia-Romagna. Livestock and cereal grains comprise a major share of Lombardy's agricultural output. Rice and corn are as prevalent as wheat in the fields, and risotto and polenta are as common as pasta on the plate.
Lombardy isn't one of Italy's leading wine regions in quantitative terms -- the 44 million gallons (166,558 liters) it bottles annually make it only 11th out of the nation's 20 regions [source: Reiss]. However, the conditions are more than adequate for growing vines, with the sunny Alpine climate cooled by the region's many lakes. In the northernmost part of the region, above Sondrio, lies Valtellina, which was described by Leonardo da Vinci: "A valley surrounded by tall and terrible mountains, it makes really powerful wines" [source: ItalianMade]. The description is equally true today. Vintners over the centuries have taken over the steep mountains of Valtellina, carefully annexing all available space. The vines, mostly of the Nebbiolo variety (or Chiavennasca, as it's called in Italy), grow in terraced formations, held up by stone walls [source: Cellar Tours]. Harvest time is a mountain climbing expedition -- growers have rigged cables for sending the gathered fruit down the hillsides in baskets [source: ItalianMade].
Franciacorta, in the center of Lombardy between Bergamo and Brescia, wasn't on the wine map until the 1950s, when Franco Ziliani decided to use the method that produces sparkling wines. Made with the same international grapes grown in Champagne, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (neither of which was new to northern Italy), this wine becomes bubbly through late-stage fermentation in the bottle [source: Sonkin]. The success of Ziliani, and those who followed, was such that the government bestowed its highest regional appellation, the DOCG, on Franciacorta.
Want to take a taste? Read on to learn about famous wines of the Lombardy region.