Thursday, May 27, 2010

The many personalities of Soave

Garganega grapes with Castello di Soave in the background

I was invited on a press trip to Soave just a few weeks ago, one of six invitations I received for events in Italy during the same time frame! (Don't these people ever talk to each other?). I had already committed to another event in Piemonte and just wasn't able to work this Soave trip into my schedule, which was a shame as Soave is one of my favorite Italian wines and I've come to know several producers there quite well and was looking forward to seeing them again. It's also a lovely area, just 30 minutes east of Verona in the Veneto region and it's castle is one of the most distinctive and beautiful in all of Italy.

Anyway, I asked the Soave Consorzio if they could ship a few bottles of wine to my hotel in Piemonte at that time - if I couldn't make it to Soave, maybe Soave could make it to me! I thought they might send a half-dozen bottles, but they outdid theselves and sent along 21! Needless to say, I had a lot of friends during my stay in Piemonte!

While Soave has always been a known commodity to consumers in America - thanks in part to its easy to remember and easily pronounceable name - the wine has rarely been thought of as something truly special. It is true that the majority of Soave produced in the zone is meant for consumption within the first 2-3 years and unfortunately that doesn't mean much in our society, which rewards big and powerful wines the can age for 5-7 years and longer (despite the fact that many consumers prefer to drink wine in its youth anyway!).

To miss out on Soave normale would be a shame, especially the bottlings from producers such as Pieropan, Castello di Soave and Pra. These are made primarily from the Garganega grape, with up to 20 or 30% Trebbiano in the blend. The best regular bottlings of Soave are a delight, with aromas of honeydew melon and yellow flowers, with a subtle nuttniess. Crisp, well-balanced and usually made without any oak aging, these are wonderful partners for foods ranging from risotto primavera to lighter seafood.

While these wines are a delight and also priced very reasonably ($14-$16 on American retail shelves), there are some excellent single vineyard or selezione bottlings that truly are among Italy's finest whites wines. There are a few dozen producers in the area, such as Ca'Rugate; Coffele; Inama; Monte Tondo; La Capuccina and Gini as well as the others mentioned above, to name only a few, that have been working to expand the breadth and width of Soave's possibilities. These special bottlings display more complex aromatics, are richer on the palate with excellent persistence and offer distinct minerality in the finish, a quality witnessed in Italy's most famous white wines, from Friuli in the north to Campania in the south.

Chiara Coffele of Coffele Winery, Soave
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Some of these wines are even aged and/or fermented in oak, which may come as a surprise. I certainly am not a big fan of oak in white wines, but when you taste a deeply concentrated Soave such as "Monte Alto" from Ca'Rugate, "La Rocca" from Pieropan or "Foscarin Slavinus" from Monte Tondo, you realize how far-ranging Soave can be in its presentation. These wines are beautifully styled with amazing complexity, while staying true to the character of the Garganega grape and the local terroir. And yes, these wines can age - anywhere from 5-10 years.

So think of Soave not just as a simple quaffer for lighter meals, but as one of Italy's most singular and rewarding white wines! Best of all, think of it as one of the best wines to pair with a wide variety of foods, as some of the finest examples can even stand up to veal, roast pork and lighter game.

Here are brief notes on a few of the best examples of Soave I tasted just a few weeks ago:

2008 Filippi "Castelcerino" Soave Classico
Made using grapes grown according to strict biodynamic methods, this is very rich with a distinct minerality and a lengthy finish with excellent persistence. This seems perfectly styled for grilled shellfish. Here is a wine that could change your perception of Soave!

2007 La Mandolare "Monte Sella" Soave Classico
This wine just bursts with fruit - Anjou pear and pineapple - and is quite rich throughout. Beautiful ripeness and aromatics, this is a real pleasure on its own or with food.

2008 Gini "La Frosca" Soave Classico
Gini should be on everyone's short list of great Soave producers; this "regular" bottling is quintessential Soave with its pear and honeydew melon aromas along with notes of yellow flowers and chamomile. Medium-full with a rich finish with mineral notes, this is beautifully made and delicious!

2009 Cambrago "I Cerceni" Soave Classico
This is a selezione made from grapes grown in volcanic soil. Classic Soave aromatics, very good persistence and acidity and pleasing notes of chamomile. Very well made.

2007 Monte Tondo "Foscarin Slavinus" Soave Supriore Classico (DOCG)
Bright yellow with golden tints, sporting pear, melon and lilac aromas, this is ripe, nutty and quite complex with excellent fruit concentration. This is another stylized bottling that is far removed from the simple sipping wine too often associated with Soave. The wines from this producer are always interesting and very well made. They are also routinely excellent.

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