If you haven’t tried Soave recently, you are missing out on one of the most versatile and esteemed white wines of Italy. Soave is a white wine from the Veneto area of northeast Italy (near Shakespeare’s Verona) and made predominantly from the little-known Garganega grape. Soave is pronounced “SWA-VAY” and Garganega is pronounced “Gar-GAH-nega”. While Garganega may not be the first grape variety to roll off your tongue, it’s an ancient grape dating back to the thirteenth century and beloved by royalty at that time. In order to be called a Soave wine, the blend must include a minimum of 70% Garganega with other grapes used being Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay. Many argue that 100% Garganega wines are the best.
There are several attributes that make Soave wines special. One is the wide variety of styles the Garganega grape can produce from sparkling, dry, off-dry, and even sweet dessert wines (Recioto style). Few grapes cover all of those bases.
Garganega is also extremely expressive of its terroir. Grown on the calcareous/limestone soils of the southern and western part of the region, Garganega yields lively citrus, floral, and mineral notes while further east and in central areas, volcanic soils produce more robust wines with tropical fruit, nuts, spice, and petrol notes. Soave wines have great complexity and substance that offer an exciting alternative if you’re a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling lover. They are also relatively inexpensive ($15-$20 for many quality options).
Soave wines also age very well, evolving into a brilliant deep lemon-gold color and producing flavors of dried apricot, marmalade, and roasted nuts with just a few years time. However they are also emminently drinkable right from the start if you favor more zesty, fruity, and refreshing styles.
Another great feature of Soave is that it is incredibly versatile with food due to its tingly acid, medium body, and medium alcohol. Difficult-pairing dishes such as quiche, goat cheese and tart citrus salads, anything that swims (seafood), and white meats go perfectly with Soave. Blue cheese and the Recioto style are stunning mates.
For those of you that buy wines based on award and point scores, Soave has that covered too. Soave itself is a designated quality region in Italy starting from 1931 and has produced many award-winning wines with 6 receiving the renowned Tre Biccheri award in 2013. This is Italy’s top wine award.
Soave has several classifications that can help guide you when buying. Soave DOC is the biggest designation and means simply that grapes can come from anywhere in Soave’s 13 communes. Soave Classico DOC means that the grapes are sourced from hillsides between Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. These wines are more complex as a result and cannot be released before February 1st of the year following harvest. Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC means the grapes comes from hillsides outside the Classico zone.
The higher level classifications of DOCG are broken down into the following: Soave Superiore DOCG is used to designate higher quality based on more regulated production requirements. These wines must have 12% alcohol as a minimum. Grapes for these wines must come from the hillside areas of Classico or Colli Scaligeri and must be aged 12 months before being released. Wines that are aged two years may also add “Riserva” to their label.
Recioto di Soave DOCG is a sweet wine made from dried (passito) grapes and can be either still or sparkling. Grapes used to make these wines come from hillside vineyards and are picked 10 days earlier than the rest of the harvest. Recioto must also be aged at least 12 months before release.
Sparkling Soave is rare and delightful made in either the traditional method of Champagne or the tank (charmat) method. Only a handful of producers make this style so snap one up if you see it. The one we tried was a Non-Vintage Cantina del Castello Soave DOC Spumante Brut. It was made in the tank method and tasted of green apples, lemon, and almond backed by electric acidity and medium body.
My favorites of the recent tasting I attended sponsored by the Soave Consortium were the 2014 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Soave DOC “Monte Ceriani”, the 2014 Gianni Tessari Soave DOC Classico “Monte Tenda”, and the 2014 Gini Soave DOC Classico “La Froscà”.
The common threads among them were a mouth-coating texture, layered complexity, almond and apple notes, and a beautiful lemon gold color of varying hues. Younger wines from limestone soils were more citric (apple, lemon) in nature while those from the east tended to fuller bodies and flavors of tropical and stone fruits (honey dew melon, peach, pineapple).
I found the two sweet wines we tried fascinating. The 2014 Coffele Recioto di Soave DOCG Classico “Le Sponde” was the yin to the 2010 El Vegro Recioto di Soave DOCG Classico “Vigna delle Fate’s” yang. The first was tarter in nature with a laser-focused lemon and tangy acid finish. The second was more like a baby Sauternes rich with marmalade, dried apricot, and figs with a spicy finish.
The Soave Consortium does a remarkable job marketing these special wines as well as to oversee strict production guidelines which help maintain Soave’s outstanding and consistent quality. Their events are first-class and they are highly engaged around the world helping to spread the word about Soave wines.
Lastly, Soave is a stunning wine region with ancient castles and rolling green hills just 12 miles east of Verona. While I haven’t seen it yet, it’s on my wine bucket list and well worth visiting if you’re in the region. If you want to learn more about Soave, please see the Consorzio di Tutela del Soave link below.