by Juel Mahoney
While there is still a perception out there that Soave is a cheap wine, I say - take advantage of it!
The good stuff is as refreshing on a hot day as jumping into a Lamborghini with cool white leather seats. So while most people’s ideas about Soave are stuck in the 1970s, there are some glamorous wines being overlooked.
“Italian wine is too complicated!” You won’t hear me disagree with you. But if that is the only thing that is standing in the way of you and one of the best white wines in Italy – we need to talk!
Here are 5 things you need to know now:
Love is the Law
If you have driven in Italy, you will have an idea of what I am about to say about Italians and laws. If you don’t see an official tag on the neck of the bottle, don’t freak out. Some of the best winemakers rebel against the Italian wine laws. What do you need to know?
Soave is the style of wine named after the Soave region in Veneto. Some of the best ‘Soave’ are grown in Soave but not called Soave due to the law (and are called IGT). Then there is ‘Soave Classico DOC’ or ‘Soave Superiore Classico DOC’ but on the hillside it may be ‘Soave Superiore DOCG’… and none of this is a huge help to the wine lover.
In style, Soave is the sophisticated older sister of Sauvignon Blanc. In a lot of ways it shares the same flavours – citrus, apple, pear – but the perfume is subtle and not as happy-go-lucky as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The top level Soave has exciting almond, tangy fennel and a steely core.
Garganega is the major grape variety of Soave. It is often blended with Chardonnay or Trebbiano but this does not take away from the quality; in fact, often it adds another dimension. At Suavia, a winery run by 4 sisters, they resurrected the original grape variety of the region, Trebbiano di Soave (many mistakenly planted the rampant Trebbiano di Toscana used for bulk white wines, in French called Ugni Blanc). This is a huge step up in quality and gives the wine complexity rather than dilution. Look for it.
The 2010 was a terrible summer in the Veneto with a lot of rain in the vineyards. How does this affect the top wineries? Not as much as you might expect. The Veneto region is one of the centres of wine technology and the very best sort the grapes as if they were precious diamonds. 2011 is an excellent, hot vintage – everybody was a winner.
What does quality look like?
The wines have a thrilling mineral character and are often compared to white Burgundy. The difference is they have a savoury character, good weight on the palate and very smooth.
Recently we had a blind tasting of Soave with Meri Tessari (above right, with her 3 sisters who run the winery), which included Suavia’s Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2008. Monte Carbonare translates as “Hill of Carbon” and is from a small 12 hectare vineyard at 300m altitude in the middle of the Soave Classico region. It is full of mouthwatering minerality, as expected from a landscape of dormant volcanoes.
The Suavia Soave Classico is spicy and rich on the palate with an exciting, savoury herbal core. It has smoky complexity with excellent definition and a clean finish of stone.
The blind tasting showed there were many styles of Soave. Suavia, Pieropan La Rocca and Anselmi are recommendations. If you see any of these wines, do not hesitate.
Image from Suavia winery