Sitting inside the ancient castle walls inside the town of Soave, a short drive from Verona in northern Italy, the unique slightly almond aroma of the indigenous grape, Garganega, rises gently from my glass. The castle sprawls up the side of an extinct volcano that gives the region its variant soil structures that mark out the better quality of Soave wines.
The second grape that we become acquainted with is the Trebbiano di Soave, a variety that is blended with Garganega in smaller proportions to add strength to the wine while refining its flavour.
Why is our perception of Soave at odds with a long history of quality?
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This is a question that one cannot help but ask when we recall the almost infinite times we have overlooked Soave in our local wine shop or supermarket. Our perception of Soave is of a mediocre region offering bulk wine with unknown gems that are too few and far between for us to decipher them from the lower-cost mainstream. In short, it is a too high risk.
There is a reason for this. Soave’s success in the 1960s and ’70s meant that rules were changed in order to expand production to meet the growing appetite that emerged in places like the US.
This demand led to the expansion of the area under vine from the slopes to the plains that spread out towards the horizon from the steep slopes of Soave and Monteforte. Add to this the important switch from planting Trebbiano di Soave to Trebbiano Toscano. This latter grape is bland by comparison offering very little to the wine except the volumes desired by growers hungry to satisfy their ambitions of making lots of a clean dry bland and inexpensive wine.
Resurrecting a reputation
It is not fair to say that all producers sold out to the demands of the bulk producers but the Consorzio seemed to have had a hard time pleasing everyone. Legendary makers in the region like Roberto Anselmi actually left the appellation grouping in protest.
Fast forward to today and there is a very keen desire by producers to demonstrate that Soave has what it takes to brand itself world-class. As we trek up and down the mountain and circle packed tasting rooms, the din of fellow tasters recedes as the Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave start to speak for themselves.
Exceedingly good Soave
A selection of quality Soave wines tasted
The objective of the first tasting was to demonstrate that Soave can age. Around twenty producers assembled in a tightly packed room offering younger and older examples of their wine. For the first time, it became to possible to detect the opulence and intensity of flavour, combined with a vibrant youthful structure, that naturally committed itself to memory.
The younger wines could be intense, floral, that lift of almond, or hint of apple, but balanced and fresh. The older wines showed the character of fine wines we would expect from more well-regarded wine regions.
The room was so busy that I didn’t get to taste everything but here are a few notables:
Franchetto Soave DOC “La Capelina” 2018, 2012, 2010 - 100% Garganega with lees stirring.
Corte Giacobbe Soave Superiore DOCG Runcata 2017, 2011 - 100% Garganega
Coffele, Soave Classico DOC “Cá Visco” 2018, 2000
Inama, Soave DOC Classico, “Vigneti di Foscarino” 2016, 2008
Gini, Soave DOC Classico “Salvarenza”, 2002, Magnum
*Filippi Soave Colli Scaligeri “Vigne della Brá”, 2017, 2008.
*The Filippi wines were quite unique in the line-up with the ‘08 having a striking cut green apple aroma and full textured mouthfeel. Reminded me immediately of vintage blanc de blanc champagne. The 2017 had a more spiced apple aroma with the typical youthful mineral tasting bite of acid.
On the last evening of our trip, just before we set off for dinner, John Szabo MS treated us to a fun blind tasting with volcanic wines from around the world. The objective was not to spot the winemaker as much as to look for the qualities, feelings, shapes, and sensations that might link these wines from specifically volcanic places.
Although the line-up selection was (unsurprisingly) biased towards Soave wines in number, I think I was more convinced by the idea than by the results. The Garganega profile being so distinct that it was not too hard to spot, although, with a really long day of tasting behind us and fatigue setting in, our senses were certainly blurring.
It will be interesting to see if Szabo’s book (in progress), will identify discernable characteristics in the glass in order to prove his theory of taste links between these uniquely rich soils that scar the aged surface of the Earth.
A couple of years ago I drove across the Veneto from Castelfranco to Verona stopping only at a producer called Rocolo Grassi. The motorway cuts a route past Soave and yet I was not tempted to stop, stroll and taste. That won’t ever happen again. If you in the region then I urge you to pause in Soave, walk the castle walls, tour the cellars of the Cantina Di Soave, and climb to the top of the hills to enjoy the tall pergola farmed vines, a glass of something new, and views that stretch out for miles across the plains.
Here in London, I will be seeking fine and true Soave wines in order to help develop my appreciation of this ancient but modern region.