Over the past few years I have truly rediscovered Soave wines, in particular Soave Classico, the wines that hail from Soave's historic heartland. Read on to find out more about these delicious, versatile and importantly, great value whites from the Veneto region in Northeastern Italy, and to see five of my top picks for drinking this summer.
How To Choose Good Soave
For many years I had almost written off Soave as boring and bland. Unfortunately there is quite a bit of Soave produced that still meets this description. So how do you know a 'good' Soave from a "mediocre" or "poor" Soave? Let me explain and go back a little in history.
Like most Italian wine regions, Soave has its heartland, called Soave Classico. The vineyards within this smaller area are for the most part hillside vineyards. Soils here are typically volcanic or limestone, both conducive to the production of very fine wine.
Unfortunately, as demand for Soave grew in export markets, so did pressures to expand the appellation. And expand it did. Most of the vineyards within the expanded area of the DOC appellation are on more fertile, flatter land. That coupled with the fact that that many of the wines produced on the flat plains are made from higher yielding vines, the result is more neutral wines at best, and dilute wines at worst.
So, if you are not an expert on the wines of Soave, how can you navigate the choices in a wine store? My first and most important piece of advice is look for "Classico" on the label. With this you know you are in the heartland and most likely to choose a wine with personality and expression of place and grape.
The Garganega Grape and the Taste of Soave
Soave wines are made primarily for the local Garganega grape, a relatively non-aromatic grape, with excellent acidity and ability to express lovely minerality when planted in appropriate soils. Aromas and flavors are subtle and include lemony notes, pear, delicate almond nuttiness and nuances of white flowers.
The DOC laws stipulate that Garganega must be a minimum of 70% in the wine. Chardonnay, Trebbiano di Soave and Pinot Bianco are also up to a maximum of 30% in the wine.
Given the blend options, as well as the different soil types (volcanic or limestone) means that within the Classico area there is scope for great diversity, before you even take into consideration the hand of the winemaker.
How Does Soave Taste?
One of the wonderful attributes of Soave is its relative lowish alcohol levels (most are around 12% abv). In general Soave wines are light to medium-bodied and unoaked. While most of the wines are vinified in stainless steel to preserve more primary fruit, some are still vinified in older old oak casks, resulting in broader, less "fruity" wines. Most producers inhibit the acid softening malolactic fermentation process that follows the alcoholic fermentation, while some deliberately allow or induce it, to create softness, palate weight and texture. Some bottle early, while others leave the wine resting on its lees (dead yeast cells) for several months.
With all these options, it is easy to see how such wonderful diversity exists within the category.
Soave at the Table
Soave wines are light to medium bodied – so best to avoid very heavy, meaty dishes. They are light enough to enjoy on their own or with salty nibbles. At the table they work really well with fish, white meat or vegetable dishes that do not have too heavy a sauce. Some lovely pairings are with skate with black butter and capers, roast chicken, grilled trout or hake, or just with a simnple quiche.
Top Soave Producers
When I think of Soave my mind automatically goes to four names – Pieropan, Inama, Prà and Gini. However, there are another two in particular that I discovered when preparing this post – Ca' Rugate and Montesei as I've described below.
5 Soave Wines to Try
• 2010 Ca' Rugate San Michale DOC Soave Classico, $13.99 – 100% Garganega. From a producer whose vineyards are located in the heart of the region – volcanic soils. Subtle aromas of spring flowers, fresh hay, camomile, marcona almond. Deliciously minerally. Crisp and nicely taut on palate. Minerality follows through to a lively, fresh finish.
• 2009 Gini DOC Soave Classico, $16.99 – 100% Garganega. From another very highly regarded producer. Vineyards again situated in the heartland. Delicate floral aromas of iris, elderflower and bright citrussy notes. Hints of honey and minerality. Lively and fresh flavors persist on the palate. Elegant yet very well-defined structure. Crisp texture with a creaminess on the mid-palate and lots of stony minerality on the finish.
• 2009 Inama DOC Soave Classico, $15 – 100% Garganega. This wine has long been a favorite of my husband. It has a creamy expansive nose of ripe citrus and apricot, a subtle nuttiness and evident minerality. Rounder and creamier on the palate (this wines does go through malolactic fermentation) than the previous two wines, it is a slightly broader style. Nice layered palate with a rich creamy texture. Another delicious example from the classic heartland.
• 2009 Pieropan DOC Soave Classico , $16 – This wine has long been my favorite (along with its single vineyard siblings). 86% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave and also from the classic heartland. Elegant, well-defined minerally nose with delicate notes of lemon, almonds, irises and fresh cut hay. Crisp, taut, refreshing – just plain delicious in my book! Nice taut structure, juicy flavors and long lingering stony finish.
• 2008 Montessi "Le Battistelle" DOC Soave Classico, $12.99 – 100% Garganega. This week was my first time tasting this Soave and it was absolutely delicious. It also shows how well Soave can age. This was the oldest wine in the lineup and showed some very attractive honeyed notes that added complexity to the fruit and strong almost salty minerality.
Have you tried some good Soave wines that you'd like to tell us about?
Until next week enjoy!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)