Sampling Soave

Posted by David on 24th Mar 2016

I love this quote by Englishman Charles G. Bode in his 1956 book 'Wines of Italy.’ He writes of Soave; “it tastes as a very clear, sunny sky might taste if one could drink it." A lot has changed since the 50s. The world’s a much smaller place and Englishmen no longer have to fantasise about clear blue skies when travel is so easy. But thankfully some things stay the same. A good Soave is still as Mr Bode described and whether you’re relaxing with a good book or amongst friends, the analogy still rings true.

Soave is a well-known, dry Italian white wine. It's also a region in Veneto, in the north east of Italy, centred around the town of Verona. Soave became a certified DOC (zone) in 1968 and the ensuing decades saw its boundaries expand dramatically. Today there are about 10,000 acres, making it one of the largest DOCs in Italy. Most of the expansion has been on the fertile plains surrounding the Adige River, where the emphasis has been on quantity rather than quality.

These days you're a little hard-pressed to find the Soave that Charles Bode described. Initially introducing modern Italian wine to the world as something fresh, light and affordable, Soave became a massive wine factory. And over the years it started producing Soave that was regarded as neutral, watery mouthwash - too homogenous to be taken seriously.

Of course good Soave still exists, it's just hidden beneath Soave's unfashionable reputation. Within the Soave DOC is the subzone of Classico. Defined in 1927 and currently about 2,720 acres, it covers the original and best hillside areas around Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone, near Verona. The soil here is much less fertile than the plains, the producers are committed to quality and the wines are impressive.

These days Soave is made from at least 70% of a variety known as Garganega. Up to 30% may be Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and/or Sauvignon Blanc. Garganega is a variety that performs best when its yields are restricted, which is why it's so much better in the Classico area than on the fertile plains.

When made well, Soave is a wine that's lean and crisp and a bit like a ripe Chablis. It has great structure and a steely minerality. It’s unlike anything we have here in Australia.

“True Soave is medium bodied with fine acidity and a lively flowery aroma of white and yellow fruit, and garden herbs, taking on notes of chamomile and honey with age.”Oxford Companion To Wine.

I like this description from Jancis Robinson's weighty tome Wine Grapes; "The best examples of Soave, generally from the Classico zone when yields have been restricted to allow the grapes to fully ripen, are characterised by lemon and almond flavours and a fine grainy texture like that of fresh pears. This delicacy combines with fresh acidity to give wines that may be steely and yet still tantalisingly spicy.”

Here’s a couple of good ones to show what I mean.

Pieropan Soave Classico 2014

1. Pieropan Soave Classico 2014

Village doctor and amateur winemaker Leonildo Pieropan founded this estate in 1890 when he purchased the historical Palazzo Pullici (built in 1460). The business is now in the hands of the third generation Leonildo (Nino), who took over in 1970, and his sons Andrea and Dario. Nino has been the driving force in the growth and success of the business. Masterful Pieropan now sits firmly atop the Soave pyramid, acknowledged as an appellation leader.

The fruit for this wine is handpicked from Pieropan owned, south facing hillside vineyards within the heart of the Classico zone. The vines range from 6 to 60 years old and are certified organic. The wine is a blend of 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave. It's unoaked, however it does see some ageing on lees, in glass-lined concrete tanks to give more complexity.

In the 2008 vintage, Pieropan was the first Soave producer to forgo using the term 'Classico' on the label in order to utilise Stelvin (screwcap) closures - such was their commitment to maintaining the freshness and fragrance of their wine. It’s hard to comprehend here in Australia, the wine is in every sense a Classico, but appellation regulations at the time didn’t permit the use of Stelvin! The 2014 is the first vintage allowed to use the term Classico on Stelvin sealed wine .

Pieropan make several wines, this particular one since the early 1900s. They see it as their freshest, most youthful and lively Soave Classico.

The wine is a light, greeny gold. It’s bright and fresh, with intense notes of white peach, lime, pineapple and white blossom. Juicy up-front, aromatic fruit transforms with each luscious mouthful to a long, dry, flinty finish. Good Soave is magical. With deftly balanced, cleansing acidity and a lingering finish, it’s a delight to drink and easy to see why this wine wins praise every year.

"A fresh and steely white with sliced apple, pear and lemon rind character. Medium to full body, bright acidity and a clean and fresh finish. One of my go-to whites from Italy. Drink or hold.”92 Points, James Suckling.

“This is wonderfully aromatic - not a common feature of Soave - with floral notes (cherry blossom), citrus, stone fruit and almond. The palate is delicate and focussed, with excellent depth and lovely overall balance.”
Michael Trembarth, Melbourne based Italian wine expert.

“Brilliant straw yellow, greenish hues; ample, delicate nose of almond and cherry blossoms, elderberries and lilies of the valley; complex and structured on the palate, with good acidity, silky texture, almonds finish.”Winemaker notes.

You’ll find this benchmark Soave Classico at 'Pilu at Freshwater', 2014 Hall of Fame National Winner (Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine), for $80 a bottle.
I can offer it for $30 a bottle. SOLD OUT

Filippi Soave Classico 'Castelcerino' 2015

2. Filippi Soave Classico 'Castelcerino' 2014

Brothers Alessandro and Filippo Filippi are rising stars of Soave. Located high up in the Classico hillside vineyards, they grow an old, loose bunching clone of Garganega that has good air flow around the grapes, alleviating the need for chemicals to stave off disease. The old vine stock is traditionally trained on pergolas, rather than modern trellising systems, and organic and biodynamic practices are used in the vineyard. Adhering to the 'natural' philosophy of less is more, they have been making their estate-bottled wine since 2003.

The Filippi brothers see their wines as the embodiment of the culture and tradition of the area. Having lived in the region since the 14th century, the family has an incredibly strong connection to the land, so much so they see their wine as their identity - their flag if you like.

Interestingly, the brothers are so keen to distance themselves from Soave's poor reputation, that they have abandoned the name 'Soave' on the front label. It bears instead the name of the single vineyard in which the grapes are grown - Castelcerino.

The wine is a clear, bright golden colour. Lean, fresh and minerally, it’s just how Soave should be. Lemon and musk on the front of the palate carry nicely to a long minerally, almost buttery finish. Very different to the Pieropan, it’s leaner and more savoury - kind of like a Riesling meeting a Chablis. All the while its precise sherbet-like acidity gives the wine great balance and length. It feels good in the mouth, and and doesn’t intrude or overpower - making this crisp and elegant wine so enjoyable. No overt fruit and alcohol here. Beautifully balanced, a pleasure drink on its own or over a long leisurely lunch.

You'll find it at a lot of good joints including - in Sydney: Bentley, Buzo, Monopole, 10 William Street and in Melbourne: Spice Temple, Rosetta and Il Baccarousually at around $65 -$70 a bottle.

I can offer it for $32 a bottle. Click here to order new vintage.