Soave

I have a great fondness for Soave. My strong feelings for the wine spring from the fact that I have seen first hand how it has reclaimed its identity. After all, I live just down the road – a thirty minute drive – from the zone’s lush vineyards, and, for many years, was part of the professional tasting panel that assessed each vintage.

When I first started writing about Soave it was considered a bland, innocuous white – nothing more and often, much less. In those early days only two producers poked their head above the morass. Today, there are scores of Soave producers who are making top-flight wines.

Let me give you a look at the Soave Micro-zones, Soave nomenclature, a list of my favorite producers and interview with Sandro Gini, whose Soaves are often compared with the best Burgundies.

Soave’s 14 Micro-zones
“The future of Soave rests in the cru concept”, says Aldo Lorenzoni, director of the Soave Consortium, “We are participating in an on-going study to determine Soave’s micro-zones. The wines from each of these areas have been chemically analyzed and repeatedly tasted blind by panels of experts in order to determine their specific organoleptic profiles.”

Micro-zone Commune Avg. Altitude Soil
SOAVE CLASSICO DOC
Castelcerino Soave 250 Basaltic Tufo
Castellaro Monteforte d’Alpone 250 Crumbly Limestone
Fittà Soave 170 Clayey
Rugate Monteforte d’Alpone 150 Basaltic Tufo
Monte Tondo Soave 150 Basaltic Tufo
Campagnola Soave 130 Limestone
Costeggiola Soave 130 Limestone
Costalta Monteforte d’Alpone 100 Mix of Sand & Clay
Froscà Monteforte d’Alpone 100 Crumbly Tufo + Limestone
SOAVE DOC
Montecchia di Crosara 150 Limestone, Sand & Clay
Colognola hills Colognola ai Colli 150 Alluvial
Val d’Illasi Illasi 150 Alluvial
Soave Plain Soave 50 Alluvial Clay
Monteforte d’Alpone Plain M. d’A. 40 Alluvial Clay
(altitude measured in metres above sea level)

Soave – The Basics The Soave production area is some thirty kilometres east of the northern Italian city of Verona. At its centre is the Classico zone, whose vineyard sites are limited to a few hillsides around the communes of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. The vineyards in the foothills and plains surrounding the Classico zone are referred to as just Soave DOC in order to distinguish them from Soave Classico DOC.

DOC: These Italian wine laws basically codify the realities of historic production zones, as related to yield, grape varieties and boundaries.

Within the DOC category are: Soave and Soave Superiore Soave Classico and Soave Classico Superiore All of the above can be made in either still or sparkling versions

Superiore wines have a higher degree of alcohol (11.5) than Soave normale (10.5). This is because the grapes from which they are made tend to be riper due to their sunnier vineyard sites.

Within these classifications there is leeway for individual expression. Producers are free to use barriques or stick with stainless steel. They may choose to use 100% Garganega, or add up to 15% Chardonnay (and/or other grape varieties) to the blend.

DOCG: As the DOC laws are based on “traditions” – which sometimes stretched no further back than the 1930s, and thus accommodated 20th century mass production practices – the Italian government introduced the concept of DOCG in the 1980s. The “G” stands for Garantita and is supposed to serve as a guarantee of high quality. To receive the “G” rating, wines are submitted to tasting panels and must demonstrate consistently high standards. This process also requires that producers work together and agree on just what those standards should be. This is not an easy task.

In 1998 Recioto di Soave became the Veneto’s first DOCG. Recioto is a dessert wine made from semi-dried grapes. When good, it offers an exquisite balance between lively acidity and sweet, apricot-tinged fruit. I believe that there will be a bit future of this style as it lends itself to pairing with certain Asian dishes. Particularly slightly spicy.

Patricia’s Favorite Soaves
Of the many good wines, my special favorites are Agostino Vicentini, Gini, Pieropan, Ca’Rugate, Coffele, Corte Sant’Alda, Inama, Prà, Portinari, Suavia and La Cappuccina. Frankly, these wines reflect my personal tastes. They are give ripe, apricot-tinged fruit, firm body and long finishes. They satisfy.

GINI SOAVE
Sandro Gini makes the kind of wine that brings out the poet in every taster and stirs up memories of great Meursaults, Chablis and Montrachets. Like these other famous names, his elegantly structured and seductively fruity Salvarenza can age gracefully for at least a decade. With their rich layers of bright, precise flavors that seem to unfurl on the palate like satin ribbon, they have rightly earned their place among Italy’s Great Wines.

The Gini family has been growing grapes and making wine in the hamlet of Monteforte d’Alpone in the Soave Classico zone for generations. “We have,” says Sandro, “a history as grape growers that goes back to the 1700s. Our roots are here.”

The Ginis now own thirty hectares of vineyards and rent an additional five hectares, from which they produce around 250,000 bottles a year. “My grandfather didn’t bottle the wine. It was not the style then, instead he sold to the osterias (wine bars), like everyone else. I began making the wine at the estate in 1980 – that was the first vintage I personally made. I studied enology and did research on yeasts of the zone of Soave and I traveled and worked in other areas before dedicating myself to my estate.”

In 1987, after years of reading descriptions of French wines and studying their technical charts, Gini and a friend set off for France, with a map of the Grand and Premier Cru vineyards of Burgundy and a trowel. He took topsoil and sub-soil samples from every vineyard to help him understand what made these wines great. He returned home from that first trip determined to create an elegant, long-lived white wine from Garganega grown in the volcanic tufo and limestone soils of the 5 hectare Salvarenza vineyard. “With Salvarenza, I set out to show that Garganega [the primary variety in the Soave blend], which is a much under-rated vine, has great class and ageing potential.” The average age of the vines in the Salvarenza vineyard is between 50 and 60 years. “My vines are older than I am,” jokes Sandro. The vineyard also includes some healthy, productive hundred year old vines. “One of the reasons that our vines remain healthy is that we have always used organic farming methods; I believe that vines age more quickly when treated with chemicals. Old vines produce fewer but very well-balanced grapes. They also withstand rain and fog better because their root system is deeper and this in turn renders the flavor more interesting, allowing for maximum expression of the terroir.”

Salvarenza is fermented in barrique. “We get our casks from Burgundy. The wood is seasoned for three to four years before it is made into barrels – the normal seasoning period is usually 18 months,” says Sandro. “The wood must be elegant; it should never cover the characteristics that express the terroir and vintage of a Grand Cru. That, after all, is the beauty of a single vineyard wine.”

Gini also makes a single-vineyard Soave Classico Superiore that is vinified in stainless steel. La Froscà showcases the floral fragrances of the Garganega grape and the minerally complexity of its terroir.

“Soave has evolved in the last few years. Many producers in the zone are making excellent wines.” He breakes into an engaging smile. “Now things are getting really interesting. It is possible to taste the wines from different vineyards and really taste the terroir; you can understand how the soils and microclimate are reflected in the wine.” In an age where clumsy power is often mistaken for greatness, it is sheer pleasure to taste Gini’s wine whose strength lies in their grace and elegant persistence. These are very classy wines indeed.

Soave Wines:
Soave Classico Superiore
Soave Classico Superiore Contrada
Soave Classico Superiore La Froscà
Salvarenza Vecchie Vigne
Recioto di Soave Col Foscarin
Recioto di Soave Renobilis

Other Wines:
Pinot Nero Sorai Campo alle More
Chardonnay Sorai
Sauvignon Maciste Fumé

BOX 1: Gini’s Red
When asked what kinds of wines he enjoys drinking (excluding his own) he answers not surprisingly, “I have always been partial to Burgundy. There is something about them that I find fascinating. And for reds, I enjoy Pinot Nero. I have always liked it.” When a respected producer from the Alto Adige suggested that some of Gini’s vineyard sites had the potential to produce great Pinot Noir, Sandro immediately took up the challenge. In 1989 he planted four hectares, and thus was born his 100% Pinot Nero, whose name Campo alle More (Field of Blackberries) gives a clue to the wine’s luscious flavor. “In my opinion,” says Sandro “to make a great Pinot Nero you need an old vineyard. Mine is now 13 years old and we are achieving good results. But you need patience to make a great wine.” Sandro Gini has already shown that he has patience, vision and intellectual curiosity to achieve that goal.

Box 2: What does Gini drink with his Salvarenza?
Delicate fresh fish grilled on vine twigs, seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and basted with Soave is Sandro’s personal favourite. He also approves of the traditional pairing with boiled eggs and asparagus, dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt.