The Soave Region of Veneto, Italy
This week’s show is about one of the most famous white wines in Italy, the region's/wine's 1000 year history, and its recent comeback in quality and stature. The region? Soave (SWAH-vay) in Veneto, Italy.
Map: Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave
Located just east of the famed city of Verona (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?), in the foothills of the Lessini Mountains, Soave is a tiny region that packs a punch in reputation and in flavor. Made from one of the oldest known grapes in Italy, the Garganega grape, Soave’s cheek coating, almond-flavored, floral, and sometimes waterfall-like notes creates a food friendly, crowd pleasing wine. Although often maligned by the wine trade, who is woefully behind on this trend, Soave is one for us, normal wine lovers. Surely there is garbage to be had when the grapes are grown on the flats of the region, but on the ancient, steep, volcanic hillsides, worked meticulously by hand, the grapes farmed for these wines create outstanding examples of Italian white at its best. If you haven’t had it, go and get an example from the producers we recommend (Gini, Inama, Pra, Pieropan, Suavia – you won’t be sorry!)
Here are the show notes...
- Soave is located east of Verona, at 45.45° N latitude
- It is a small region, with just 6,500 hectares (16,062 acres) planted, but those plantings give a lot of bang for the buck – recent figures show the region makes about 4.4 MM cases
Location, climate, land:
- The DOC is on a border between flat plains of the Po River Valley in the south and Alpine foothills in the north. Its main towns – Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone lie on the flats – but between them and north there is a large volcanic outcropping that rises up in steep slopes
- Climate: Because of its proximity to the river, the region is influenced by the mists of the Po Valleyduring harvest, which can produce conditions for mold and disease. The tough Garganega grape can resist disease, but it is still a threat to the vineyards. It can be hot on valley floors in the summer and quite cold in the spring and fall, so slopes are preferred for viticulture.
- Land: Soave is a series of hills and valleys formed by volcanic activity and the recession of a small sea, along with plate movement. Soils are a mixture but in general:
- WEST and CENTER AREAs: Calcareous, limestone soils
- Central-Eastern Areas: Volcanic/basalt based soils
Soave's rolling hills. Photo: Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave
- Garganega is one of oldest white grapes in Italy and represents 88% of plantings. It has grown in the hills of Soave for at least 1,000 years and is one of Italy’s oldest varieties. Garganega can crop to high yields, with large bunches so when growers preferred quantity over quality in the 1960s and 1970s, the vine produced. But like all grapes, when overcropped and grown on fertile valleys, Gargenega has no flavor!
- Characteristics of Garganega: Flavors change based on soil type and winemaking. They range from steely, waterfall-like to peachy with white flowers, citrusy, and like apples. Good Garganega has acidity but a cheek-coating quality and a slightly bitter-almond finish. They are sometimes aged on the lees but not often oak aged, as it kills the freshness/acidity in the wine.
- The better Soaves are mostly 100% Garganega, but by law, the wine must have 70% Garganega with up to 30% of Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio, not crappy Trebbiano)) or, Chardonnay (traditionalists don’t approve) with other non-aromatic, local grapes permitted in up to 5% of the blend.
The Garganega Grape.. Photo from Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave
- Trebbiano di Soave. An exception to some of the low quality Trebbiani, this is the same grape Verdicchio (often from Le Marche). It’s a low yielding variety, ripens earlier than Garganega, and it’s acidic, floral, and light. It used to be in more frequent use but its sensitivity to mold and rot, it has slowly been replaced by the more vigorous Garganega.
We go through the history, and over the theories of how Soave got its name:
- The name is from the writings of Dante Alighieri, devised during his exile in Verona.
- The name is from a Nordic tribe (Svevi) that once inhabited the area.
- Or it could be from a Germanic tribe –the Lombards who set up the city of Soave in the 500s
Soave DOCs and their terroir…
The Soave DOC and its two subzones (Soave Classico DOC and Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC) make 99.5% of the wine (the rest is sweet Recioto di Soave DOCG and Soave Superiore DOCG). Most of the wine is dry, still, white wine. A small amount of sparkling is made. There are 33 "Unità Geografica Aggiuntiva” or Additional Geographical Units, similar to the MGA of Barolo and Barbaresco -- single vineyard sites.
There are various terroir in Soave, as we discuss earlier in the podcast:
Soave Classico and Soave Colli Scaligeri (KOH-lee ska-LEE-jah-ree) are in the mountains, as just described. The Colli Scaligeri form a horseshoe around Soave Classico and these are higher elevation areas mainly on limestone but with some basalt. The two areas are the high quality, traditional growing regions of Soave.
- Volcanic hillsides are in the central to eastern area of Lessini mountains (near Monteforte d’Alpone). These slopes go up to 500 M /328 feet, but slope can go from 10% to 80% grade! These wines can sometimes show a cinnamon note from the benzonoids in the wine.
- Limestone hillsides in the west (near Soave) have shallow, rocky subsoils. These wines are more variable since the calcareous content varies depending on the place on the hill. Tropical fruit, floral, apple, and citrus flavors are common.
The Soave DOC includes the flat floor of the three valleys, where the soils are deeper, rich in clay, and the climate is very hot in summer, and frosty in the “shoulder seasons” of spring (during budbreak) and fall (during harvest). This valley area includes all the expanded are discussed in the history review, and it is the reason why people have a bad idea about Soave, despite the fact that it is so historic and delicious when made in the right regions.
- Volcanic Plains are mainly in the Monteforte Valley, one of the most fertile areas of Soave. These plains are high in clay and volcanic sediment deposited from the hills above. These are simple wines. (Volcanic Park I mentioned is here)
- The limestone plain contains alluvial valley soils deposited from intense rain along Alpone valley and the foothills around Verona. These are rocky, sandy soils and the wines can be floral, simple, and often overcropped.
Soave Soil Map: https://www.amaronetours.it/wines/soave
The two DOCGs: Recioto di Soave, Soave Superiore
These wines are often from the subzones but they are not required to be. They have their own zone of production that overlaps most of the Soave DOC. They must not contain more than 5% Chardonnay and must be at least 70% Garganega and up to 30% Trebbiano di Soave.
- Recioto di Soave DOCG can be still or sparkling wine. It is made from grapes dried on straw mats outside or in a controlled environment. They must be an minimum of 14% ABV and are an intense golden color, with apricot, floral, and vanilla notes.
- Soave Superiore DOCG, began with the 2002 vintage. These wines must have lower yields, more alcohol, and undergo longer ageing (they are not released until April versus February for the others). These wines have a darker color, richer flavors, stronger floral notes, and are weightier. The issue: they aren’t representative of the style of Soave, so a lot producers aren’t using the DOCG. It’s possible this will be the first DOCG that is rescinded – but stay tuned!
Soave's hillside vineyards.. Photo from Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave
Food Pairings: Soave is lovely with food because it has acidity and delicate aromas. Perfect pairings are simple risottos with parmesan cheese, seafood and vegetable pastas, and grilled white fish and seafood or chicken in herbal or citrus preparations.
Go out and get some Soave – it is AWESOME!!
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Sources: Most of the information for this show comes from Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave,
'Soave at the Crossroads' from Meininger's Wine Business Int'l
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