The Noble Writ: Vino Soave


Remember chugging Lancer's, Mateus, Black Tower or Blue Nun in the parking lot before the Three Dog Night concert?

Me neither.

But I certainly hear plenty of quasi-wistful reminiscences about them. I was relatively surprised to learn that many people lumped one of my favorite white wines, Soave, in with these pop-culture laughingstocks.

It seems that in a decade not too long ago Soave was the Italian white wine -- the pinot grigio of its day. As with so many things, popularity bred mediocrity as plantings increased and as vines were pushed to produce as much as possible. As a result, quality fell, and sales tapered off. I'm sure there were producers carrying the flag for quality back then, but this predates my exposure to high school, let alone Soave.

The Veneto region is highlighted.
  • The Veneto region is highlighted.
Soave comes from the Veneto, the region surrounding the City of Venice on the East coast of Italy. Most of the great vineyards (and, perhaps, all of them) are in the Soave Classico region, where old hillside vineyards seem to allow the garganega grape to do its finest work.

Yes, readers, garganega -- yet another tongue-twisting variety to scratch off the life list. Under Italian law, this distinctive grape must make up at least 70% of the wine for it to be labeled "Soave," while the remainder can be a hodge-podge of other grapes, though the local variant of the ubiquitous (in Italy anyway) trebbiano and chardonnay are the most common.

Garganega stands apart from the crowd because one of its key aromas and flavors is that of lightly toasted nuts. While this flavor is somewhat unexpected, it has become something I crave. This flavor also compliments a lot of food very well, particularly where there is a bit of browning: seared scallops, simply grilled chicken or sautéed mushrooms. Garganega also brings a substantial amount of acidity, which helps it match with food and effectively cuts through its weight, keeping it from becoming ponderous.

I've been fortunate that almost all of my Soave drinking has been accomplished with wines from the three producers who dominate high-end Soave: Anselmi, Inama and Pieropan. (Note: Anselmi no longer labels his wines as "Soave.")

I've seen Inama and Pieropan locally recently. Each offers several Soaves, and prices are relatively modest, from the low teens to the upper twenties. Some say that fine Soave does interesting things with age, and I always mean to explore this...but, so far, I've ended up drinking all of my bottles relatively young.

Each of these producers does age some of their wine in oak. I am quite oak-averse and find its use a bit redundant in a wine that already has some nutty, toasty flavors, but the producers certainly disagree. However, the least expensive bottling from each of these three -- Anselmi's San Lorenzo, and Inama and Pieropan's Soave Classico -- is raised in stainless steel, and each provides a fine introduction to Soave. It is these wines that I buy most often when needing a garganega fix.

  • Dave Nelson
Both Anselmi with his Capitel Foscarino and Pieropan with his Calvarino have higher end bottles that do not use oak. These can be magical and worth the price premium over the basic bottling as they bring more intensity and complexity. I've had less luck with Inama at the higher level due to my intolerance for oak, but let your preferences be your guide.

For this week's post, I picked up one of the "basic" bottlings:

2007 Inama Soave Classico ($19, 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar): Light yellow. Tart apple and toasted nuts lead on the nose with some supporting floral notes. Quite full in the mouth where the nutty flavors dominate, but plenty of acidity keeps it lively. This is 100% garganega from thirty-plus-year-old vines on traditional hillside sites, and a very nice example of what the grape can do. It needed a good 30 minutes in the glass to really get going, so a quick decanting is worthwhile if you're planning to serve it immediately.

Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.


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