This vibrant denomination in Italy’s Veneto region is going from strength to strength, says Michael Garner, who picks wines to try which showcase the three main styles of this great value white wine.
These are exciting times for Soave and Veneto: a new generation of winemakers inspired by the groundwork of their fathers is taking the Garganega grape to heights which would have been undreamed of a few decades ago. Meanwhile, the denomination’s other mainstay variety, the sadly neglected Trebbiano di Soave (aka Verdicchio in the Marche) is also starting to make a comeback.
- Scroll down for top Soave wines
The three main styles
Three main styles of wine are evident today. The oak-aged versions fit the blueprint of ‘traditional’ Soave which emerged onto the international stage in the 1960s, but they have lost the over-reliance on aromas and flavours of new oak and small barrels which all too easily dominate the delicacy of Garganega and which has dogged the wines in recent times. A much clearer understanding of the use of wood (nowadays generally larger and older barrels) gives some of the top cuvées an almost Burgundian richness.
At the same time, the fruit-forward and perfumed style of ‘modern’ Soave produced without any wood ageing has made equally impressive progress. Lying somewhere between the two, a third and no less exciting prototype is emerging: a wine which receives extended contact with the fine lees (up to 18 months) usually in either stainless steel or cement. When well-managed, this teases out evolved, nutty and biscuity notes. (See my top three below for quintessential examples of each.)
The variety of styles is also a reflection of the differing soil types of the area. The sometimes white limestone and tufa-based terrain to the west (towards Valpolicella) is of marine origin, while the black, basaltbased soils to the east (around Ronca) are volcanic. The two intermingle around the towns of Soave itself and Monteforte d’Alpone at the heart of the Classico area. The wines from the former tend to show more floral notes and a crisper acidity, while the more volcanic wines have a fleshier style with notes of exotic fruits.
‘What really sets today’s Soave apart is a scintillating, mineral toned freshness that barely seems to diminish with bottle age’
The defining aromas are generally those of orchard fruit, russet apples in particular, with notes of preserved lemon and mandarin zest. But what really sets today’s Soave apart is a scintillating, mineral-toned freshness that barely seems to diminish with bottle age and which gives the wine its remarkable elegance and balance.
Recent vintages have been a mixed bag: 2015 was a warm year and the wines are ripe, forward and good for early to mid-term drinking; while 2014 was notoriously wet and cool – rigorous selection was needed and the best examples are nearing full maturity. The 2013 wines have a pronounced saline quality and show off this distinctive side of Soave to maximum effect; and the hot, dry summer of 2012 led to a crop of very ripe fruit, giving the wines a full, often alcoholic style; best drunk soon.
This selection was from tastings of premium examples from across the various denominations which make up the delimited Soave zone: Soave, Soave Superiore, Soave Classico and Soave Colli Scaligeri, but excluding Recioto di Soave.
Michael Garner has specialised in Italian wine for more than 30 years. He is a DWWA Regional co-Chair for Italy and an author, whose second book, on the wines of Verona, is due for publication this year.