Monday, February 09, 2009

If This is Soave, What Have I Been Drinking?

Soave, the Veneto's most widely-distributed white wine, sits on the shelves of most supermarkets and wine stores. But much of the Soave available in the US is beyond ordinary, made to be drunk very cold on patios under hot summer sunshine. Frankly, I've never been that much of a fan.

This is not all there is to Soave, as I discovered lately.

Properly made, non-industrial Soave is a far cry from the stuff you might have had in the past. Critics like Eric Asimov have recently been struck by the improving character of these Italian whites--although some find that the changes are not to their taste. Smaller producers are returning to the grape and exploring what it can do if its grown carefully and treated with respect through the winemaking process.

I tasted Soave made by a family of winemakers with deep roots in the Veneto--and I'm on Asimov's side in this debate.

I tried two of the wines made by the Tessari family, and I enjoyed both of them. I was absolutely knocked out, however, by the 2006 I Stefanini Soave Classico Monte di Toni (suggested retail $15-$17). This wine had bright, luscious aromas of bitter almond, honeysuckle, and pear. The flavors were an intriguing blend of smoke and honeysuckle, with pears and apples underneath. This wine sees no oak, so the smoke notes come do not come from how the wine was aged. Excellent QPR on one of the best white wines I've had in a long time.

I Stefanini makes an entry level wine, too, and it's proof that even a more basic Soave bottling can be excellent. I tried the 2007 I Stefanini Soave Il Selese (suggested retail $11-$13). Faint, fresh aromas of buttery pear and yield to flavors of creamy pear with bitter almond and honey nuances. This wine is very drinkable with a lush, medium-bodied mouthfeel. I suspect this very good QPR wine would appeal especially to Chardonnay drinkers who are ready to try something different.

Both wines left me thinking, if this is Soave, what have I been drinking? No matter what the answer is to that question, I know I'll be looking for more white wines from the Veneto and paying attention to how they're made and who makes them because this is proof that they can be excellent and affordable.

Full Disclosure: I received these two wines as samples from the importer, Domenico Selections.


Christophe - Titus Vineyards said...

We unfortunately did not taste a Soave during my WSET class over the weekend. I will be sure to seek out one of these good true examples. I am not sure if I've been drinking a true and improved example over the years either. Thanks for the post. Finding great examples of regional wines that are inexpensive is key to the the wallet for us students.

Steve said...

One of my earliest wine memories is of Soave. This is the '80's (Debs you are way younger than me). Industrial Bolla vs. industrial Folonari. Bolla won by a long shot. Things have really changed from the time when it was a reliable quaffer until now where you can get world class Soave pretty much everywhere. I haven't had the Stefanini, but would add Pra, Pieropan and Inama as top choices under 20 bucks to look out for. Unbelievable value!

Terence said...

You should see the rehabilitation of Soave continue on Jancis Robinson's site ...

enzo said...

i think it's worth clarifying some of the recent changes in soave production to help explain why it's come such a long way in terms of quality.

according its DOC specification, soave had to be produced with 80-100% garganega and 0-20% trebbiano (give or take some other varietals). it's important to note that even today this percentile refers to vineyard area and not final production quantity.

now it's necessary to make a couple of distinctions between trebbiano toscano and trebbiano di veneto...

firstly, the tuscan version has a higher yield per hectare than the trebbiano from the original region of soave. in other words, even though trebbiano toscano consists of 20% vineyard area, it ends up being used in greater quantities (even up to double) for the final product.

secondly, trebbiano toscano is a vile little grape compared to the trebbiano di veneto, which is in fact not trebbiano but the excellent white varietal, verdicchio.

back in the day, winemakers exploited this vagueness in the definition to create inferior soaves made from the trebbiano toscano, unbalancing the characteristics of garganega and resulting in a poor quality wine in the process.

it's only been in recent times (from 2000-2002) that winemakers decided to honour the original spirit of the DOC specification and reverted back to using trebbiano di veneto. since doing this, they have also been able to use tertiary varietals, such as chardonnay, to add complexity to the now more delicate taste profile.

Enotheque said...

Though it has been a recent phenomenon, I'm really pleased that you posted on this. Great pick with the Stefanini, though I might also humbly recommend another wonderful Soave Classico with great QPR ($16)...Cantina del Castello. The 2007 is tasting beautifully right now.

Terence said...

I'll point out that the Stefanini wines are 100% Garganega. Domenico Selections carries all 3 of the wines in the Stefanini lineup, including a DOCG, Monte di Fice, which sees oak.

There are some other fine Soaves not yet imported to the US, including Cambrago, which has a slightly more "amabile" style than the more mineral Stefaninis.

One Soave producer in our portfolio is enough. But there are plenty out there worth seeking out for importation, though it takes some digging. Going to the stand of the Soave consortium at Vinitaly, which is in the Soave home town of Verona, would be an excellent way of meeting some of them.