The wine buff: Soave and sophisticated

Soave? Yes, you may remember this as a relatively flavourless, uninspiring white wine that you chugged last century, but it is definitely worth revisiting, as there is now some top-quality wine being produced in the region. Soave is not the name of the grape. Like most Italian wines, it is named after the place where it is produced.

The main grape in Soave is Garganega, which is indigenous to the region. It is quite ancient, with the first known mention dating back to the 13th Century. DNA profiling indicates that it is identical to the Sicilian grape Graciano Dorato, and also Malvasía de Manresa from Catalunya in Spain. To be classified as Soave, the wine must have a minimum of 70pc Garganega in the blend. Some, like Pieropan, are 100pc Garganega; others can include up to 30pc of Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay.

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Under the Italian classification system, generally, when the word Classico is on the bottle, it is superior. This is the case with Soave, where the best grapes come from the vineyards on the hillsides. There are two types of volcanic soil here: tufa, which is light-coloured and porous, and the darker, black basalt-based soil. Typically, the wines from tufa are floral and crisp, and the wines from the darker soil show richer, more exotic fruit. In the flatter areas, which are not in the Classico category, the soils are less mineral-rich, and primarily clay.

On my recent visit to the Veneto region with O’Briens Wine, we headed to the hills of Soave, past its medieval walled town, which looks spectacular and is well worth a visit. We stopped just past the drawbridge of the historic castle of Soave, Castello di Scaligeri, and to our left was the Ferra vineyard owned by the Rizzardi family. As it is south-facing, the vines are exposed to the late afternoon sun, and the altitude brings cooling breezes which allow the grapes to ripen slowly.

Even though I had seen black grape varieties being harvested in nearby Valpolicella the previous day, the grapes here were still on the vine, some of them turning yellow, riper than others. In order to retain a freshness in top-quality Soave, the grapes are harvested twice: some are picked early, when the grapes have a high level of acidity, but the majority of the grapes are picked later. This allows for a balanced wine where crispness supports the ripeness, bringing a rich texture and body to the wine. Like good Chablis, these wines are suitable for ageing, and after a few years will develop a nutty quality and added complexity.

You will find plenty of Soave for under a tenner in supermarkets which, when well chilled, is fresh and easy-drinking. But it’s also worth exploring the more complex wines that are being made in the region, like the two I have in today’s line-up.

Grapevine

Tickets for O’Briens Winter Wine Festival are on sale now. At the Dublin event on November 8-9, there will be over 350 wines, with 75 visiting producers from around the world; tickets are €30. And in Cork, on November 7, 45 producers will be pouring 199 wines; tickets €15. The ticket price includes all wine samples, tasting notes and a Tipperary Crystal glass to take home. Tickets in O’Briens stores and on Ticket Tailor.

Guerrieri Rizzardi Soave Classico ‘Costeggiola’ 2017

€15.45, 13pc, from O’Briens and obrienswine.ie

Flavours of citrus, apple and a touch of herbs are underpinned with a crisp minerality in this fresh wine, which has a slightly creamy texture and a touch of honey.

Pieropan ‘La Rocca ‘Soave Classico 2018

€22.99, 12pc, from Ely 64, Fallon & Byrne, Corkscrew and leading independents

This biodynamic wine is 100pc Garganega, and has ethereal aromas of delicate flowers and preserved lemon building in flavour on the palate with red apple, apricot and toasty frangipane.

Soave “Magenta” 2015 Noûs Cooperativa

€24 approx, 13pc, from Green Man Wines, First Draft Coffee & Wine, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers (Dublin, Galway and Meath), Siyps.ie

Quite different from a typical Soave, this biodynamic wine has been fermented on the skins, bringing flavours of gently confited lemon skin, clementine and nectarine with a hint of tannins adding texture.

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