Quick, when I say “Soave” what do you think of?
Chances are, the next word that comes to mind is Bolla–as in, Bolla Soave, the cheap, neutral, and very successful Italian white that flooded our shores (and TV sets) in the 1970s. This wine’s commercial success and ubiquity have long associated Soave with mediocrity in the mind of many wine drinkers. That’s too bad. Some of these wines can be good, and many of them offer really nice value.
I recently had the chance to taste through 9 Soaves, largely from the 2008 vintage, thanks to a promotional event sponsored by the Soave consortium. You’ll see my tasting notes below–but first, a little context.
Soave comes from the Veneto region, in northeastern Italy. The main quality grape at play here is Garganega, although Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco are also allowed. The best Soaves, including those from the hilly, and higher quality, Soave Classico zone, will be primarily Garganega (and won’t include the bland Trebbiano Toscano variety).
Soave is difficult to pin down. It doesn’t have the aromatic over-the-topness of, say, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling. Nor does it have the rich, mouthfilling quality of an oak-inflected Chardonnay. At their best, these are subtle, elegant wines, with hints of citrus, minerality, and almonds. They’re rarely high in alcohol and match well with lighter fare, making them a good summer standby. At their worst, these wines are wallflowers. There’s just no there there — pale aromas and flavors and insufficient acidity — and tasting them can be as frustrating as trying to converse with a sullen teenager.
While Soave is never going to set my world on fire, there are some good wines here–the Inama and Gini in particular are worth seeking out.
Coffele Soave Spumante Brut 2000 ($22)
That’s the wine pictured above. (Positioned right in front of a spittoon–tasting wine is glamorous, no?) Sparkling Soave is a bit of a rarity, and rarely imported into the U.S. This one is mostly Garganega, with a small percentage of Chardonnay. It’s not going to make anyone forget champagne, but this is a pretty enjoyable tank-method sparkling wine, with a surprisingly fine mousse and some delicate citrus and toast aromas and flavors.
Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2008 ($15)
Medium intensity, floral and citrus aromas. Some nice mineral notes on the palate — but I want it to have more acidity. Still, would be a nice match for simple grilled fish.
Coffele Soave Classico 2008 ($16)
95% Garganega, 5% Chardonnay. Light on aromatics, with some melon/apple/almond stuff going on. Falls on the wrong side of the fine line between “subtle” and “boring.”
La Cappuccina Soave Classico 2008 ($12)
100% Garganega. Bright citrus aromas and flavors (lemon peel, grapefruit, tangerine). Very short finish, very simple wine — but a decent value for this price.
Gini Soave Classico 2008 ($20)
Honeysuckle, candied citrus peel, and peaches, with a bitter almond finish. Well-balanced, more complex than a lot of other wines in this line up. If I ate fish in cream sauce, this is what I would pair it with.
Inama Soave Classico 2008 ($15)
My favorite of the bunch. 100% Garganega. Honey, dried apricot, roasted almonds, white flowers on the nose and palate. Fuller bodied than most Soaves in the line up. A really nice substitute for an unoaked Chardonnay.
Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico 2008 ($26)
Just me, or is “Soave Suavia” not the smartest branding move? Some volatile acidity here that obscured whatever else was going on in the wine. Tried to go back to it a few times during the tasting, but still wasn’t getting much.
Cantina del Castello Pressoni Soave Classico 2008 ($20)
80% Garganega, 20% Trebbiano di Soave. Full-bodied, with floral aromas. Acidity on the low side for me. Several folks described this as “sexy” because of the fuller, richer mouthfeel, but I wasn’t feeling it.
Coffele “Le Sponde” Recioto di Soave 1999 ($40)
Recioto wines are made from grapes that have been dried for several months following harvest. Raisining the fruit concentrates the sugar, so the end result is a sweet, unctuous wine. That this is, although it lacks the aromatic punch that define the finest dried grape wines — and a little more acidity would have helped balance out the sweetness.