It’s always a pleasure to be in the town of Soave and the surrounding wine zone, easily one of my favorites in all of Italy. This was especially true for my most recent visit the last few days of May, as I hadn’t been there in four years, so it was definitely time for a return trip. Making this an even more enjoyable stay was the fact that I would be visiting producers with Giovanni Ponchia from the Soave Consorzio. Giovanni set up the tour and put together a wonderful mix of small producers along with cooperatives; he planned stops at some of my favorite producers I have become friends with over the years and also introduced me to some excellent producers I have never visited, such as Corte Adami, Dal Cero, Filippi and Fattori. It was an excellent three days – grazie tanti, Giovanni!
A lot of people know the name Soave, but unless you’ve been there or have tasted a lot of wines from there, chances are you really know only a little bit about Soave. What I mean by this is that Soave has an image of being a pleasant, refreshing wine to drink young and while there are many examples in this manner, the truth is that there are a few dozen producers in the area that have elevated Soave into a complex white with distinct minerality that can age for more than a decade. To me, Soave at its best is a white that ranks with the finest in Italy.
The reason these wines can be so good are the vineyards. You might view Soave from the A4 autostrada and see the beautiful castello as pictured above and think to yourself what a lovely little postcard of a town. But all around the old town are hillside vineyards some 400-1200 feet above sea level. Many of these cru are comprised of basalt rock or volcanic stone, which explains the minerality in the wines, while other sites are more dominated by calcaire (limestone). Given the excellent drainage of hillside vineyards, yields are naturally low, which provides more deeply concentrated wines which can age for many years. Among the finest cru are Castelcerino, Pressoni, Foscarino and Frosca.
Regarding this last cru, Frosca is one source of grapes for Gini, one of the area’s premier producers. The Gini brothers, Sandro and Claudio, produce several bottlings of Soave, from a typical Soave Classico, blended from several sites to the old vines bottling labeled Contrada Selvaneza to the Frosca bottling itself. I was able to taste several vintages of the Frosca bottling at the winery, including 2009, 2007 and 1997, but it was the 1990 bottling that really opened my eyes. With a light yellow color that was amazing for a 20-year old wine, the wine offered aromas of wet stone, dried pear and apple peel, backed by excellent concentration and a flinty finish with vibrant acidity that made me think I was drinking a Grand Cru Chablis. The wine was in amazing shape and has another 7-10 years of life ahead of it.
Another great Soave producer is Filippi, located in the Castelcerino sottozona. I had tasted his 2008 Castelcerino bottling a year ago and was impressed not only with the complexity, but also the flavor profile – its strong minerality was reminiscent of a single vineyard Chablis. Headed by Filippo Filipi, this is an organic estate that is among the most precise in the area. The care that Filippo takes with his vineyards is evident in his various bottlings of Soave, from the Castelcerino (2009 is the current release) to the Monteseroni bottling (vines here were planted in the 1950s) and the Vigne della Bra offering. My favorite this time around was the 2008 Monteseroni with its excellent depth of fruit, lengthy finish and stylish acidity. (While 2009 is arguably the best vintage of the past few years in Soave, 2008 is almost as good – and even better for some wines – as the wines from that year offer amazing aromatics and ideal acidity. The 2008s will drink well for another 5-7 years, at least).
There were several other excellent producers that I visited, such as Ca’Rugate, Coffele, Agostino Vicentini and Monte Tondo, but instead of detailing every piece of information, let me list a few of my favorite wines from the trip. Note that most bottlings of Soave are not aged in wood; this not only preserves the wonderful perfumes such as honeydew melon, pineapple and cherry blossoms, but it also means the minerality in the finish is more pronounced. However there are some notable versions of Soave that are aged in wood (even a few in barriques) that are wonderful wines; one of the best is the Ca’Rugate “Monte Alto.”
Here is a short list of several of the finest Soave I tried (and that are available in the United States):
- Filippi Monteseroni 2008
- Coffele “Alzari” 2009
- La Cappuccina “San Brizio” 2008
- Gini “Contrada Selvarenza” 2008 (a brilliant wine!)
- Agostino Vicentini “Il Casale” 2009
- Ca’ Rugate “Monte Alto” 2009
- Battistelle “Roccolo del Durlo”
- Cantina del Castello “Carniga” 2008
- Cantina di Soave Rocca Sveva 2010
I also tasted the 2009 “Castelcerino” bottling from Cantina di Soave, a lovely wine that is not imported into the United States at present, but may be one day.
Finally, I can’t write about Soave without mentioning Recioto di Soave, the great dessert wine of this region (and one of the best in Italy), produced solely from Garganega grapes that have been dried for several months before fermentation. These wines are redolent of apricot and honey flavors and often have a light nuttiness to them. Some are medium-sweet and a bit lush, while others are lighter and actually only lightly sweet of off-dry. Recioto di Soave is liquid gold – tantalizing, delicious and sensual and I love every version. The best on this trip were from Fattori, Coffele, Ca’Rugate, Corte Adami, Monte Tondo and Agostino Vicentini. Try these lovely dessert wines on their own at the end of a meal or pair them with an almond tart or apricot torte.