Posts tagged ‘soave’
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Chicago was host to the Wines of Veneto for several events, including a sit-down seminar featuring 10 Venetian wines, a dinner at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush and two Prosecco tastings, one at a Treasure Island retail outlet and one at a steakhouse (Benny’s Chop House), just north of downtown. These events were part of a tour about the wines of Veneto that were also organized for Los Angeles and New York.
I was pleased to be invited to be part of the seminar on Monday morning; joining me were Nathan Woodhouse, from Ionia Atlantic Imports, a company that represents numerous artisan producers from Italy and Benny Woodhouse, owner of Benny’s Chop House. Moderating the seminar was Aurora Endrici, a sommelier from Italy. Aurora is an extremely knowledgable individual and an engaging speaker. Everyone at the events loved her outgoing personality and warmth; I greatly enjoyed working with her and hope to have the opportunity again in the not too distant future.
The seminar was a natural for me, as I had recently visited producers in both the Soave and Valpolicella districts in late May and early June, so I was understandably excited about the wines (please see my recent posts on Soave and Amarone). Wines from those areas are quite well known in America and were included, as well as Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the province of Treviso. But it was the inclusion of other wines – offerings not that well known in many markets outside Veneto – that were real eye-openers for myself and the attendees.
The most exciting wines for me were two reds: Tai Rosso and Bagnoli Friularo. Tai Rosso is produced from the Tocai Rosso grape, the name of which had to be changed according to EU regulations that now protect the name “Tokay”, which refers to a wine from Hungary (the same refers to the Friulano grape, a white that was previously known as Tocai Friulano. It is grown primarily in Friuli and the Veneto; in the Veneto, the white grape is known as Tai and the red as Tai Rosso).
We sampled a 2010 bottling of Tai Rosso from the Colli Berici DOC area in the province of Vicenza. This variety is thought to be an offshoot of Garnacha from Spain or Cannonau from Sardegna. The grape has very light amounts of anthocyanins, resulting in a red wine that looks more like a rosato than a rosso. The wine was lovely with wonderful fresh cherry and currant fruit as well as tart acidity and light tannins. In some ways, it resembled a Bardolino in its delicacy and freshness, but the Tai Rosso not only has a lighter color, but also more spice. It could be enjoyed at cellar temperature, although I’d love it this time of year slightly chilled- foods such as salumi, lighter pastas or soups would be wonderful pairings.
The Friularo from the Bagnoli DOC in the province of Padova was a completely different style of red, one with much deeper color (deep ruby red), richer tannins and with a structure meant for 10-12 years of aging (this was a 2005 bottling, so wines from bigger vintages, such as 2004 or 2007, would be capable of longer aging). The grape is known as Raboso in other parts of Veneto, but in this DOC, it is labeled as Friularo. This was a marvelous wine, one with flavors of plum and cacao and one that had a beautifully defined mid-palate and layers of flavor. 100% of the grapes were dried for four months before fermentation (a la Amarone), giving the wine a gorgeous texture in the mouth and excellent persistence. This was a wonderful find for everyone at the tasting.
Other wines presented at the seminar included a Raboso from the Piave DOC in the province of Treviso, the marvelous dessert wine Torcolato di Breganze, produced from the Vespaiolo grape and a lovely sparkling wine known as Fior d’Arancio Spumante from the Colli Euganei. This is made entirely from the Moscato Giallo grape, as with the more famous Moscato d’Asti wine of Piemonte and like that wine, the alcohol is quite low (5.5%). It has gorgeous apricot and honey aromas and a sensual delicacy and light sweetness that are irresistible. Endrici mentioned that this is a difficult sell, given the worldwide success of Moscato d’Asti and that even in the local area, producers have a difficult time finding customers for this wine. How nice then for the Veneto group to come here and present this wine!
I commented that the wines of Veneto are a microcosm for the entire Italian wine industry, as this is a region known for many types of wines, from sparkling (Prosecco and Fior d’Arancia Spumante) to whites (Soave, Lugana) to lighter reds (Bardolino, Tai Rosso) to more full-bodied reds (Bagnoli Friularo, Amarone) to dessert wines, both white (Torcolato, Recioto di Soave) and red (Recioto di Valpolicella). Every color of the viticultural rainbow can be found in Italy and you really don’t need to go any farther than Veneto to enjoy this wide range of offerings.
This was a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved to understand the broad spectrum of Venetian wines and I am delighted to have had the occasion to be introduced to several wines I rarely have the chance to taste during my travels. Learning about the wines of Veneto is just one more reason why Italian wines are so extraordinary, given their distinctiveness and of course, their amazing quality.
A personal note of thanks to several individuals for making these events happen and for their assistance with my role this week. Thank you to Aurora Endrici, Paolo Doglioni and Fabio Coronin from Centro Estero Veneto, Augusto Marchini and Fred Marripodi of the Italian Trade Commission in New York City and finally, Patrick Capriati of the Italian Trade Commission in Chicago.
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.
Soave has several identities, from simple sipping wine to a long-aging white with distinct minerality and outstanding complexity. Unfortunately too may consumers only associate Soave with the first description; yet the truth today is that there are dozens of the area’s producers that are crafting glorious bottlings. First and foremost among those is Leonildo Pieropan.
The Pieropan family has winemaking roots in the Soave area from 1890; here at their palazzo in the town of Soave, Leonildo Pieropan, Senior, was creating the lovely dessert wine, Recioto di Soave. Today his grandson Leonildo is considered one of the stalwarts of this area, working “with the precision of a Swiss watch,” as written in a brief introductory text in Duemilavini, the wine guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers (A.I.S.).
While Pieropan produces two special bottlings of Soave, there are many who will tell you that his Soave Classico normale bottling is his finest; it certainly is his most representative everyday Soave offering. It is produced from 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave in most years and offers textbook aromas of honeydew melon and yellow flowers backed by lively acidity and a touch of minerality. It is beautifully balanced and has excellent complexity; all of this is especially nice, considering the $15 retail price in America (and I’ve seen it for less in some areas.)
There are two other special Soaves made at Pieropan; Calvarino and La Rocca. Calvarino, produced from an estate vineyard of volcanic soils, is 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave; Pieropan has opted for this blend as it was a typical one from decades past in this area. The wine receives no wood aging, as Pieropan opts to let the perfumes of the varieties emerge. This wine ages beautifully, usually drinking well for 10-12 years. I recall tasting the 1989 bottling at the winery in 2006 – it was sublime!
La Rocca, also made from a single vineyard (the oldest vines here are 50 years old), is 100% Garganega that has been aged in mid-size and large barrels for one year. This is a lush, almost fat Soave with great concentration and a well-structured finish. This is also a wine for cellaring; generally the wine is at its best from 10-12 years of age. This is a very individualistic bottling, yet it is without doubt a Soave; today there are a few other producers in the area that have used La Rocca as a model for their top offering.
What strikes you about each of the three wines is the combination of richness, yet at the same time elegance. While the La Rocca is a very powerful rendering of Soave, it never goes over the top, maintaining its finesse. This is an admirable quality, and one that certainly matches the character of Leonildo Pieropan, a confident, assured individual, who is also down to earth. I met with him at this year’s VinItaly wine fair and was impressed by his easy-going, charming ways. I spoke with him about the refined qualities of his wine and he replied with a quote that I think befits his winemaking philosophy quite well. “Elegance is one of the most difficult qualities to transmit in a wine. But when you understand it, it is the one that brings the greatest pleasure.” A lovely thought and one I think many other wine producers believe in as well; yet I’ve never heard it professed as eloquently as I have from Leonildo Pieropan.
There is also a stunning example of the famed dessert wine, Recioto di Soave, that Pieropan labels Le Colombare. A few years ago, Pieropan opted to produce local red wines as well; the first effort a wine called Ruberpan, an IGT blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Croatina from the Val d’Illasi hills. Now comes the exciting news that he has added Amarone to his production. I tasted the inital 2006 release (this will be available in the autumn of 2010) and as you might expect, this is a rich, yet restrained offering of this famous Venetian red. There’s that elegance again, this time in a wine most people think of as powerful. But as this was made by Leonildo Pieropan, would you expect anything else?